NCF Nation: Brock DeCicco

Impact transfers in the Big Ten

July, 14, 2012
Who are the impact transfers in (and out) of the Big Ten in 2012? Keep an eye on these players who switched four-year schools and who should be eligible this season:

Incoming transfers

Danny O'Brien, QB, Wisconsin (from Maryland): O'Brien hopes to follow Russell Wilson's playbook and go directly from the ACC to the Rose Bowl with the Badgers. O'Brien, who graduated from Maryland to become immediately eligible, is expected to start at quarterback and solve the depth problems Wisconsin has. And he'll be able to play in 2013, too.

DeAnthony Arnett, WR, Michigan State (from Tennessee): Receiver is a major position of need for the Spartans, so it was great news when Arnett was ruled immediately eligible after transferring to be close to his ailing father. Arnett had 24 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman for the Volunteers in 2011.

Kyle Prater, WR, Northwestern (from USC): Prater is still awaiting word on whether he'll be immediately eligible this season. But if he is cleared, the former blue-chip recruit should make a major contribution for the Wildcats with his size and speed.

Quinn Evans, CB, Northwestern (from Stanford): The Wildcats know that Evans, who graduated from Stanford, can play right away. And though he missed all of last year with an injury, Evans could provide help to a secondary that really struggled in 2011.

Brock DeCicco, TE, Wisconsin (from Pitt): DeCicco started three games for Pittsburgh in 2010 before switching to the tight end haven that is Wisconsin. The Badgers already have All-America candidate Jacob Pedersen at the position, but DeCicco should provide additional depth and playmaking skills.

Tommy Davis, S/KR, Illinois (from Northern Illinois): Davis graduated from Northern Illinois and became immediately eligible for the Illini when he transferred earlier this summer. He's a two-time All-MAC kick returner who could help Illinois' woeful special teams while providing depth in the secondary.

Outgoing transfers

Marcus Coker, RB, Stony Brook (from Iowa): Coker led Iowa in rushing and was second in the Big Ten with 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns. He transferred to the FCS after some off-the-field problems. His departure was a big loss for the Hawkeyes and he figures to dominate at a lower level if focused.
When you think Big Ten football, what usually comes to mind is big, corn-fed Midwestern players and bruising offenses. The kind of place that would be perfect for a tight end.

But the 2011 season was a little lackluster for that position in the league, at least as far as the passing game goes. Sure, Northwestern's Drake Dunsmore and Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen were Mackey Award semifinalists, but those two and Michigan State's Brian Linthicum were the only two tight ends in the conference to record more than 25 catches. Some guys we expected to have big years, like Nebraska's Kyler Reed, Minnesota's Eric Lair and Indiana's Ted Bolser, were nearly invisible on the stat sheet. And there was certainly no one who rose the level of recent Big Ten stars like Dallas Clark, Matt Spaeth, Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks or Dustin Keller.

[+] EnlargeJacob Pedersen
AP Photo/Matt SaylesJacob Pedersen led the Big Ten's tight ends with eight touchdown catches last season.
Dunsmore, who won the league's inaugural Kwalick-Clark tight end of the year award, and Linthicum have both graduated. Yet 2012 is shaping up as a potentially big season for tight ends across the league.

Some of it has to do with changing offenses and playcallers who love utilizing the tight end. Urban Meyer made a star out of Aaron Hernandez at Florida and could do the same with Jake Stoneburner, who started off blazing hot last year before the Ohio State offense forgot about him. With the Buckeyes searching for playmakers, expect Stoneburner to be utilized heavily in 2012.

"Seeing Hernandez make all those plays makes someone like me pretty happy," Stoneburner told Adam Rittenberg last month. "It's something I've been waiting for since I graduated high school, being able to go out there knowing you're going to get the opportunity to get the ball more than once or twice a game. "

Bill O'Brien coached Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, which featured the tight end as much as anybody in football. Now O'Brien is at Penn State, where tight ends have mostly been an afterthought. That will change quickly.

"That’s a very important part of what we’re going to do offensively,” O’Brien told reporters in March. “Obviously, the last two years in New England taught me a lot about the use of a tight end, multiple tight ends.”

At Iowa, new offensive coordinator Greg Davis is raving about sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-7, 265-pounder who began to emerge late last season as a weapon. With an uncertain running game and an excellent passer in quarterback James Vandenberg, Fiedorowicz could follow in the footsteps of Clark and Tony Moeacki as breakout Hawkeyes tight ends. Coincidentally, Iowa's new offensive line coach is Brian Ferentz, who coached the tight ends with the Patriots last year.

“You’ll see the tight ends playing outside sometimes,” Davis told the Des Moines Register during spring practice. “Used to seeing them in motion, but there will be motion in wide receiver sets in some situations because they’re tough match-ups.”

Wisconsin returns one of the best tight ends in the country in Pedersen, who had led Big Ten tight ends with eight touchdown catches a year ago. Bret Bielema is also excited about the depth at the position, with veterans Brian Wozniak and Sam Arneson, redshirt freshmen Austin Traylor and Austin Maly and Pittsburgh transfer Brock DeCicco. Given the inexperience at receiver outside of Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers could look to throw to their tight ends even more this season.

Indiana's Bolser had only 14 catches last year, but he was one of the stars of the spring for the Hoosiers. An improved passing game should help him become more of a factor. Purdue likes the depth it has at tight end, led by Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright.

“A year ago it was one of the leanest positions on our football team," Boilers coach Danny Hope told reporters in the spring, "and now I think going into the season that the tight end position is going to be one of our strengths.”

Reed's numbers dropped last year, but he still led Nebraska with an average of 17.1 yards per catch. He and fellow senior Ben Cotton form a nice tandem of targets for Taylor Martinez. Michigan State must replace Linthicum but is optimistic about 6-foot-5, 280-pound Dion Sims, who practiced this spring with a cast on his hand. Sims could provide a safety valve for new quarterback Andrew Maxwell early on as the Spartans break in some green receivers.

Minnesota's Moses Alipate will at least be a curiosity as a former quarterback who grew to 290 pounds. Michigan needs Brandon Moore or someone else to step in for Kevin Koger, while Illinois' Jon Davis could have a different role in the team's new spread offense after a promising freshman campaign. Whoever replaces Dunsmore for Northwestern should get a lot of touches.

Tight ends could play an important part of many Big Ten teams' attacks this fall. Just as it should be.

Pitt gets Jon Baldwin, offense flying

October, 27, 2010
Pittsburgh is keeping quarterback Tino Sunseri and receiver Jon Baldwin off limits to the media this week in an effort to make sure the two don't become distracted before Saturday's game against Louisville. And anyway, now is not the time to be messing with their minds.

Sunseri and Baldwin finally got a long-awaited connection going in last week's 41-21 win over Rutgers. Baldwin, the preseason Biletnikoff Award candidate, had only two 100-yard days before catching five balls for 139 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown. Pitt had struggled all season in throwing the deep ball to its star.

[+] EnlargeJon Baldwin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireJon Baldwin caught five passes for 139 yards and a score Saturday against Rutgers.
"Everybody assumes you just drop back, a guy runs deep and you throw the ball," head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But you've got to have the right play call at the right time and the right coverage. Up to this point, we had plays in every game where we attempted to do that, and it had always been something. It was a little bit of protection, a little bit of coverage, a little bit of the throw, a little bit of the route."

The deep passing game is starting to come together. So is the entire Panthers offense.

The blocking problems that plagued them early in the season have improved since Lucas Nix was shifted from tackle to guard. The tight end spot has been solidified with better play from Mike Cruz and Brock DeCicco. Sunseri has progressed every week, and in his two Big East conference games, he has completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns, with just one flukish interception. Dion Lewis has begun to look like his old self, rushing for 130 yards last week against Rutgers. Devin Street has emerged as a strong No. 3 receiver option.

The final piece seemed to be getting Baldwin more involved. Against Utah, Miami and Syracuse, he had a total of only eight catches. Baldwin collected 111 yards at Notre Dame, but more than half of that came on one big play. The junior told reporters after Saturday's game that he and Sunseri had recently been spending more time together after practice trying to get their timing down.

"It's him having trust in me and me having trust in him," Baldwin said. "Now he knows exactly where I'm going to be when I run deep routes, so it makes it a lot easier."

Baldwin showed last week why it's a good idea to throw his way. Twice Rutgers had good coverage against him, with a safety coming over for help. And twice the 6-foot-5 receiver simply made what Wannstedt called "superstar catches."

It also helps that Sunseri is more willing to stay in the pocket longer and go through his reads. Earlier in the season, especially against Miami, he seemed too quick to take the dump-off option.

"A lot has to do with confidence and how long can I hang in there," Wannstedt said. "It's confidence in yourself, confidence in the line."

Pitt's offense is turning into the multifaceted attack many envisioned in the preseason. The Panthers have scored 86 points their past two games, and on Saturday Pitt had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game for the first time in 10 years. And remember this came against one of the best defenses in the league in Rutgers.

Sunseri completed passes to seven different players on Saturday, including seven to fullback Henry Hynoski.

"It's a sign of progress when the quarterback is distributing the ball to the guy that's open," Wannstedt said. "That's what Frank Cignetti preaches: take what they give you."

And if Pitt can continue to take advantage of the deep ball with Baldwin, the Panthers will be very hard for anyone to defend.

Pitt-Syracuse kickoff notes

October, 16, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Pittsburgh is making some lineup changes. Freshman Shane Gordon will start at linebacker over Greg Williams, while Brock DeCicco will start at tight end over Mike Cruz. Both are performance based.

Dom DeCicco will be back at safety after two games at weakside linebacker, with Tristan Roberts starting there. Andrew Taglianetti (knee) is not expected to play. Also, defensive end Brandon Lindsey is banged up and may be limited today. Expect to see true freshman Bryan Murphy to get his first playing time of the season. He had a foot injury in the preseason, but coaches raved about him before the injury.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto is in the house, so you know it's a big game.