NCF Nation: D.C. Jefferson
- Former Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce is part of a very deep tight end class that, Todd McShay says , could see six players taken over the NFL draft's first two rounds. Kelce did not run after suffering an injury that had forced him to skip the Senior Bowl. Scouts Inc. rates Kelce as the fifth-best draft-eligible tight end. Former Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson comes in at 14th .
- Scouts Inc. has former Memphis tackle Jordan Devaney as the No. 56 draft-eligible offensive lineman , and it has former Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh at No. 7. And, whaddaya know, it also gives a draftable grade (34) to former Louisville center Mario Benavides, who was the biggest combine snub among all former Big East players.
- As for other cheat sheets by position: Former Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison (4.68 40-yard dash) comes in as the No. 4 draft-eligible running back -- this after leaving school with two years of eligibility remaining. Former Temple back Montel Harris (4.68 40) is No. 18, former Pitt back Ray Graham (4.80 40) is No. 21, former SMU fullback Zach Line (4.77 40) is No. 27 and former Cincinnati tailback George Winn (4.75 40) is No. 34. Former Syracuse wideout Alec Lemon ranks No. 26 among receivers , former Rutgers wideout Mark Harrison ranks No. 33, former Cincinnati wideout Kenbrell Thompkins is No. 35 and former SMU wideout Darius Johnson is No. 39.
- Other players receiving plenty of love? Former SMU end Margus Hunt, who reportedly repped 225 pounds 38 times on the bench press and ran a 4.6 40-yard dash in a performance that could see his stock soar into the first round. Former UConn end Trevardo Williams reportedly ran the fastest 40 time among defensive linemen, clocking in at 4.57 .
- Two players to keep eyes on today are Logan Ryan and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Ryan left Rutgers a year early and could go off the board in the second round, while Wreh-Wilson is currently Scouts Inc.'s No. 25 overall player, the highest ranking among a deep pool of former Huskies defensive players.
The good: Rutgers and Louisville survived scares against Temple and USF, respectively, pulling away at the end to remain unbeaten as they appear poised on a collision course for the Nov. 29 finale.
The bad: Cincinnati fell to Toledo, a very good MAC team that is, well, a MAC team. The conference has dealt the Big East three losses this year, and taking down an unbeaten team from a big-six conference is simply bad news for a Big East that is always fighting for respect.
Special: We tried warning you. Rutgers' special teams were at it again Saturday, as the Scarlet Knights blocked their fifth kick of the season. Leonte Carroo blocked Brandon McManus' punt attempt early in the fourth quarter, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gary Nova to D.C. Jefferson to make it 28-10.
Another one: Teddy Bridgewater carried much of the load for Louisville's running game Saturday, but Senorise Perry still managed to sneak in a touchdown, his seventh of the last three games and 10th of the season. He has rushed for at least one score in all but one game this season.
Pick, anyone? Bridgewater completing all 11 of his first-half passes and 21 of 25 overall doesn't make matters easy, but South Florida is still looking for its first interception of the season. For those keeping track, the Bulls are the only FBS team without one.
Unhappy homecoming: Paul Pasqualoni probably won't be in a rush to return to his old stomping grounds anytime soon. The UConn coach watched his team get thrashed in the second half of a 40-10 defeat at Syracuse, its third straight loss. Questions are mounting about a Huskies squad that still has no offensive identity as it enters its bye week.
Feel-good story: Pitt's Dan Mason recorded a tackle on fourth down on Buffalo's final offensive play to keep the Bulls out of the end zone. Mason made his first start since Sept. 11, 2010, and has torn two knee ligaments. He recorded a sack Saturday and tied a career high with 11 tackles.
A double-digit halftime deficit Saturday at Temple surely had some shaking their heads at a program that has consistently stumbled when on the precipice of great things. But Rutgers may truly be different this season under first-year head coach Kyle Flood, a notion it suggested in a Week 4 shootout win at Arkansas and one it supported after its 35-10 win at Temple.
The defense and special teams were there, as always, with Leonte Carroo blocking a Brandon McManus punt early in the fourth quarter and Khaseem Greene later returning a fumble 19 yards for a score.
But Rutgers' offense stepped up again when needed most, with Gary Nova tossing four touchdown passes on a day he completed 17 of 27 passes for 232 yards with just one interception. Four different receivers accounted for the scores, with Jawan Jamison using a nasty move midway in the third quarter for a 32-yard touchdown that put the Scarlet Knights in front for the first time on the day.
Jamison was everywhere on the afternoon, rushing for a game-high 114 yards on 20 carries and adding game highs of five catches and 81 receiving yards. The running back has now rushed for more than 100 yards in six of seven games this season.
Rutgers' offense capitalized throughout the second half. Nova hit Mark Harrison for a 5-yard score in the third quarter after Logan Ryan picked off Chris Coyer, and the Scarlet Knights' signal caller later found D.C. Jefferson for a 10-yard score early in the fourth quarter following the blocked punt.
Temple entered the day riding a two-game winning streak and showed plenty of positive signs early, but the Owls received an up-close measuring stick of what it may take to win the conference this season. Rutgers is only 4-0 in the conference and 7-0 overall, but it learned a little more about itself in a 35-0 second-half rout.
2. Nick Provo, Syracuse. Provo has made himself quite valuable in the passing game, having caught 33 passes for 365 yards last season. Can he stay healthy all year?
3. Josh Chichester, Louisville. Potential is a word that is thrown around a lot in these rankings. Going to use it again here with the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Chichester. It would not surprise me if he ended the season as the top tight end in the league. No question he is going to have a huge role in the Cardinals' offense, especially with questions in the receiving corps.
4. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers. Another player with mounds of potential, it is time for Jefferson to show why many believe he could be the best tight end in the league. Perhaps a new position coach in Brian Angelichio will help him live up to expectations.
5. Andreas Shields, USF. Shields sits atop the post-spring depth chart following the loss of Kevin Gidrey. He did play in all 13 games last season and started the bowl game. He caught five passes for 74 yards and could be a bigger threat in the pass game this season.
6. Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati. Robinson is not listed atop the Bearcats' post-spring depth chart, but I think he has the potential to win the job over Travis Kelce and Blake Annen (listed as No. 1 now). He is big, strong and athletic and needs to step up with Ben Guidugli gone.
7. Hubie Graham, Pitt. Another player with potential after transferring from Illinois, Graham will play more of an H-back/tight end position and should have more of a role in the passing game than Brock DeCicco. Todd Graham likes them both.
8. John Delahunt, UConn. There is a reason he is pushing Griffin for the starting job. Delahunt caught five passes for 76 yards, has good hands and is a good blocker. No question the Huskies have the best depth in the league.
How has Chas Dodd been this offseason?
Greg Schiano: Real good. He's a hard guy not to love. He's a gym rat, he's a guy who loves the game of football, and he has a great way about him. He relates to everybody -- the linemen, the running backs, the wideouts, the coaches. He's a happy kid, a fun guy to be around.
You talked last year at this time about Tom Savage's leadership skills. Does Dodd have the same attributes?
GS: I can see it, no doubt. You could see it last year. He's a fiery sucker, now. He really loves playing the game. People kind of take his energy and use it. He's a pistol.
How about the depth at that position?
GS: I think the freshmen will be critical -- Gary Nova and Mike Bimonte. They've been here a lot this spring already, just visiting with coaches. We practice in the morning now so they're not going to be missing school to come to spring practice. They'll be around us as much as we can get them around us. Steve Shimko is returning from rotator cuff surgery; I think he'll be OK, but I don't know. So those freshmen, whoever's the best will probably end up being the backup. We have a couple of walk-ons in the program who have a chance, but it definitely is lean. That's why those freshmen are critical.
You look at D.C. Jefferson, and physically he looks as good as any tight end you'll see. Where is he in his development?
Let's move over to defensive line, where you lost three starters. Where do you see that group this spring?
GS: We've still got Scott Vallone and Justin Francis, who have played a lot. But we're going to be young up there. Talented, maybe as talented as we've been, but young. We've got to harden them up and toughen them up this spring. Moving Manny Abreu to the defensive end will help us. He's an experienced player -- that will be a new position for him, but a lot of the things he did at [strongside] linebacker aren't very different than what we'll ask him to do at defensive end.
We're going to find out. You look at Michael Larrow, who's been in the program now for two years, he's physically exactly what you're looking for in that position. Guys like Kenneth Kirksey, Djwaney Mara, Jamil Merrell, Isaac Holmes, all those guys. It's their time. They need to step up. Vallone is there as a real leader. That's what we need, someone to take that thing and lead these guys, and I think he will.
What about linebacker, with Abreu gone from there?
GS: Manny moves to defensive end and will be one of the better athletes up there. But at linebacker, his speed was just OK. So now you take a safety like Khaseem Greene who has very good speed and move him down to the [weakside] linebacker, and I think he's really going to bring something to the table there. Especially in our league. You know, it's interesting when you look at the schedule. You have some teams that will get into two-back and then some teams that will get into spread and then teams like Connecticut where you don't know what it's going to be. So it's going to be interesting. But I think, without a doubt, this defense is built on speed. I think we've helped ourselves by doing that, not only on the line and at linebacker, but making changes in the secondary as well.
Speaking of the secondary, you moved Jordan Thomas and Mason Robinson to cornerback. How do you see that spot shaking out?
GS: We moved both to corner, we moved David Rowe into safety, and we moved over a guy I think is really talented in Jawaun Wynn -- a big, talented guy who was a wideout -- he'll be playing safety as well. We also redshirted a guy who I think was an exceptional recruit from DeMatha in Lorenzo Waters, he's got a chance to be really good. So it will be interesting to see because, again, there's great competition at this spot.
Speaking of redshirting, how tempting was it to play some of those young guys last year as the losses mounted?
GS: You know what, last year was so weird with everything that happened here ... sometimes you'll take a shirt off a kid if you think he can really help us, but our issues were a lot more than a player. We had some serious issues. So I think that would have been foolish -- it wouldn't have made any difference.
How have the players moved past all that?
GS: I think Eric [LeGrand's] situation was one where it's just, we're a close family here. Part of me is proud how much it affected us, because it showed how much our guys do care about each other. There wasn't a player or anything that was going to change that. Maybe if I had done a better job leading ... that's something I have thought about many times. But at the end of the day, it happened, and we're going to be there for Eric to help him, and we're going to put this thing back together and get back to playing football the way Rutgers is accustomed to playing it. I can't wait to do it. I really haven't been this excited to get back to practice in a long time.
How much will Eric be involved with you guys this spring?
GS: He's still in Kessler [Rehab], and when he gets out, which I think is going to happen pretty soon, he'll have a busy schedule. He still has to go to rehab and do all that stuff, just now he'll have to drive up to the place all the time. But hopefully he'll be around. He took a class this semester online, and I fully expect him to come back to school here and get his degree. So, yeah, he's every bit as big a part of this family as he ever was, and I expect him to be around as much as he can possibly be around.
Looking at special teams, you have to replace your punter. Where does that stand?
GS: We recruited Anthony DiPaula, and he started in January. One area we'll really emphasize this spring is punting and putting him under the gun, because where we stand right now, the plan is for him to be our punter. And that's a true freshman punter, so hold on to your hat, baby. With San San Te returning, we have returning long-snappers, returning holders, so I'm comfortable we'll be comfortable in all areas. And hopefully we'll get DiPaula to a point where he's comfortable. But again, until you go out and punt in front of 60,000 people, you haven't really experienced it. But he has a good way about him, so I'm confident in him.
Last year at this time, you talked about how young your roster was, and how the vast majority of your players were underclassmen. Looking at things now, do you think this is a group that can do some special things as it grows up?
GS: I'm going to hold judgment on that. Are they over everything from last year? I hope they're not over it, but I hope they're dealing with it better. I think we're going to see where we are every step of the way. We only have 12 scholarship seniors on this team, so our bigger classes are our juniors, sophomores and freshmen. With our 12 scholarship seniors, we do have strong leaders and character guys there. But I think it's going to be a group effort. And you know what? Some of the best teams I've had kind of scratched and clawed and at the end of the day they'd look up and not be too bad. Hopefully, that will be us.
The Scarlet Knights have done it again tonight against Florida International, and it's a good thing. Had FIU played a mistake-free half, it would likely be winning.
Instead, the Golden Panthers have five turnovers and Rutgers has blocked a punt. Yet the Scarlet Knights lead only 13-7.
That's because their offense is still a work in progress, to put it kindly. Rutgers is getting outgained 256-93 at half, and Tom Savage is not having a very good game for the second week in a row. He's just 5-of-10 for 49 yards, while Mohamed Sanu has thrown the lone touchdown pass (to D.C. Jefferson).
The Scarlet Knights are also 0-for-7 on third downs, have only 20 yards on 17 rushing attempts and have missed a field goal.
Wait, are we sure they are leading? Yep, and it's because of those turnovers.
Cincinnati: Derek Wolfe, DT. Virtually all of the Bearcats' question marks are located on the defensive side of the ball, and Wolfe is their best and most dominant defensive linemen. That's a position that's already thin in experience and numbers, and losing him as the run-stuffer would be tough to overcome.
Connecticut: Lawrence Wilson, LB. UConn has a lot of depth and not a ton of superstars. But Wilson had a Big East-best 140 tackles last year and is one of the Huskies' most athletic defenders. Linebacker is not a position loaded with a lot of experienced backups for UConn, making Wilson irreplaceable.
Louisville: Johnny Patrick, CB. The Cardinals' defensive backfield looked scary at times this spring -- scary for them, not opposing offenses. Patrick is the one rock back there as one of the league's better cornerbacks. Without him, things could really get frightening.
Pittsburgh: The "College Football Live" staff chose Dion Lewis, but I think Pitt could run the ball effectively with Ray Graham and others without Lewis. I chose safety Dom DeCicco earlier in the spring. But now, after seeing Pitt in practice, I'd have to vote for left tackle Jason Pinkston. The senior is an invaluable anchor on the offensive line, especially with questions at center and guard.
Rutgers: Tom Savage, QB. No-brainer here. Rutgers' only other options right now are Steve Shimko, incoming freshman Chas Dodd or moving receiver Mohamed Sanu or tight end D.C. Jefferson under center. None of those would portend good things.
South Florida: B.J. Daniels, QB. Just as obvious and correct as the Savage pick. Daniels is the only player who's taken a collegiate snap at quarterback currently on the depth chart, if you don't count receiver Evan Landi.
Syracuse: Derrell Smith, LB. Syracuse managed to beat Rutgers while Smith was injured late in the year, but his leadership and playmaking ability from the middle linebacker spot would be hard to replace for long stretches of the season.
West Virginia: Chris Neild, DT. Coley White played well enough this spring to make the Mountaineers believe they could win without Geno Smith. Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders could step in for Noel Devine if needed. While the defensive line should be deeper than it was a year ago, neither West Virginia nor many other teams have many guys like Neild who can take on two or even three blockers on every play.
For the Scarlet Knights to take a step forward this year, the offense is going to have to find more playmakers.
"We need to be more explosive," head coach Greg Schiano said. "I don't think we were very good on offense last year."
The good news is, this offense looks like it can get a lot better. And that's mostly because of the receiving group.
Last spring, the receivers as a whole performed well under expectations. Other than Tim Brown, Schiano had no one he felt he could rely on. That's why Mohamed Sanu was switched from safety to wideout late in the spring, a move that paid great dividends.
It's a different story this spring. Sanu is now the veteran, but there are plenty of candidates to join him in catching passes from quarterback Tom Savage.
Mark Harrison, who showed flashes of his potential last season as a freshman, is healthy and having a big spring. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he definitely passes the eyeball test.
"I saw a shot of him walking off the field the other day, and he looked like T.O. [Terrell Owens]," Schiano said. "He's jacked up. I'm not ready to say he's that kind of player, but he looks that way.
"The thing I'm most impressed with Mark is, he's working at a whole different level now than he was last fall. The technical things he struggled with last year, but he just worked at it until he started to get better."
Tim Wright has opened eyes during spring camp, and at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he's another tall target. Redshirt freshman Quron Pratt gives the Scarlet Knights a burner in the slot position.
And don't forget D.C. Jefferson, a gifted 6-foot-6, 245-pound sophomore tight end. He learned the position on the fly last summer, and Schiano says Jefferson can be as good as any tight end in the country when he gets his technique down.
"Those guys are all big, physical, strong and they catch everything," Savage said of his receivers. "That's what every quarterback wants out there."
The offense still has a long way to go, as evidenced in Saturday's scrimmage when it failed to score a touchdown. The key will be whether the offensive line comes together and protects Savage, and the running game needs more big plays with Joe Martinek and perhaps an incoming freshman like Jeremy Deering.
But unlike this time a year ago, at least this Scarlet Knights' offense has lots of options and a lot more potential to be explosive in the fall.
That makes spring practice all the more important, and I caught up with head coach Greg Schiano this week to talk about Rutgers' spring drills, which begin March 23. This is Part I of my interview with Schiano; check back tomorrow for Part II.
What's the most pressing issue or concern for you going into the spring?
Can you remember having a team this young before in your career?
GS: I don't know so much at Rutgers. Maybe a little bit in '05 or something. But I do remember that at other places. It's funny: Coaches think this is our year, that is our year. I've learned, you know what, you can't predict it. Every year has got to be our year. You've got to go out and believe that whoever is on your starting 11 is going to get it done. That's kind of the approach I take now. Injured guys, whatever, it doesn't matter. You have to win with what you've got.
Let's go position by position, starting with the offensive line. You lost three key starters. How do you see that unit right now?
GS: We have guys there. They've got to come through. You know, we didn't play very well on the offensive line last year, so to me, hopefully it's going to be an improvement. It needs to be an improvement. Not too long ago, we had the best offensive line in the country in sacks, rushing yards and all those things. We need to get that level of performance back.
I look at guys like Desmond Stapleton and Desmond Wynn, guys that haven't played a ton of football here but who are talented players. It's their turn, and they need to step up. A guy like Howard Barbieri, who played for us last year a good amount, he's now become a leader of that line. Art Forst, a guy who was probably forced into action before he was ready, now hopefully he's ready. Now is his time to really shine. A guy like Caleb Ruch, who played some, but he wasn't ready to play. He played because we had to play him. Now he's a junior.
I said earlier we have so many guys who have three years left. On the offensive line, we have a bunch of guys that have two years left. So hopefully that means they've been in our weight room now for three years. Offensive line is a little different position; the Anthony Davises who come and play right away are few and far between. These guys, I think they're good players. How fast they get good is going to have a big say in how fast we get good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Well, we know one thing about the Rutgers quarterback situation.
What we don't know is if Lovelace or someone else will be the starting quarterback. Schiano said Lovelace, who's also been working out at receiver and presents a running option at quarterback, would play even if Dom Natale holds onto his position as the starter.
"Tommy and D.C. and Dom are all battling it out," he said. "If they're not the starter, they're not playing unless they go in as the backup. But Jabu is going to play.
"I think there are a couple of different battles going on there, is what I'm trying to say. Now I wouldn't preclude that maybe if the way it shakes out if, and of the young kids is getting better, you put them in there and let them play. I'm not saying I wouldn't do that. I mean regular playing time."
The more we know, the less we know. If I had to guess, I'd say Natale starts and Lovelace is used in some special packages and at receiver. I'd be surprised if we saw either freshmen in such a big game, unless something happened to one of the other guys.
If nothing else, it makes Cincinnati prepare for more possibilities.
When the assignment came down to rank the backup quarterbacks in each league, I had an obvious concern. We're not even entirely sure who the starting quarterback will be for five Big East teams come Labor Day weekend.
In order to do this, I'm going to assume the players currently leading the competition for each team will in fact be the starter, and the rankings will reflect the other quarterbacks in the mix. As Cincinnati showed last year, having capable backups can come in quite handy.
2. Pittsburgh: Surprised? Don't be. Pat Bostick was maybe the most improved offensive player the Panthers had this spring, and he's won at West Virginia and at Notre Dame his last two starts. Tino Sunseri is coming on as well. There would be little dropoff if one of these two had to replace Bill Stull. The problem is that none of the three have separated themselves as a big-time starting quarterback.
3. South Florida: It's not fair that the teams with the most settled starting quarterbacks also have two of the top three backup situations. But the way B.J. Daniels and Evan Landi played this spring gave Jim Leavitt confidence in the unlikely event that Matt Grothe actually misses some time.
4. Rutgers: Assuming Dom Natale holds onto the starting job, the Scarlet Knights would have a senior (Jabu Lovelace), a stud true freshman (Tom Savage) and a talented if raw redshirt freshman (D.C. Jefferson) behind him.
5. West Virginia: Coley White made strides this spring, and hotshot recruit Eugene Smith arrives this summer. But the Mountaineers are ranked this low for now because neither has ever played a down in college.
7. Syracuse: The Orange currently have last year's starter, Cam Dantley, backing up Ryan Nassib. And then there's the enigma that is Greg Paulus.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Rutgers began spring practice on Tuesday, and all eyes were on the quarterbacks as the competition began to find Mike Teel's successor. Dom Natale and D.C. Jefferson were shaky at times, Keith Sargeant writes in the Home News Tribune.
"They all did some things well and they all made some rookie mistakes," coach Greg Schiano said. "A lot of rookie mistakes."
• Antonio Lowery, who's more known right now for his younger brother, is trying to seize an opportunity at linebacker, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger. The story also mentions that running back Mason Robinson has been moved to receiver.
• The Ernie Davis statue, sans Nike swooshes, has returned to the Syracuse campus, Donnie Webb writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard.• Orange coach Doug Marrone defended the talent in New York over the weekend at a coaches clinic, according to the Ithaca Journal.
• Cincinnati got a commitment from a local linebacker, bringing their number of 2010 pledges to five already.
"I cannot stand for the life of me people saying how bad New York football is," Marrone said. "It's bull. It's bull! And you know what? I am going to prove they're wrong when I get a roster filled with New York kids and we're beating other teams around the country."
Spring is a time for renewal, and in college football, replacing.
It's sometimes jarring to go to a team's first spring practice and see new players wearing the familiar numbers of past legends. But the constant influx of new names and faces is part of what makes the sport great.
Several teams in the Big East face some major retooling projects this spring. Here's a look at the five biggest shoes to fill in the league:
|Charles LeClaire/Getty Images|
|Jarret Brown, who was 2-0 when filling in for Pat White, will likely take over as starter.|
1. Pat White, West Virginia: How do you replace an icon? White may go down as the best player in Mountaineers' history, and his singular talents dictated an entire offensive philosophy. At least Jarrett Brown has some experience at filling in for White. The senior has started two games in his career when White was hurt and won both, including a 41-39 triple-overtime victory over Rutgers to end the 2006 regular season. Brown isn't as fast as White, but he's big (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), has a strong arm and won't be asked to run as much in a more pass-friendly offense. Brown needs to have a strong spring, or he could face a challenge from hotshot incoming recruit Eugene Smith this fall.
2. LeSean McCoy, Pitt: McCoy scored 21 touchdowns, rushed for 1,403 yards and was a threat to break off a huge run on every play for the Panthers. Now he's gone after two spectacular seasons, and there's no experienced back on the roster. The job is wide open, and this spring will give players like Shariff Harris, Kevin Collier and Chris Burns a chance to show what they can do. Incoming freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham will be given a look this summer, as well. Coach Dave Wannstedt isn't afraid to play a true freshman at tailback if he's ready.
3. Donald Brown, UConn: Brown not only led the nation in rushing in 2008, he basically was the entire Huskies offense by the end of the year. It's highly unlikely that one replacement will be able to match his 2,000-plus rushing yards. But Connecticut does have some options in the backfield. Jordan Todman, a smaller, shiftier runner than Brown, showed real promise as a freshman by averaging nearly six yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. Senior Andre Dixon actually led the team in rushing as a sophomore but was curiously absent most of '08, even before his late-season DUI arrest. He'll be a factor if he's meeting the necessary off-the-field requirements. UConn will likely spread the ball around more in its new offensive scheme this year.
4. Mike Teel, Rutgers: Kenny Britt also leaves a big void at receiver for Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights will find some playmakers. What they need most is a quarterback who can direct the offense and be a leader on and off the field, as Teel was. Teel had his problems at times, but he was also a three-year starter who threw for more than 6,500 yards and 45 touchdowns in his final two seasons. This is another competition that will be fun to watch in the spring and again in the summer. Senior Dom Natale and freshman D.C. Jefferson will get the bulk of the reps in the spring and try to get a leg up. When fall camp opens, all eyes will turn to celebrated recruit Tom Savage, and senior Jabu Lovelace will be back from a leg injury.
5. Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh: McKillop led the Big East in tackles his final two seasons and was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008. His ability to always be in the right place formed the backbone of Pitt's defense. Now someone else will have to man the crucially important middle linebacker spot. Senior Steve Dell, who served as McKillop's understudy last season, and sophomore Max Gruder will get first crack at winning the job. If they're not up to the task, Wannstedt may look to incoming freshman Dan Mason to fill McKillop's shoes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Fear not, Big East football fans. In less than a month, South Florida will be back on the practice field, with the rest of the league teams starting their spring drills shortly afterward.
There will be no shortage of situations to follow during the spring. There's a new head coach at Syracuse, new coordinators almost everywhere and no fewer than five teams seeking a new quarterback.
We've got all the story lines covered here in our team-by-team spring primer:
Spring practice starts: March 31
Spring game: April 25
What to watch:
• Defense, defense, defense. Safety Aaron Webster is the only returning defensive starter from 2008, so this spring will be about finding out who's ready to step into bigger roles. Several backups have experience, including linebacker Andre Revels and defensive end Curtis Young. But all jobs should be open. And with this week's firing of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, the Bearcats could be working under a new scheme.
• Cincinnati brings back quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and its top two rushers in Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel. But the spring will be time to find new playmakers as well. Isaiah Pead averaged 6.6 yards a carry in limited duty as a freshman and should see his role increase. The bubble wrap will come off promising redshirt freshman Quentin Hines. Receiver D.J. Woods had a solid freshman season and will need to build upon that to help replace Dominick Goodman.
• You don't normally pay much attention to punters in spring practice, but this is an exception. The Bearcats have to find a suitable replacement for two time All-American Kevin Huber.
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly's name is starting to pop up in connection to various vacancies, including Tennessee. Kelly shrugs it off, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"It's inevitable," he said. "But it's not a distraction because I deal with it all the time. I just move to the next thing.
"If we get to a position where every year it becomes the same thing, then maybe we have to say something definitive. To me, it's all hypotheticals. I've never dealt with them. I've kind of moved on and not answered the questions."
More from around The Big East:
- Left tackle Ryan Stanchek is West Virginia's "wise warrior," Chuck Finder writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And he'll play his hometown team this week in Cincinnati.
- Brett McMurphy of the Tampa Tribune takes a look at what went wrong for South Florida. He has this amazing stat: the Bulls are 8-7 in their last 15 games and have been the favorites in each one. Some more:
"Each USF loss seems like the last one. A never-ending Groundhog Day: offense sputters, defense gives up a big play or three, undisciplined play, erratic special teams and poor clock management (has USF ever entered the final two minutes with all three time outs?). Even (Jim) Leavitt's patented halftime motivational tactics appear to be getting stale. Some players admitted the constant head-butting "is nothing new."
Neither is this season. Once again, so much early promise is gone by Halloween. All tricks, no treat."
- Louisville is hoping Heinz Field is in better shape than the last time they played there, C.L. Brown notes in The Courier-Journal.
- Redshirting freshman D.C. Jefferson -- all 6-foot-6, 240 pounds of him -- looks forward to competing for the Rutgers' quarterback job next year, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger. He'll have to hold off incoming hotshot freshman Tom Savage, along with some veteran backups.