Spring Sets Tone for Anticipated Fall

April 15, 2012

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By Marc Daniels

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Every college football coach will tell you their goal for a spring practice season is to stay healthy, implement some new things and get better In all areas. For UCF, there was more on the agenda. The Knights wanted to quickly leave 2011 behind and start on the new season as soon as possible. A football team that felt it was two to three plays away from a bowl game and being right in the thick of the race in east division of Conference USA welcomed a new season this spring.

The conclusion of those workouts over the course of a few weeks was Saturday's annual spring football game at Bright House Network sStadium. With weather that made it feel more like November than April, the Knights hit the field the final time before gathering later this summer in preparation for the season opener at Akron.

There were some highlights during Saturday's play that included some nice runs, catches and interceptions by players coming back from injuries. There were some dropped balls and penalties, but for the most part, UCF Head Coach George O'Leary seemed pleased with what he saw.

Here's a list of things to note from the game:

Blake Bortles looks and plays the part: At 6-foot-4, the sophomore quarterback has the walk and talk of a confident team leader. Bortles does not lack confidence and seems to have settled in his role at the starting signal caller. Bortles was 27-of 45 for 239 yards and one touchdown in Saturday's game. He used a variety of receivers and showed his ability of being patient in the pocket and his strong arm as well.

UCF has talent at the wideout position: Despite the unusually high number of drops in Saturday's game, the spring was a good one for this group. Freshman Breshad Perriman has the look of someone who can and will make a big impact this fall. At 6-foot-2, Perriman can take a hit and appears to be someone Bortles will look for. Sophomore Josh Reese was a big target for Bortles in the second half of the season in 2011 and should be again this fall. Senior Quincy McDuffee and sophomore Ranell Hall provide great speed and incoming freshmen at this position make things bright this fall and for years to come.

Options in the backfield: With the arrival of Storm Johnson, UCF can go four-deep at running back. Returnees Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey provide a great combo and the addition of Johnson gives offensive coordinator Charlie Taffe a new weapon because of Johnson's breakaway speed. Don't forget redshirt freshman Cedric Thompson who can also run the ball well. How UCF uses this group in the fall will be interesting. UCF did not show it this past Saturday, but the Knights might use a two-back set where Murray plays more of a H-back role in passing situations.

Defensive line features flexibility: Bruce Miller started the trend by being used as both an end and tackle. Few players did it was well as Miller, but UCF will move players from inside out in certain situations. Victor Gray is the guy to watch as Gray moves inside out. UCF's interior of the line appears to have some depth with E.J. Dunston, Josh Wofford, Jose Jose and Thomas Niles. Defensive end Troy Davis believes the line will be better at sacking the quarterback, something UCF struggled with last season.

Plummer fits the middle just fine: Terrance Plummer played a lot during his freshman year, but now he will play an even bigger role as he has moved inside. Plummer shined throughout the spring and credits new defensive coordinator Jim Fleming, who Plummer said just simplified things for him in many areas. Depth at this position is something UCF will still work on but Plummer, Jonathan Davis and Ray Shipman handle the outside spots quite well.

Ishmael leads with his play: It's hard to imagine, but Kemal Ishmael is a senior. He has seen fellow secondary players jump to the NFL and others suffer season-ending injuries, but Ishmael remains the constant. He still hits as hard as anyone and always seems to be around the ball whether it be run or pass. Ishmael welcomes the return of cornerback A.J. Bouye who suffered the season-ending injury last year. Bouye had two interceptions in Saturday's game. While Ishmael gets a ton of attention, no one should underestimate redshirt sophomore Clayton Geathers, who appears poised to become a leader on defense following in Ishmael's footsteps.

Field goals are not a bad thing: One of the loudest crowd reactions from Saturday's game came on the last play. The last play saw sophomore kicker Shawn Moffitt connect on a 49-yard field goal. Both Moffitt and Sean Galvin had solid springs and O'Leary believes the position is as strong as it has been in years. Galvin kicked off a couple of times into the end zone which is a big deal this fall. The new kickoff rule has the ball teed up at the 35-yard line and any touchback comes out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20.

Knights notes and more: The beat rolls on for Terry Rooney's baseball team. After dropping a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in 14 innings on Friday night, the Knights took the next two games at Southern Miss to claim the weekend series. UCF stands at 30-8 overall and 9-3 in C-USA. The UCF resume continues to get built and make a case about hosting a NCAA Regional. UCF returns home for a game on Tuesday against FAU before another big road conference series at Tulane. Yours truly will be in New Orleans for radio coverage of the series...Despite dropping a series at UAB, kudos to the UCF softball team for its 2-0 win over Florida, who was ranked third coming into the game. The contest drew one of the top crowds ever for a UCF softball game...Among the former UCF football players to return to the campus was Mike-Sims Walker, Kevin Smith and Brandon Marshall. Marshall watched Saturday's game from the sideline and quickly noted the raw talent of freshman receiver Breshad Perriman and said he was a guy to watch the next few years at UCF...Smith was among a few former Knight players who had a chance to talk privately with the football team last Thursday. Smith talked about his opportunity UCF gave him when no one wanted him as a running back and his battle back from a serious knee injury to playing a key role in the Detroit Lions playoff run this past season...Final thought: Why do people ask if you got a haircut when it's obvious you got a haircut? What else could have possibly happened where my hair is shorter and trimmed more neatly from the last time you saw me?

Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts The Beat of Sports on ESPN Radio 1080 in Orlando.