By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, FEB. 28, 2014 – Players on the USF offensive line have heard the chatter that’s carried over from last season and the bulked-up Bulls have taken the criticism to heart.
“We took it as a challenge to get bigger and stronger in the offseason, so that we can prove that we can play,” senior left tackle Darrell Williams said. “A lot of people think we’re not good enough to play in this offense, but I really feel we are. We’ve got a year under our belt and we should be more experienced. It should flow easier for us now.”
USF is two practices into the spring swing and it hasn’t taken long to see the Bulls up front have made a ton of progress from a stature standpoint following a grueling offseason of pumping iron.
“We averaged a gain of 13 pounds in the offseason,” said Williams, who gained 13 pounds of his own to get up to 310. “I saw it firsthand because this winter we worked out as a group and saw everyone gaining in the bench press, squat and power clean. Whatever lift we did, we gained more than last year.”
The Bulls return all five players that started the bulk of games on the offensive line in 2013, including Williams (left tackle), fellow senior Austin Reiter (center) and junior Brynjar Gudmundsson (left guard) who each started all 12 games. Senior tackle Quinterrius Eatmon started 11 games at right tackle, missing the season finale at Rutgers with and injury, and sophomore Dominique Threatt started six games at right guard in his true freshman season. The average weight among the Bulls’ five returning starters has grown from 297 to 310 pounds and players admit some swagger has come along with tipping the scales.
“With the added weight, I feel we’ve been playing more aggressively so far, even though it’s only been the first two days, but I’ve seen a difference so far,” Williams said.
Willie Taggart stressed all offseason the importance of getting the line to become “people movers” and USF’s second-year head coach made sure the Bulls are using the added power in the right way by adding offensive coordinator Paul Wulff, a former standout center at Washington State who will oversee the line.
“I think he’s a really smart guy, a good coach, a good teacher, and I’m just excited to get some more out of him this spring,” said Reiter, who brought his weight up from 273 to 286 thanks to offseason workouts.
Wulff joined the USF staff in January after spending the past two seasons with head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers as a senior offensive assistant. Prior to San Francisco, Wulff spent 12 seasons as a head coach at Eastern Washington (2000-07) and Washington State (2008-11), where he earned second-team All-Pac 10 and All-America honorable mention honors as a center from 1985-1989.
“It’s interesting to get a coach that worked with guys like Joe Staley and Anthony Davis – NFL players – and to see the transition coming to coaching us. It’s been a good experience so far,” Williams said.
Under Wulff, Washington State’s offense improved each season while he became a finalist for National Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and 2007. USF’s new leading man on the line is happy to get back to coaching at the college level and he’s been impressed with his pupils’ attitude so far.
“It’s been fun because these guys in particular have been really excited,” Wulff said. “A lot of players have been a lot of fun to work with and I’ve got to give them credit. They’re all eager, and when they’re all eager and they want to get better as a coach you can’t ask for much more than that and right now it’s what we’re doing.”
USF’s lineman have extra incentive to keep pushing harder this spring because of the Taggart approach to position battles. Like last spring, no Bull has secured a starting spot and that’s the way it will continue as Taggart and Wulff look to see who really wants to “do something” from now and throughout the fall.
“Right now we’re coaching all the same and they’re all getting equal reps,” Wulff said. “Once we get pads on and we start putting practices together we’ll all get a better idea of how things are going.”
Coaches will get their first true look at the Bulls’ progress in the trenches during Saturday’s practice that will feature full pads and it’s open for the public as well, starting at 3 p.m. at the Morsani Football Complex. Other practices open to the public this spring are 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’re doing all we can to play them and get every individual better. That (position battle) stuff will sort itself out in time,” Wulff said. “There is no reason to worry about that right now, the players shouldn’t worry about it. Don’t worry, just play and that’s our approach right now and the depth chart is irrelevant.”
One thing the entire line is keeping in mind while grinding this spring is staying focused as a whole in an attempt to fix pre-snap problems that hampered the offense last season. Wulff has taken a good look at the tape and said gaining more experience together as group will pay dividends for the line and the entire offense.
“Playing different quarterbacks and having different lineups all the time, if you’re in that situation and you don’t get that continuity built up you’re going to have more mistakes,” Wulff said. “I think that was part of the problem obviously. If we can settle everything down and get everybody on the same page we’ll eliminate all those pre-snap penalties.”
Having a year under their belts in the system will help and Wulff said the goal for the line this spring will be finding a niche in both areas of the offensive attack.
“(We’re looking for) a couple things in the run game and a couple things in the pass game that we feel we can execute versus anything, any look,” Wulff said. “If we can finish spring being really confident in a couple areas there I think that will be a big step for us.”
For now the offensive line plans to continue working harder than it ever has before to silence the outside chatter with production and protection.
“I think the mentality this spring right now is everyone wants to get better and we’re trying to go above and beyond what we normally do,” Reiter said. “We’re putting a lot more time in after our workouts.”