Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Updated: April 26, 5:58 PM ET
Big changes highlight Big East's spring practices
By Joe Starkey
Special to ESPN.com
Spring practice is finished. Which stud recruit stepped up at Pitt? How is Rutgers' passing game? Which star made a position switch at West Virginia and which key USF player was lost for the season? Our Big East notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Best news: Ex-running back Mike Daniels, a 5-foot-7 dynamo whose 2006 season ended with a knee injury in summer practice, returned from a medical redshirt, switched to wide receiver and made a 40-yard catch in the spring game.
Worst news: Tight ends Connor Barwin and Kazeem Alli were injured. Barwin suffered torn ankle ligaments dunking a basketball in a driveway, but should be OK for summer practice. Alli sustained a knee injury that could linger into the season.
Big change: New coach Brian Kelly's wide-open offense was on display in the spring game, when 13 of the first 15 plays were passes.
Best news: Last year's starting quarterback, D.J. Hernandez, lobbied for a switch to receiver after he was demoted and showed signs of becoming an impact player there, both as a blocker and a pass catcher. He caught two passes for 46 yards in the spring game.
Worst news: Backup receiver Brandon McLean was arrested twice in four days by campus police and has been suspended from the team.
Big change: The Huskies practiced 14 of 15 days indoors at their new practice facility. That made it easier for coach Randy Edsall to evaluate his players and allowed for some much-needed quality work in the passing game.
Best news: A record crowd of 28,000 -- about double the usual turnout -- attended the Cardinals' spring game to see new coach Steve Kragthorpe's team in action, providing more proof of how big a deal football has become at this traditionally basketball-centered school.
Worst news: After scoring a touchdown on its opening drive, the offense looked out of sync in the spring game. Quarterback Brian Brohm faced heavy pressure and was picked off four times. The silver lining there is that the defense looked good.
Big change: Former wide receiver Johnny Patrick made a name for himself at cornerback, and converted tight end Breno Giacomini settled in nicely at right tackle.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Best news: Elijah Fields, a startling talent at strong safety, rebounded from a suspension and a lost freshman year to show why he was so highly regarded among the Class of 2006. In the spring game, Fields made seven tackles (two for losses) and returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown.
Worst news: Pass-rushing end Doug Fulmer, who was coming off ankle surgery, injured a knee and spent the entire spring on crutches. He won't be ready for August drills.
Big change: Dorin Dickerson, a prized 2006 recruit who was expected to see time as a receiver and tailback was surprisingly converted to outside linebacker. An ankle injury slowed him early, but coaches were pleased with his progress.
Best news: Junior quarterback Mike Teel had a terrific spring, by all accounts, as did emerging star receiver Kenny Britt. Throw in speedy Tim Brown and a healthy Tiquan Underwood catching passes, and the Scarlet Knights' passing game appears ready for takeoff under new offensive coordinator John McNulty.
Worst news: Ryan D'Imperio, who was shooting for a starting linebacker job, sustained a broken leg but hopes to return in time for the season. Star tailback Ray Rice had a bone chip removed from his ankle and missed the spring game, but should be fine for August drills.
Big change: Jabu Lovelace suddenly looks like a legitimate option as a backup quarterback -- and he'll have to be, because Michigan State transfer Domenic Natale is out for the season with an elbow injury.
South Florida Bulls
Best news: Star quarterback Matt Grothe showed no ill effects from a hairline fracture of his fibula sustained in USF's bowl game and appears to be primed for a huge season.
Worst news: Matt Huners, a returning starter at left guard, sustained a torn ACL in the spring game. His availability for the season is in doubt.
Big change: Grothe was forced to lead the team in rushing last season, but the Bulls are much deeper at running back. The go-to guy could be freshman tailback Mike Ford, who originally committed to Alabama. He came on late in the spring and ran for 55 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the spring game.
Best news: New quarterback Andrew Robinson impressed the coaching staff with how quickly he picked up the offense and how accurately he delivered the ball. He was 12-for-19 for 146 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
Worst news: Last season's leading rusher, Delone Carter, sustained a dislocated hip during a 7-on-7 passing drill and will miss the season. That could pave the way for Curtis Brinkley to become the starter.
Big change: Senior Marvin McCall has reclaimed the starting center job he lost last season. McCall opened the 2006 season at center, but injured a hand and was moved to various positions.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Best news: Rich Rodriguez isn't coaching Alabama, and Steve Slaton isn't headed to the NFL. Rodriguez was much closer to leaving, but with both men back, plus quarterback Pat White, WVU is a threat to win the national championship.
Worst news: Neither John Maddox (hamstring) nor Darren Brownlee (wrist) got a chance to show what he could do at receiver, where the Mountaineers are thin.
Big change: Eric Wicks, coming off an excellent season at strong safety, made a successful switch to free safety, and Selvish Capers moved from tight end to tackle, where he provides quality depth.
Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.