USF offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler has been around quite a few offensive lines in his 36-year coaching career.
And while he said it is hard to rank the one he’s coaching now with all the others, something stands out about his current stable of players.
“I think it’s as coachable a group as I’ve been around,” he said. “I think they really want to do things the right way. They have progressed faster than maybe some other units I’ve been around. I think there’s a good bit of football intelligence up there. They can see things a little bit quicker than I thought they might. We don’t have many missed assignments during the course of the game. It’s a fun group of guys to coach.”
Experience is the trademark of this group, with three senior starters – tackle Jake Sims, center Sampson Genus, tackle Jamar Bass – and two junior starters – guard Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren – all of whom started or played significant minutes last year.
Among the five were a combined 52 starts last season.
“You can’t substitute experience,” Shankweiler said. “Experience is like gold. You can’t get enough of it.”
Sims said with the experience comes the camaraderie, which could be a main reason for the early success this season.
“This is probably the closest in my five years we’ve been off the field as a line,” Sims said. “We’ve always been close, but there’s not as much as a clique between a few guys. It’s pretty spread across the board.”
While it was no secret the unit would be one of the most seasoned on the team heading into the season, results don’t necessarily follow.
The line struggled some last season. But through two games this season, it is arguably the strength of the team.
Despite losing, the Bulls rushed for 244 yards on 39 carries against a formidable Florida front after gaining 180 yards in the opener against Stony Brook.
Florida held its other two opponents – Miami (OH) and Tennessee – to a combined 33 yards rushing on 45 carries.
“I think we came together real well during the Florida game,” said Genus, an All-Big East second-team selection last year. “I think we’re really clicking together. I think it is (one of the team’s strengths). All of us came back from last year.”
USF coach Skip Holtz said it’s not easy to find the pieces that fit at each position, especially with the transition of a new staff in the offseason.
“It’s probably the most experienced unit we have,” said Holtz, who graded four of the five starters as “winners” after their performances against Florida. “They’ve been healthy, they’ve got in a lot of work together. They’ve really bought in – there’s an awful lot of pride in that group. It’s been nice to watch that group gel and come together.”
Shankweiler, who coached with Holtz for five years at East Carolina, said there’s still a lot to work on, especially “fundamental things that nobody would ever notice watching the game that don’t show up against Stony Brook, but did show up against Florida.”
“Statistically, we played really well against Florida, but we could’ve played better,” he said. “When you’re playing against good people, everything you do with your hands and your feet, you have to be that much better because they’re that much better. You can get away with some things against people who aren’t quite as good. When you play against really good people, you have to do things correctly for 65 plays.”
“I think we probably surprised a lot of people the first two weeks, but we’re not where we need to be.”
But with a line full of experienced veterans, Shankweiler said the potential is there
“I give them film projects to do each week, and the quality of the work they turn in to me is as good as I’ve been around,” he said. “They really study film. This group has a lot of qualities of wanting to be good, wanting to be coached, wanting to learn the game. And that’s a plus for them.”