Spring look around the Big East
As the spring season nears, our Big East notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Which quarterback will lead UConn in 2006? Will Louisville QB Brian Brohm be ready for next season? Will new coaches ignite the Syracuse offense? Our Big East notebook addresses those questions and much more.
• The Bearcats open spring practice March 28 and finish with the Red-Black Game on April 22.
• Standout linebacker Corey Smith, whose freshman season in 2005 was cut short by shoulder surgery, will be held out of contact work but will be back at full strength in August. Smith was Cincinnati's leading tackler when he went down late last season.
• The new quarterbacks coach is ex-Syracuse quarterback Dave Warner, who most recently coached the wide receivers at Southern Miss and has 19 years of college experience. He and head coach Mark Dantonio worked together at Kansas. Warner will preside over an intriguing battle at quarterback, featuring incumbent starter Dustin Grutza and 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Craig Carey.
• The Huskies open spring practice March 18 and finish with the Blue-White game April 15.
• All eyes will be on redshirt freshman quarterback Billy Cundiff, a prized recruit from Uniontown, Ohio, who is expected to be a major player in a crowded quarterback mix that includes Matt Bonislawski, Dennis Brown and D.J. Hernandez. Coach Randy Edsall went to great lengths to protect Cundiff's redshirt amid quarterback injuries last season.
• Kick return specialist Larry Taylor, coming off knee surgery, likely won't be 100 percent for spring practice and will see limited activity.
• The Cardinals open spring practice March 28 and finish with the Red-White Game on April 21.
• Quarterback Brian Brohm, who led the Big East in passing last season as a sophomore, is said to be ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL, sustained against Syracuse. He has nearly regained full range of motion in the knee and is rehabbing four hours per day. He is doing drop-backs and passing drills twice per week. Brohm won't be involved in team drills during spring practice but is expected to be ready to go come August.
• The crowd for the spring game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is expected to be in excess of a 25,000, easily a school record.
• The Panthers open spring practice March 19 and finish with the Blue-Gold Game on April 15.
• Lead local recruiter and associate head coach Bob Junko recently underwent heart surgery. His return date isn't certain.
• Three assistant coaches rebuffed overtures from other teams in order to stay with Dave Wannstedt. Defensive ends/special teams coach Charlie Partridge could have gone to Wisconsin. Wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill could have gone to Miami, and offensive line coach Paul Dunn had discussions with the New York Jets.
• Safety Mike Phillips, coming off a broken ankle sustained early last season, will likelyl sit out spring ball but is expected to be ready in August. Linebacker Brian Bennett, who tore an ACL against Rutgers last season, is also expected to sit out the spring but be ready for the season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
• The Scarlet Knights open spring practice March 25 and finish with the Scarlet-White Game on April 22.
• Coach Greg Schiano was pleased to retain every member of his coaching staff for the first time in his tenure, thus avoiding the crush and pressures of the interview process.
• Few teams possess as dynamic a backfield as Rutgers', which features fullback Brian Leonard and tailback Ray Rice. Leonard eschewed the NFL draft to come back for his senior year. Rice rushed for 1,120 yards as a true freshman. Schiano said the team has several other quality running backs, including prized recruit Kordell Young, a speedy 5-9 tailback who backed out of a verbal commitment to Virginia when that school lost coaches.
South Florida Bulls
• The Bulls open spring practice March 21 and finish with their annual Spring Game on April 15 at Raymond James Stadium.
• Several familiar names are no longer with the program. Wide receiver Johnny Peyton, who had a big freshman year two seasons ago, has been dismissed for violating team policy. Sophomore kick returner Chad Simpson will transfer. He averaged 25.2 yards per return last season, including a 94-yard touchdown return against Louisville. Two of the team's original coaches have also moved on. Co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Rick Kravitz went to North Carolina State, and defensive line coach Earl Lane went to LSU. Both had been with the program since its inception in 1996. Offensive line coach Greg Frey is the lone remaining assistant from the team's original staff.
• The Orange open spring practice March 20 and finish with their annual Spring Game on April 15.
• Coach Greg Robinson's staff sustained a major shakeup when offensive coordinator Brian Pariani left for the NFL's Houston Texans and quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite went to Rice University. The moves might have been a blessing, considering both were new on the job last season and Syracuse was hopelessly inept on offense. Their replacements -- Brian White as coordinator and Phil Earley as quarterbacks coach -- have a combined 40 years of college experience. Earley worked with Auburn's quarterbacks last season. White spent the past 11 years at Wisconsin, the past six as offensive coordinator. Syracuse will continue to run the West Coast offense, which did not seem to be a good fit for junior quarterback Perry Patterson last season.
West Virginia Mountaineers
• The Mountaineers open spring practice March 20 and finish with the Gold-Blue Game on April 15.
• Coach Rich Rodriguez retained his entire staff.
• Offensive lineman Chris Bassler, who missed most of last season after knee surgery, will compete for one of the two open spots at tackle.
• The Mountaineers' signing class consisted of just 15 players, their smallest in years because they had so few scholarship seniors last year. Of those 15, five were offensive linemen and four were defensive backs.
• Quarterback J.R. House, who saw spot duty last season as a 25-year-old freshman, left the team before the Sugar Bowl to return to baseball. A catcher and former fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, House entered spring training with the Houston Astros.
• Senior offensive tackle Garin Justice was named the Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He played in four straight bowl games and carried a 3.58 GPA as an education major.
Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.