Archive for April, 2012

April 25, 2012

Athlon’s Ranks Bridgewater #1 QB

Big East Quarterback Rankings for 2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season’s production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel.

Here’s how Athlon ranks the eight quarterbacks in the Big East for 2012:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SO)
Passing Stats: 2,129 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing Stats: 89 att., 66 yards, 4 TDs

Bridgewater was one of Louisville’s top incoming freshmen last season, ranking as Athlon’s No. 6 quarterback for the 2011 recruiting class. He took over as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback against Marshall and led the team to a share of the Big East title and victories over Rutgers, West Virginia and South Florida. Bridgewater finished with 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns, but showed his inexperience by tossing 12 picks. The Cardinals should be the favorites to win the Big East title in 2012, and Bridgewater should build off a solid freshman performance with a sophomore campaign.

2. B.J. Daniels, South Florida (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,585 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.9%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 601 yards, 6 TDs

It’s a close call between Daniels and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib for the No. 2 spot. Daniels threw for a career high in passing yards last season (2,604) and added 601 yards and six scores on the ground. He also tossed only seven picks and posted a career best 58.9 completion percentage. Although Daniels has been up and down throughout his career, the senior could have his best statistical season in 2012. The Bulls have surrounded Daniels with a solid cast of weapons and it certainly helps to have the same offensive scheme in place for the third consecutive season.

3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,685 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 65 att., 39 yards, 2 TDs

Nassib and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels are neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot among Big East quarterbacks. Nassib had a solid junior campaign, throwing for 2,685 yards and 22 scores. He also completed 62.4 percent of his passes, while averaging 224 yards through the air per game. Nassib will have to shoulder more of the offensive workload in 2012, as running back Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility and there’s no proven player ready to handle the workload on the ground. Syracuse will also have to replace receivers Van Chew and Dorian Graham, along with tight end Nick Provo, but regain the services of receiver Marcus Sales. If the Orange want to return to the postseason, Nassib needs to have a similar statistical year, while keeping his interceptions under 10 once again.

4. Gary Nova, Rutgers (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,553 yards, 11 TDs, 9 INTs, 51.1%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., -114 yds., 0 TD

Nova and Chas Dodd shared the quarterback duties last season, with both players throwing for over 1,000 yards and 10 scores. Nova played in 10 games and tossed 11 touchdowns, but also threw nine picks and completed only 51.1 percent of his throws. Nova and Dodd are locked into a tight battle this spring for the starting job, but the guess here is that Nova emerges as Rutgers’ No. 1 quarterback. Considering Nova has yet to play a full season and is only a sophomore, there will be a few ups and downs. Rutgers also has a new offensive coordinator this year, which will require some adjustment from both quarterbacks. Although Dodd has the edge in experience, Nova has more talent and brings the necessary arm strength to help stretch the field.

5. Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati (JR)
Passing Stats: 749 yards, 5 TDs, 4 INTs, 47.4%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., 185 yards, 2 TDs

Legaux was thrown into the fire last year and despite his inexperience, kept Cincinnati in the thick of the Big East title race. Starter Zach Collaros suffered an ankle injury against West Virginia, forcing Legaux to start the next three games. The Bearcats went 2-1 in Legaux’s three starts, and he finished the year with more touchdowns (five) than interceptions (four). However, Legaux is far from a finished product, as indicated by his 47.4 completion percentage. The junior has talent and his experience should help him emerge as a solid quarterback in Big East play.

6. Chris Coyer, Temple (JR)
Passing Stats: 463 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 60%
Rushing Stats: 69 att., 562 yards, 3 TDs

With Temple moving from the MAC to the Big East, it’s tough to figure out where Temple’s players stack up in the new conference. After all, the Owls have been playing MAC competition, and the defenses in the Big East should provide a tougher test each week. Coyer is a promising quarterback, but there needs to be a bigger sample size to rank him higher on this list. He threw for just 463 yards in limited action, but displayed his value as a runner by recording 562 yards and three touchdowns. With a rebuilt offensive line and running back Bernard Pierce off to the NFL, the Owls need Coyer to carry the offense in 2012.

7. Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,616 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.2%
Rushing Stats: 154 att., 86 yards, 4 TDs

Sunseri has been the source of frustration for Pittsburgh fans over the last two years. In his first season as a starter in 2010, Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards and 16 scores. He didn’t improve those numbers by much in 2011, throwing for 2,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. In fairness to Sunseri, Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles last year were largely due to the scheme not fitting the personnel. New coach Paul Chryst should do a better job of adapting his scheme to Sunseri and the offensive line can’t be any worse than it was in 2011. Expect Sunseri to play better in 2012, but for now, he checks in as the No. 7 quarterback in the Big East.

8. Johnny McEntee Connecticut (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,110 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 51.3%
Rushing Stats: 55 att., -148 yards, 0 TD

The race to start the season opener for Connecticut is wide open, with five quarterbacks competing for snaps. The edge in this space goes to McEntee after starting all 12 games for the Huskies last season. McEntee had virtually no experience going into the 2011 season and certainly struggled to move the ball through the air for the Connecticut offense. He finished with 2,110 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also tossed eight picks and posted a disappointing 51.3 completion percentage. There’s no guarantee McEntee wins the job this spring, as junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer and incoming freshman Casey Cochran will push for playing time. Considering how little McEntee improved last year, if he wins the job this spring, it would seem to be a bad sign for the Huskies’ offense.

April 17, 2012

Radcliff Shows He’s Mr. Reliable

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Coming out of Trinity High School, there wasn’t a lot of need for a 5-foot-9 wide receiver who didn’t have blazing speed or put up amazing numbers. So Scott Radcliff didn’t have schools beating down his door to offer him a Division I scholarship.

Not feeling defeated, Radcliff decided he was good enough to play Division I football and walked-on at the University of Louisville. He immediately showed the type of impact he was going to have the first time he stepped on the field. He caught every pass thrown in his general direction and wasn’t afraid to go over the middle to make a play.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told the media after the Spring Game on Saturday that everyone needs a Scott Radcliff on their football team after his nine-catch performance in the game. That’s quite a compliment for any player, but for a former walk-on, its extra special to be considered so valuable.

“I was shocked to hear coach Watson say that,” said Radcliff. “It put a big smile on my face. As a player, it made me feel like I accomplished something. You want to keep going and that you have the coach’s trust. The coaches say I work hard. I come to work every day and make plays. I’m not the most athletic or fastest, but I get open and do what the coaches want me to do.”

Radcliff was one of the main targets in the game Saturday and made the most of his opportunity, showing the staff and the fans that the Cardinals have another weapon in their arsenal.

“During the game, people kept asking me how many catches I had on Saturday, and I said, hopefully 10. I was going for 10. I found out the next day I had nine. Any other receiver on our team could have done that. We have a lot of depth. If Eli (Rogers) was in that spot, he could have made those plays. That’s the the great thing about us and our receivers. We have a lot of depth and a lot of talent there.”

Because of his size, Radcliff is compared to the New England Patriots’ miniature wide receiver in Wes Welker, a slot receiver, who isn’t very big or athletic, but has been one of the top pass catchers in the National Football League.

“I get that a lot,” said Radcliff. “It’s an honor to be mentioned with him (Welker). I definitely watch him all the time. I love watching the Patriots with Deion Branch. Their offense is awesome. To be compared to Wes Welker is an honor. I like to watch him and some of the routes he runs from the slot. He has a knack for getting open and making plays.”

For the first two years, Radcliff was a walk-on before he ended up earning a scholarship from head coach Charlie Strong. Radcliff hasn’t put up huge numbers in his first three seasons. He caught two passes in his first two seasons, but expanded his role as junior with eight receptions for 83 yards and a pair of scores.

Radcliff has waited his turn and contributed when needed, but could be on the verge of big things as he enters his senior season. He knows the offense hinges on the development of sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and Radcliff sees how far along Bridgewater has come in a year.

“Teddy is great,” said Radcliff. “He is learning the offense. Teddy knows everything that’s going on. He doesn’t make any mistakes. I don’t think he has thrown any interceptions in any of the three scrimmages that we have had this spring. He knows exactly where to put the ball and where to throw it.”

As the spring comes to a close, the Cardinals are in a new position – they are the favorites to win the BIG EAST crown, which is different from previous years.

“We know the expectations are high,” said the former Trinity Shamrock. “We have a chance to be a great team. We have a lot of young talent coming in, too. It’s going to be a great time. We have a lot of great players in this program. The best thing about it is we have a lot of depth. When you have a lot of depth, you have a lot of great position battles.”

April 12, 2012

Strong Meets Media Before Spring Game

Here are some excerpts on head coach Charlie Strong’s press conference on Thursday afternoon

(On what is happening with the football program): “If you look at what’s been going on in our football program right now, we’re right in the middle of spring ball. There is a lot that is going to be written about our program. I said it earlier; a lot of things are going to be said about our program. When you look at it, two years ago we were picked to finish last. Last season, we were picked to finish last. For some reason this season, they picked us very high within our league. We still have a long ways to go. We’re nowhere near where we should be. We have a lot of work to do. If you look at this football team right now, we have nine seniors. So, leadership is going to be an issue. Where the leadership is going to come from? You look at (Will) Stein, you look at (Alex) Kupper, you look at Daniel Brown, you look at (Adrian) Bushell, you look at those guys. There are guys within our program, but there are nine seniors in this program.”

(On the season schedule): “We have a schedule that is going to be very demanding for us. With us moving the Kentucky game to Sunday, we have three weeks where they are going to be short weeks for us. We go play on a Sunday and then we come back and play Missouri State on that Saturday. Then, we come off and play South Florida and then we have a short week and have to come back and play Cincinnati on a Friday. Then, we go play UConn and we get four or five days and we have to go play Rutgers. What’s so important and why you need those days is all about preparation and our coaches getting prepared to go play. I know the TV is a big deal, but you have to understand the demands of our schedule and our coaches understand that. We go on the road. We play our last game here at home (North Carolina) and then we go on the road for a month. Then you end up playing two non-BCS games. You go to FIU and you go to Southern Miss – two non-BCS teams. Then, you get into your schedule with the BIG EAST. It is a demanding schedule. It is a schedule that has been placed there. We have to go play it and we have to get prepared to go play it. But, just to understand those three short weeks that we have to go get ready for. This is a football team that is just going through spring ball and we are beginning to find that identity within this program. So, we’re still searching for our identity because, like I said, leadership is going to be an issue. But, we still have to understand where we come from. It is a credit to our coaches and it’s a credit to our players to come so far in two years and, now all of a sudden, being picked to either win this league or be placed second in this league. It is a tremendous job that they have done. But still though, we are nowhere near where we should be. Then, just being an overall team – that is what you try to build in the spring practice with the fundamentals and technique. You want to become a football team and that is beginning to happen.”

(On the offense): “Offensively, we are balanced. We are run and pass. We are very balanced on offense. We want to go run the play action with the boots and we want to stretch the field in our passing game. We want to attack the open zones and get the ball in the hands of our playmakers.”

(On the defense): “On defense, we are very aggressive and very multiple. We will attack. We’re going to play man coverage and we’re going to blitz. That is just a part of us and that’s what’s going to happen. Now we have to find the guys that are going to go cover them, but we’re going to blitz.”

(On the kicking game and special teams): “Then in the kicking game, we have to be very aggressive. We have to find us a kicker. (Chris) Philpott was in our program, but he’s out now. We have to find us a kicker. We have to find guys that can go down the field and get off of blocks. Then we have to go and be able to block people in the return game.”

(On the three phases of the game): “Our special teams, the offense and the defense – it is all three phases that are very critical within the game. We know this; we have to work hard and make sure that when we decide to go play that all three phases are working together and playing together.”

(On the quarterbacks): “We have us an outstanding quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. He is still young and he is still growing. Then, you have an adequate backup in Will Stein. Then, you have two players out there in the quarterback position that can take this football team and go lead it. Now just looking at us in spring practice, we are able to go out in spring practice and keep the flow of practice going and the tempo going because our quarterbacks are able to generate the offense.”

April 10, 2012

Hurtt Continues to Oversee Development of the Defensive Line

When assistant coach Clint Hurtt began his first spring practice three years ago, he was terrified at what he had to work with on the defensive line. Terrified might be a little strong, but there was trepidation. There was no experience and depth upfront, and no leaders to count on.

Last year, the Cardinals had built a little more depth, but were still raw. However, the Cardinals had talent, and it showed early on in the year. But, as the season progressed, injuries mounted, and the Cardinals were fortunate to finish the season with their front intact.

As Hurtt enters his third year, the Cardinals are experienced and talented on the defensive line, but still a little thin at some positions. As Hurtt and the Cardinals put a bow on spring practice, the Cardinals are still searching for answers and depth heading into an important 2012 season.

“I feel like the defensive line has really progressed,” said defensive line coach Clint Hurtt. “I feel like they have done a lot of good things. Brandon Dunn has really changed his body. He has dropped some weight and has been really productive, and has really improved from last year. He and Marcus Smith have really made tremendous strides, as has B.J. Dubose. I’m proud of them as a group. Our second group of defensive tackles in Hunter Stout and Dominique Dishmon have gone out and competed and given what they had. We have done a good job. There have been some runs that have been popped in the two scrimmages. As a front seven, we have to get on the same page and understand its always one or two people. We have to correct some of those mistakes.”

Hurtt is a coach who demands effort and expects perfection, and doesn’t make excuses for his group. Because of the physicality of the play on the defensive line, the Cardinals are usually one of the most banged up units on the team. This spring, injuries haven’t been as bad, but are still missing one of their best players in junior tackle Roy Philon.
The 6-foot-3 run stopper had a tremendous season a year ago, recording 36 tackles, which was highest among the defensive linemen. However, Philon is out all spring with a back ailment.

“We try not to dwell on the negative,” said Hurtt. “Does it hurt us not to have Roy Philon this spring, absolutely. He is arguably our best defensive linemen, but it’s given (Brandon) Dunn and Jamaine Brooks a chance to get a lot more reps in there, and allow them to continue to develop. It has allowed us to work Marcus Smith in there at the 3-technique. I’m proud of these guys. We have started to grow up and have grown up as a unit.”

Another player who made major strides last season was junior Marcus Smith. A converted quarterback who played linebacker in his first year, was moved to defensive end during fall camp last season. Despite never playing the position, Smith led the Cardinals in sacks with 5.5 and was a force in passing situations.

“He has taken another step,” Hurtt said. “Last year, we had high expectations for him as we do for all our kids. But he made some freshmen mistakes in terms of a freshman playing the defensive line. It was new for him. He didn’t play as fast because he didn’t trust his eyes and what he saw. He didn’t understand what the down and distances were to go get the QB, which is his strength. He has turned the corner on that this spring. He has gotten so much better. I’m proud of him.”
The Cardinals are preparing for the Annual Red-White game on Saturday at 1 p.m. and another spring comes to a close. Louisville, who returns 10 starters on defense, still have a long way to go to continue its climb up the rankings.

“We need to understand their fits in the run game,” said Hurtt. “Being good in stopping the run is all about understanding what are their responsibilities, and making sure we fit those things right. Our first year we gave up 145 yards rushing a game. This past year, we dropped to 100 yards a game. Our goal as a defense is to keep people below 100 yards a game. We have to give credit to the offense too. Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright are doing a great job of running behind their pads. As a football team, we are getting a lot better, but we need to do a better job at times.”

As the Cardinals begin their third season under head coach Charlie Strong, expectations are at level not seen since the 2007 season. Coming off a BIG EAST Championship and with 18 starters back, the Cardinals are the front runners to repeat. However, Hurtt and the rest of the staff understand that those are high expectations, but are only predictions. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“We don’t need to worry about expectations,” said Hurtt. “We need to play. All the expectations are fine. We were picked last the first two years we were in here. We don’t worry about that. We have to buckle up and go play. We have to practice. You have to prepare and do all the things necessary to be a champion. No matter what people say about how bad you may be or how good you maybe, you have to prepare the same way every time. Our mind set won’t change on that, and our coaching staff won’t change on that message that’s delivered to the kids. All the accolades and the press clippings, we ignore all that.”

April 6, 2012

Cardinals Conclude Practice 10 on Friday

The University of Louisville football team finished its 10th practice of the spring on Friday afternoon under cool and sunny skies.
Wearing shorts and shoulder pads, the Cardinals worked for less than two hours, going about 18 periods of individual work and special teams. The practice, even though wasn’t in full pads, was intense and spirited.

Head coach Charlie Strong ended practice with about 8 series of work in the two-minute drill. The Cardinals worked on putting the ball at different spots on the field and needing a touchdown to win in the closing minutes of a game.

Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and senior Will Stein work the first and second units, respectively, driving the ball to attempt to win the game. The Cardinals worked a nickel look on defense with Adrian Bushell and Charles Gaines at the corners, while Hakeem Smith, Jermaine Reve and Calvin Pryor worked in the back. Strong closed practice by allowing each of the place kickers to hit from about 47 yards with the team standing within reach of the kickers to create a distraction.

Louisville will hit the practice field on Saturday morning for another scrimmage before getting ready to conclude spring ball next weekend with the Red-White game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at 1 p.m.

April 3, 2012

Brown Makes Smooth Transition to Offensive Line

An offensive lineman at the Division I level must play with technique, and have knowledge of the intricacies of an offense. It requires putting your nose in your playbook and becoming acquainted with the calls by other linemen and audibles by the quarterback.

For sophomore Jamon Brown, a 6-foot-4 massive structure, it didn’t quite go that way for his first collegiate start at offensive guard.

Brown was brought into fall camp as a defensive lineman and worked the first four games at defensive tackle. However, with injuries and a lack of depth on the offensive line, Brown switched to offensive guard about six practices before making his first start on the offensive line.

The Tar Heels featured one of the nation’s best defensive lines with a number of projected NFL draft choices. It wasn’t quite an advantageous position to put a true freshman in, who literally had a week of practice at a new position to prepare for his first career start. Sure it happens in high school, where guys change positions all the time, but not at that level where defensive linemen run 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and weigh in, at times, at over 300 pounds.

Brown made his first collegiate start in a 14-7 loss to the Tar Heels, and the true freshman certainly didn’t embarrass himself in any fashion. The Cardinals were stifled by a tough UNC defense. The offense had its chances to score, but was held in check with a couple of early missed field goals.

Coming into spring practice, Brown has been penciled in as the leader at left tackle, and the coaching staff feels that Brown has the ability to be a special type of offensive player for the Cardinals. However, Brown is still very raw and recognizes that he has a long way to go to get better.

“I think I have progressed, but I still have a lot to work on,” Brown said. “I was basically thrown to the wolves last year, and was going on what I learned in high school. From then to now, I’ve learned a lot more in terms of the offense and technique. What has really helped me is being able to go through spring practice and winter workouts. We had a lot of time to learn technique and learning the offense. Learning the offense was what really held me back technique wise.”

His offensive line coach, Dave Borbely, recognizes the talent and the ability that Brown possesses, and has seen a lot of progress with him physically, but Borbely is focusing on getting Brown to be an every-down player.

“He has made a lot of progress and he should. He played quite a bit for us last year,” Borbely said. “He came over eight practices as an offensive lineman. He started against North Carolina against a veteran group and some pretty good players. He is our most talent guy in terms of raw ability. In terms of mental toughness and being able to go hard for 70-75 snaps, that’s an area we have to work on and build on. He wants to be a great player and he is working to do that. We have a long way to go with him, but we have a pretty good start with him.”

It goes without saying that Brown has all the physical tools to be a special athlete for the Cardinals this season. Even at his size, weighing 340 pounds, Brown is an athlete. He runs well and is learning to become more physical. But what people don’t understand is that there a huge mental aspect of the game.

“I have to get tougher mentally,” Brown said. “I want to be a guy who can go 70 plays and not get tired, and be like it’s the first play. This spring, I’m focused on being mentally tough. I want to come out to practice with a positive attitude and coming out with an attitude that I’m going to work hard. I make sure that I don’t take reps off.”

The focus on the offensive line last year was youth and inexperience. The Cardinals had to replace four starters with guys who hadn’t played much football, and it showed at times with freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater running for his life. This year, the Cardinals are experienced with four starters returning and the focus is keeping their talented quarterback in the pocket and upright.

“Last year, our problem was pass protection,” Brown said. “We were young, but it’s not an excuse. We have focused on that this spring, but we do focus on the running game as well. If we can protect Teddy, we can do good things on offense.”

The Cardinals had their first scrimmage of the spring last Saturday and the offense did a lot of good things in the running and passing games. The Cardinals received good production from all the backs, but it was the offensive line that paved the way for the backs and gave Bridgewater the opportunity to get the ball down the field.

“He (Dave Borbely) said he saw a lot of good things,” Brown said. “We didn’t have a lot of mental errors. We held up pretty good protection-wise. We started off slow. We have to pick it up about going hard on every play. We just have to finish on every play. Our strength is the run game. Being able to come off the ball that is something we do very well. The running backs are taking coaching well from coach Carter and they are hitting the holes.”