One of the standouts this spring has been sophomore running back Demetris Murray, who USF coach Skip Holtz praised after impressing in the team’s second spring scrimmage at One Buc Place, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice facility, on Saturday afternoon.
“He’s getting to the point where he can be an every-down back,” Holtz said of Murray, who is listed on the current depth chart as a second teamer in front of redshirt freshman Bradley Battles and behind Mo Plancher. “As just a young player, that’s a nice thing to have right now, knowing Mo Plancher is a sixth-year senior. I know Mo can be an every-down back when you watch him on film last year, but Battles and Murray are the two that are going to have to continue to develop.”
Murray, who rushed for a touchdown in the first scrimmage, had three runs of 10 yards or more and scored a touchdown near the goal line. He got the start over Plancher, who was held out because of a minor hamstring tweak.
“I was really impressed with Murray,” said offensive coordinator Todd Fitch. “He made some nice runs – some really good cuts. … He got a lot of quality reps.”
Murray, USF’s fourth running back last season, has been making strides in a backfield hit with offseason attrition. Senior Mike Ford was kicked off the team in February for violating team rules, and senior Jamar Taylor’s future is in question after he was held out of spring practices because of academic issues.
Taylor and Ford were expected to significantly contribute next season, so Murray’s progression has been a welcome sight for Holtz.
“He’s running the ball extremely hard. He’s doing some good things. I think he’s been a bright spot, definitely,” Holtz said. “Mo Plancher wasn’t able to go (Saturday), which is an opportunity for (Murray) to show what he can do. … He’s getting better and better. He’s showing some toughness. He’s running hard. He’s being physical.”
Cornerback depth a concern
USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he was impressed with USF’s first-string defense in the scrimmage, though he still sees depth in the secondary as a concern.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with that whole first unit,” he said. “We’re not very deep at corner – that’s the one thing that’s concerning right now. We have some depth, (overall). We have some speed. I think the guys are performing at a pretty high level right now to only be three weeks into the system.”
Junior Tyson Butler, who played in USF’s first eight games last season, is out for the spring with a knee injury suffered last year, and redshirt freshman Ricardo Dixon is missing spring practices because of shoulder surgery.
Sophomore Daniel Bryant, who converted from wide receiver, had an interception along with senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph.
But Snyder said Bryant, who’s listed as a second-string cornerback on the depth chart, still “has a long way to go.”
“He had a lot of mistakes, too,” Snyder said. “He’s going to need every 29 practices that we have, but he is a good athlete. … (cornerback) is a position a young kid – a freshman – might have to come in and help us.”
Snyder is pointing to touted incoming cornerback Terrence Mitchell, a Hillsborough High graduate who is one of the highest-rated recruits in program history. He’s expected to push for immediate playing time.
Defensive line impresses
Snyder said he “saw a flash off the ball,” referring to the quickness on the defensive line.
“That excites you as a coordinator,” he said. “We do have some suddenness up front.”
With the departures of George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, who are both expected to go in this month’s NFL draft, defensive end still may be a slight unknown, but the line created havoc all scrimmage long, Snyder said.
“We lost some pretty critical components on the outside with our defensive ends, but (ends) Craig (Marshall) and David (Bedford) have a lot of playing experience,” said backup linebacker Mike Lanaris. “They’re doing an awesome job. Our interior linemen are doing an awesome job. … They’re really coming along. We’re communicating well, and I feel like they did control and help keep guys off me all day, which is good.”
Holtz said there were a few minor injuries during the scrimmage. But sophomore tackle Mark Popek (hip pointer), junior guard Chaz Hine (foot) and sophomore tight end Andreas Shields (leg) are expected “to be OK here in a couple days.”