Bulls look to retool offense

Competing at the Division I-A level requires a strong offense with talented players. The USF football team is looking to have such a unit in the 2001 season.

The Bulls hope to have an offense like the one that scored 25.3 points per game with 33 touchdowns in 2000 taking the field Thursday night at Northern Illinois.

Coach Jim Leavitt said the Bulls? offense has the ability, but is inexperienced.

?There?s enough talent there,? he said. ?How good it?ll be I don?t know yet.?

Possibly the biggest change in the Bulls? offense is the appointment of new offensive coordinator Mike Hobbie. Mike Canales left the position to coach at North Carolina State. Hobbie said the fans may see something different in the offense this season.

?You?re going to see a real multiple look,? he said. ?We?re going to stretch (the field) vertically. We want to keep it spread out to try to open it up.?

There have been other coaching changes on offense. Leroy Ryals is now the Bulls? running backs coach, and Rod Smith has come in from Clemson as pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Even with these coaching changes, the story for the offense is the inexperience. This inexperience is evident as only six returning offensive players will be seniors.

The Bulls do, however, have experience in the most important position. Marquel Blackwell returns at quarterback for his junior season after throwing for 2,016 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 2000. Blackwell said he isn?t comfortable being identified as the star.

?I?m not a big fan of being singled out,? he said.

Blackwell features both the ability to pass and run, which is becoming increasingly important with modern quarterbacks. He said, however, unless the situation called for something different, he?d prefer to stay in the pocket.

?I?d rather pass than run,? he said.

Around Blackwell is a talented and young group of receivers. Following the loss of star Scott McCready to graduation, DeAndrew Rubin steps into the spotlight as the Bulls? top receiver. Rubin may also return kicks for the Bulls this season.

?We have a lot of confidence,? Rubin said. ?I want to see what I can do.?

Behind Rubin are senior Hugh Smith and sophomore Chris Iskra, who began to make a name for himself as a freshman last season. Blackwell said he is excited about his receivers this season.

?All the receivers had a real good summer,? he said. ?We have to stay focused.?

While the receiving positions are set for the upcoming season, there is more of a question mark about the running back position. After the loss of standout Rafael Williams last season, the job remains up for grabs. There are a large number of young backs on the team, six of them being freshmen. Leavitt is pleased with their progress.

?(Freshman) Charlie Ross ripped right through the defense,? he said. ?We might have a couple of big backs.?

Hobbie said there is a lot to choose from in the running back corps.

?We?ve got a plethora of running backs,? he said. ?If spring practice is any indication, it?ll probably bounce back and forth.?

As the Bulls enter the season, senior Derrick Rackard is the projected starter. And he is ready for his upcoming role.

?I always try to do everything 100 percent,? he said. ?I prepared a lot harder, not just physically, but mentally.?

Rackard said there has been a lot of competition at the position this summer.

?Those guys are really good,? he said. ?As far as now, I?m trying to hold (the position) down.?

Blackwell said the competition among the runners is healthy.

?There is a lot of competition back there, but it?s going to do nothing but make them better,? he said.

Possibly the biggest offensive concern for the Bulls this season is the offensive line. Three starters were lost from last season?s team. The group of offensive linemen for this year is young. Among the leaders on the line are senior right guard Jimmy Fitts and redshirt freshman center Alex Herron. Leavitt said he believes these two players have a lot of potential, but that behind them there is a lot of inexperience.

?Fitts is a potential draft pick. Alex Herron is a young guy, a battler,? he said. ?Behind there it is wide open.?

Blackwell also said the unproven line is playing well.

?We?ve lost a lot of experience,? he said. ?They looked really good during the spring.?

Hobbie said he is also concerned about the line.

?Coming out of the spring (Offensive Line) Coach Frey knew he had some work ahead,? he said. ?We had a good spring.?

Even with these concerns, the Bulls hope that proven leadership and great athletes will make for a strong offense this season. With the tougher level of competition Division I-A provides, this will be vital to winning games.

Like the rest of his squad, Hobbie said he looks forward to the challenges of the upcoming season.

?I have high expectations,? he said. ?We expect to be competitive in every game.?

Rob Brannon covers football and can be reached at oraclerob@yahoo.com