NCF Nation: Sean Daniels

Big East spring game previews

April, 19, 2013
Nine of 10 Big East teams will be through with spring practices come Monday, with Rutgers serving as the outlier. With UConn, Temple and SMU all gearing up for their annual spring games this Saturday, here's a peek at what to look for.

Fans in attendance for the noon start at Rentschler Field should keep an eye on how the offense moves under new coordinator T.J. Weist. The Huskies ranked 118th in total offense last year as coordinator George DeLeone was stripped of his duties, though he remains the offensive line coach. But the squad returns all five starters up front to protect incumbent quarterback Chandler Whitmer, as well as top running back Lyle McCombs, as the unit will look to keep pace with a defense that was nothing short of outstanding last season but is down a few stars who will hear their names called next weekend in New York.

Hank Hughes is the new man in charge of the defense, and he has Yawin Smallwood back to anchor a unit that has said goodbye to Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Huskies boast plenty of potential in the middle with linebackers Graham Stewart, Ryan Donohue, Jefferson Ashiru and Omaine Stephens -- but that is just potential, for now.

UConn needs answers on both sides of the ball if it hopes to improve off head coach Paul Pasqualoni's consecutive 5-7 seasons.

The Mustangs will have an open practice at 9 a.m. local time at Pettus Practice Field, with many current and former players signing autographs afterward. There will be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition afterward for kids ages 6 through eighth grade.

The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.

Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.

Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.

Head coach Matt Rhule's first spring will feature live kicking and punting, normal scoring and 15-minute quarters. Who will eventually emerge as quarterback, however, is another matter. Juice Granger and Thomas Rumer will see action on the Cherry squad, which is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Snow, while Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly will take reps for the White team, coached by offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield.

Reilly has thrived under the pro-style attack, ascending to No. 1 on a depth chart that was expected to see Coyer and Granger fight for the top spot. Coyer has seen time as an H-back in practice, but Rhule said he will remain under center. Kevin Newsome, out with a shoulder injury, has been moved to H-back.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich leads a defense that struggled across the board last season, while Levi Brown and Sean Daniels are the big guys up front worth keeping an eye on.

The live kicking and punting part of Saturday's 1 p.m. contest at Edberg-Olson Hall is worth noting in that the Owls need to replace Brandon McManus, who held the school records for field goals made and punting average.
Here is Part II of my interview with Temple coach Matt Rhule. As the Owls open up spring practice, Rhule discusses his priorities for the defensive side of the ball.

There were struggles in every category on defense last year. First, how do you work on stopping the run?

MR: When you look at our defense, there’s certain things that have to get better. The defensive line play up front has to completely emerge and improve. I don’t know how many sacks we had but it’s not very many and we have to stop the run first and so there are some experienced talented players that have to step up and make plays for us. We have a history here of d-linemen playing in the National Football League. These guys coming up have a lot of talent, they just have to go play. In the spring, we’re really going to push those guys and see what they can do.

Is there one guy or a couple of guys you already have in your mind along the front that you have said OK this guy has got to have a big spring for us?

[+] EnlargeLevi Brown
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaTemple coach Matt Rhule is counting on Levi Brown to be a big producer in 2013.
MR: Levi Brown. Levi’s a senior, he’s been starting since he’s a freshman. As a sophomore he played well at times. Turning the film on last year he didn’t dominate the game. He’s been banged-up most of the winter. He played hard; he just didn’t dominate. He’s got to dominate because he’s a talented player. The guy I would put the absolute spotlight on is Sean Daniels. Sean’s brother starts in the NFL. Sean over the years has had some big games at times. He’s got seven sacks in three years, though. He’s never put it all together. It’s now for him. It’s not even the fall. It’s this spring. He has to show himself, show his teammates he can be a reliable every-down threat who can pressure the quarterback. Before we start talking about the DBs, you have to get pressure on the quarterback, then you can more adequately say this is who can cover and who can’t. We need Sean to come through for us as a pass-rusher and as a defensive end.

Where do you want to see improvement from reigning Big East freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich?

MR: I’ve made this clear to him. He needs to evaluate himself not based on the amount of tackles he makes but based on the amount of plays he makes. Coming off a block 4 yards down the field and dragging a guy down for a gain of 5, that’s a tackle but it’s not a dominant play. He’s made some dominant plays, and he can make a lot more, but he’s got to start making plays in the backfield, he’s got to start making plays at the line of scrimmage, he has to dominate with a physical style of play as opposed to falling off blocks. He has a natural intuitiveness to be around the football, which you can’t coach. But we’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to take his game to the next level -- not to just say I make a lot of tackles. Tell me where you’re making the tackles, how many plays you’re making. He’s on board with that. He’s a tough guy, he wants to get better. That’s the emphasis for him, where are you making those plays?

Temple played a lot of young guys in the secondary last year. How does that position look to you?

MR: We have a bunch of guys that can raise their hand and say I’ve played 15 or 20 plays a game but no one who can say, 'OK I emerged as a starter and showed what I can do and was consistent all year long.' That’s the thing for us. There’s a lot of guys who have played but there’s not a lot of guys who have established themselves. When coaches say there’s a lot of competition, sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. I’d love it to say, 'OK this is our starter.' That’s the challenge to those defensive backs.