TAMPA, Fla. – After the Bulls’ first two-a-day sessions Sunday, which were closed to both the public and media, Head Coach Willie Taggart said Monday he still hasn’t decided on USF’s starting quarterback. Junior Steven Bench and sophomore Mike White both have been taking reps with the first and second-team offense over the first week of training camp at the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex.
“Steven and Mike both yesterday, I thought they had a really good practice. Both of them make some really nice throws; our guys make some really nice catches on top of it. Certain guys [are] working well together and those guys understand what we’re doing. We’re able to be a little bit more efficient offensively right now,” said Coach Taggart.
Taggart went on to say that he hopes to make a decision on a starter sooner rather than later.
“I’d like to see those guys separate themselves from a play-making standpoint. It’s been great to see because one guy makes a play, the other comes and makes a play. They’re starting to love to make plays. Guys that can run our offense, guys that can take care of the football – that is so important. Be efficient and lead our group to build our teammates up. A lot of those little things, on top of executing.”
White is the youngest quarterback on the team at 19 (freshman QB Quinton Flowers is three months older, though Bench just turned 20 in June.) The 6’4″ signal caller has put on 25 pounds since last season and is up to 211. Last season, White appeared in six games and started the last five as a true freshman. He went 93 of 175 for 1,083 yards, three scores and nine interceptions. And White said he got his rookie mistakes out of the way and he now knows what to expect.
“Not every play is going to be a 15-yard completion. There’s going to be some times you need to throw it away, live to see another down. Maybe check the ball down, get two, three yards. And the drive and a punt’s not going to be the worst-case scenario. I think I kind of got away from that towards the end of last year and that’s one thing I’ve been working on here. I tried to push too much instead of just letting the playmakers make the plays,” White said.
Last season, Bench started two games and appeared in seven for the Bulls, completing 26 of 64 passes for 392 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The 6’2″, 215-pound QB played in two games as a true freshman while at Penn State.
After the Bulls went 2-10 last season, Bench noted that the offense has been working extremely hard to improve and has put last season behind them.
“Our goal is to be the best offense we can possibly be and that means getting all 11 on the same page every play,” Bench said.
Quarterbacks Coach David Reaves likes the improvement he’s seen from both White and Bench.
“Just the transition in what they did from the spring to the fall, [they’re] really seeing the field a lot better. They’re really competing and getting after it. It’s making both of them better. They’re both doing some really good things in all areas: the run game, the pass game and the protection game,” Reaves said.
While White and Bench are duking it out on the gridiron, they’re actually pretty good buddies.
“Off the field we hang out a lot,” Bench said. “We’re in meetings together all the time; his locker is right next to mine. He’s one of my closest friends here, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we’re in a quarterback competition. I love the competition and I’m all for it. My goal is to win, just like his goal’s to win. But it’s not going to hurt our friendship; we’re that close.”
“It’s a little touchy,” White added. “But I think we’ve handled it well – probably handled it better than the average quarterback would. We’re great friends, so we can kind of push each other, we kind of know what tweaks [to make]. It pushes us, it gets us better.”
Coach Taggart assessed the strengths of his two possible starting quarterbacks.
“Steven is more of a guy that can move around, get out of the pocket and can get you some first downs with his feet. Mike’s more of a pocket passer, can get back. Mike is really good at anticipating throws and throwing before the receivers are there. But they both are good at the dropback. Steven is a pretty good athlete, he can do some things throwing the ball, but running the ball as well,” said Taggart.
Coach Taggart also noted that linebacker Nick Holman will have shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, and could miss the remainder of the season.