NCF Nation: Terrence Simien

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:

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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


Steve Kragthorpe very nearly broke out the old Herm Edwards quote this week when talking about the struggles of his Louisville football team.

"You play this game to win," Kragthorpe said.

Except that hasn't been the case for the Cardinals (1-3, 0-1 Big East), who last beat an FBS opponent on Oct. 25, 2008. That's a string of eight straight defeats, five of them by double digits.
 
 Andy Lyons/Getty Images
 Victor Anderson is expected to get more touches Saturday against Southern Mississippi.


While Kragthorpe and his players continue to say that they're just a few plays away or that they've beaten themselves with mistakes, a losing streak like that comes down to more than just a couple of bad breaks. So expect to see some changes this Saturday when Louisville plays host to Southern Mississippi.

For starters, Kragthorpe is promising to get Victor Anderson more touches. Makes perfect sense, since Anderson -- the Big East's newcomer of the year last season after rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman -- is the team's best player. Yet after carrying 19 times for 110 yards at Kentucky, Anderson got only 10 carries for 22 yards at Utah and ran it just 12 times for 51 yards last week against Pitt.

Anderson was dealing with a groin injury and some other bumps and bruises last week, Kragthorpe said. But he should be healthier now, and he needs to be a major part of the game plan.

Of course, Anderson can only do so much when the offensive line is not opening holes.

When asked to name which players were performing well up front, Kragthorpe could only point to center Mario Benavides and right guard Mark Wetterer. Junior Jeff Adams, who started at right tackle last year, could supplant left tackle Byron Stingily this week. Adams was slated to start there in the preseason, but he had a bout with the flu that caused him to lose almost 20 pounds in fall camp. Massive junior college transfer Joe Evinger (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) arrived late in fall camp but is now sufficiently up to speed to where he could start seeing some significant time as well, Kragthorpe said.

Another problem area for the Cardinals has been the secondary, which was burned by long touchdown passes against Pitt. Safety Terrence Simien's kidney injury forced some shuffling around, and Chaz Thompson moved over from safety to start at cornerback for the first time in his career last week. Kragthorpe said he would look at some other options back there, including pulling the redshirt off true freshman Shenard Holton.

Louisville is the most penalized team in the Big East and seems to find the absolute wrong time in each drive to draw a flag. Kragthorpe said he planned to tape his offensive linemen's wrists this week to prevent them from getting their hands outside a defender's body. And others who committed penalties last week had to run as punishment.

It remains to be seen whether any of these changes are more than cosmetic against a Southern Miss team that has some issues of its own. The Golden Eagles lost starting quarterback Austin Davis to a season-ending injury last week in a loss to UAB. Junior Martevious Young will start in his place. They will get back running back Damion Fletcher and receiver DeAndre Brown from injuries this week.

The Cardinals left old rival Southern Miss and Conference USA behind when they moved to the Big East; losing to the Golden Eagles at home would be yet another black mark for a program that's gathered too many of them lately. With two Big East away games up next and road trips still left to West Virginia and South Florida, Louisville can't afford any more slip-ups.

"A win would sure lighten the mood up," Benavides said. "Nobody likes losing."

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