After a pre-dawn scrimmage, a fun-filled trip to the beach and a cookout one day earlier, the University of South Florida Bulls responded with a spirited Thursday morning practice and “got big-time, big-time better,’’ according to Coach Willie Taggart.
“We had a lot of energy and made a lot of plays,’’ said Taggart during USF’s sixth day of training camp at the Vero Beach Sports Village.
Junior LB Reshard Cliett was one of the biggest standouts, Taggart said.
“He played outstanding; it was like (a) game,’’ Taggart said. “He was hitting people. He was everywhere.’’
Taggart also mentioned sophomore DE Aaron Lynch, DE Eric Lee, DB Brandon Salinas and DB Fidel Montgomery as top playmakers. Offensively, Taggart was pleased with the running of Marcus Shaw and Michael Pierre, plus the development of freshman backs Darius Tice and Sta’fon McCray.
“We know in this offense, we’re going to need them all,’’ said Taggart, who also praised the work of freshmen offensive linemen Dominique Threatt and Cameron Ruff. “We came into this saying we’ve got to develop more guys. They ran the ball hard and that’s important for us. We don’t want guys dancing in there. This isn’t dance class. This is football.’’
HIT THE BEACH: Wednesday’s team trip to the Atlantic Ocean – which included some beach volleyball, football throwing and swimming – produced the desired results for Taggart.
“Any great team has great team chemistry,’’ Taggart said. “That’s one of the common things you hear about with any great team. That was a thing lacking when I got here, the team unity. We’re here together, working for the same common cause, and we need to work together, enjoy each other. It’s hard to play with each other and be a team without knowing each other. After what we asked them to do, it was right to let them enjoy themselves.’’
The beach trip followed a surprise wake-up call Wednesday at 3 a.m, then a scrimmage at 4:30. It followed Taggart’s new mantra of “getting comfortable while being uncomfortable,’’ which was emphasized by Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who visited USF last week.
“I didn’t know what to expect,’’ Bulls senior MLB DeDe Lattimore said. “When I first got up, I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Some of the coaches were saying tornado storm or hurricane. There were so many stories going on.
“Then we went to the locker room and everyone was getting taped. Then we knew what time it was. Once I got on the field, it was worth getting up, seeing guys smiling and hollering. When the adversity came, we were ready.’’
And in turn, that surprised Taggart.
“I thought they might be moaning and dragging around,’’ Taggart said. “It was the exact opposite. I don’t know if they got together and said, ‘We’ll fool coach.’ But it was a great scrimmage. Some guys were saying, ‘We should do this more often.’”
WEEKEND PLANS: The Bulls wrap up their Vero Beach stay with a public practice on Saturday morning at 9:30. USF FanFest, featuring opportunities to get autographs and take photos of coaches and players, is Sunday at Raymond James Stadium from 2-4 p.m.