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Four things to watch during spring practices

After turning USF around in his third season as head coach, Willie Taggart looks to keep up the pace to top last year’s performance.  ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

With a clear sky hanging over the Frank Morsani Football complex, the Bulls — amped up by a miraculous 2015  turnaround— took the field Wednesday for their first spring practice. Bouncing back from a 4-8 season in 2014, USF trounced all expectations with an 8-4 record in 2015, even knocking off a ranked Temple team. But since then, much has changed and looking ahead, here are the major talking points expecting to surface throughout spring.

Flowers is the man, for now

The opening morning of practice — the type of high-energy affair synonymous with a Willie-Taggart-led team — was capped off by a dart from Asiantii Woulard to former quarterback-turned-receiver Evan Wilson, who leapt over a defender and made the snag. This was just a snapshot of Woulard’s USF spring practice debut.

Woulard — a 6-foot-3 transfer from UCLA — was ineligible for 2015, and will start the season behind USF’s newest gem Quinton Flowers, who enters his junior year holding the reins of the offense.

The question is for how long?

“My job is to recruit guys to come take other guys’ jobs,” Taggart said. “It’s up to the guys that have those jobs to keep their jobs. Quinton understands that, it’s Quinton’s job right now.”

Flowers came alive last season with a shade under 3,300 all-purpose yards and 34 touchdowns. He enters the spring as the clear favorite, but in the back of his mind, the next man up — in this case Woulard — is lurking in the shadows.

Restocking a depleted O-line

USF has three 300-pound holes to fill on the offensive line with the departures of guard Thor Jozwiak, center Brynjar Gudmundsson and tackle Mak Djulbegovic. The 2015 offensive line started all 13 games together and, following some early hiccups, became one of the team’s stronger position groups.

New co-offensive coordinator Darren Hiller, who replaced Danny Hope, is also tasked with finding a replacement for tackle Reilly Gibbons — a contender for a starting job who was forced to leave the team due to a knee injury.

One of two remaining starters from last year, senior tackle Kofi Amichia, is embracing the veteran role and looking to mesh quickly with whoever steps in on the line beside him.

“We’re looking to take it to the next level,” Amichia said. “Every year we look to set the bar higher and higher. As for the young guys that are coming in, I think they’re going to be a special group. We might even be better than last year.”

New year, new staff

It’s been a challenge for Taggart to maintain a consistent coaching staff in his four years with USF. What is usually attributed to poor results, this year’s coaching tweaks were because his staff was sought after by other teams.

Most notably was defensive coordinator Tom Allen, who left to take the same job at Indiana near his hometown. Allen’s 4-2-5 scheme vaulted USF from 72nd in the nation to 35th. Although the 4-2-5 will remain under recently promoted assistant Raymond Woodie, the true effects of Allen’s departure have yet to be seen.

Other changes include wide receiver coach Ron Dugans heading to South Beach to take the same job under newly hired Miami head coach Mark Richt. Dugans was replaced with former Michigan assistant T.J. Weist. Former co-offensive coordinator Danny hope also left the program to be closer to his family. 

The offense will also see a boost with the hiring of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer dual-threat quarterback Shawn King who will coach the quarterbacks.

“The good thing about Shawn is he has proof,” Taggart said of King, who took the Bucs to the NFC Championship game in 1999. “Some coaches just talk, where he has the proof.”

No room for comfort

With as impressive a season as USF had in 2015, it’d be easy to fall into the trap of complacency. That was something Taggart nipped in the bud early by reminding his team of a not-so-fond memory.

“I reminded them about how everybody felt back in November when we were out here practicing while Houston and Temple were playing in the American Conference championship game,” Taggart said. “It ticked everybody off, it ticked me off and I’m still ticked off about it.”

A coach driven by competition, Taggart is firm in his belief that his team hasn’t done anything special yet. With USF lurking as a contender for the AAC crown, being comfortable isn’t an option.

“You either get better or you get worse, no one stays the same,” Taggart said. “We got better, but we didn’t get a lot of the things that we wanted to get accomplished, we didn’t get them accomplished. We can’t get complacent because we haven’t reached the top where we want to be.”