Defense USF's priority going forward
With new coach Willie Taggart in place, things looked different at the University of South Florida's early morning spring football practices.
The depth chart was wiped clean, transforming competition into a minute-by-minute proposition. Blaring music served to energize players as they prepared for workouts. Everything moved in double time — with no wasted motion.
Changes. They were everywhere.
As the Bulls prepare for tonight's spring game at Raymond James Stadium, USF fans desperately want a reversal of last season's 3-9 meltdown. That means big changes — and much different results — from the program's beleaguered defense.
Last season, the Bulls had just two interceptions — two — and ranked last among 120 programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Three times, it surrendered a winning drive in the game's final moments. Syracuse scored 34 second-half points, the highest two-quarter total allowed by USF in its regular-season history. Nevada rolled up 228 yards in the first quarter, the highest one-quarter total ever allowed by USF.
“We just had too many times where we weren't very good at all,'' USF defensive tackle Luke Sager said. “That absolutely has to change.''
According to USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, that will change.
“Chris Cosh (former USF defensive coordinator) isn't a bad football coach,'' Bresnahan said. “They just didn't have the tie-ins at all three segments, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary. We're going to tweak things and do things differently, but we're not starting from ground zero. We're going to build on the things that were already here.
“I don't just put (the lack of interceptions) on the secondary. It's every unit that needs to work together. But we are practicing (getting) turnovers. They need to become a habit like any other muscle movement. I think you'll see a drastic increase in turnovers this year.''
Bulls senior cornerback Josh Brown, who joined USF last season as a junior-college transfer, has seen a difference in the team's mentality.
“Knowing that we (secondary) were probably the worst of all the groups, we know we've got to come together and compete,'' Brown said. “No lackadaisical days. We can't have that.
“We don't really like hearing that we were the worst secondary. It kind of takes a toll on us. I don't think we were that bad, but our numbers show (we were). So we know we have to improve.''
Taggart has seen that attitude throughout the team.
“If you want to be the starter, if you want something, you've got to do something,'' Taggart said. “We very much needed to build some depth and we try to do it through competition every day. We move the depth chart around. When some of the freshmen come in (this fall), there's an opportunity to add to that depth.''
Taggart also added an element of fun to the spring game. He split the coaching staff, then allowed each unit to “sign'' two free agents. Then there was a player draft, held in front of the team, so everyone would know who was most valued.
“There's a lot of energy out here now,'' Bulls offensive lineman Brynjar Gudmundsson said. “We're trying to impress these new coaches, who haven't seen us play (in a game). We want to keep improving. But first and foremost, we want to come out with a victory.''
It will be more of a game-like atmosphere. But it's more than fun and games. The winners will earn steak dinners at a team cookout. The losers get hot dogs.
“I think we've created something fun,'' said Taggart, who appointed himself as “commissioner'' during the selection proceedings. “This is supposed to be fun. You don't want it all boring. But through it all, we want to improve and come together as a team. I think we've been able to do that.''