Spring practice isn't always the best time to learn about how your team as a whole will perform. But individual players can start to make their presence felt and build up towards a big role during the season. Here are a few USF players who did just that over the past few weeks.
Spring practice's importance to a college football team is a bit overblown. Of course you want the offense and the defense to get their timing down and set themselves up for a successful season. But you can read way too much into the scrimmages and the spring game. You're not trying to win the game. There's no game plan to take advantage of the other team's weaknesses. The coaches may decide to tweak the rules so they can see what they want to see and evaluate. It's a lot like the NFL preseason. Really the best thing that can happen in spring practice is that no one suffers a major injury. So based on that, the South Florida Bulls had a highly successful spring session.
Still, there are always individual players who make a case for more playing time or a starting job. With what they accomplished this spring, you may see any of these five players making an impact on USF's 2011 season:
-- Darrell Scott, RB. Any time a five-star talent joins your program, even as a transfer, the expectations are high. Scott was the top-rated running back in the class of 2008, signed with Colorado, had two very disappointing seasons in Boulder, then transferred to USF last summer. Scott will have two years of eligibility to try and reverse the downward trajectory of his college career, and early indicators are that he may do just that. He already fits into the current offense better than USF's last five-star running back (Mike Ford) fit into the previous one, and Scott's performance this spring should make him part of the running back rotation along with starter Demetris Murray.
Scott was injured often at Colorado, and whether the light bulb never went on for him or it was issues with former coach Dan Hawkins and his staff, he was never able to assert himself and become a featured back. His performance yesterday may have lessened that concern. Scott left the spring game on April 2 with a calf injury and wasn't expected to be available for the Green and Gold Bowl. But he was able to go and led all runners with 75 yards on 11 carries, including a 32-yard run on a draw play where the field vision that wasn't always on display in Boulder was evident.
To be sure, Scott isn't going to be handed the starting running back job. As I described it over on Voodoo Five, the Mike Ford Fallacy might be in play, where fans question why the big-shot recruit isn't starting over the less-regarded incumbent. Demetris Murray is likely the #1 running back because he's more familiar with the little things -- blitz pickups, chipping defensive ends and linebackers, and where to get open if the quarterback has to move out of the pocket. That's not to say Scott won't learn how to do those things, but if he wants to be the featured back in the USF offense, he'll have to add those skills to his collection.
-- Quinterrius Eatmon, RT. This is the dawning of the Age of Quinterrius. After redshirting last fall and slimming down from 350+ pounds to 299, Eatmon was singled out for praise by Skip Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch repeatedly during spring practice. He quickly passed junior Damien Edwards and took the starting right tackle job with the first depth chart. To borrow a word from Holtz, Eatmon was "invisible" during the spring, meaning he wasn't making foolish mistakes or committing penalties.
With the offensive line trying to replace both starting tackles and its center from last year, putting an anchor down on one side of the line and hopefully keeping it there for a few years would be a real boost to the offense. Plus... his name is Quinterrius Eatmon! We have to get him in the 2012 Name of the Year bracket with a name like that.
-- Matt Floyd, QB. Let's not overstate Floyd's chances of getting a lot of playing time this year. He's still listed as the #3 quarterback on the depth chart, and he's a freshman who enrolled early and is still in his first semester of college. But when backup Bobby Eveld was forced to the sidelines early in the April 2 spring game, Floyd got an extended look and played especially well for a kid who should be getting ready for the prom. He followed that up with a decent game in the Green and Gold Bowl -- even though he threw two interceptions, they were both on deep passes that may not have been fully contested by the receivers.
The team still belongs to B.J. Daniels, but unlike last year when everyone was terrified of what might happen if Daniels got hurt, Floyd (along with Eveld) gives Skip Holtz some insurance at quarterback. That should free Daniels up to do more running and making plays outside the pocket, which is where he excels.
-- Ernie Tabuteau, CB. This one had even the most hardcore Bulls fans scrambling for their roster. Tabuteau is a walk-on junior who was discovered almost by accident. The St. Petersburg Times' Greg Auman told the story on his blog last week:
Former strength coach Ronnie McKeefery discovered him, as Tabuteau was dating a USF track athlete and hung out around the weight room. McKeefery worked him out, checked his 40 time, vertical leap, etc. "I talked to the kid, got his highlight tape off YouTube, watched it," (defensive backs coach Rick) Smith said. "I tried to get him in the program that day. Coach (Holtz) wouldn't let me do that. He went through all the process. He's really going to be good."
Tabuteau is 5'10" and 181 pounds, and even though he's not as big as Mistral Raymond, their stories are very similar. Raymond joined the team in 2009 as a walk-on junior, then earned a scholarship and may have been USF's best cornerback last season. Tabuteau has several established players ahead of him on the depth chart, but there's a scramble for playing time behind Quenton Washington, Kayvon Webster, and George Baker. Tabuteau has been making plays all spring, and simply being on the field has given him an edge over Ricardo Dixon, Tyson Butler, and Spencer Boyd, all of whom missed time during spring practice because of injuries.
-- Deonte Welch, WR. Welch redshirted in 2010, so he still has four years of eligibility to use. We hadn't heard much from him until the last two scrimmages, where Welch led the team in receiving yards in both. Last Saturday, Welch caught six passes for 110 yards and made the kind of play that Skip Holtz has been waiting for all spring. On a deep pass by Bobby Eveld, Welch went up and took the ball away from Quenton Washington for a 50-yard gain. Holtz and Todd Fitch have been vocal repeatedly about how the receivers are not competing hard enough to catch passes in one-on-one situations. After last year's struggles at that position, and with no one really separating from the pack this spring, Welch may find himself on the field more than originally expected in 2011.