NCF Nation: Jeremiah Warren
QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
RB Ray Graham, Pitt
OG Jeremiah Warren, USF
OG Zack Chibane, Syracuse
C Moe Petrus, UConn
OT Mike Ryan, UConn
OT Don Barclay, West Virginia
TE Ryan Griffin, UConn
WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
WR Mark Harrison, Rutgers
DE Brandon Lindsey, Pitt
DE Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
DT Kendall Reyes, UConn
DT Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati
LB JK Schaffer, Cincinnati
LB Sio Moore, UConn
LB Max Gruder, Pitt
CB Keith Tandy, West Virginia
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S Jarred Holley, Pitt
K Dave Teggart, UConn
P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
RS Lindsey Lamar, USF
2. South Florida guard Jeremiah Warren is not only the anchor of the Bulls’ offensive line, he’s also plays tuba in the USF Concert Band. He said there are similarities between reading music and reading a playbook. “If it’s Bach or Beethoven, it’s a lot harder than Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” he said. “If the play is an Iso, that’s no problem. But you get into a counter or a reverse, man…..” By the way, Warren ate seven lobsters at the Big East clambake on Monday night. Last I saw him, he was on the prowl for No. 8.
3. It turns out Stanford will not have a bushy-bearded Heisman candidate this fall after all. Quarterback Andrew Luck, who appeared at Pac-12 Media Day last week looking vaguely Amish, shaved his summer-long growth on Monday. Took a little off the top, too. “Shave and a haircut -- almost didn’t recognize him,” head coach David Shaw said. Luck cleaned up in preparation for the start of practice next Monday, a full seven weeks before classes begin. Stanford is one of the few FBS schools still on the quarter system.
2. Mike Ryan, tackle, Connecticut. The Huskies have a formidable duo with Petrus and Ryan returning. Ryan is the only player coming back this season who was a first-team All-Big East selection, and is on the watch list for the Lombardi Award. Ryan helped an offensive line that allowed just 15 sacks last season and averaged 175 yards on the ground.
3. Don Barclay, tackle, West Virginia. Another veteran player with plenty of starting experience, Barclay has started 27 games and was a second-team Big East selection last season. Barclay also is on two watch lists (Lomardi and Outland). Here is how valuable he is to the WVU starting line: He was on the field for more than 860 plays last season.
4. Joe Madsen, center, West Virginia. Madsen, Petrus and Mario Benavides make quite a trio of terrific centers in the Big East. Madsen has also started every game he has played in (25), and he only allowed one sack last season. He is so good, he won the team's offensive player of the game honors three times last season.
5. Justin Pugh, tackle, Syracuse. Pugh had quite the impressive debut season, starting all 13 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman en route to second-team All Big East honors. He might not be huge (6-foot-5, 287 pounds), but he is athletic and should be among the best in the league.
6. Mario Benavides, center, Louisville. Listing three centers among the top six should show you how good the top players at the position are this season. Benavides has started 24 games in his career but could be even better this season after offseason knee surgery.
7. Lucas Nix, tackle, Pitt. Nix should be considered the rock of the Pitt offensive line as he returns for his third season as a starter. With Chris Jacobson moving to center, Nix provides some stability and should be key in helping the Panthers continue their strong ground attack.
8. Alex Hoffman, tackle, Cincinnati. Hoffman has started 25 games and was a second-team All-Big East pick in 2009. Last season, the Bearcats had their share of early struggles, but he did help them get their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. He also is on the Lombardi Award watch list.
9. Jeremiah Warren, guard, USF. Warren and Chaz Hine make up the best guard tandem in the Big East. In fact, guard is a position with plenty of question marks throughout the league. But that is not the case for the Bulls. Warren has started 26 games, and he and Hine will help anchor a line with three new starters.
10. Chaz Hine, guard, USF. Hine has a remarkable story, going from walk-on to starter to one of the best guards in the league. Now that he will be in the second year of Skip Holtz's system, he should be even better.
A veteran offensive line that stayed healthy for the most part played a key role in the eight-win campaign. Sampson Genus was a first-team All-Big East center, while tackles Jamar Bass and Jake Sims were very solid, holding off Clemson star Da'Quan Bowers in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
With those three guys gone, the Bulls have some reshaping to do up front this spring.
Let's start with the known quantities. Jeremiah Warren and Chaz Hine are two seniors who have the guard positions locked down. In fact, the only real problem at those spots is they don't have a lot of competition behind them. Shankweiler said he's challenging both to be leaders and to motivate themselves.
"Sampson, Jamar and Jake were great leaders, so it will be fun to try and follow in their footsteps," Warren said.
At left tackle is junior Mark Popek, who started four games last year. Kevin McCaskill is Genus' replacement at center, a role he's undertaken before.
"He came into the Miami game when Genus got hurt, and you never noticed a difference," Shankweiler said. "On our touchdown to tie it and the touchdown to win it in overtime, we were running right behind him."
The most intriguing story among the current first unit is right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon, a redshirt freshman. He has dropped nearly 65 pounds since arriving on campus, now weighing in at 297. Shankweiler loves his potential.
"He's committed to working hard," Shankweiler said. "Last year, I made him the second-team right tackle the whole season, so I got him ready to play every game. He doesn't have wide eyes like most freshmen. He's a very bright kid. He probably learns better than anybody I've got."
So the Bulls feel good about their first-team front five, and head coach Skip Holtz said after Saturday's spring game that he's confident the Bulls will be able to run the ball well. It's depth that has Shankweiler a little nervous. Unless South Florida can avoid the injury bug again, it will have to rely on some untested linemen this fall.
"Our depth is not very good, truthfully," Shankweiler said. "We signed five high school linemen this year, which is more than most people do. We just don't have any. Our numbers were down when we got here, for whatever reason, and it takes two years to get caught back up."
Shankweiler is cross-training players at different positions to help the depth, and he said there's a good chance that an incoming freshman will crack the two-deep this fall. That means the veterans will have to be really good and the youngsters will have to come along in a hurry. If so, then the Bulls can count on the offensive line as a strength again in 2011.
"We can be one of the best around, I believe," Warren said. "We just have to fix some little things here and there and get better."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
But there were also players who missed all or part of the spring because of injuries, suspension, academics or whatever. And several of them are key parts to their team. Here's a look at some players who need to come through this fall after being absent for at least part of spring ball.
Cincinnati: Linebacker Andre Revels was held out of most of the spring after minor offseason knee surgery. The senior is one of the few experienced players on the Bearcats' defense and will be counted on this fall. Young defensive back Dominique Battle was expected to compete for a starting cornerback job this spring but was sidelined at times with an ankle injury.
Connecticut: The Huskies were remarkably injury- and issue-free this spring. They'll hope that continues this fall.
Louisville: The Cardinals are a different team offensively when receiver Scott Long is healthy. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season with injuries and sat out the spring following ACL surgery. He should be good to go in the summer.
Pittsburgh: Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was suspended for the final part of spring drills for violating team rules. Pitt needs him to have his act together and be on the field.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had a lot of important players miss time this spring with various injuries, including safety Joe Lefeged, leading returning rusher Kordell Young, running back Jourdan Brooks and several of their young receivers.
South Florida: Seemingly every offensive linemen the Bulls missed time with an injury or another problem this spring. Obviously, Jake Sims (finger), Zach Herman (concussion), Sampson Genus (knee) and Jeremiah Warren (academics) all will be needed in the fall for South Florida to contend.
Syracuse: First-team all-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones tore his pectoral muscle before the spring and was unavailable. The timetable for his return isn't clear, but Syracuse would have a hard time without him.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could use Jock Sanders back in the lineup. The speedy receiver/running back was suspended for the spring after a DUI arrest. He will try to return to the team once he completes his court case.
|J. Meric/Getty Images|
|Coach Jim Leavitt this spring will need to plug holes in the offensive line.|
TAMPA -- South Florida has the two biggest returning stars in the Big East in quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie. But players you probably haven't heard of yet will likely determine how far these Bulls run this season.
"People will say we've got a shot to be decent because of Matt and George," head coach Jim Leavitt said after Tuesday's practice. "It seems like that's the way it will alway be. But there are question marks."
Heck, Leavitt isn't even sure how he's going to field a team for Saturday's spring game because of his offensive line situation.
The Bulls lost four starters from last year's offensive front and have been hampered by injuries this spring. Jake Sims, who started 10 games a year ago, has been out with a hand injury. Zach Hermann, another expected starter, is dealing with a concussion. Jeremiah Warren, who Leavitt figures will at least be a part of the rotation, is concentrating on his academics. And Sampson Genus, who was playing center with Sims out, hurt his knee. On Tuesday, Leavitt had every available offensive lineman snapping the ball.
"Those four might be our starters," Leavitt said. "Right now, we're practicing with a lot of guys who will probably be on our scout team. You take away four starters last fall and with four out now, we might be working third-team guys."
All of the missing starters should be back for the fall, and Leavitt said incoming junior college transfers Jamar Bass and Carlos Savala and true freshman Steve Jacques will compete for playing time right away. But the offensive line has missed a key chance to build chemistry this spring.
"That's been a real negative," Leavitt said. "On the other hand, we're building some depth, if you want to look at the silver lining. We're making our quarterbacks work really hard, which is probably good. But we're probably getting a false sense of confidence on defense.
"When it's all said and done, can we put a good group together (on the offensive line)? I don't know. That's the big question."
This spring has a much different feeling for the Bulls. Leavitt said that in the past two years, he felt like the team was ready to start playing games in April because it had so many experienced players back. This year, they're counting on several young players to step in and contribute.
On the other hand, Leavitt said that maybe this current situation will help prevent the team from going through the midseason backslide that has plagued it the past two seasons. The Bulls climbed to No. 2 in the country in 2007 and No. 10 last season before tumbling into losing streaks.
"We plateaued the last few years and didn't get better," he said. "It will be real interesting to see how it plays out. This team will get a lot better than the last few years. That I know, because we're not as elevated right now, today. So we will get better. That's encouraging to me."
A lot will depend on this summer, when the majority of South Florida's large and highly-touted recruiting class arrives. Leavitt has said that as many as 20 first-year players could see time right away. And he's not afraid to unseat more experienced players who aren't performing up to his standards.
"If it's even, we're going to go after the guys coming in this summer," he said. "It's really important that some of these guys realize that in the fall, there's not going to be as much patience. If you're not at the top of your game then boom, all of a sudden, you might not see the field again."
The Bulls could have the best defensive line in the league, the most experienced quarterback, a cadre of weapons at receiver and running back and as much overall athletic talent as anyone in the Big East. They have holes to fill at linebacker and cornerback, as well as the offensive line. And it remains to be seen if a team relying on so many new players can truly contend for the conference title.
So even with Grothe and Selvie, South Florida has a lot of questions.
"But there are questions all over the Big East," Leavitt said. "There really are. It's going to be a really interesting year again.
"I think this program has a chance to make a move this summer. I really do."