Friday, April 12, 2013
Spring game previews
By Matt Fortuna
Four Big East teams will hold their spring games this weekend, meaning more than half of the conference's teams are all but through come Sunday. Here's a quick look at what to watch for when Houston, Louisville, UCF and USF take the field this weekend.
The Cougars get things started for the conference this weekend with a spring game that kicks at 7 p.m. Friday at Carl Lewis Field. They technically return 10 offensive starters from last season, though coach Tony Levine has said the depth chart is essentially blank this spring. David Piland, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards last season, was 8 of 13 for 84 yards with a touchdown and a pick in Houston's most recent scrimmage, last Saturday. He and the rest of the offense have gone to work under new coordinator Doug Meachem, though it's the defense in need of taking a big step in its first year removed from Conference-USA, where it finished 90th or worse in four major categories in 2012. Finding playmakers like departed linebacker Phillip Steward is a priority for the unit heading into 2013 under new coordinator David Gibbs.
A busy week for Louisviile's athletic program will conclude at 1 p.m. Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where the Cardinals take the field for the final time this spring. The conference favorites and a likely preseason top-10 team heading into 2013, Louisville's priorities this spring have been refining conference offensive player of the year and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater, solving its backfield riddle, and finding a new left tackle and center to replace All-Big East performers Alex Kupper and Mario Benavides.
Converted quarterback Dominique Brown has been the go-to guy at running back, as the Cardinals have been without Senorise Perry (ACL tear recovery) and Jeremy Wright (not enrolled in classes).
George O'Leary's squad concludes its spring season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights are seemingly the most-ready newcomer in the conference this season, and they have looked to develop the offense and quarterback Blake Bortles this spring.
Installing a downfield passing game and getting its plethora of wideouts involved more has been a priority. Bortles threw for better than 3,000 yards last season with just seven interceptions, and he could become another conference headliner at the position behind Bridgewater if he continues to improve.
Defensively, E.J. Dunston and Demetris Anderson have improved up front this spring, as the Knights replace two starters from a unit that has been among the stingiest traditionally in Conference USA.
New coach Willie Taggart has certainly made a splash in his first spring in Tampa, from his intensity to the energy he has tried to instill in his players in everything they do. Look no further than the draft for Saturday's contest, which will take place at 5 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is in charge of the green team and assistant head coach/secondary coach Ron Cooper leads the white team, with a draft and a free agency period the past two weeks adding some excitement to the process. Bresnahan took only linemen among his first six picks, while Cooper has been more liberal with his choices, grabbing the Bulls' top-two running backs in hopes of winning the rushing battle come Saturday.
Andrea has more on the teams' draft strategies here and here.