West Virginia prepares for life without Marshall

The Marshall Plan was as good as West Virginia gold the past three years. The Mountaineers posted a 26-13 record during that span, played in three bowl games and were scarier than a Michael Jackson pajama party.

"He did everything we asked of him," WVU coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The "he" Rodriguez referred to was super quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who completed a sparkling career in '04 as the all-time rushing leader among Big East quarterbacks with 2,040 yards and as the fourth-ranked passer in WVU history with 5,558. He was the oil that kept the Mountaineers' offense churning, the "perfect" signal-caller in Rodriguez's no-huddle, spread formation.

But fleet-footed Marshall is no longer around, and a new era of WVU football begins Monday with the opening of spring drills. Can you say, "Quarterback Derby"?

"This will be a great opportunity," Rodriguez said, for someone to establish himself.

At spring practices, Rodriguez will get to evaluate only two of the three players vying for Marshall's spot because sophomore Adam Bednarik, considered a legit candidate to become the heir apparent, will sit out these workouts to rehabilitate his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.

"To be fair, we won't determine [a starter] until the fall," said Rodriguez, whose '04 team finished 8-4 but dropped its final three games.

Bednarik, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, might have an inside track because he has been in the system the past two years, serving as the third-team QB behind Charles Hales in '04. Neither Bednarik nor the two other candidates have thrown a college pass while lining up at quarterback.

Bednarik, though, has shown an aptitude for picking up defenses and going through his progressions, something that has caught Rodriguez's eye. He also has a pretty impressive résumé, having been a three-sport star at Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic High, where he threw 27 TDs and only four interceptions as a senior.

"There's no substitute for experience, and Adam will be the most veteran quarterback we have, even though he hasn't had much game time,'' Rodriguez said. "But I do think the other guys are talented."

The other guys are sophomore Dwayne Thompson and redshirt freshman Pat White, both southpaws. Thompson enters this QB derby with more time in the WVU program than any of the others. He arrived in January '03 and participated in spring practices.

But the catch with Thompson is that he was playing wide receiver the entire time, while Bednarik and, to a lesser extent, Thompson were in the midst of on-the-job training at practices. Thompson's only career pass attempt was an incompletion to Marshall vs. Pittsburgh on a wide receiver reverse.

Not to worry, though, Rodriguez says.

"Dwayne's been around for a couple years, so he'll be comfortable," Rodriguez said of the 6-2 Miami native.

As for White, he was a highly recruited two-sport star that Rodriguez plucked from the state of Alabama, where White finished third in the Mr. Football voting two years ago. As a senior at Daphne High, White rushed for 1,905 yards and 31 touchdowns and threw for 1,499 and 15 TDs. He also was a 2004 fourth-round draft pick by the Angels as a pitcher/outfielder, but turned down the money to play for WVU.

Will it turn out to be a good decision? Time will tell, but this much is certain: Rodriguez has a lot to think about as he looks to fill the sizable shoes left by Marshall.

Changes in the air at Rutgers

Coach Greg Schiano had hoped to open spring drills in early March, but the plan got derailed by major turnover on his staff at Rutgers, where spring officially begins March 26. Schiano announced five changes, including his decision to take over as defensive coordinator for Paul Ferraro, who left for a job with the NFL's Panthers.

"That's my background," said Schiano, who looks to resurrect a defense that yielded 31.2 points per game last season.

Although Schiano acknowledged that it is uncommon for a head coach to also serve as defensive coordinator, he pointed to Pete Carroll of Southern Cal, Ed Orgeron of Mississippi and Greg Robinson of Syracuse as others who pull the double duty.

Schiano, entering his fifth year, is in the process of trying to right a ship that has been difficult to navigate. The Scarlet Knights are 12-34 during his tenure and are coming off a disappointing 4-7 season in '04.

Schiano has overseen a staff that has moved faster than a carnival carousel, as he's had to replace seven of his nine full-time assistants the past two seasons. Some moved to the NFL, some to other college jobs and some were let go.

On the outside looking in, it would appear that all the staff turnover could be an issue, but Schiano does not see it that way.

"I'm not [worried about the perception], to tell you the truth," Schiano said. "I'm more concerned with the time it takes the head coach to interview people and then going through the process. If you look at where our guys have gone, with the exception of a few instances, they're moving on to other BCS jobs and to NFL jobs. That's what you want for your guys."

That said, it is difficult for players to constantly adjust to staff changes, as one coach's philosophy can be completely different than another's.

Around the Big East

While Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio faces a daunting task in trying to replace record-setting QB Gino Guidugli, who made 47 starts the past four years, he might have it a little easier in filling the void left by 1,000-yard rusher Richard Hall. The Bearcats, who open spring drills March 28, return sophomores Bradley Glatthaar (315 yards last season) and Butler Benton (453). Added to the mix is Delbert Ferguson, who rushed for nearly 5,000 yards in high school before suffering a leg fracture his senior season that kept him on the sidelines at UC last fall. ... The Pitt receiving corps not only returns 1,000-yard junior Greg Lee from last season's BCS team but also should get a lift from getting back speedy sophomore Terrell Allen, who missed '04 because of wrist surgery. A dual threat as a kick returner, Allen did not catch any passes for the Larry Fitzgerald-led Panthers in '03, but did return 25 kickoffs for a 23.6-yard average. The Panthers, who open drills Saturday, will welcome the return of Allen, their top recruit two years ago. ... Louisville, which must replace six starters on defense, will find out whether defensive end Elvis Dumervil can elevate the defense during spring drills, which open March 31. He has the ability to make others rally, particularly when he's sacking the QB 10 times, as he did in '04. ... First-year Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, who opens spring drills March 28, has been forced to tinker with his linebacking corps. Kelvin Smith, who started on the outside last year and amassed 53 tackles, has moved to the inside because starting middle linebacker Jerry Mackey's offseason shoulder surgery. Mackey had a team-high 106 tackles in '04 and is expected to be ready for the fall. ... Connecticut coach Randy Edsall shuffled his staff in an effort to put more emphasis on rebuilding the offensive line, which will feature three new starters. Dave McMichael, the special teams coach for four seasons, will coach tight ends and offensive tackles exclusively. Offensive coordinator Norries Wilson will continue coaching centers and guards. Edsall also elevated Hank Hughes from defensive coordinator to assistant head coach and moved Todd Orlando to defensive coordinator. Orlando had been coaching inside linebackers. "This will allow us to give that critical area [offensive line] more direct time with the position coaches," Edsall said.

Joe Bendel covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.