NCF Nation: Ryan Nehlen

Big East practice report

August, 11, 2011
Checking in around the league after yet another day of practice:

Cincinnati: Tight end Travis Kelce hurt his shoulder in the morning practice but the injury isn't believe to be serious. The team moves Friday to the Higher Ground Conference and Retreat Center in West Harrison, Ind., to practice for two weeks.

Connecticut: Yet another receiver has decided to transfer. Malik Generett became the third receiver in a week to leave UConn for an FCS school. Generett is headed to Tennessee-Martin.

Louisville: The Cardinals held their media day on Wednesday, and coach Charlie Strong reiterated that Will Stein would be the starter at quarterback if the season started today. He also emphasized that this team's strength would be its defense, particularly in the front seven and at safety.

Pitt: Coach Todd Graham chastised his players for cursing during practice Wednesday. He also has banned them from using Twitter during camp. As for his players, he is looking at Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson at center. "The first two days we’re trying to make sure we have people in the right position, and at the end of the day we will go back and make evaluations," he said.

Rutgers: Injuries have started to mount for the Scarlet Knights. Defensive end Manny Abreu was carted off the field after he got "dinged." "He didn't look too good,'' coach Greg Schiano said. "I hope it's not too bad.'' Meanwhile, redshirt freshman safety Rashad Knight could be out for the season with a broken foot. Starting cornerback Logan Ryan also injured his leg. Running backs Jawan Jamison (hamstring) and Jeremy Deering (ill) have also missed practice time, along with starting left guard Desmond Wynn.

Syracuse: Three of the team's four centers were hampered with injuries during Wednesday's practice. Only starter Macky MacPherson is healthy. Freshman Jesse Wolf-Gould also took a few snaps to help out. Seniors Ian Allport and Nick Lepak and freshman Rob Trudo were all out. Offensive line coach Greg Adkins also has returned to the team after a non-threatening medical condition kept him out of camp the first five days.

USF: The kicking jobs remain open at USF. Coach Skip Holtz said after practice that nobody is kicking with any consistency so far in camp. “I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that anybody has nailed down any of the special-teams responsibilities,” he said.
Holtz said kicker Maikon Bonani has had a few up and down days. Redshirt freshman Marvin Kloss and true freshman walk-on Mattias Ciabatti are in the mix. At punter, Justin Brockhaus-Kann and Chris Veron are competing, along with Mattias Ciabatti.

West Virginia: Coach Dana Holgorsen is not too pleased with his receivers. He says there is still too much inconsistency there. "I don’t know how those guys can get worse from spring, but it looks to me like some of them have," Holgorsen said. The one player who stood out Wednesday was Ryan Nehlen, whose grandfather, great West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, was in attendance at practice.
We continue our team position rankings today with receiver. This is an area of great potential for plenty of teams around the league, especially with some of the high-octane offenses that we are going to see. Only three teams return their leading receiver from last season. The overriding theme seems to be this: there is a lot of talent, but much of it is unproven. So how are these receivers going to step up?

To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential.

[+] EnlargeMark Harrison
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonMark Harrison caught 44 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns last season.
1. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have proven talent and depth at this position, putting them at the top spot in these rankings. When healthy, Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu form one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire league. Add in Brandon Coleman, who had an outstanding spring, along with Tim Wright returning from injury and the top four looks as solid as it gets. Let's not forget incoming speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, who have the potential to play as well.

2. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and a whole bunch of questions at the position. But with the new offense Dana Holgorsen is bringing in, other receivers have a chance to be more effective. Austin is about as close as you can come to a surefire first-team All-Big East player. Ryan Nehlen had a nice spring and could be the surprise of the season. So could Tyler Urban, a converted tight end. How will Brad Starks do after shoulder surgery? Will Ivan McCartney live up to his potential? There is talent here and great potential if everybody lives up to expectations.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are stocked with talent, but many of these skill players have got to gain experience and fast with Armon Binns, Marcus Barnett, Vidal Hazelton and Ben Guidugli gone. D.J. Woods is expected to be a first-team All-Big East selection. But beyond he and Anthony McClung, you have got young guys -- junior college transfers Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian, redshirt freshman Dyjuan Lewis, freshmen Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Alex Chisum and Max Morrison. Thompkins showed great promise in the spring.

4. Pittsburgh. The Panthers lose their leading receiver in Jon Baldwin, but the duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could each be 1,000-yard receivers. Behind them, though, there are some questions and inexperience. Junior Cameron Saddler is going to have to step up. Redshirt freshmen Salath Williams, Drew Carswell, junior college transfer Josh Brinson and true freshman Justin Jackson are all young but have a chance to be big contributors. Pitt also is waiting to hear whether UNC transfer Brendon Felder will have his petition for immediate eligibility granted.

5. Syracuse. The Orange have plenty of solid returning receivers in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon but what this team is really lacking is big-play potential. In five games last season, Syracuse failed to complete a pass that went longer than 30 yards. In fact, Ryan Nassib averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt. A healthy Jarrod West could help those numbers improve. Dorian Graham has to work on his hands, too.

6. USF. The Bulls lose leading receiver Dontavia Bogan, but they return injured players Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love to the mix, which is going to be huge. Lindsey Lamar and Evan Landi also return, along with Terrence Mitchell, Joel Miller and Faron Hornes. Deonte Welch had a nice spring game and is listed as a backup behind Landi. True freshman Andre Davis has the potential to contribute as well. The Bulls have plenty of depth here but there are still some questions about this group, especially with Griffin and Love coming off injuries.

7. Louisville. The Cardinals lose their top two receivers, and have got to figure out a way to make big plays and stretch the field with a young group. Josh Bellamy appears to be the go-to man headed into 2011, and much is going to be expected of Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris. Both are coming off injuries and were unable to practice in the spring. True freshmen are most likely going to be relied upon, giving Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker and opportunity to play.

8. Connecticut. A playmaker has got to emerge from this group to help out whoever is going to be playing quarterback. The Huskies lost leading receiver Mike Smith because of academics. Kashif Moore, Ryan Griffin and Isiah Moore return but UConn is going to need some of its redshirt freshmen like Geremy Davis and Tebucky Jones Jr. to step up. The Huskies are not preparing to run the spread, so the potential for a 1,000-yard receiver in this group is low.

Previous rankings:
Reviewing West Virginia's Gold-Blue spring game from Friday night, won by the offense 83-17:

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Geno Smith completed 26 of 37 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns as Dana Holgorsen's offense was fully unleashed against the Mountaineers' second-string defense. Smith's night included 44- and 67-yard touchdown passes to Stedman Bailey and a 38-yard scoring strike to Tavon Austin. Backup quarterback Paul Millard added 253 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-30 passing. Overall, the offense racked up 838 total yards and 683 in the air on 104 plays.

Defensive MVP: Julian Miller had two sacks and four total tackles, though this was clearly a night set up for the offense.

Costly injury? Starting offensive guard Josh Jenkins suffered an MCL sprain and a strain of another ligament around his kneecap. Jenkins will be put in a brace and go through physical therapy for six to eight weeks to let the MCL sprain heal. The West Virginia medical staff will decide after that time whether Jenkins needs surgery on his knee cap. Not having Jenkins would be a big loss for the Mountaineers.

Running back battle: One of the more intriguing subplots of the spring for the Mountaineers was who would claim the No. 1 tailback spot. It's a battle that probably will continue into the fall. True freshman Vernard Roberts led all rushers with 64 yards on 10 carries Friday. Trey Johnson had 57 yards on nine attempts and the only rushing touchdown. Johnson also had a 65-yard reception for a score.

Other notes: The estimated crowd of 22,000 was the largest for a Big East spring game this year. ... Ryan Nehlen was given the Nickolich Award as the top walk-on of the spring, and he caught five passes for 79 yards in the spring game. ... Defensive lineman Will Clarke, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy received the Iron Mountaineer Award, presented to the most outstanding performers in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program.