Finally putting to the test what USF players have learned during spring practice is something to look forward to. It’s a nice change of scenery for them, too.
As the Bulls wrapped up their 14th and final spring practice Wednesday, the final exam awaits when USF takes the field at Raymond James Stadium for the first time since November in Saturday’s spring game.
“It’s very exciting,” said senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph. “Every time you get out here on the practice field and see the same old guys – same coaches, same faces – now we really get a chance to show the fans what we really have in store. But we still have a long way to go as a team.”
So what will the Bulls have in store Saturday? There are a number of things: a new offense, defense and coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said the main thing he’s looking forward to is seeing players evolve.
“It’s always fun to see the guys play in front of a crowd,” he said. “5,000, 10,000, whatever it may be – just because certain guys step up in that situation, certain guys kind of get jittery – especially some of the guys that haven’t played before. So that’s always the thing for me – just who will cut it loose and kind of thrive on the crowd and who takes a step backward. That happens in every spring game at every place I’ve ever been.”
And Joseph seems pretty confident that whatever team he’s on, he’s prepared for the changes.
“I’m going to say this on the record – every team I’m on, we’re winning,” Joseph said.
Joseph will lead the first-team defense, which will be in white and will compete against the first-team offense in green, while the second-team offense in white will play the second-team defense in green.
“The spring game will take us a long way to see where we are right now from an evaluation standpoint, when we can put them out there and let them play with a crowd in front of them and just let them play football,” said first-year coach Skip Holtz. “… It’ll be a great opportunity for the fans and the alumni to see what these guys have been working on the last 14 (practices).”
Holtz said the main thing he’s looking for is effort and consistency, since it’s hard to measure success when playing against teammates.
“That’s the hard part – every time you see a good play, you go, “Oh, great play offensively, that was nice.” Then you go, “Oh wow, that was our defense we just did it against,” Holtz said. “I want to stay healthy. …If we can get 60 to 70 plays on each side of the ball and stay healthy, and those guys can get that type of game experience, it’ll be successful.”
The Bulls are healthy for the most part, and players with minor injuries suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage are all expected to play, except tight end Andreas Shields, who has a leg injury.
Sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels said after practice he’s ahead of schedule from non-shoulder surgery recovery and expects to play Saturday, though he will continue to play without contact as has been the case all spring.
“We want to see him just run the offense. I know he can run around – we know he’s a good runner,” Fitch said. “He’s going to make plays with his feet, but we want to see him just execute the call, distribute the ball to the proper receiver, keep us out of bad plays … If he comes out of the game with the basic offense and can manage it with his athletic ability, that will make him a much better player in the fall.”
Daniels, originally not expected to participate in the spring game, said he’s excited to play in front of hometown fans, though he’s still learning the offense.
“I just want to be solid and do all the things a quarterback is supposed to … Last year, I played more than half the season hurt,” he said. “To be out here and participate is real big for me and I’m happy. To be out here is really a blessing.
“The first two practices, I barely even knew the plays. Right now, I’m picking up on it, and all the other guys are starting to click … We’re under center a lot. I’m doing some pro style and drop back things. That’s one thing I can say will be different.”
Defensively, Holtz said the Bulls are building depth despite losing key players from last year’s team, including ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul.
“Two defensive ends, a linebacker, a safety, a corner – we lost some talented players,” Holtz said. “There’s going to be a lot of guys who are going to have to step up.”