With a few weeks of spring practice under their belt, several of USF’s skill players are optimistic about the progress the offense is making under new coordinator Travis Trickett. Coupled with a dynamic kick return team, the Bulls project confidence in scoring points this upcoming season.
Sophomore running back Brian Battie noted that Trickett’s offensive philosophy is heavy on tempo, something that’s been made very clear in just a few sessions on the field.
“He’s been putting in a couple new schemes [in practice],” Battie said at a Tuesday press conference. “He’s real passionate about speed, so I just try my best to show him I got speed and I can do the things that he likes to get done on the field from the running back position.”
Although the integration of a new coordinator with fresh ideas can be expected to come with a learning curve, several Bulls have expressed familiarity with Trickett’s schemes and only a few novel ideas. Junior running back Kelley Joiner revealed Trickett asks more of the group in the passing game than previous coaches.
“We utilize the [running] backs more. We do a lot of stuff outside the backfield, going on routes, takedowns and stuff like that,” Joiner said. “I think he’s utilizing the running backs real well. That’s a difference I see.”
Battie mentioned the need for the running backs to improve their receiving ability, something that typically hasn’t been a priority in past seasons.
“All of us are going to have to catch the ball and make plays in the open field, passing wise,” Battie said. “We’ve been working on our hands a lot. You can always get better at that, especially when you’re playing running back.”
The hope is that the varied use of the backfield will make the offense more dynamic and unpredictable, something that has been successful for NFL teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers.
More opportunities for running backs through the air won’t take away from the Bulls’ wide receivers though. Sophomore Jimmy Horn Jr. said the wideouts are comfortable in Trickett’s system thanks to a lack of drastic changes.
“The offense is still similar, it’s not that big of a change,” he said. “It’s a couple of adjustments, but it’s not complicated. We pretty much got it as a receiving core.”
The Bulls know more than most teams that the scoring doesn’t always have to come from the offense. Despite the lack of team success last season, one of the few bright spots was Battie’s impact on special teams.
His three kick return touchdowns set a single-season and career program record, earning him an All-American selection. As special as it may be to earn such a title, the accolade also means teams will explicitly prepare to slow him down going forward.
“I think it’ll definitely affect me in a way,” he said. “I just have to be ready to do my thing, regardless of teams trying to game plan against me. It’s already evident that not a lot of teams are going to try to kick to me.
“I’m still going to make the best of my opportunities. I know my teammates will do what they have to do out there. Hopefully we can put it all together and make things happen this season.”
With Horn by his side on kickoff returns, Battie is confident USF will trouble its opponents with the ball in either playmaker’s hands. Even though Battie got national recognition, he had nothing but praise for his return partner.
“Jimmy is just as dangerous as me back there, to tell you the truth,” he said. “He’s got speed, vision, he’s aggressive too. So teams really don’t have a choice unless they want to kick out the back of the endzone or kick it short all the time and give us automatic good field position.
“I think they will realize, once they start kicking to Jimmy a little more, he can [score] too. I got total faith in Jimmy to take some back, I want to see him do great.”
Horn went so far as to guarantee the Bulls kick return team will continue to be a threat. Now that he and Battie have a year of experience together, Horn claimed their chemistry is at an all-time high.
“This year we’re going to be on the same page,” he said. “So kicking to either one of us, [opponents] can try to make the ‘smart decision’ but it’s going to be tough for them this year. I can promise you that.”