John Denton's Knights Insider

Sept. 4, 2009

By John Denton

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They have aimed for this moment for months, lifting extra weights, running additional sprints and enduring hundreds of reps in practice. And tomorrow night, when the UCF Knights take the field at Bright House Networks Stadium for the season-opener against Samford, the process of putting last season's disappointing 4-8 finish behind them begins in earnest.

Redemption is no tired cliché in this case. UCF's players have used that theme for months to push themselves through workouts and practices. So many of them were bothered terribly about the disappointment from a year ago and they are looking forward now to a chance to start anew. Yes, the focus is on Samford tonight and ultimately a Conference USA crown, but UCF's players will never forget the frustration of 2008 and they have vowed to not let it happen again.

``This year, we have a big chip on our shoulders because a 4-8 season is not how we want to represent ourselves and our university,'' junior safety Derrick Hallman said. ``We know we're better than that, and now it's on us to prove to everybody that we are much better than that.''

All preliminary signs point to UCF being much better this season. And any talk of major improvement at UCF starts with an offense that has been dramatically restructured.

Charlie Taaffe, a coaching veteran of 35 years, was hired as UCF's offensive coordinator and players have raved about his attention to detail and his willingness to attack defenses. Taaffe has a goal of taking two deep shots a quarter, a plan that should utilize UCF's blazing speed on the outside and should free up more room for the run game.

Four key playmakers - wide receivers Kamar Aiken, A.J. Guyton, Rocky Ross and tight end/H-back Corey Rabazinski - return after missing major chunks of last season with injuries. More than the X-and-O changes, head coach George O'Leary believes the return of the four skill players will be the biggest difference in the offense.

``Last year, it seemed everybody who was touching the ball just wasn't making plays - from quarterback, to receivers and backs. It hurt when we lost a couple of those skill positions,'' O'Leary said. ``And people forget about Rabazinski. We lost Aiken and then A.J.Guyton and Rocky Ross went down too, and that just took away some of the experience that we did have.''

UCF has much more experience now at quarterback (Rob Calabrese) and tailback (Brynn Harvey) after they received a lot of playing time as true freshmen. Calabrese is noticeably bigger and has a much better command of the offense this time around. His accuracy has been dramatically better in preseason drills and O'Leary and Taaffe has gushed when talking about the sophomore's command of the huddle.

Harvey, who averaged a solid 4.2 yards a carry, looks to be in line for a breakout season after bulking up and improving his contact speed. O'Leary likes how Harvey hits holes and Taaffe said he's been one of UCF's best surprises of the preseason camp.

Defensively, UCF returns all 14 players on its two-deep front seven. A defensive line of Torrell Troup, Bruce Miller, Travis Timmons and David Williams has the chance to be among the best in the nation. UCF ranked third in the nation in tackles for loss last season and 26th in sacks. UCF led Conference USA in rushing defense and passing efficiency last year.

UCF's biggest question marks are in the secondary where graduation gutted the team of four starters. Switching Hallman from linebacker back to safety was a move O'Leary described as ``critical'' to the defense. Juniors Justin Boddie, Darin Baldwin and Reggie Weams have played well in camp, but must prove themselves as full-time starters. Former quarterback Michael Greco, who graduated in the spring, returned to the team as a defensive back and will see some action in nickel sets.

Add up all the parts and UCF feels that it is poised to distance itself from last year's disappointment and return to the upper crust of Conference USA. Part of that healing process starts Saturday night against Samford.

``Nobody wants a repeat of what we went through last year and we've worked really hard to get better,'' 6-foot-7 tackle Jah Reid said. ``We're ready to go show everybody the progress that we've made.''

John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.