NCF Nation: Reuben Johnson

Big East recruiting needs

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
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National signing day is inching ever closer, so it is time to take a look at the biggest recruiting needs for every team in the Big East.

Cincinnati

Defensive line. Cincinnati loses a host of seniors from this position, including Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Monte Taylor, and Rob Trigg. Factor in the key contributors for 2012 will be seniors in Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Walter Stewart and it is time to reload at this position.

Receiver. There is some promising young talent on the roster, but several guys are going to be leaving in the next few years. The Bearcats really need a guy who can stretch the field and make some big plays to join Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum.

Secondary. The Bearcats are going to take a hit at this position after 2012, losing a ton of seniors-to-be, including Cam Cheatham, Drew Frey, Dominique Battle and Reuben Johnson. Senior safety Wesley Richardson is already gone. The lone four-star commitment the Bearcats have is from a safety, Marcus Foster.

UConn

Quarterback. This need has been addressed in this recruiting cycle, with junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer and Casey Cochran already enrolled in school.

Tight end. With the impending departure of Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt, the Huskies could use another young player to be groomed to take over. Tight end is a critical part of the UConn offense.

Offensive line. UConn is losing its two best linemen in Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan. Of the 16 linemen currently listed on the roster, seven are juniors or seniors. Linemen generally take a redshirt season, so it never hurts to sign more to be able to restock.

Louisville

Linebacker. The Cardinals are losing Dexter Heyman and have a lot of juniors and seniors on their roster at this position. It is no surprise, then, that three of the top players coming in are linebackers -- Keith Brown and James Burgess are already enrolled; four-star recruit Nick Dawson has given a commitment.

Offensive line. Louisville has young players here, but not much depth, as evidenced this season when several true freshmen were forced to play much earlier than anticipated. It never hurts to build depth here, and the Cardinals have gotten a huge commit from four-star guard Abraham Garcia out of Miami.

Running back. This was an area the Cardinals struggled in this season, having to move quarterback Dominique Brown to the position. Victor Anderson is gone, and this team could really used another back to carry the load.

Pitt

Quarterback. This one is pretty self explanatory if you watched Tino Sunseri play. Mark Myers and Trey Anderson are also on the roster, but the Panthers are in definite need here -- which is why so many fans are looking forward to commit Chad Voytik coming to town.

Linebacker. This has been an area of inconsistency for the Panthers, who lose their best player in Max Gruder. There are some young players with talent in Todd Thomas and Ejuan Price, but this position could definitely use an upgrade.

Receiver. The play of the offense was disappointing this season, and that includes the receivers. Pitt could use some players to stretch the field. Ronald Jones was a start this season. But when you consider that Cameron Saddler, Mike Shanahan and Devin Street will all be upperclassmen in 2012, this is a definite area of need.

Rutgers

Receiver. Mohamed Sanu is gone, and Mark Harrison is a senior to be. There is plenty of young talent, but there is a reason Rutgers has commitments from four athletes. This gives the Scarlet Knights the flexibility to try them at receiver or running back, another area of need.

Running back. Once Savon Huggins got hurt this year, Rutgers had Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering at running back and that was about it. Depth has to be developed here.

Offensive line. Strides have absolutely been made at this position, but coach Greg Schiano likes to reiterate that the Scarlet Knights aren't going to pull themselves out of the hole they were in overnight. They need another solid draft class at this position to keep building.

USF

Secondary. Injuries and inconsistent play this season showed the Bulls really lacked some depth and need some immediate help in this area, which is why they signed junior college cornerbacks Fidel Montgomery and Josh Brown. One of their top four-star commitments is cornerback Chris Bivins.

Quarterback. Beyond B.J. Daniels, a senior in 2012, the Bulls have Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd as the two heirs to take over. Eveld has been less than impressive, and we don't know much about Floyd. The Bulls would be served to get another quarterback in as they prepare for the future.

Running back. Darrell Scott is gone, and the Bulls are really in need of a game breaker at this position. Demetris Murray is going to be a senior, and nobody else really has stepped up at the position. Depth has to be built here, because USF goes into spring practice with four running backs on the roster.

Syracuse

Defensive line. The Orange are losing Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich and could really used some difference-makers up front who can help get after the quarterback. Depth is an issue here. One of their big commitments so far has been defensive end Josh Manley out of Georgia.

Secondary. This was one of the weakest parts of the team and now the Orange lose Phillip Thomas and Kevyn Scott, and there was a lack of depth when injuries hit this position in 2011. Brooklyn prep safety Wayne Morgan would be a huge get to add to this unit.

Receiver. Alec Lemon is a senior, Van Chew is gone and who knows what happens with Marcus Sales. The bottom line is the Orange are in major need of a game-changer to turn 15-yard passes into 40-yard receptions.

West Virginia

Quarterback. Geno Smith is a rising senior and after him it is crickets in the form of one player behind him in Paul Millard. So consider this need majorly filled with Ford Childress, ranked No. 139 on the ESPNU 150.

Offensive line. The most inconsistent part of the team in 2011, West Virginia has a major need here. The Mountaineers struggled so badly here they started converted defensive lineman Curtis Feigt late in the season. Don Barclay is gone, and Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins are all upperclassmen.

Defensive line. Julian Miller, Josh Taylor and Bruce Irvin are gone, and there are depth concerns here. West Virginia has four commitments from defensive linemen already.
Butch JonesJim Owens/Icon SMIButch Jones hopes a productive offseason will translate into victories on the field in 2011.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones will kick off his second spring practice with the Bearcats on Tuesday, looking to improve upon a disappointing 4-8 debut campaign. I caught up with Jones to preview the spring, and here's Part I of our conversation.

After the rough year in 2010, how are the players' attitudes heading into the spring?

Butch Jones: I've been very pleased. I think we've had a very, very productive offseason. I've liked our leadership, and that's the biggest thing -- teaching our players about leadership and team unity. We've talked about each day is a different challenge. Each day you've got to win the day. We've talked about how before you can even be in contention to win a championship, your team has to be comprised of individual champions. Yesterday our winter quarter grades came out, and we have 83 players, scholarship and non-scholarship. We had a 2.9 GPA, which is very impressive. So they've answered that challenge, and they've answered the challenge in the strength and conditioning area. And now we need to answer the challenge for spring football.

It's the second year for your system now, and your entire coaching staff returns. How much positive impact will that have?

BJ: You win with continuity. At Central Michigan, we were very fortunate to keep our coaching staff intact. This year was extremely challenging, because we had four staff members be offered other BCS, high-caliber, high-profile jobs. And all four stayed. I think that speaks volumes about how they feel about the direction of our program and our players, loyalty, all that stuff. You look at what our defensive players have gone through, with three defensive coordinators in three years, and I'm just a firm believer you win with continuity. Everyone knows what's expected. That's been a huge benefit this offseason.

Looking at your defense, you have all 11 starters back. But the defense obviously struggled last year. So do you look at it as a good thing that every starter is back, or that there needs to be some major change there?

BJ: The key there is, we can't just be older; we must get better. We have to take major, major strides on that side of the ball. It comes first and foremost with a physicality and presence, and we've got to get much more tougher, much more physical. When I say tougher, it's both mental and physical. It's being able to handle sudden changes, it's creating turnovers, it's third down and getting off the field. So there's so much that goes into improving the defense and making us a better tackling team. This spring is going to be very, very physical. We're going to challenge them as we did in our winter conditioning.

(Read full post)

It's time to get back to our post-spring rankings of each Big East position group. A lot of teams have question marks in their secondaries heading into this summer; let's look at how they stand in comparison to one another:

[+] EnlargeSands
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerRobert Sands snagged five interceptions last season.
1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers play five defensive backs in their 3-3-5 alignment and should be well stocked for 2010. Safety Robert Sands should compete for league defensive player of the year honors if he continues his rapid development, while senior Sidney Glover is an experienced playmaker at one of the other safety spots. West Virginia needs Brandon Hogan to rediscover his form and for Keith Tandy to keep improving, and this could be one of the team's strongest units.

2. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost the best cornerback in the Big East when Devin McCourty took his skills to the NFL, but I still like the group that's returning. Joe Lefeged should step up and assume McCourty's leadership role as a senior safety, while Khaseem Greene looks ready to become a front-line safety. David Rowe is a solid corner, and either Brandon Bing or Logan Ryan should fill the other spot. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of talented young players here to provide quality depth, as well.

3. Syracuse: The Orange officially have five returning starters in the secondary because of injuries last year, and several players gained valuable experience during 2009. There's a good mixture of veteran leadership with guys like seniors Mike Holmes, Da'Mon Merkerson and Max Suter as well as rising stars like Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas.

4. Pittsburgh: Antwuan Reed helped answer a big question with a strong spring at cornerback. The other corner spot will likely be filled by either junior college transfer Saheed Imoru or Buddy Jackson, with Ricky Gary around to add depth. The safety position should be in good shape when Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti return from their injuries, while Jarred Holley established himself as a dependable safety last year.

5. South Florida: The Bulls lost a pair of draft picks in Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy and have some young players moving into key roles this season. The good news is those youngsters have talent. The key will be whether Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster can hold down the cornerback spots.

6. Cincinnati: There's healthy competition in the secondary for the Bearcats, who increasingly gave up big plays in the passing game as the 2009 season wore on. Dominique Battle, Camerron Cheatham, Chris Williams and Reuben Johnson all vied for playing time at corner this spring. Drew Frey is a steady safety. The group needs to make more plays than it did a year ago but should embrace a more aggressive scheme this year.

7. Connecticut: The Huskies ranked last in pass defense last season and lost two senior stalwarts from the secondary. The defensive backfield was in disarray at times this spring. The return of Blidi Wreh-Wilson from his shoulder injury this summer should help out the cornerback spot with Dwayne Gratz. Jerome Junior should be solid at one safety spot, while Kijuan Dabney is trying to win the other job after moving from linebacker. The Huskies are counting on a lot of young players to improve quickly before the season begins.

8. Louisville: The Cardinals had so much trouble finding playmakers in the secondary this spring that running back Darius Ashley moved to corner to help out. Johnny Patrick is one of the league's better cornerbacks but needs help in the defensive backfield. The healthy return of safety Terence Simien would provide a boost, but this remains a trouble spot heading into the fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Being in the top 10 for the first time in school history is a nice accomplishment. But Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly says he hasn't really mentioned anything about it to his team.

"They know I'm not very impressed," Kelly said. "We're pleased that we've made that progress and that we can be a top 10 team. But our guys are not patting themselves on the back saying, 'Hey, we've arrived.' They understand they've got to play each and every week or they'll get beat, because we're not that good."

Kelly on Big East programs
Brian Kelly thinks the Big East has some young programs that are building toward something. He also comments on his program's facilities and commitment to winning.
Despite how well the Bearcats (4-0) have looked to start the season, Kelly insists that his team still has a lot of flaws. The offense, he said, needs to do a better job dictating the flow of the game and work in more balance with the run. The defense missed too many assignments against Fresno State. The kickoff return team needs improvement.

Still, how many teams would love to trade their problems for Kelly's? Surely Mike Haywood would. The first-year Miami of Ohio coach has to find a way for his 0-4 team to compete with the Bearcats this week. The RedHawks have given up an average of 41.8 points per game, while Cincinnati is averaging more than 43 per contest.

How efficient are the Bearcats on offense? Last week against Fresno State, they scored 28 points despite taking only 39 actual offensive snaps. That's a touchdown every 5.6 snaps. Even for a fast-paced no-huddle attack, that's hard to believe.

"In 19 years of coaching, you don't ever think you're going to go into a game and run 39 offensive plays and still be around to talk about wins," Kelly said. "We're built to move quickly, with bigger-chunk plays. We're not a ball-control offense. But we've got to make sure we give Tony Pike enough snaps."

Miami has a new quarterback in freshman Zac Dysert, who made his starting debut against Kent State and threw for 337 yards and rushed for 107. Kelly said the RedHawks will play with nothing to lose and will be motivated by this rivalry game.

Yet this matchup figures to be severely lopsided and could give Cincinnati a chance to work in some new guys and some players coming off injuries before going to South Florida on Oct. 15. Kelly said cornerbacks Dominique Battle (ankle) and Chris Williams (leg) are getting closer, but they may not play until the Bulls game. Marcus Barnett started at corner last week, and freshman Reuben Johnson could see more time this week.

Kelly said linebacker Curtis Young is making good progress from his knee injury but is probably a couple of weeks away. Linebacker Robby Armstrong is having knee surgery this week and is probably out for the season. Kelly mentioned sophomore Alex Delisi as one who could pick up the slack at linebacker.

Running back John Goebel, who missed the first four games with a hamstring injury, should see some time on special teams this week so he can be ready for the South Florida game, Kelly said.

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