Senior quarterback Matt Grothe and offensive coordinator Mike Canales talk almost every day on the phone, usually discussing football, golf or life in general.
“(Canales) really relates to his players. I really like that about him,” Grothe said. “He’s really helped bring me along and worked with me on developing my strengths and getting away from my weaknesses.”
After nearly a month of spring practices, Canales’ fresh-look offense will face its first test — against the USF defense — when the Bulls kick off the Green and Gold game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s really exciting, to a certain extent, but at the same time it’s weird to think that this will be my last spring game,” Grothe said. “I love the new offense. We’re doing some really good things, and we’re moving the ball around well.”
Canales’ main concern is maintaining the health of the offense, which has a slew of injured linemen — including left tackle Jake Sims (wrist) and right guard Zach Hermann (concussion). Receivers A.J. Love (ACL) and Jessie Hester (ankle) are both out until summer, too.
“We’re going to have to go with what we have,” Canales said. “We’ll work (players) … but the big thing is just to get through the (game) without injury. That’s the most important thing.”
Under former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory, the Bulls used a running back rotation, but Canales said he hopes to give the bulk of carries to a single starter. On USF’s depth chart, senior Moise Plancher and junior Mike Ford are listed as the
front-runners for that position.
“You’d like to settle on one guy being the guy and everyone else kind of supplementing them in,” Canales said. “So we’re just waiting for one of the guys to establish themselves as that guy. They’ve all had good days. We’re looking for one guy to step in.”
Canales said aside from terminology, he hasn’t changed too much from last year’s spread attack, though he said only 75 percent of the offense has been put in place this spring.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “We’re on track to where we need to be. We still have some other things we need to continue to work on. We haven’t installed stuff that will come, but for the most part we’re there.”
On defense, the Bulls will have a slightly new look, too.
New defensive coordinator Joe Tresey — who joined USF’s staff the week before spring ball started — has brought a new mentality, but has kept Wally Burnham’s 4-3 philosophy.
The Bulls lost two starting linebackers, Brouce Mompremier and Tyrone McKenzie, from last year’s team, and that’s where Tresey sees a lot of competition. On Saturday, seniors Kion Wilson and Chris Robinson and junior Sabbath Joseph will start at linebacker.
“We have some guys that have stepped up in that position for us, about eight or nine guys,” Tresey said.
If there’s one thing Tresey is happy about inheriting from last year’s defense, though, it’s the defensive line.
Arguably the strongest unit on the team, USF returns All-American George Selvie, who won’t play Saturday, and as many as six others who made a significant impact from last year’s squad.
“We’ve got a lot of guys at that position, no doubt,” Tresey said. “We’ve got a lot of things to be excited about.”
Selvie, who will sit out the spring game for precautionary reasons, said he’s excited about USF’s defensive attitude.
“(We) just play violent,” he said. “We have to get more violent. We have to dominate out there on the field … We tend to be very aggressive, to get out there and dominate, have turnovers, and get all hands on defense this year.”
Last season, the spring game consisted of four 15-minute quarters with a running clock in the second half. Parking lots at Raymond James Stadium open at 4 p.m. and parking is free.
— Additional reporting by Kelli Polson