By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, FEB. 26, 2014 – What a difference a year makes.
Spring practice for USF football started in the fog early Wednesday morning at the Morsani Football Complex but it didn’t take long to see significant changes in the Bulls beginning their second season under head coach Willie Taggart.
“You see a difference in our football team,” Taggart said. “I see a difference in our size, our speed and I see guys running around faster. I think a big part of it is everyone knows what they’re doing now. They’re comfortable with each other.”
Players are more familiar with the coaching staff and how they are expected to practice and the overall process of adjusting to a new way of doing things is pretty much complete for a team that wants to get back to winning as soon as possible.
“Day 1 last year no one knew anything, even coaches, trying to know where to go and where to be,” Taggart said. “Players and coaches, ever since we came back from Christmas break you could sense everything was going so much smoother and crisper than in the past.”
One very noticeable change in the Bulls has been their overall appearance thanks to a grueling offseason conditioning program under strength coach Hans Straub, especially on the offensive line. The average weight gain of the five returning starters up front has gone from 297 pounds to 310 since the start of last season.
“We’re putting in a lot more time after our workouts. I know me and about five guys are doing an hour after every workout every day,” said senior center Austin Reiter, who gained 13 pounds in offseason conditioning to get up to 286.
“We want big guys,” Taggart said. “We need people movers out there, big strong guys to move people out of the way so we can run the football and we can protect.”
USF’s progress under the watchful eye of Straub was no shock to Taggart, but fans will be pleasantly surprised at just how much stronger the Bulls are now after sticking to the plan once the 2013 season came to a close. More than 52 players set new personal records in the weight room prior to spring practice, including Reiter, who added 40-50 pounds to each of his lifts.
“It was good to see that our guys did that. It’s been a different attitude with our guys and watching them,” Taggart said. “Out of 79 guys we had go through workouts and our winter conditioning we had 66 guys make every last one of them. It’s huge, big-time, and it says a lot about our football team.”
Another big difference in the Bulls in the spring practice opener was the pace of the offense as it zipped down the field during team work. New offensive coordinator Paul Wulff hinted earlier in the offseason about the Bulls increasing their tempo at times and it was apparent during 2-minute drills on Wednesday when quarterback Mike White rushed up to the line, took a snap and found Andre Davis for an over-the-shoulder touchdown connection.
“The first day is definitely night and day from last year,” White said.
“You’ve got guys flying around and the offense is moving like I’ve never seen before,” senior defensive tackle Todd Chandler said. “It’s amazing everyone is finally gelling with Coach Taggart’s plan, it’s amazing just seeing it all come together.”
Taggart said USF’s up-tempo approach will be used at times during the season and speeding things up will allow the Bulls to keep more defenses scrambling to identify what’s headed their way.
“We need to be able to change it up when we want to,” Taggart said. “There will be times when we want to slow it down, but there are other times when we want to speed it up a little bit and go a little faster. I think that helps you, especially nowadays in college football. Not necessarily that the defense is getting tired, but I think it puts a lot of pressure on a defensive coordinator to make the right call and make the call fast.”
Bulked-up Bulls moving at a quicker pace on Day 1 of spring practice is important because of the fact that Taggart it sticking to the approach he presented to the team last season when it comes to competition.
“Nobody on this football team has a job, not even (Groza Award finalist) Marvin Kloss. Nobody has a job, it’s highly competitive,” he said. “We can’t do this to our football program and we can’t do this to our university just to give guys anything. Everybody is going to earn it and that’s how we’re going to get better as a football team.
“Everybody is going to be highly competitive and they can’t take a day off because that guy behind me is good enough to take my job, and Coach is going to allow him to do that if I allow him to do that,” Taggart added. “That’s at every position, and I think that’s what’s going to be fun about this spring is having a little more competition at positions, even up front.”
USF Fans Welcome to Attend Six Spring Practices
Fans won’t have to wait for the spring game on March 29 at Raymond James Stadium to see the new and improved Bulls. Taggart will open six practices to the public this spring on Friday and Saturdays through the first four weeks.
“When USF started football here, and we had a lot of success when we started football here, that just didn’t happen by the coaches and the players. That happened with our entire community,” Taggart said. “This entire football community was behind this football team and we got rolling. I kind of see that’s where we’re at with this football team, we need everybody behind us to get this thing right and make it how we want it to be.”
The first open practice of the spring is this Friday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. at the Frank Morsani Football Complex. Other dates open to the public are Saturday, March 1 (3 p.m.), Friday, March 7 (8:30 a.m.), Saturday, March 9 (3 p.m.), Friday, March 21 (8:30 a.m.) and Saturday, March 22 (3 p.m.).
“We have to get our community behind us and I think that’s one way of doing it, allowing them to come out and see the team we want them all to get behind,” Taggart said. “It’s their team, too, and hopefully our community takes it as a challenge.”
Blame No One! Do Something! Make No Excuses!
The team trotted out from the locker room through the fog early Wednesday morning and was greeted with a nice surprise on the fences surrounding the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex.
USF had added logos and some of Coach Taggart’s favorite motivational slogans on large signage along the complex’s fences for every player to see at practice. Signs proclaiming “Blame No One!” “Do Something!” and “Make No Excuses!” joined USF Football banners to make the complex feel more like the Bulls home.
“I told them whenever they want to make an excuse or blame someone else just look at the signs as a reminder,” Taggart said. “We don’t do that around here, we’ve got to do something.”
White said his favorite saying on the fences is “Make No Excuse!,” after the team saw the signage for the first time Wednesday.
“When we finally got out here we saw it, it actually got us a little excited,” he said. “We have no more excuses now, it’s go time.”
There’s a New No. 7
Fans have grown accustomed to seeing senior receiver Andre Davis making highlight-reel catches wearing No. 81, but they’ll have to get used to No. 7 from now on.
“I kind of wanted to go back to my old ways and my favorite number, so I just wanted to go back and get it,” Davis said.
Davis wore No. 7 before becoming a Bull at Jefferson High School in Tampa while putting up some huge numbers on the stat sheet. The All-America honorable mention and three-time all-state selection posted 164 receptions for 3,158 yards and 40 touchdowns during his three-year career.
Davis enters his senior season with 1,542 yards and 117 catches on his career, needing just 107 yards and 15 receptions to become the Bulls’ all-time leader in both categories.
Senior linebacker Reshard Cliett (Thomasville, Ga.) had shoulder surgery during the break and is expected to miss spring practice, but Taggart isn’t so sure yet at this point.
“He’s way ahead of rehab right now with the way he’s been running with our football team and doing things,” Taggart said. “We really don’t anticipate him being out there, but the way he’s been working, we heal differently, he might surprise us.”
Other Bulls expected to be out this spring are freshman cornerback Devin Abraham (shoulder), sophomore tight end Guito Ervilus (knee), senior offensive lineman Jake Kaufman (knee) and senior linebacker Hans Louis (knee). Sophomore fullback Tye Turner is out with a neck injury and his status remains uncertain at this point.
Quote of the Day
“We’re all coming out here with a positive mindset and a positive attitude like I’ve never seen before going on my fifth season. Everyone is coming out smiling, running round and flying around talking. There is no negative energy out here.” – defensive tackle Todd Chandler.