Thursday, April 12, 2007
Spring look around the Big East
By Joe Starkey
Special to ESPN.com
Who's the next star lineman at Louisville? Who replaces H.B. Blades at Pitt, Dan Mozes at West Virginia and Stephen Nicholas at USF? Who's the star-waiting-to-happen at Rutgers? Our Big East notebook answers those questions and more.
Ready to break out: 1. Derrick Stewart, sophomore wide receiver. The team's fastest player should thrive in new coach Brian Kelly's wide-open offense. Stewart led the Bearcats with 20.5 yards per catch last season and tied for the team lead with five touchdown catches. He could double that total this season.
2. Connor Barwin, sophomore tight end. Kelly has said the tight end position is crucial in his offense. Barwin was Brent Celek's backup for two years but showed his ability by catching five passes, including two touchdowns, against West Virginia last season.
Ready to break out: 1. Donald Brown, sophomore tailback. He didn't carry the ball more than nine times until the eighth game, but he took the starting job from senior Terry Caulley and rolled up 673 yards in the final five. Brown, who broke long runs left and right this spring, might be the third-best back in conference, behind Steve Slaton and Ray Rice.
2. Robert Vaughn, sophomore free safety. Played in seven games last season and returns as the team's most experienced player at the position.
Ready to break out: 1. Deantwan "Peanut" Whitehead, sophomore defensive end. Look out Big East. One of Louisville's all-time most prized recruits, the 6-6 Whitehead racked up five tackles for loss and four sacks as a true freshman. A dynamic athlete, he's ready for much more than that -- perhaps even ready to become U of L's next Elvis Dumervil.
2. Breno Giacomini, senior offensive tackle. A tremendous athlete for his size (6-7, 300), Giacomini spent much of his career toggling between tight end and tackle, but he has settled in at tackle and is having a solid spring.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Ready to break out: 1. Scott McKillop, junior middle linebacker. According to coach Dave Wannstedt, McKillop possesses some of the qualities of the man he's replacing, H.B. Blades. He's not an eye-popping athlete, but a smart, instinctive player. McKillop, who is having a standout spring, played a lot of special teams the past two years and loves to hit.
2. Jeff Otah, senior offensive tackle. He came from the junior-college ranks as a raw prospect, but started all 12 games on the left side last season. Otah's only been playing football since his senior year in high school, but he has NFL size (6-6, 340) and athleticism. He earned Wannstedt's praise early in spring ball.
Ready to break out: 1. Kenny Britt, sophomore wide receiver. He didn't catch a pass until Rutgers' eighth game, but Britt sure made up for lost time with 29 receptions for 440 yards in the final six games. Has the size (6-4, 205), speed and hands to become a nationally prominent game-breaker. Britt made nine plays of 20 yards or longer last season, including a career-long 67-yard catch in the upset win over Louisville.
2. Mike Teel, junior quarterback. Teel showed in the final three games last season that he was ready turn the corner and become a playmaker, rather than just a caretaker for the offense. Coaches have raved about his performance this spring.
South Florida Bulls
Ready to break out: 1. Tyrone McKenzie, junior outside linebacker. South Florida has no worries about replacing star linebacker Stephen Nicholas. The Bulls have just the man in Tampa native McKenzie, who began his career at Michigan State and transferred to Iowa State, where he was second-team All-Big 12 last season. His 129 tackles in 2006 were eighth-most in the country. He will not have to sit out this season because the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver, based on the fact he wanted to be closer to his mother, who reportedly is ill.
2. Chris Robinson, junior defensive end/linebacker. As a pass-rushing specialist last season, Robinson quietly put up seven sacks. His role figures to increase. So do his numbers.
Ready to break out: 1. Mike Williams, sophomore wide receiver. He's a spectacular athlete who showed flashes of greatness last season. In eight games, Williams had at least one play of 20 yards or more. At 6-2 with great leaping ability, he's a tough cover.
2. Dowayne Davis, senior strong safety. He made the switch from cornerback two years ago, established himself as a starter in 2005, then played most of last season with a toe injury but still was the team's third-leading tackler. Now healthy, Davis should be primed for big senior season.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Ready to break out: 1. Mike Dent, sophomore center. He has been biding his time for two years behind All-American Dan Mozes and is eager to show his stuff. Dent already had the quickest feet among WVU's lineman, and he has added 10 pounds to his frame, bulking up to 285. "He's going to be a good player," Mozes said.
2. Wes Lyons, sophomore wide receiver. You won't find many 6-foot-8 receivers who can run, but here's one. Quarterback Pat White has developed a rapport with Lyons, who spent a productive winter in the weight room and had three catches for 76 yards in WVU's spring game.
Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.