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Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer

Joey Knight

A fourth-generation Floridian, Joey Knight was born in Tampa and raised in Zephyrhills, where he still resides. He moved to the Times in July 2006 after 15 years at the Tampa Tribune, which included a seven-year stint (1997-2004) as University of Florida beat writer. He began covering the University of South Florida athletic department for the Times in 2013. A married father of three, he enjoys running, classic television and classic heavy-metal music.

Phone: (813) 310-6328

E-mail: jknight@tampabay.com

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  1. USF offensive scheme veering toward clarity

    Blog

    So far, we've seen it only in glimpses, fuzzy snapshots in the form of public scrimmages. All we know for sure is, it's fast, and maybe that's fitting in a way.

    Because if we know nothing else about new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense, it's this: It has been a blur.

    In 10 days, when the Bulls kick off their most anticipated season ever at San Jose State, we'll finally see the full picture. At that point, all the elements -- the pace, the power, the pass trajectory -- will be revealed.

    Until then, we can only draw conclusions based on (A) Gilbert's history, and (B) what little we've seen to this point in practice.

    With that in mind, we believe Bulls fans will see a solid likeness of the veer-and-shoot offense.

    It's the spread variation Gilbert learned more than a decade ago at the foot of Art Briles, and polished under the employment of current Syracuse coach Dino Babers (at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green from 2012-14).

    As this SB Nation story indicates, the veer-and-shoot differs from other spread schemes in that it's essentially an option offense with a vertical component. A power -- but not necessarily ball-control -- run game lulls defenses to the box, creating mismatches out wide.

    And if linebackers get sucked into trying to stop the run, well, tight ends can find themselves quarantined.

    Moreover, Gilbert is a proponent of having his players execute without thinking, a process he has termed "mind-muscle memory." Such a philosophy, of course, doesn't lend itself to a thick playbook.

    Which might explain why the Bulls have no playbook. Quarterbacks have said Gilbert diagrams a play, and they copy it down themselves.

    But there are still other hints. Girth up front is an obvious prerequisite for a power run game, and USF has it....

    First-year USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system is expected to combine a power run game with a vertical passing component.
  2. Q&A: USF lineman Billy Atterbury

    Blog

    On a practice day devoid of any significant drama (the Bulls worked out in shorts), we were afforded a few minutes with redshirt sophomore lineman Billy Atterbury, who could emerge as USF's most versatile offensive lineman. Here are excerpts from his media session.

    We don't get to watch a lot of practice. Are you still double-training as a tackle and pulling guard?
    "Coach (Matt Mattox) is moving a lot of us around right now. We've got a few guys (with some) little bumps and bruises. We've got a few guys that he's just trying to figure out where everyone is gonna work out at. I think we're all just trying to make the travel team, trying to do our best to get there."

    I assume you primarily played tackle at Clearwater Central Catholic. How much guard did you play?
    "Not really (laughs). I was at Countryside freshman year, and I played a little bit of that when I got moved up to varsity because I was still one of the shorter guys on that offensive line. This is something relatively new to me, but...whatever's best for the team, that's what all of us offensive linemen, we're not here for the glory. It's just a team, collective unit."

    What was noticeably different about your offseason conditioning work to prepare for the pace you guys plan to run?
    "Just a lot of cardio. I think that's the same with every team. A lot of running, a lot of just keeping the pace going. Because like you said, it's not one long sprint, one long mile run. It's every seven seconds, you've got to snap and be able to run 10 yards downfield, turn around and get back on the ball, and snap the ball seven seconds later. So it's a lot of quick turnaround, just very explosive, just seeing how much you can do, as fast as you can go."

    So you'd do a lot of bursts, then get back to the ball?
    "Absolutely. Coach (Pat) Moorer (strength and conditioning coach) definitely tries his best to get as much as he can out of us."

    When you look at the fact that your team appears in another preseason poll almost daily, do you feel it more as a bay area kid? Do you want it more? You want the undefeated season more?
    "Everyone says undefeated season, but as every player on this team will tell you, we're worried about San Jose (State), first game of the year. As a hometown kid who grew up watching this team, especially you want to do well, you want to show some hometown pride. But at the end of the day, it's about what Coach (Charlie Strong) says: every play, every quarter, every drive, every game."...

    Former CCC standout Billy Atterbury has practiced at guard and tackle for USF this preseason.
  3. Fullwood, Valdes-Scantling return to practice for USF

    Blog

    The Bulls received two encouraging signs Monday when senior FS Tajee Fullwood and senior WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling practiced fully after missing part of the preseason with injuries.

    Fullwood even had an interception during the portion of practice closed to reporters.

    Valdes-Scantling hadn't practiced in full-squad drills since injuring his right leg after landing awkwardly during a route-running drill July 29. Fullwood suffered an ankle injury during an Aug. 5 scrimmage.

    Elsewhere, senior WR Ryeshene Bronson (shoulder) didn't suit up again Monday, and still had his right arm in a sling. RB Duran Bell Jr., DE Kirk Livingstone, LB Andre Polk Jr. and RB Elijah Mack also spent Monday rehabbing injuries.

    The Bulls are slated to practice six days this week (Monday-Saturday) before breaking camp and starting a conventional game-week schedule Sunday or Monday....

    Senior receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) had 22 catches for 415 yards and five touchdowns last season.
  4. Rags to roster: USF long snapper Zack Deitz is former manager

    Blog

    He was a grunt, a gofer. Sometimes, Zack Deitz would be the first one to arrive on the USF practice field and last to leave, a routine borne not of nobility but job description.

    That's what student managers do. Except one day, amid his series of mundane duties, Deitz proved he also can perform an essential one.

    The Bulls specialists immediately took notice.

    "He was actually out here one day and he's like, 'Hey, I can (long) snap,'" P Jonathan Hernandez recalled. "And we're like, 'All right, let's see it.' And so he did it and we were like, 'Wow, you should definitely come out next year,' because we knew we were losing (Alex) Salvato."

    The Steinbrenner High alumnus practically has been snapping ever since. When the Bulls kick off the season at San Jose State in two Saturdays, the guy who spent last year washing uniforms will be wearing one.

    "He's a local kid, he's bought into it and these kids have accepted him," Bulls special teams coach Justin Burke said. "He's been a really good part of our team. Doesn't say much, goes to work...we've just got to get him to be a little more aggressive is all."

    Because Coach Charlie Strong typically doesn't permit rookies to speak with the media until they've appeared in a game, Deitz (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) was unavailable for comment after Monday's practice.

    He long-snapped (and played linebacker and defensive end) at Steinbrenner as a senior in 2015 after missing his junior year due to ACL surgery. He also has played for USF's rugby team. (Here's some footage of him scoring in a recent match.)

    Bulls equipment chief Jeremy Lees said Deitz's duties last season ranged from field setup to cleaning helmets and shoulder pads, to assisting coaches with drills. Like all student managers, he normally arrived a full two hours before the start of practice.

    "He primarily worked with the special teams guys a little bit, which is kind of ironic," Lees said.

    "He just came to us (shortly after the Birmingham Bowl) and said he wanted to walk on. We said, 'All right, good luck.' Obviously the team had a need so it was kind of a perfect fit."

    He replaces one of the most consistent Bulls players of the last three seasons. Salvato, also diminutive at around 200 pounds, went at least two consecutive seasons without an errant snap, proving that arguably the most unheralded job in football isn't necessarily a thankless one.

    Willie Taggart awarded Salvato a scholarship in the 2015 preseason.

    "It's one of those deals that, if you invest in that position, it can be yours for a long time," Burke said. "It's a nerve-wracking deal for those guys, 'cause they have to invest in it and their team depends on 'em. So it takes some guts and some confidence to do it."...

    Steinbrenner High alumnus Zack Deitz, a student manager for the Bulls last season, is their new long snapper.
  5. USF journal: Defense draws praise, penalties

    Blog

    Exactly two weeks before its season opener, USF's once-maligned defense spent the better part of a soupy Saturday morning alternately giving their fans reason for excitement and expletives.

    Which is to say, it made one play -- and penalty -- after another.

    The Bulls recorded three interceptions and a fumble recovery (in the end zone, no less), holding the first- and second-team offenses mostly in check in a public situational scrimmage spanning roughly 90 minutes.

    But for every pick, there was a personal foul. Or an offside whistle. Or a hold.

    "We're gonna harp on those," said senior DT Bruce Hector, who had the fumble recovery, "and the next practice, we'll cut down on 'em."

    Whistles aside, there was plenty defensively to encourage the audience of about 200, which grimaced its way through a forgettable '16 season in which USF allowed more than 480 yards a game....

    USF defensive back Naytron Culpepper (27) breaks up a pass intended for fellow freshman Kevaughn Dingle during the Bulls'  public scrimmage Saturday.
  6. USF sees mild decrease in season ticket sales

    Blog

    Two weeks before the USF football season commences, the Charlie Strong effect still hasn't resulted in a spike in season-ticket sales.

    The school reported Friday it has sold 14,074 season tickets, a modest dropoff from last season (15,973), when the Bulls' home slate included FSU, Navy and UCF.

    On the upside: The school reported 600 new season-ticket accounts. Moreover, August typically is its best month for selling season tickets.

    "FSU was a huge, huge draw, and a lot of people bought from us to get good seats for that game," said Scott Kull, USF's deputy athletic director for external operations. "But the good thing is that people who have bought season tickets for three consecutive years renewed this year at about 90 percent."

    Likely pulling down sales this year is an anemic non-conference home slate (Stony Brook, Massachusetts, Illinois), and three non-Saturday home games: Illinois (Friday Sept. 15), Temple (Thursday, Sept. 21) and Tulsa (Thursday, Nov. 16).

    "Those aren't excuses, they're just facts based on our analytics that show when people and particularly families come to games," Kull said. "And we don't control that."

    The Bulls play their first home game Sept. 2 against Stony Brook....

    USF fans stormed the Raymond James Stadium field after the Bulls clinched bowl eligibility with a 44-23 win against Temple in 2015.
  7. USF journal: Is Jimmy Bayes ready to break out?

    Blog

    At the dawn of his fourth season in the program, Bulls redshirt junior MLB Jimmy Bayes finally looks the part.

    A sinewy 175-pounder upon arriving from Immokalee in 2014, Bayes currently is the Bulls' second-heaviest linebacker (230 pounds) behind only Auggie Sanchez (245). Accordingly, he has spelled Sanchez frequently this preseason, logging quality reps -- lots of 'em -- through the first three weeks of camp.

    "Jimmy's been working," defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. "I'm gonna give him credit."

    All of which leads to a far weightier issue: In a season when the Bulls need every capable linebacker they can develop, will this finally be the year when the pounds, potential and planets all align for Bayes?

    "It's a perfect time, perfect environment," said Bayes, still seeking his first tackle in a USF uniform. "It's just a great year to build on. I've been bouncing around from different positions and stuff, and I finally feel like this is a good fit for me."

    A multi-position force of nature at Immokalee (78 tackles, six forced fumbles as a senior), Bayes added 40 pounds his redshirt season in 2014, then made five cameo appearances (mostly on special teams) the following year. All the while, a stable role seemed to elude him; he appeared in one game in '16.

    But with USF frighteningly thin at linebacker (Sanchez is the only player who has started a college game), a breakout for Bayes finally could be inevitable.

    It might even be essential. "My confidence is rising," he said.

    "He's been working, he's gotten a bunch of reps, and it's one of those things where he's just got to come on now," Jean-Mary said.

    BRONSON SIDELINED: Senior WR Ryeshene Bronson had his right arm in a sling Friday and isn't expected to participate in Saturday's open practice at the Morsani Complex. Coach Charlie Strong could elaborate on the nature of the injury after Saturday's workout.

    Toss in Marquez Valdes-Scantling (right leg), and two of the Bulls' projected starting pass-catchers are sidelined. Also rehabbing various ailments Friday were LB Andre Polk Jr. (hamstring), RB Duran Bell Jr. (left knee), OG Michael Wiggs, DE Kirk Livingstone and DE Vincent Jackson.

    OPEN PRACTICE SATURDAY: Speaking of that open practice, it's slated to go from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Morsani Complex. The Football Fan Day will follow immediately thereafter in the Sun Dome. Fan Day details can be found at this link.

    ODDS AND ENDS: The first-team offensive line in Friday's 11-on-11 period open to reporters featured RT Billy Atterbury, RG Brooks Larkin, C Cameron Ruff, LG Jeremi Hall and LT Eric Mayes. Junior Tyre McCants and redshirt freshman DeVontres Dukes started out wide, with Deangelo Antoine in the slot. ... Jean-Mary on starting WLB Nico Sawtelle -- "He's been a pleasant surprise. He shows up on the productivity charts a lot." ... DE Josh Black, sidelined a good chunk of the preseason with an undisclosed injury, appeared to practice at full speed in Friday's padless practice. ... Jean-Mary said before Polk got injured, he "was really starting to come on." The hamstring injury doesn't appear serious....

    USF linebacker Jimmy Bayes (4) has played sparingly the last two seasons.
  8. Willie Taggart's father dies

    Blog

    The father of former USF coach Willie Taggart has passed away.

    Taggart, now coach at Oregon, confirmed his dad's death via Twitter late Thursday night. John Taggart, father of six, was 70.

    Our Greg Auman wrote extensively about Taggart's parents -- who labored in vegetable fields and orange groves to support their family -- in this story published four summers ago.

    "His dad was an exceptional individual. His parents, they were smart people, and they were awesome workers," said former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Henry Lawrence, who worked the same Manatee County fields with Taggart's folks.

    "If you beat Taggart in the fields, you'd done something. That was our standard back then." ...

    John Taggart, right, passed away Thursday night at the age of 70.
  9. USF journal: Bulls seeking depth on defensive line

    Blog

    Though USF entered the preseason with a solid foursome of defensive tackles in Bruce Hector, Deadrin Senat, Marlon Gonzalez and Kevin Bronson, one minor dilemma remains.

    The Bulls need that quartet to become a quintet.

    "I need five guys," tackles coach Sean Cronin said Thursday.

    The reasons for a five-player rotation are obvious and plenteous: Injuries occur. Fresh bodies are essential against the plethora of high-tempo offense the Bulls face. And of course, greater depth modifies the number of reps for each player, allowing them to max out each snap.

    "I don't expect them to play like normal," Cronin said. "When you turn on the film, I don't want 'em to look like every d-lineman. I want them to look like they have exceptional effort. Well, you can't do that for an entire game. So you have to roll 'em and keep 'em fresh."

    Just who will emerge as that fifth lineman remains uncertain. Cronin said freshmen Kelvin Pinkney (6-foot-3, 284 pounds) and Kevin Kegler (6-2, 280) have shined at times but struggled with consistency. Meantime, converted LB Mi'Cario Stanley (6-2, 274) is starting to catch on.

    "It was new to him and he was really a fish out of water, and now he's starting to figure it out," Cronin said. "It's starting to slow down for him too, so he's starting to get better too."...

    USF defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin works with Garry Cadet (44), Brandon Boyce (93) and Kevin Bronson (99) at Thursday's practice.
  10. Sports Illustrated ranks USF ahead of Gators, 'Canes

    Blog

    The Bulls received their loftiest preseason ranking yet Wednesday, landing at No. 17 in Sports Illustrated's preseason top 25.

    USF is one spot ahead of Florida and three ahead of Miami in the SI rankings. The Bulls' previous highest ranking was No. 18, by national numbers-cruncher Phil Steele.

    Alabama is first according to SI, with FSU at No. 2.

    The SI capsule on USF says: "The Bulls have the best chance of any Group of 5 team to run the table and steal a playoff spot—but their best non-conference opponent is Illinois (Sept. 15), so they’ll need chaos from the Power Five races. Their bye week falls between home tests against Houston (Nov. 4) and Tulsa (Nov. 16), which leads into a season finale at steadily improving rival UCF (Nov. 24)."

    Here's the breakdown of where USF has been ranked in the most prominent polls/publications so far. The Associated Press preseason poll will be released Aug. 21.

    Athlon: 24
    Coaches poll: 21
    The Sporting News: 22
    Street & Smith's: 23
    Phil Steele: 18...

    Coach Charlie Strong and USF are ranked ahead of Florida and Miami in the Sports Illustrated preseason football top 25.
  11. Stan Heath lands new coaching gig in Lakeland

    Blog

    More than three years after his dismissal from USF, Stan Heath has landed another head coaching gig.

    Essentially in the Bulls' backyard.

    Heath, who has spent the last two seasons as a Boston College assistant, on Tuesday was named coach of the Lakeland Magic, the Orlando Magic's G-League affiliate. Former NBA journeyman Anthony Parker, who has spent the past five years as a Magic scout, was named Lakeland's general manager.

    "With Anthony (Parker) and Stan (Heath), we have established solid basketball leadership for our G-League team in Lakeland," Stan Weltman, Orlando's president of basketball operations, said in a news release.

    The Lakeland Magic begins its inaugural season in November and will play 24 home games at the RP Funding Center (formerly the Lakeland Center). The Magic purchased the franchise -- previously known as the Erie BayHawks -- in December before relocating it.

    Heath, 52, led three programs (Kent State, Arkansas, USF) to the NCAA Tournament and owns a 209-206 head coaching record. His 2012 Bulls club, widely considered the best in school history, finished 22-13 and reached the NCAA tourney's round of 32....

    Stan Heath was dismissed as USF men's basketball coach in 2014.
  12. USF releases conceptual study for on-campus stadium

    Blog

    Emphasizing they're very early in the process, USF administrators revealed the findings of their "conceptual planning study" for an on-campus football stadium to reporters Tuesday morning.

    Athletic director Mark Harlan discussed the study with Calvin Williams, USF's vice-president for administrative services (and a civil engineer). The two said USF looked at 14 other stadiums around the country to get the best perspective of what kind of facility would work best for the Bulls.

    "I want to make it really fundamentally clear to everybody...that this is the first step of many steps," Harlan said.

    The basics of the 41-page report: A handful of sites in two "zones" -- all generally bordering Fowler Avenue -- have been explored. Projected capacity is 50,000-60,000. Expected costs are roughly $200 million, though no educational or general state funds would be used to finance the facility.

    The next step: discussing the study -- which cost $75,000 --- with the USF Board of Trustees next week. Then a financial strategy.

    "If we had the dollars today, we're still 5-7 years out," Williams said....

    USF athletic director Mark Harlan (right) and vice-president for administrative services Calvin Williams discussed the school's "conceptual planning study" for an on-campus football stadium Tuesday.
  13. USF to present findings of on-campus stadium study

    Blog

    USF will respond to the growing clamor for an on-campus football stadium later this morning when it releases its initial OCS feasibility study in a round-table discussion with reporters at roughly 10:45.

    But any hard-and-firm decision about a stadium doesn't appear imminent.

    A news release issued by the school earlier this morning indicated the feasibility study "is the first of several steps in a long process that would include additional studies and further research before USF makes a decision about whether or not to build a stadium."

    The findings of the study released today focuses on: (A) the evaluation of potential stadium locations, and (B) analysis of the scope and potential cost. Future studies will include analysis of financial feasibility and potential philanthropic support for such a stadium.

    The study also will be presented and discussed at a USF Board of Trustees committee next week....

    USF athletic director Mark Harlan will be among those presenting the findings of the school's feasibility study for an on-campus football stadium.
  14. USF journal: speedster Duran Bell making fast impression

    Blog

    In a year when they can afford to redshirt some freshman offensive skill guys, the Bulls might be tempted to make an exception for Duran Bell Jr.

    The Hillsborough High alumnus has taken significant reps -- in the backfield and return game -- through the first two weeks of camp, and was mentioned by older peers Monday as a player who has stood out in USF's logjam at running back.

    "He's been excellent," running backs coach Shaun King said after Monday morning's practice.

    "He's done everything we've asked of him. He's a track guy, so he has that extra burst, that extra gear, and we're gonna have some things for him. We've got him back there trying to be involved on special teams because I think that's the key ingredient....

    Former Hillsborough High standout Duran Bell Jr. has turned heads during the first two weeks of USF's preseason camp.
  15. At one point, USF's '17 schedule had muscle

    Blog

    If the Bulls make a historic run this autumn as many project, they'll do so with a figurative sandspur -- their schedule -- lodged in their collective cleats every step of the way.

    With every romp or bloated offensive box score, skeptics will counter by tossing the Bulls' feeble non-conference slate (San Jose State, Stony Brook, Illinois, Massachusetts) right back at 'em. Thanks mainly to those four games, USF's 2017 schedule ranks 103rd according to the ESPN Stats & Information folks.

    If any year screamed for an FSU or Wisconsin on the schedule to give the Bulls some validity, this would be it.

    But here's what some fans don't realize: Initially, that's how it was drawn up. Once upon a time, Michigan State was slated to come to Raymond James Stadium this season. So too, was Wisconsin.

    The fact neither is headed this way -- at least not during the regular season -- isn't all USF's fault....

    Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon stiff-arms USF's Nate Godwin during the Badgers' 27-10 win against the Bulls in Madison in 2014. At one point, Wisconsin was set to play USF in Tampa this season.