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Competition plentiful in USF’s first week of practice

 

This weekend marked the end of USF’s first week of spring practice, and as defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said, “It’s too early to make concrete observations.”

But every player and staff member alike has echoed consistent themes so far: “fun” and “competition.”

Coming off a 2-10 season, it would make sense that those are the focuses in the first week of practice.

“It’s great to be back out (on the field),” Bresnahan said. “Everything is designed to create competition and we have competition at almost every position. We’ve created competition in our drills, we’ve created competition in our special teams drill, which really sets the tempo for practice. It’s been fun to watch this team gel together. It’s a whole new year, a whole new team.”

The “new year, new team” mentality was something fans have seen since last season with USF coach Willie Taggart and his staff being in their first year, but Taggart said seeing competition among a team that has lost its seniors is encouraging, especially at offensive line.

“Last year, we didn’t have (competition) on the offensive line,” Taggart said. “That’s going to make our guys up front better.”

Taggart said the comfort level has been reassuring to see in the first three days.

“You can tell we’ve gotten better,” he said. “Things are smoother, guys are going through drills quicker and there aren’t a lot of do-overs.”

While Wednesday may have been Day 1 of practice, Day 2 was the Bulls’ first practice open to fans — the turnout was congruous to the turnout for home games last year as the season winded down.

Apart from the usual media, a few sets of parents and fans were seated in the bleachers.

Saturday, however, was the opposite.

It was Junior Day — a day set by colleges to host talented high school juniors and show how practices are run — for the Bulls and their first day of full pads.

Taggart cited a huge jump in the number of future recruits from last year to this year — 107 compared to 250.

While the field wasn’t a host to 250 high schoolers Saturday, many young athletes, fans and parents were present.

Bleachers and the roped off area on the sidelines were nearly full, and the Bulls got their first chance to play in front of an audience since the season ended.

“It was good to see people come out and get excited about their team,” Taggart said. “We’ll do our part, but we do need them.”

Between Days 2 and 3, the competition USF staff spoke of was certainly evident to those fans.

Players such as fullback Auggie Sanchez lined up at linebacker while cornerback Lamar Robbins and wide receiver Chris Dunkley swapped roles.

Sanchez, a redshirt freshman, is listed as a fullback on the official roster and played both positions in high school, among others.

“He’s really just a natural when it comes to football,” Bresnahan said. “He just has to learn the details of our defense.”

Taggart said Sanchez did surprising things in the first day of pads that he wasn’t doing on the first two days of practice.

Though Robbins spoke of playing wide receiver before last season, he couldn’t seem to get separation from a senior in Dunkley.

Standing at an even 6 feet and weighing

188 pounds, Dunkley may make for a better corner than receiver, Taggart said.

“Chris Dunkley has (Robbins) shut down at corner back,” Taggart said. “Dunkley looks really impressive over there at corner back.”

Dunkley dropped a noticeable number of passes in Days 1 and 2 of practice and lined up as a punt returner Saturday.

“Dropped balls aren’t allowed around here,” Taggart said. “We need guys to make plays. You talk about having fans out here, they see that too. Coach T isn’t the only one seeing it, everyone is. He’ll get better.”

Among players out of their position was quarterback Tommy Eveld lining up at receiver Friday, leaving the only two quarterbacks sporting gold jerseys (Mike White and Steven Bench).

With Matt Floyd’s plan of transferring and Bobby Eveld graduating, competition at quarterback isn’t nearly as deep as it was last season, but perhaps just as visible. 12