What you need to know ... The
defense was one of the 2005 season's biggest disasters thanks to
a porous secondary that never had a reliable starting foursome
and finished last in the Big Ten. There are plenty of good
defensive back prospects, but it's still a shaky situation going
into the season needing several untested prospects to instantly
become reliable playmakers. The front seven should be fine as
long as everyone stays healthy early on with pass rushers
needing to emerge to replace Rob Ninkovich and Ray Edwards. The
linebacking corps won't have any all-stars, but it'll produce.
Tackles: George Hall, 77
Sacks: Anthony Spencer, 3
Interceptions: Several at 1
Star of the defense: Sophomore SS Torri Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
CB Brandon King
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Eugene Bright
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) LB George
Hall, 3) DE Anthony Spencer
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Proven defensive backs, overall depth
Only one starter returns to a line that was
a disappointment only because Ray Edwards didn't have a huge season.
Losing tackle Brandon Villarreal and pass rushing blur Rob Ninkovich
will be a big problem, but there are several great prospects appearing
ready to shine. Anthony Spencer is the only returning starter and a good
enough veteran to build around. Eugene Bright is a strong-looking young
pass rusher and tackles Ryan Baker and Alex Magee are active tackles who
should grow into the starting jobs. It'll be up to several very talented
redshirt freshmen and JUCO transfers Jeff Benjamin and Mike McDonald to
provide the depth.
The key to the unit: Quickly fill in the gaps and
find a pass rusher to replace Rob Ninkovich and Ray Edwards and hope for
the young backups to be good enough to push for time.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Eugene Bright, Jr. - 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL
A fantastic athlete with a good speed burst and decent size at 6-4 and
254 pounds, Bright should be an adequate fill-in for Rob Ninkovich. He
has the potential to become a top pass rusher.
- DT Ryan Baker, Jr. - 10 tackles
The former tight end and Academic All-Big Ten performer got a little bit
of work last year as a reserve on the inside and should be an athletic
interior pass rusher. He's one of the line's biggest players at 6-6 and
282 pounds and has to grow into a good run stuffer
- DT Alex Magee, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 TFL
The 275-pound sophomore has the potential to be a great one. He's not
huge at 275 pounds, but he's very active and experienced after a good
year as a reserve with one start.
- DE Anthony Spencer, Sr. - 23 tackles, 3 sacks, 7.5 TFL
Spencer needs to come up with a great season as the only returning
starter to the front four. While not a pure pass rusher, he's able to
get into the backfield on a regular basis and can be a dangerous
playmaker when he gets on a roll. With 23 career starts, he's an
experienced defender who does a little of everything well.
- DT Jared Zwilling, RFr.
One of the team's star scout teamers last year, the 281-pound Zwilling
should be a key reserve behind Baker and should grow into a starter at
some point. He's fast enough to play end if needed.
- DT Mike Neal, RFr.
One of the team's top defensive end recruits a few years ago will see
plenty of action in the middle playing behind Alex Magee. He has the
potential to be a strong pass rusher with good speed and quickness in a
6-4, 270-pound frame.
- DE Keyon Brown, RFr.
Brown needs to grow into his potential as a speed rusher pushing for
time behind Anthony Spencer. He's a fast, active end who's the cousin of
former Northwestern star and current NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris.
It's a better situation than it'll appear on paper. George
Hall is a rock-solid defender in the middle who'll be an intimidating
force. There are several options on the outside with Stanford Keglar a
longtime veteran getting pushed by the speedy Dan Bick on the weakside.
Jason Werner is a lightning fast reserve on the strongside behind the
240-pound Cliff Avril, who's in for a big season if his back can stay
The key to the unit: Using the combination of speed
and size on the outside to consistently make big plays around George
Hall in the middle.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5
- Dan Bick, Jr. - 40 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 1
Bick grew into a solid reserve and reliable spot starter as last season
went on turning into a good tackler. He's a safety-sized 218 pounds with
good speed and a nose for the football. He'll combine with the bigger
Stanford Kegler on the weakside.
- George Hall, Sr. - 77 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Hall finished second on the team in tackles for the second season in a
row, but he wasn't nearly the disruptive force he was as a sophomore.
He's a strong 243 pounds who hits like a ton of bricks, and will be the
tone-setting leader for the defense. He has the quickness and range to
make more big plays both in the backfield and against the pass.
- Cliff Avril, Jr. - 33 tackles, 2.5 TFL
The 240-pound junior is a big run stopper on the strongside with enough
starting experience to be one of the team's top tacklers, but he has to
stay on the field for a full season after having problems over the last
year with a back injury. If healthy he'll be a consistent, dependable
- Stanford Keglar, Jr. - 50 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3
Mostly a speedy defender who makes plays because of his athleticism, now
he's up to 240 pounds and should be a more consistent run defender. He's a talented veteran with 18 starts and enough career
tackles and time to get a starting spot somewhere on the outside.
- Josh Ferguson, Jr. - 8 tackles, 1 interception
A quality reserve last season, the 234-pound junior is going to get
better and become a good backup in the middle behind George Hall.
- Jason Werner, Soph.
Werner is a former safety and a special teamer who has the best speed in
the linebacking corps. Even though he appears to be a weakside
linebacker because of his range and 208-pound size, he'll also get a
look on the strongside.
It's saying something on a team with little to no depth
anywhere that the backup situation in the secondary is the shakiest
situation. The pass defense was torched last season for 287 yards per
game with injuries and a glaring lack of experience contributing to the
problem. There's the potential to be far better in time, but things
might be a little rocky early on if Torri Williams can't get and stay
healthy and if the top JUCO transfers Brandon Blackmon, Justin Scott and
Jonte Lindsey don't turn into instant contributors. This will be the
focus of the team throughout the off-season with plenty of shakeups in
The key to the unit: More production is needed from
every position and depth needs to quickly develop.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB Brandon King, Soph. - 4 tackles
The former quarterback was impressive in practices last year and grew
into a reserve while learning the position. Now he's expected to be a
steady corner with his great athleticism and smarts overcoming his
- FS Brandon Blackmon, Jr.
The JUCO transfer is getting every shot at winning the free safety job
over Brandon Whittington. He didn't do too much at Mt. San Antonio
College last year, but he has the athleticism and potential to grow into
a top producer once he figures out what he's doing.
- SS Torri Williams, Soph.
Williams will be one of the team's best players if he can stay healthy.
He's fast enough to be a top free safety and physical enough to be one
of the Big Ten's top strong safeties. He missed all of last year with a
broken leg and had back problems all spring, and now the former wide
receiver has to get on the field and take over for tackling machine
- CB Zach Logan, Jr. - 43 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL, 5 broken up
Logan turned into a good cover-corner as the season went on, but he
needs to be a more secure tackler. He's one of the team's fastest
players and has the experience to be better. Now he has to do all
the little things right to be a number one-caliber corner.
Unfortunately, he has had problems this off-season with his consistency.
- CB Aaron Lane, Jr.
The walk-on turned into the surprise of spring ball showing great speed
and quickness. The former running back was moved into the first team as
the off-season went on and should, at least, be a major factor in the
rotation. Was the promotion to light a fire under Zach Logan? Wait and
- CB/S Paul Long, Sr. - 8 tackles, 2 broken up passes
Long went from being on the verge of starting at corner to being a
little used backup. He's more of a safety than a corner and saw time
this spring at strong safety, but his size
should be an asset behind Brandon King on the outside.
- FS Brandon Whittington, Soph. - 15 tackles, 2 broken up passes
The former wide receiver got a little bit of starting time last year and
was starting to grow into a good player before getting hurt. He's a big
6-2 and 206 pounds with good range. He should be strong against the pass
and needs to be one of the team's leaders in interceptions.
Jonte Lindsey, Jr.
The team's top recruit this season, Lindsey is a speedy JUCO transfer
who made 64 tackles for Riverside CC in California last year. He has
4.55 speed and the talent to take a starting role early on.
The kicking situation is a major question mark hoping for
true freshman Tim Dougherty to come aboard this fall and take over the
placekicking duties while needing JUCO All-American Jared Armstrong to
be great right away as the new punter.
Dorien Bryant is a great kick returner,
while Desmond Tardy will take over the punt return duties. The kickoff
coverage unit has to be far better.
The key to the unit: The inexperienced kickers have
to be good from day one.
Special Teams Rating: 6.5
- PK Casey Welch, Sr.
The Boilermakers will rely on a walk-on to replace Ben Jones, who
alternated between being outstanding and inconsistent. Freshman Tim Dougherty was
recruited specifically to be the starter right away, but he'll have to
contend with walk-ons Casey Welch and Kyle Mossbrucker.
- P Jared Armstrong, Jr.
The punting situation was one of the team's strengths last season thanks
to Dave Brytus, but Armstrong should be even better. He's a JUCO
All-American with a huge leg and can be a long field goal kicker if