By Leo Haggerty

We are going to be covering the USF Bulls from the start of Fall practice until the end of the season and I am predicting that will be in a major bowl game.  How big a bowl, now that’s the $64,000 question.

We will be providing you with weekly transcripts of our conversations with the South Florida coaches and players.  Once the season starts, commentary from coaches will go into the COACH SPEAK column.  Players, as well as administrators, will be then be featured in this column.

During the first seven practices, I had a chance to chat with the following coaches and players about how Camp Strong was going as well as other pertinent topics relating to football.  Those members of the Bulls football family, and in that order below, were :

HC Charlie Strong
RB D’Ernest Johnson
CB Deatrick Nichols
OC Sterlin Gilbert
RB Darius Tice
C Cameron Ruff
WR Coach Charlie Williams
WR Ryeshene Bronson
WR Deangelo Antoine
DB Coach Blue Adams
DB Devin Abraham
DB Tajee Fullwood
DE Coach Damon Cogdell
DE Mike Love
DE Kirk Livingstone

Lots of good stuff if I do say so myself.  Enjoy the first edition of BULL TALK.

HC Charlie Strong

LH : There’s a very fine line, when practicing, between being competitive and combative.  How hard is it to walk that line?

CS : We stress that we’re a team and that’s your teammate.  We have to realize that we need everyone.  We don’t need anyone taking any cheap shots out there on a receiver that’s going out of bounds or a running back.  On anyone on offense.  Just don’t take a cheap shot.  You don’t have to prove anything to me at practice.  You already made the tackle.  We’ll get a lot of opportunities to do that in the game.

LH : The defense was much-maligned last year but, as fast as your offense plays, you’re give the opposition an extra four to six possessions a game. Teams are eventually going to score some points, aren’t they?

CS : The big thing about defense, when you get a team in third down, is you have to get off the field.  You can’t give up big plays.  You have to make sure when the opportunity presents itself on defense, you make a play.  It’s all about disruption and it’s all about disrupting the rythyim of the quarterback and disrupting the rythm of the offense. It’s a challenge to go out and stop some of these high-speed offenses.  We need to get aligned and get our feet in the ground and go make plays.

LH : No more two-a-days.  Good thing or a bad thing?

CS : It’s not a factor now.  We just have to get our work in.

LH : Where’s the most competition for a position on offense and defense?

CS : We have so many upperclassmen.  The main thing for them is to make sure that they know we are counting on them.  We are counting on them to have their position and to show us that they can step up and keep that position because we have tremendous competition all over.

LH : At Gainesville and Louisville and Austin, if you changed sweatshirts at practice you would have 50 reporters asking you why.  Are you happy you’re under the radar here or would you rather have more media coverage?

CS : It’s no secret.  Everybody knows what we have and , at some point, all the media is going to come out.  We know who we are.

RB D’Ernest Johnson

LH : Other than Clemson, no other college team goes as fast as you go.  How hard is it, going at that tempo, to get mentally ready for the next play?

DJ : You have to be in great shape and, when they call your number, you have to be ready.

LH : #9 is a whole different animal at quarterback, isn’t he?

DJ : Oh, yeah.  He’s one of the best college football players I’ve ever seen.  He can win a game with his arm and with his legs.  Give him the ball and he’ll make things happen.

LH : What do you like more, running the football or catching the football?

DJ : Running it.  No doubt.

CB Deatrick Nichols

LH : No two-a-days anymore.  Does that help with the recovery time?

DN : Yeah but we still have to keep working.  We have to take full advantage of every day that we come out here.  Not having two-a-days is a good thing for the body.  We have to take full advantage of every time we step on to the field.

LH : Most teams try to run a play a minute during team period.  Your offense gets in two, and sometimes three, plays in a minute.  How much better are you getting with that many reps?

DN : It’s work.  I’ll be honest with you, it sure is work and I love it.  I don’t care.  If I’m out here, I’m going to give 100 percent and I expect everyone out here to give 100 percent too.   What coach says, we do.

LH : You may be going against the best quarterback you’ll see all year every day at practice.  How much better will that make you?

DN : Not just Q.  Everyone is good.  On this team,  everyone has talent.  Everybody is working.  Everybody has the same goal and everybody is working to get to that goal.

LH : Rather play zone or man?

DN : Man.  We play man on the receivers almost all the time.  We’re a man team. Definitely, its  man.

OC Sterlin Gilbert 

LH : The NCAA has outlawed two-a-day football practices but has allowed teams to start earlier. You can spread out practice so players can rest and recover. Do you like the new system?

SG : Ask me in about a month or at the end of the season. I think there’s just some newness to it. A lot of guys, throughout the nation, have put out some comments on it. I think everyone is just feeling their way through it and we are as well. Yes, we like the days off. Give our guys an opportunity to rest and relax and recover. Also, gives them time to take care of their academics as well.

LH : When you talk about offensive terminology from one staff to another, is usually a different language. When you came in, was it going from Spanish to Latin or Spanish to Arabic?

SG : I think it was similar. I think it was pretty similar because it was so short. It’s pretty abbreviated. There’s not a whole lot of language to it. It was pretty familiar to these kids. They’re done a good job. They’re done s good job of learning the information.

LH : Flowers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. How nice is it to have a guy who touches the ball every play that can make a play on every snap?

SG : He can make a lot of play calls right and that’s what he does. He’s dynamic. He can do things with his arm. He can do things with his feet. That makes him hard to defend. I’m excited I get an opportunity to coach him.

LH : When you signal in a play, and the defense changes before you can signal in a new play, do the receivers have to read that defense and adjust or go with the route that’s called?

SG : We have a little of both. We have some stuff that once it’s called, it’s called. There’s also some stuff out there where those guys have an opportunity to make some adjustments to what the defense is giving us.

RB Darius Tice

LH : Other than Clemson, there’s not an offense in the world that goes at your tempo. How nice is that?

DT : We take pride in running the offense. We just come out here and try to get better each and every day. It’s awesome that we can run our offense that fast and we catch a lot of defenses just not ready. It’s a great feeling. We’re happy to see how fast that we can run plays. We’re just trying to get better. Each and every practice we try to go faster.

LH : In relation to the offensive line, you can only go as fast as the “Hogs” can get to the ball. Aren’t they the ones that really have to be in shape?

DT : They are the ones that have to be in shape. The O line and the D line. They took the initiative in the off season. They were on the treadmill and running and that’s all good. As you saw on the field, those big guys are moving. They’re moving and I’m extremely proud of those guys for taking the initiative and getting in shape. We really appreciate that because it all starts with them.

LH : When the play breaks down and Flowers starts to scramble, is your rule to come back to him or go away from him or find an open area?

DT : We find an open area. We do that because we know what he can do. Some plays he does things that I’ve never seen anybody do. When he gets on the move he’ll just tell us to get open and he’ll find us. He’ll run left and right and left and right and left and right and then find you alone in the corner of the end zone.

C Cameron Ruff

LH : I want to go back to the Florida State game. I’ve been covering football in Tampa for 30 years and I’ve never experienced a game where it was that hot on the sidelines. How hot was it that September afternoon?

CR : It was unbelievably hot. It was a scorcher. We let the heat get to us. That’s why we’re practicing in the heat now. It’s 90 to 95 degrees this week already so we’re starting to get use to it.

LH : Tempo-wise on offense, you can only go as fast as the “Hogs” go. What’s it like knowing that, as soon as you get to the line of scrimmage, you may have to snap the ball in five seconds?

CR : You know that your mind has to run 24/7. You really don’t have time to go over your block or what you did on the last play. You have to get ready for the next play.

LH : What are your calls on a pass play and a run play?

CR : On a pass play, you’re checking the defense to see if they’re coming with a blitz from the right side or the left side. From there, I communicate to the other lineman what side the pressure is coming. I’ll bring the guard with me to make sure we stay on a man. That way we can go and get a block. On run plays we’re mostly zone blocking so I really don’t have to worry about a man unless he crosses my face.

LH : With the run/pass option such a big part of your offense, is there a call made when the ball comes out?

CR : No. You just have to trust that everything happens before you get past three yards.

LH : No two-a-days anymore. The big guys got to love that, right?

CR : That sounded very good coming into this year. That’s a big change from last year and a big load off our back. Gives us a chance to recover at the end of the day.

LH : When the first day in full gear?

CR : I’m pretty sure we’re going to lock-and-load on Saturday. Getting ready to get down in the trenches and that will be a lot of fun.

LH : When you practice against a teammate, is there a difference and a line drawn between being competitive and combative?

CR : Yes but it’s a very thin line. Out here the emotions get going. You get tired or you get popped. We do know that at the end of the day we’re all family. We’re all brothers and we’re all out here to have a good time.

WR Coach Charlie Williams

LH : You had an interesting trio of wide receivers during your time with the Bucs.  You coached Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony followed by Keyshawn Johnson.  How does the group you have now compare in potential to those guys?

CW : Those guys were special.  Obviously, there was no doubt about it.  These guys that we have here now are working hard.  These guys are working hard and they’re competing because they don’t know what the deal is just yet.  They don’t know who is going to be one or two or three or four.  We’re working hard.  We have great competition.  We want to keep on going at that pace right now.  We’re not where we want to be just yet but we’re working hard to get there.

LH : We seen #9 on a daily basis for the last couple of years.  Do you look at him and go “Wow” after some of the plays he makes?

CW : I watched these guys on TV, when I was at Texas, and I tell you what, Q is special. It’s like he has eyes in the back of his head because he runs all over the place. He sees the whole field and he just makes things happen. We want to continue to keep that rolling.

LH : When the play breaks down and Flowers starts to scramble, do your receivers have a rule they follow in that situation?

CW : I won’t tell you everything that we do but I’ll just tell you this.  We get in phase with the quarterback.  The guy that gets open is going to be the guy that gets the ball and he’s going to score.  At least he’ll have a good chance to score.

LH : Have you ever been associated with an offense that goes at this fast a tempo?

CW : Yes.  Last year was my first experience with it.  I really and truly enjoy it.  With these guys, we can get down the field pretty quick and we can run a lot of plays in the game.  All we’re trying to do is tire out the defense and score a lot of points plus keep our defense off the field.

LH : Lot of run-pass options, right?

CW : Absolutely.  That’s the name of the game.

WR Ryeshene Bronson

LH :Your receivers coach has been around a lot of years.  A little like Father Time with as long as he’s been coaching.  What have you learned from him coaching you on a daily basis?

RB : A lot.  I can say this.  Out of all the coaches that I’ve had so far, Coach Williams has influenced me a lot.  Telling me to make sure I make right decisions and good choices.  He calls to check up on me a lot.  He will text me.  He wants to make sure that I get everything out of my senior year.  That’s why we all love Coach Williams.  He’s a great guy.

LH : Now that Rodney Adams has graduated, who is going to run the 9 route on the first play for the touchdown?

RB : Me.  Me.  Most certainly me or it can be Valdes or Trye McCants or it can be anyone in our room.  We can all make plays.

LH : Is there anything that #9 can do on the football field now that would surprise you?

RB : Nope.  I’ve already seen it.  He’s amazing.  Just amazing.

WR Deangelo Antoine

LH : In the old days, you would put on weight until you lost a tenth of a second in for forty time.  Then you would lose weight until you got that tenth of a second back.  Is it that way today?

DA : Not really.  Now, when you gain weight, they let you get comfortable with that weight.  You don’t put on a lot of weight and not be comfortable with it.

LH : If the wide receivers have a basketball game, are you the point guard?

DA : I try to lead by example.  I’m not a real talkative guy.  I want to lead by example and do the right thing so people will follow.

LH : At practice, it looks like there’s a lot more teaching than screaming going on.  It looks like they try to show you what you did right and correct what you did wrong.  Is that what’s going on?

DA : Yeah.  There’s a lot of that going on out there.  The coaches are trying to see what’s the best way to communicate with us.  They’re seeing how we receive information and how we deal with it.  They’re not focused on talking at you but more interested in talking to you.

LH : USF runs a lot of three and four wide receiver sets.  Doesn’t that force you to stay mentally in the game because you never know when your going in.

DA : Yes.  You have to lock in.  You have to be alert and get the signal.  If you don’t get the signal you’ll run the wrong route.  That’s why we’re pushing everybody to buy in and do their job.

LH : Does #9 do anything on the field that surprises you any more?

DA : We call him The Magician.  Really, #9 is a magician.  He can make magic.  He pulls the rabbit out of the hat.

DB Coach Blue Adams

LH : Great day today for the secondary especially in the two-minute and one-minute drill periods.  Your guys were really going to the football today, correct?

BA : Yes.  That’s always a good thing when they can catch it and make a big play.  We were getting pretty good pressure on the quarterback and that led to the interceptions.  We are going to try and do that more.

LH : With the spread offense being the predominate college offense, has nickle become the base defense?

BA : Yeah, pretty much.  You need a cover guy on the slot wide receiver. You got to have a guy on the grass that can defend the slot receiver, so having so many guys that can jump inside and outside, you have options.

LH : When I talk to NFL guys about Cover 2, all they want their secondary people to do is reroute.  In college, is the philosophy still to have the squat corners drive the receivers inside?

BA : We are just trying to reroute them.  If our corners can reroute them, that’s great.  If we have to play off, then we’ll do that.  Whatever we have to do to get the job done is what we are going to do.  We’ll look at everything.

LH : How much better do you DBs get going against #9 every day?

BA : Not only just #9.  It’s our receiving corp as well.  They can all run and they have good body control and they have great hands. Every day at practice they give us an opportunity to compete in some game-like situations.

LH : When it comes to tempo, USF and Clemson are the lead dogs on that sled.  Just going against that fast of an offense gives you extra practice reps, right?

BA : We get reps and we get work.  This offense gives you a lot of reps.  It about number of snaps.  There’s a lot of snaps at practice and that’s good so we can evaluate players.  The only way you’re going to get better is to work at it.

LH : The defense got maligned last year for giving up a lot of points.  As fast as your offense goes, there’s not a lot of time to rest with the opposition getting the ball a lot more, right?

BA : You have to be able to go out there and do the job no matter how many snaps you have to play.  I expect a total effort all the time.

LH : Does it all comes down to getting off the field on third down?

BA : Yes.  That’s the key.

DB Devon Abraham

LH : Did the secondary have as good a day as it looked especially during the two-minute and one-minute drill period?

DA : Yeah, we had a good day.  We got the better of the offense a few times.  We just want to make plays.

LH : Do you run more man or zone?

DA : It’s a mixture.  We’re trying to throw a little bit of everything at the offense.  We’re not trying to be a laid-back defense.  We’re trying to attack.

LH : The tempo the USF offense goes is ridiculously fast. Does that help you guys going against it every day at practice?

DA : It, for sure, gets you into shape.  That’s the big advantage for the defense when you go every practice against an up-tempo team.  You are in shape.  You really don’t get tired in a game because the other team doesn’t go as fast as our offense.

LH : Is there anything on your mind other than San Jose State right now?

DA : No.  Just take it one game at a time.

LH : The best quarterback that you see all year could be the one you see at practice every day.  How much does that help the secondary?

DA : It helps us out a lot. Q does a lot of things with his feet and he does a lot of things with his arm.

LH : Should we expect to see a lot of blitzing from the defense this year?

DA : Like I said earlier, we are going to attack.  We are not going to lay back.  We are to do everything we need to do to disrupt the offense.

DB Tajee Fullwood

LH : When you got to USF, was there any discussion about looking at you at wide receiver because of your size?

TF : Not really.  Since I got to South Florida, the closest I got to the offense was punt return.  That’s the only thing I’ve done on offense.  Coming to college, I always wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball rather than the offensive side.  If they put me on kick return or punt return that would be great.

LH : In your Cover 2, are you reading the quarterback’s eyes or are you getting to a landmark and playing football from there?

TF : We’ll start out with a certain landmark.  For instance, 20 yards back and two yards off the hash.  The big thing is you have to backpedal.  You have to get depth, especially in Cover 2,  because you don’t want anything to get behind you.  You just keep getting depth.  Getting depth and reading the quarterback’s eyes.

LH :  The best QB you see all year may be Q.  Does that make you that much better?

TF : I feel that it does.  I don’t think too many people in college football that can do what Flower’s does.  I’ll say that right now.  I feel with him running around, and other stuff, it’s just going to make us better.  He’s one of a kind. He’s special.

LH : You work against you offense all year and then you have to play Navy.  Does that drive you nuts?

TF : It does.  It does.  I tell you what.  Two weeks before we play them we start preparing for Navy.  It’s so simple an offense but it’s so technical and Navy is so disciplined.  They may be the only team that chop blocks you on every play.  They’re the only team in our conference that does that.  It’s very difficult, and different, preparing for them than anyone else.

DE Coach Damon Cogdell

LH : There’s a lot of discussion about whether the Wide 9 or Ghost 9 techniques work.  What’s your opinion?

DC : Ghost 9 is when you’re off the ball and the Wide 9 is when you’re on the ball.  It all depends on the situation.  It you’re looking at the possibility of any type of zone read or any type of power, you want to be in that Tight 9 techniques.  If you’re getting outside zone read, you want to be in the Wide 9 technique.

LH : In a Ghost 9 and Wide 9, doesn’t that put your ends in coverage?

DC : Yes.  If it’s a zone blitz scheme, they’ll drop into coverage.  In some man situations you have to carry a receiver through on a wheel route.

LH : With the spread offense so prevalent in college football today, does your ends play the run on the way to the quarterback?

DC : Absolutely.  Absolutely.  We want to attack the quarterback and we’ll convert as the play develops.

LH : In your mind, what is your best defensive alignment right now?

DC : I want to be in whatever defense gets us a stop.

LH : The biggest problem last year was getting off the field on third down.  What can you do different this year?

DC : Our defense this year will do more attacking.  The scheme only works if you run to the football and the biggest thing, once you get there, is to make a play. Right now, our guys are starting to get it and play hard.

LH : Chasing #9 everyday, does that make your defense better?

DC : Absolutely.  Absolutely.  We have to get better playing against the best quarterback we may see all season.

LH : Do you like your ends to stand up or put their hand in the dirt?

DC : All depends on what are alignment happens to be.  Personally, I like the hand on the ground because they can come own the ball with a burst.

DE Mike Love

LH : I was a DB in college and never got a sack.  What does getting a sack feel like?

ML : It’s really fun.  You get the juices flowing. When you sack a quarterback you really get excited.  It gets everyone fired up.

LH : When you have a chance to sack a quarterback, do you try and go for the arm for a strip sack?

ML : You want to but, it’s happening so fast, you’re just trying to get him down on the ground.

LH : Would you rather play with your hand in the dirt or standing up?

ML : Hand in the dirt.  Get off the ball faster.

LH :  The best quarterback you see all year may be the guy you see at practice every day.  How much better do you get going against Q every day at practice?

ML : You got to get better going against him every day.  He makes us all better.

LH : Do you like to drop into coverage or are you strictly a pass rusher?

ML : We’ll have to wait and find out.

LH : As fast as your offense goes, is it a challenge to get the defensive signals in quickly?

ML : It can be challenging but we have the coaches right there on the sidelines so we’re ready to go.  When it doubt, we go to base.

DE Kirk Livingstone

LH : How much better does it make you chasing #9 at practice every day?

KL : Oh, yeah.  He’s a great guy and a great quarterback.  He’s just always making plays out there.  I think he’s going to be the best quarterback that we’ve gone against.  He’s pretty good.

LH : The hard part is that you have to go against him every day, right?

KL : Yes, sir. The good thing is we don’t have to play against him in a game.  That’s really good.

LH : What’s it like to get a sack?

KL : The first thing is that you have to get off the ball.  When you’re coming off the ball, you have to use your hands.  Then it’s you against the offensive lineman.  He’s the only one standing in your way of getting to the quarterback.

LH : What’s your best rush technique?

KL : I would say it’s a stab then a club.  My next best is a rip.

LH : Going against the USF up-tempo offense, isn’t it like a practice and a half with all the reps?

KL : Yes.  It’s really fast out at practice.  They go as fast as they can.  It’s fast-paced and it’s preparing us for the season when we see this type of offense.