Big East burning spring ball questions (cont.)
Will the 3-4 keep Cincinnati atop the conference?
The change comes at an opportune time, because the Bearcats must replace 10 defensive starters. Kelly became a fan of new coordinator Bob Diaco when Diaco worked on Kelly's Central Michigan staff in 2005. Diaco was set to take over for Bob Pruett as Virginia's defensive coordinator when Kelly called.
Diaco basically has a blank slate. Aaron Webster, who started the final 10 games last season at strong safety, is Cincinnati's most experienced defender. Safety Drew Frey, who was lost for the season after suffering a broken arm in September, should be ready to play. Meanwhile, a familiar name will try to win a job at outside linebacker. Demetrius Jones, Notre Dame's opening-day starter at quarterback in 2007, has moved to defense after spending a season buried on the Cincinnati offensive depth chart. With Tony Pike firmly entrenched at quarterback, Kelly decided Jones needed a chance to play. Who knows? Jones may follow in the footsteps of Connor Barwin, the Bearcat who moved from tight end to defensive end before last season and wound up leading the Big East in sacks.
Will this be Steve Kragthorpe's final year at Louisville?
Kragthorpe has more losses in two seasons (13) than predecessor Bobby Petrino had in four (nine). Petrino didn't leave Kragthorpe with an ideal situation -- don't look so shocked -- but the shelf-life on that excuse grows short. Yes, Kragthorpe had to dismiss 21 players for disciplinary reasons during his first two seasons, but he also has had three recruiting classes to bring in his own players. Six assistant coaches left the program this offseason. Defensive coordinator Ron English left to become the head coach at Eastern Michigan. His replacement, linebackers coach Bill Miller, bolted for Kansas shortly after his promotion. Offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm got canned, and now Kragthorpe will call the plays for a new starting quarterback (probably junior Tyler Wolfe or juco transfer Adam Froman).
Kragthorpe tried to spin the turnover last week. "What ends up being really beneficial is you kind of take things back to the ground floor," he said. "You start to re-teach everything. You're not only teaching your new players like you normally would, but you're re-teaching everything with your coaches. It forces you to go back to a grass-roots approach and look at all the things you're doing." Unfortunately for Kragthorpe, this is year three. As the years go by, the ground floor begins to look like rock bottom.
Can Doug Marrone resuscitate Syracuse?
The program that gave us Jim Brown and Donovan McNabb has fallen on hard times. It will take a special coach to overcome the lethal mix of apathy, a poor recruiting base and the 10-37 debacle that was the Greg Robinson era. The good news for the Orange: Marrone could be that coach. The former Saints offensive coordinator is a Syracuse alum. He's a Bronx native who should know how to wring recruiting blood from the turnip that is high school football in New York. He's also an incurable optimist. "Our biggest challenge as coaches is to change the culture of the way we think," Marrone said last month as he introduced his first recruiting class.
That class should give the Orange reason to hope. Despite having only six weeks to recruit, Marrone signed two former Louisville commitments (defensive end Brandon Sharpe and safety Shamarko Thomas) and swiped offensive guard Zack Chibane from USF. The first step toward beating those programs regularly on the field is beating them on the recruiting trail. Before those signees arrive, Marrone will have plenty of work to do with Syracuse's current players. This spring, he will be without All-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones, who underwent surgery last month to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Receiver Mike Williams, who missed the 2008 season because of a university suspension related to an academic cheating allegation last spring, will return. Williams, who caught 60 passes for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2007, spent last fall at Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community College. After meeting all the conditions laid out for him, Syracuse allowed him to re-enroll.
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