TAMPA — When the fog finally lifted Wednesday morning at the Morsani Football Complex and the University of South Florida geared up for its first spring practice, players noticed bold messages on new tarpaulins along the fences.
“BLAME NO ONE!’’
“MAKE NO EXCUSES!’’
And, of course, the ubiquitous mantra of Willie Taggart’s USF football program:
Following a 2-10 season, Taggart said his Bulls have indeed done something.
USF has gotten bigger. Working with strength coach Hans Straub, the five returning offensive-line starters have grown from an average of 297 pounds to 310 — with noticeable weight gains sprinkled throughout the team.
Sixty-six players (out of 79) made every winter conditioning drill. Fifty-two of them set personal records in the weight room.
Even more significantly, according to Taggart, the Bulls have adopted a high-energy, positive-attitude approach to their work.
“Last year, a lot of guys didn’t gel with the system and had the old mindset of the old coaching staff,’’ Bulls defensive tackle Todd Chandler said. “It took a while for us to get behind it as a team. But now it’s all positive attitude. There’s no negative energy.’’
And there are no starting jobs assured — at least not yet.
“Nobody on this football team has a job, not even (place-kicker) Marvin Kloss, who was up for the Groza Award,’’ Taggart said. “He didn’t win that, either.
“We can’t do this (automatically award starting jobs) to our football program and this university. No one is given anything. It has to be earned. Everyone knows they can’t take the day off, because the guy behind me is playing good enough to take my job. That’s at every position. That’s what’s going to be fun about this spring — competition.’’
At quarterback, Mike White, who started last season’s final five games as a true freshman, said he’s not assuming anything.
“Football is a competitive sport in itself,’’ White said. “No one can be complacent. No one can say, ‘It doesn’t matter how I perform, I’ll start anyway.’ That’s what I love about this. Coach Taggart has proven it to us before. He’s willing to play anyone, so everyone has got to be their best at all times.’’
In Taggart’s second season, it’s easier for USF players to be at their best.
The implementation of Taggart’s system was laborious at times. This season’s comfort level adds to the efficiency.
“Everybody is doing everything much faster,’’ Bulls wide receiver Andre Davis said. “The offense is more up-tempo. Everybody seems like they know what to do instead of just guessing. Last year, a lot of people were guessing.’’
Davis said the offensive familiarity manifested itself immediately. During a two-minute drill on Wednesday, USF’s offense marched down the field for a touchdown.
“We have a lot of All-Americans on day one,’’ Taggart said. “But our guys are really flying around with a lot of energy. They know what they’re doing now.
“Last year, no one knew anything — and that’s players and coaches. Everything is so much smoother and more crisp.’’
It’s always an optimistic tone on the first day of spring practice. But White said the attitude is real, and it will be manifested in the 2014 record.
“One week after the last game (of 2013), we were back in there working,’’ White said. “It left a bad taste in our mouth. We’re competitors. We don’t want to have a season like last year. And we won’t.’’
Floyd won’t return
Taggart said quarterback Matt Floyd, who started last season’s opener and served as a team captain all season, will not return. He’s scheduled to graduate this semester and has “decided to take his talents somewhere else,’’ according to Taggart.
It’s not a surprising move. After being benched following the second half’s opening series in a season-opening loss against McNeese State, Floyd never played again.
Cornerback Durden indefinitely suspended
Cornerback Kenneth Durden, who started 11 games last season, remains indefinitely suspended following his January arrest on a marijuana possession charge.
Durden is on the USF roster, but he is not expected to participate in spring drills.
Taggart said Durden’s eventual return is possible, but “he has some things to take care of, much bigger than football. If he works those things out, he can come back and talk to us then.’’
Davis has switched his uniform number from No. 81 to No. 7, which he wore at Jefferson High. … LB Reshard Cliett (shoulder), LB Hans Louis (knee) and OL Jake Kaufmann (knee) aren’t expected to participate in spring drills after offseason surgeries. … OL Thor Jozwiak, who missed last season due to an irregular heartbeat, has been cleared and was on the field Wednesday. … Taggart said the coaches are experimenting with players at different positions — WR Chris Dunkley worked some at defensive back — and left open the possibility of a position switch or a two-way performer. “We need playmakers,’’ Taggart said. “We don’t care where they come from.’’ … Friday’s workout (8 to 10 a.m.) is the first of six Taggart is opening to the public.