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March 27, 2013It's been a good first half of spring according to UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who returns a solid nucleus from last year's team including quarterback Blake Bortles.
After Tuesday's practice, Taaffe, who is entering his fifth season in Orlando, broke down what he's seen by position.
Click here for the audio interview with Coach Taaffe
On the quarterbacks:
"I was very encouraged with, they're all at different learning levels, talking specifically about the quarterbacks. We've got a pretty diverse group there with Blake (Bortles) who is now an experienced guy, been in the system three years, Tyler (Gabbert) who is now in his second season in the system so he's a little bit ahead, then you've got the young guys, the high school seniors (Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo) that should be getting ready for their senior prom. Instead they're here, in spring practice. So everybody's learning curve is a little bit different. I think they've all shown a lot of good things that they certainly both are talented kids. I think they're going to be good players. Obviously there is a process that they have to go through, adapting to becoming college quarterbacks."
On Blake Bortles taking the next step to becoming an elite quarterback:
"It really started in the offseason. I wanted to see him envelop the role of being now the established starting quarterback and becoming that leader. He's not a rah-rah kind of guy, but there's no question he has the respect of the huddle and his teammates just with how he plays. He plays hard, he's a physical kid. He's not afraid to tuck the ball and run it. I think he's earned the respect of his everybody and his teammates. They respond to him. I want to see him more in that role, which he's doing.
"Just his own personal commitment to being the best quarterback he can become, this is the most time he's ever spent in the offseason, so I think he's getting it now. He understands the time commitment required to be a top-flight college quarterback. He's put the time in in the film room.
"He's got a tremendous grasp of the offense now. It's coming to him very naturally. I think that's the next step in his progression. He's got all the physical skills to be outstanding. He's mobile, he's big, he's strong, he can see the field, he can make every throw. It's just the mental, the discipline. I think at times he'd get a little lazy mentally and kind of lose his focus at times, so we talked a lot about that. Challenging yourself out there every snap to be perfect. I told him that's my expectation now. To put that pressure on himself to go out there and try to be perfect every day in every decision he makes. Even though I know that's probably not attainable, but he'll get closer to that level. I think his ceiling is unlimited. I really see him growing and developing into a top-flight quarterback."
On the offensive line:
"The offensive line is developing into a solid unit. We've got some experience there. The unknown was the movement there of Joey (Grant) to center, I think he's progressing nicely. Today the defense threw all their blitzes at us and made life a little more difficult for everybody on the offense, but again that's part of the process. I think Joey is really coming along and Tarik Cook, I think we've got some depth at center potentially there. And the rest of the guys have got some playing experience. That's a good group."
On the running backs:
"I think our running backs, although we don't have a lot of depth, numbers-wise, Storm's biggest issue for him is to be patient and to trust his keys and his tempo. Sometimes he gets out of whack a little bit, he's too fast if there is such a thing. He just doesn't phase up all the time with the blocking. So he's been working really hard on that. I think Cedric (Thompson) has shown he's a strong, downhill, big strong, 225-pound back that runs with good body lean, a lot of momentum forward. He's hard to tackle and that's who he is, he's a north-south, downhill-type back. He's not one of those scat back-type guys. So I think they're doing well."
On the wide receivers:
"Receiving corps obviously is a strength of our offense right now. We've got some depth there and we've got some talented guys. The thing I really like is the size of those outside receivers. They're good match-ups for us against a lot of the corners they're going to play against. They're big, strong guys, (Breshad) Perriman and Speedy (Rannell Hall) there, and they've done a nice job. J.J. (Worton) has been really good. Jeff (Godfrey) I think now in his second season at receiver is learning a lot more of the nuances of playing the position as far as running routes consistently, reading coverage.
"I like that group. I think with the experience at quarterback and the potential explosive receivers we have, even those little quick receiver screens we throw, they're one-on-one against soft coverage a lot, and those guys, they're hard to tackle in the open field one-on-one. So the idea there is if people are going to pack the box on us and try to outnumber us to stop the run, we've got to take advantage of those one-on-one situations. And then if we can get the defense into double coverage, now they're short in the box and we should be able to run the ball. So it's that kind of game."
On the tight ends:
"Justin (Tukes) is better now, too, he's got a year under his belt. But Cal (Bloom) has shown up as a young guy that, one he's gotten a lot bigger in the offseason, and he's a tough, physical player. He covers people up good, defensive ends, and he's learning to play. But he's a big, strong kid. I think he's made improvement in the previous six practice as far as the passing game. First couple days he looked like an offensive tackle out there catching the ball, but I think he's come along there. He's gotten more comfortable and had a couple nice catches in the scrimmage last Saturday. I think he's going to factor in.
"Kevin (Miller) and Blake Davis are more the H, athletic-type, move guys, which we haven't done a lot of yet this spring. But I think they'll all have a role and be able to contribute and probably we have more depth at that position than we did a year ago."
On tailoring the offense to suit their personnel:
"Every year you have different strengths on your offense and my job, obviously, is to try to gear our offense to play to our strengths and right now starting spring ball you'd have to say our strengths are our quarterback and our receiving corps. But I think we're coming together as a full unit. We've got explosive backs, certainly Storm is explosive, and we've got a good inside runner in Cedric. The line is coming together, so we want to use all of our weapons.
"Right now, I think our strength, looking at it early, is our receiving corps and quarterback, which mostly everybody knew coming in anyway. There's a lot of refinement that needs to be done. In today's football, you have to be able to do both. You have to be able to run and throw. We can't let people gang up on us in the box. If they do, we've got to understand and look forward and say, 'Hey, we're one-on-one out there and we're going to make you pay for that.' And if we can get them to play double-coverage on a receiver, now their numbers are even in the box, so we should be able to run the football. When you have a really good offense you can do both. That's the challenge and the goal, to be able to consistently take advantage of what the defense is giving us."