Spring practice begins on Monday so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team.
Position Coach: Chad Creamer
Key Losses: K Spencer Shrader (Notre Dame), KR Brian Battie (Auburn), KR Jimmy Horn Jr. (Colorado), KR Xavier Weaver (Colorado), P Colin McCreary (Graduation)
Key Returners: P Andrew Stokes, KR Michel Dukes, KR Sean Atkins
Key Additions: K Brendan Farrell (Virginia)
As with several other areas on the field, special teams will look a lot different at USF in 2023 with new special teams coordinator Chad Creamer running the show. Creamer is one of a handful of Tennessee staffers who followed head coach Alex Golesh to Tampa, serving as a defensive analyst for the Volunteers last fall. This is actually his first crack at a special teams role as his background has been strictly on the defensive side of things, spending multiple seasons as defensive coordinator for both Davidson College in FCS and Division II Shorter. That’s why he’s also double-dipping as the outside linebackers coach for this year’s group.
The biggest kick return loss from last season is running back Brian Battie, who will be returning kicks on the Plains at Auburn this year. Battie, of course, joined George Selvie as the only players in school history to earn All-American honors in multiple seasons and made his name known nationally through his kick returns. He averaged 20 yards per return in 2022 and while that was significantly down from the 32.5 average he had the year prior, it was still productive nonetheless. Also out the door on the return kick/punt return front are wide receivers Jimmy Horn Jr. and Xavier Weaver, who have joined Coach Prime in Colorado.
A few key returnees who could step in and fill those slots are running back Michel Dukes and wide receiver Sean Atkins. The Clemson transfer Dukes only returned four kicks in 2022 and got some pretty good yardage, averaging 26.5 yards per return. Meanwhile, Atkins returned eight punts a team-high eight punts last season (side note: USF registered 12 punt returns total in 2022. That’s another sign of how garbage that defense was where the team could only get one dang punt return per game). We’ll see which other skill position guys can step up in the spring and present themselves as a special teams weapon.
Kicking wise, USF will have to replace kicker Spencer Shrader, who is now kicking for the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. Shrader steadily improved throughout his four-year career with the Bulls, going 9-13 on his field goal attempts in 2022 and nailing all 37 of his extra point attempts. 50 of his 62 kickoff attempts also went for touchbacks throughout the year. The Bulls also lost punter Colin McCreary, who averaged 40.7 yards per punt through 10 games last season.
But don’t fret, because 29-year-old Aussie punter Andrew Stokes is back for his third season in Tampa. Injuries allowed for him to only appear in six games throughout the 2022 campaign but he improved on his punting average from the year prior even in limited action. As far as kicker goes, USF brought in Virginia transfer Brendan Farrell as a replacement for Shrader. In 2021, he was one of the best kickers in the ACC, making 11 of 13 attempts and drilling all 34 PATs.
Special teams at USF ranked 97th in the final SP+ rankings for the 2022 season, so there is definite room for improvement with a new staff and new players.