I’ve been going to USF Football practices since 2002. I used to sneak in when I worked for Athletics, and Jim Leavitt sometimes would ask me why I’m there. I’d say “I just like football.” He appreciated that and was always kind. I probably got to less than five Skip Holtz practices total during his tenure, but went to a bunch of Willie Taggart’s. I’ve been at this for awhile, and though I’ve never played a down of football without wearing plastic flags, I’ve started to get a pretty good sense of what’s happening.
And today was, on both sides of the ball, the most impressive USF football practice I’ve ever seen.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the speed at which drills are happening. Within the different practice periods, you’ll see 1v1’s 11-on-11, then the offense on air, then 1v1’s with WR vs. DB, then 1v2’s 11-on-11... but it’s constant, perpetual motion. If the offense is on air, the defense is on another field doing tackling or tip drills.
I didn’t notice a single “all-team” break during the 2.5 hour practice today. Players still had time to get water or rest, but someone on every unit was always doing something. As under Taggart there’s also music blaring, which does make things much more fun. You’ll see some heads bobbing on the sidelines at times.
Some notes from Day 4 of Spring Practice:
- It’s always tough for us hack journalists to judge line play from the sidelines, especially when you don’t know what the protection is or the play call by the defense. So I tend to focus on what can be seen in space by playmakers & defenders. Caveat emptor on line play, but it did seem like some holes were opened in the running game for D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice. There was also nice runs by Elijah Mack & Trevon Sands, who are going to fight to get on the field with Marlon Mack heading to the NFL.
- The first-string O-linemen from left to right appeared to be Grant Polk, Glen Bethel, Cameron Ruff, Michael Wiggs, and Marcus Norman.
- Charlie Strong after practice: “You’re always looking for linemen. The key there is the offensive line and the defensive line. Because you have a bunch of starters back, but you’re looking for depth.” “Linebackers we’re still a little thin. But our offensive and defensive line is where you’d like to get some more depth.”
- The level of play by Quinton Flowers, Brett Kean, and Chris Oladokun is an embarrassment of riches. There might be a fight between Kean & Oladokun for the QB2 spot, but both show great composure in the pocket, and deliver a very nice ball. Q is the starter and has been very durable during his USF career, but it feels like you can still win at a high level with #7 or #10 under center as well. It’s really impressive depth for a G5 program.
- Quinton threw some balls today that were literally uncoverable. A TD to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the back of the end zone was flawless. A go route to Darnell Salomon down the sideline that hit him right in the fingertips with arms extended. A screen pass to Johnson that sucked in an entire defense, and you couldn’t blame them an iota.
I was the guy that wrote Quinton would never develop enough as a passer to move this offense. Remember that when reading this, but his progression from a guy that couldn’t hit the broad side of the Selmon Center to where he his now is phenomenal. And he looks to be getting better.
- Kean made a few mistakes, but has a rocket arm and is still mobile enough to pull it in zone read too. His skinny post TD to MVS with Nichols in coverage was splendid. Oladokun can really spin it too, but we didn’t have much of a chance to see him run it today. He’s described as mostly a pocket passer, but from what I’ve seen since he got to campus, it’s a bit TBA on what he can do with his legs.
- The guy that continues to jump out amongst an insanely-deep group of receivers is Scantling. He just does it all and makes it look effortless. Runs excellent routes, great size, and hands made of marshmallows. On talent & playmaking ability, he might be USF’s best receiver ever. Ryeshene Bronson caught a ton of balls while covered today. Salomon is a #1 for every team in the league that’s not USF. Chris Barr just makes plays and catches everything. Flowers told us after practice how much of an improvement he things Deangelo Antoine has made. DeVontres Dukes is 6’4 217 and can really run, and Devin Abraham told us how impressed he is by his progress. It’s just ridiculous to see it all on the field at the same time
Quinton Flowers summed it up best: “They always ask you ‘who’s your favorite guy?’ But you don’t have a favorite guy because everybody is your favorite guy. There’s always a guy that’s open.”
- As far as what looks different offensively between Charlie Strong & Willie Taggart... not much. “It’s the same offense, different language,” said Flowers after practice. “Some of the routes we’re running now are different than they were last year. But as you get into the offense, most of things are similar to what we ran last year. It’s just now you get the signal one time, and that’s it.”
This is a difference between 2016 & 2017: the play will come via hand signal one time from the sidelines, and every player on the field is expected to see it. It’ll help with speed, but might make communication a bit trickier until they get used to it. As an example, Bronson missed the signal once today, and he was supposed to be the motion man. There were also some receivers not moving when the ball was snapped, or jumping a bit early. But these are the things that get corrected in practice.
“More than anything, it’s just terminology and getting them comfortable. More than anything getting the quarterback comfortable.” said Strong. “They seem to be picking it up.”
- Devin Abraham on the biggest difference between last year’s defense and this one: “Really just the terminology. It isn’t the split defense that we have been doing, it’s more closed. It’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot more things happening in the back end along with the D-line.” He also said it’s still a base 4-2-5 without any 3-3-5 looks yet.