Big East Spring
What You Need To Know For Each Team
... 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
... 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.
... 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.
… 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
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
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.
… 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
… 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.
… 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
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.
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
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.
… 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.
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.