Big East Spring Football - What's Happening?
Connecticut DB Darius Butler
Connecticut DB Darius Butler
Posted Apr 14, 2008

What's happening in spring practices? Who's replacing Ray Rice at Rutgers? Who are the new linebacking stars at West Virginia? Why will UConn's Darius Butler be more dangerous than ever? Here are three key spring tidbits you need to know about for each Big East team.

Big East Spring Football 2008

What You Need To Know For Each Team

By Richard Cirminiello 


Got Mauk? ... As QB Ben Mauk makes one final plea to the NCAA for another year of eligibility, which was already denied once, the battle to replace him rages on.  Senior Dustin Grutza and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones are the favorites, but neither has built much distance…or confidence.  Grutza is limited as a passer, while Jones has work to do on his mechanics and isn’t all the way back from last year’s shoulder surgery.  Yes, the Bearcats are praying for a miracle from the NCAA.  

Switching Positions ... In order to build some much-needed depth at defensive end, Cincinnati has moved former TE Connor Barwin and QB Craig Carey to the other side of the ball.  Barwin, in particular, has the coaches excited.  An athletic 6-5, 255-pounder, he has 4.6 speed and a great motor, looking surprisingly comfortable in his new role.   

Dodging Off-Field Bullets ... For a time, it appeared that Cincinnati might be without two of its best linemen, DT Terrill Byrd and G Trevor Canfield, for an extended period of time.  Byrd got cited for smoking pot and Canfield was charged with felony assault, but both participated in practice, and only Byrd has been suspended for the opener versus Eastern Kentucky.  The Bearcats will survive without him.


Line Dancing … Offensive line coach Mike Foley is mixing and matching his linemen in order to find the right combination.  It took him about six practices to realize that sophomore Alex Hurd and redshirt freshman Moe Petrus belong in the starting lineup.  The Huskies require their guards to be quick and physical, prerequisites the underclassmen meet.  The elevation of Hurd and Petrus shifts Mike Hicks to tackle and ex-starter Alex LaMagdelaine to the second team.

The Backfield Duo … The running back tandem of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown has looked as good as ever, pushing each other in the quest for more carries this fall.  While both will get plenty of touches, Brown, in particular, is poised for a huge year, arriving in camp 10 pounds slimmer and focused on regaining his role as the alpha dog.

The Receiver Crisis Continues … Now that QB Tyler Lorenzen is in his second season at the controls, Connecticut would love to pump up a passing game that was 97th nationally a year ago.  The biggest obstacle, however, is that the offense has no reliable pass-catchers, a situation that hasn’t improved.  Star CB Darius Butler will finally get his wish of pitching in on offense, earning about 15 plays a game at wideout.   


Hunter Cant-Wait … After caddying for Brian Brohm for three seasons, senior QB Hunter Cantwell is itching for the opportunity to finally lead the Cardinal offense.  Leaving no doubt that the Louisville passing game will be in good hands, he spent the spring showing off his grasp of the offense, maturity, and howitzer arm.  By the end of the season, NFL scouts are likely to turn Hunter into the hunted as he appears to be among the best of a weak lot of quarterback prospects.

English Lessons … The beleaguered Louisville D has gotten a steady earful from new coordinator Ron English, a more vocal and intense presence than predecessor Mike Cassity.  While the former Michigan assistant has already begun putting his imprint on the unit, it’s unlikely to have a significant impact until the talent pool improves at linebacker and cornerback.

Vic Not Just Quick … Cardinal coaches knew redshirt freshman RB Victor Anderson was explosive, but it’s his new-found physicality which has really opened eyes at practice.  He’s breaking tackles and running with great pad level, forcing his way into a crowded backfield that already includes Brock Bolen, Bilal Powell, and George Stripling


Stull Tactics … Although QB Bill Stull hasn’t exactly run away and hid from the competition, he has built some breathing room on Pat Bostick, Kevan Smith, and Greg Cross.  The starter before injuring his thumb in the opener, he’s been the most consistent and has the best grasp on the offense.  That said, Cross has shown enough playmaking ability to warrant time in the Pitt’s Wildcat package.

Kinder’s Comeback … Top WR Derek Kinder is almost all the way back from the serious knee injury that cost him the entire 2007 season.  He’s taking part in 7-on-7 drills, but won’t be used in any scrimmages until the summer.  Kinder’s return bolsters a deep and talented receiving corps that already includes Oderick Turner, T.J. Porter, Maurice Williams, and Cedric McGee.

Fresh Fields … After missing all of last season for violating team rules, S Elijah Fields has returned with a new attitude and an appreciation for his second chance with the program.  The mindset may be different, but the body is the same.  At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Fields is one of the best all-around athletes on the Panthers and a potential star if he can toe the line over the next couple of seasons.


Replacing Rice
… The quest to find Ray Rice’s successor will continue well into the summer.  For now, last year’s backup Kordell Young is still recovering from major knee surgery and will be protected from contact until August.  The star among the healthy backs has been sophomore Mason Robinson, who hits the hole in an instant and has track speed.

Cross Training … The Knights are experimenting with the idea of moving top pass rusher Jamaal Westerman into Eric Foster’s three-technique tackle spot.  While only 6-3 and 260 pounds, like Foster, he has the explosion and upper body strength to beat slower guards and centers.  The need for an inside playmaker became necessary when Justin Francis was arrested on robbery and a weapons charges.

Te Time … While the Rutgers special teams won’t get better by losing All-America PK Jeremy Ito, the drop-off to San San Te won’t be as steep as many are expecting.  Sporting Ito’s familiar No. 1 and kicking mannerisms, Te has been connecting from beyond 50 yards with regularity.  Now all he has to do is keep the consistency going when the real games begin.

South Florida  

Selvie the Sequel? … Okay, that’s not fair, but freshman DE Patrick Hampton did a nice impression of All-American George Selvie, harassing the quarterback throughout spring and bagging three sacks in the spring game.  While only 6-3 and 225 pounds, and destined for the second team, he plays with the energy and burst that make him very difficult to block.

Robinson Rebounding … After suffering through an injury-plagued sophomore season, LB Chris Robinson enjoyed somewhat of a bounce back spring that was reminiscent of his rookie year.  If he can remain off the injury list long enough to capture a starting job at strongside, it’ll free up Tyrone McKenzie to move inside and fill Ben Moffitt’s sizable shoes.

The Cornerback Conundrum … It’s only spring and no one is drawing comparisons to Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, but so far, so good on new cornerbacks Tyller Roberts and Jerome Murphy.  The pair performed well in their first tests as the starters, showing the athleticism and cover skills needed to keep pace with the Bulls’ talented receiving corps.  Although it may take a couple of games, the situation at corner may not be as dire as originally projected. 


Lighten up … New offensive coordinator Mitch Browning issued a stern mandate to his linemen that they won’t play if they don’t lose weight and get in better shape.  With a leaner, quicker front wall, Browning expects Syracuse’s number of sacks allowed to start melting away.  In recent years, the Orange has been no match in a Big East that typically houses small and fast pass rushers, rather than 300-pound bulldozers.

Welcome Back? … While neither is all the way back from last year’s injuries, the mere sight of Delone Carter and Curtis Brinkley at practice is good news for a running game that needs all the help it can get.  Carter hopes to return to the field in 2008 after suffering a potential career-ending hip injury.  Brinkley is recovering slowly from a broken leg suffered midway through the season.  If the two can’t go, sophomore Doug Hogue will likely shoulder the load.

More Backfield Woes … At least for the moment, blue-chip RB Averin Collier is on the shelf.  A spring participant and a candidate to play immediately, he suffered a small fracture in his left foot, a setback that’ll stifle the learning process.  Collier will miss the remainder of spring and be in a protective boot for a month, but should be at full strength when the team reconvenes in August.

West Virginia  

Return of the Long Ball … New offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen would like to sprinkle in a few more deep passes, the only thing that’s been missing from the high-octane offense the past few seasons.  When he does, QB Pat White might be looking for Alric Arnett, a 6-2, 195-pound blazer with soft hands that could be the Mountaineers’ best field-stretcher since Chris Henry left Morgantown three years ago.

Linebacker Speed … The way Mortty Ivy and J.T. Thomas performed in the spring, West Virginia can boast two of the more dynamic linebackers in the Big East.  Both are fast, closing on plays before they develop and displaying outstanding range.  Ivy is on the brink of a monster final season, and Thomas is making it impossible to keep him out of the lineup.  When both are in the lineup at outside linebacker, the defense is capable of creating chaos.

Ellis’ Island … Starting CB Ellis Lankster is determined to reverse a disappointing debut in Morgantown, as evidenced by his spring performance.  No corner has been tougher for the quarterbacks to thrown on than the senior, who arrived from junior college with plenty of advanced billing.  The game seems to be slowing down for Lankster, good news for a secondary that’s undergoing a facelift.