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Big Ten Spring Football - What's Happening?
Michigan QB Steven Threet
Michigan QB Steven Threet
Posted Apr 15, 2008

What's happening in spring practices? What's happening in the Iowa backfield? What's up with the OSU quarterback situation? Can Michigan's Steve Threet actually play? Here are three key spring tidbits you need to know about for each Big Ten team.

Big Ten Spring Football 2008

What You Need To Know For Each Team


Replacing Rashard ... The main focus on offense was finding a new back to replace Rashard Mendenhall; the coaching staff is still looking with Walter Mendenhall, Rashard's brother, transferring. It's been a battle between junior Daniel Dufrene, who'd be the number one right now mainly because of his receiving skills, former defensive back Darius Purcell, and freshman Mikel LeShoure. None of them have stood out and no one has been able to show any of the spark or the power of Mendenhall. There's still hope that Troy Pollard could eventually emerge as a weapon and true freshman Jason Ford will get every shot at playing time later this summer, but it's looking more and more like it'll be a running back by committee approach. Part of the problem has been ...

The Offensive Line Has Yet To Show Up, The Defense Has ... There's been no room for the running game to operate with the offensive line getting dominated by the defensive front early on. Missing guard Jon Asamoah and center Ryan McDonald hasn't helped, but the defense really has played well. Throughout spring ball it was the D that took center stage setting the expectations high that the Illini will start to win more and more games by shutting teams down. The corners, particularly Dere Hicks, have been special.

The Passing Game Isn't Quite There ... The Illini offense first wanted to find a new star running back, but it also needed to make the passing game more efficient and more effective. It didn't happen. Tight end
Michael Hoomanawanui closed out a good spring with a solid spring game, but without star WR Arrelious Benn, who's recovering from a shoulder problem, the passing attack wasn't able to show what it could do. QB Juice Williams didn't take a step forward, while backup Eddie McGee wasn't much better (but he did tear off a nice run in the spring scrimmage).


The Quarterback Situation ... Starter Kellen Lewis has the potential to be the Big Ten's best quarterback this year, but he was suspended from the team and missed all of spring practice. That meant sophomore Ben Chappell, who was disastrous in his limited time throwing just two passes and getting one returned for a score in a close loss to Northwestern, was the No. 1. With Teddy Schell, the third man in the mix when Lewis comes back, out with an elbow problem, defensive back Mitchell Evans was moved to quarterback. On the plus side, Chappell threw the ball extremely well this spring and has been tremendously accurate. Chappell isn't Lewis, but he's proving he can play.

Missing More Than Lewis ... The Hoosier offense has basically been getting the backups some meaningful work. Top running back Marcus Thigpen is one of the Big Ten's fastest players. While that's a good thing, it also means he misses spring ball to run track. Most of the offensive line was banged up and junior WR Andrew Means, who was second on the team in receiving yards with 559 and was needed to try to replace James Hardy, played baseball this spring.

Replacing Porter ...
Tracy Porter was one of the Big Ten's elite corners over the last few years and will be sorely missed along with his solid running mate, Leslie Majors. Donnell Jones and Christopher Phillips have a little experience and will be expected to carry over a good spring into the fall, but junior Bruce Hampton, Richard Council, and Chris Phillips will see key reps. Jones is potentially the best of the bunch with the best combination of speed and hitting ability.


Who's Running The Ball? ... Albert Young was one of the few solid offensive performers last year and now Iowa has to find his replacement. It's been an open casting call to find someone, anyone who can run the ball, and it hasn't been easy. The job should've gone to Jevon Pugh, but he left the team. Walk-on Jayme Murphy has been the best back so far, but he's not exactly the type of talent who can carry an attack. Paki O'Meara is a quick number two option while Murphy is a bit more of a power back. They're both likely keeping the seat warm before JUCO transfer Shonn Greene returns to the team this summer along with fellow JUCO transfer Nate Guillory and true freshmen Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson.

Off-Season Roster Issues ... Jevon Pugh wasn't necessarily going to be the main running back, but he would've been a good cog in the system before he chose to take off. He's not the only big loss. WR Anthony Bowman is transferring after being suspended last year due to credit card fraud charges. The biggest issue has been arrests with 14 players getting picked up and/or charged with a crime in the last year. That's been the talk of Iowa football and head coach Kirk Ferentz, and it seems to have taken away from the team's overall focus.

The Backup Quarterback ... Arvell Nelson was one of the players arrested and kicked off the team after getting nabbed on drug charges, and his loss leaves a big hole for a reserve quarterback. It's up to redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt and sophomore Ricky Stanzi to push Jake Christensen for the starting job, but it's Christensen's gig; he's the No. 1 guy and he's not going to give it up easily. Even so, with the way the offense struggled last year, the shot is there for one of the backups to to see time early if Christensen isn't producing.


What Option? ... It's not exactly the Ann Arbor version of West Virginia so far on offense, but that was expected. The big issue has been the inconsistency at quarterback with Steven Threet hardly looking like a world-beater and walk-on Nick Sheridan having major problems with his short passing game. Neither one has been able to come up with anything deep on a consistent basis. In other words, the passing game isn't quite working yet. Even so, at the moment it's Threet 1, Sheridan 2, and David Cone 3. However, Threet simply isn't the perfect fit for what head coach Rich Rodriguez ultimately wants to do, and more than ever it looks like the offense will have to work on a plan B and C before Utah comes to town.

Replacing Hart ... Losing Mike Hart isn't a plus, but the running backs have been a major plus so far. Brandon Minor has been quick and effective even when the defense is keying on him, while Kevin Grady appears to be 100% after missing all of last year recovering from a knee injury. Also in the mix later this summer will be Carlos Brown, who suffered a broken finger lifting weights. Brown could also see time as a wide receiver if he's not a regular runner.

Everything's Open ... There have been some major shocks and surprises with some almost-certain starters seeing time with the backups and some sure second and third stringers getting more time than normal with the first teamers. Rodriguez has made it clear that he's simply tinkering with the talent and getting everyone involved, but it still sent up warning flags for the defense and the new system when Terrence Taylor, the All-Big Ten talent who could've left early for the NFL, was playing with the backups. Was the coaching staff sending him a message? Not necessarily, but they do want him to improve.

Michigan State 

Coming Through On The End ... MSU's biggest hole to fill is at defensive end where Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin are gone. Trevor Anderson followed head coach Mark Dantonio from Cincinnati, sat out last year, and now appears to be ready to shine as the team's new pass rushing star. No, he's not Saint-Dic, but he was an All-Big East performer a few years ago and he knows the system.

Who'll Catch The Ball? ... Losing Devin Thomas early to the NFL was a major loss and it's a shame to lose tight end Kellen Davis, who didn't start to produce until his senior year, and now the offense needs two young players to produce. B.J. Cunningham was a top recruit a few years ago and looks like the real deal. A big 6-2 and 200 pounds with good speed, he could eventually grow into the team's new playmaker. Mark Dell saw starting time last year and finished with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 catches, and that experience has made him the early favorite to be the new No. 1 target. On the way are three good recruits, Fred Smith, Keshawn Martin, and Myles White, who'll all get a shot at early playing time.

The Center Of Attention ... A relatively smooth spring session took a bit of a turn with a spat between quarterback Brian Hoyer and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi about the draft process for the spring game. Hoyer and his side wanted to draft both centers, leaving the other side without one, and after much arguing and lobbying from both sides, Dantonio finally ruled that each side needed a center. All is fine, but it added a bit of a spark to the process.


The Bulked Up Weber ... Starting quarterback Adam Weber was one of the Big Ten's biggest statistical producers last season, but he'll have to battle to keep his job. Getting beaten, battered and bruised as one of the only productive offensive players, Weber came to spring ball beefed up at over 230 pounds, over 15 pounds more than last year, and he's planning on playing at 225. Weber will likely be the main man for the offense, but everyone's waiting until later this summer when top recruit MarQueis Gray, a perfect fit for the offense, gets to campus.

The Roof Is On Fire ... It might not seem like a good thing to turn to Duke football to improve a defense, but former Blue Devil head coach Ted Roof appears to be making a difference. The Gopher D will get the fastest players on the field whenever possible to counteract the wave of spread offenses, but the real emphasis is on tackling. Minnesota couldn't hit, and that's been emphasized this spring. Forget about a soft and easy spring session; the Gophers are popping.

Personnel Improvements On Defense ... Why should the Minnesota defense be better? An upgrade in talent. Step one is getting end Willie VanDeSteeg back from a broken wrist that limited him all of last year. Now he's back to being the all-around defender he was expected to become as a junior. The biggest upgrade is in the secondary with free safety Tramaine Brock the new star of the show. While he's not huge at 6-0 and 185 pounds, he provides the physical presence the secondary was lacking and he can move; if he's not Minnesota's fastest player, he's No. 2.


Getting Offensive ... After coaching the Bowling Green quarterbacks for the last five years, and generating some of the MAC's most productive players, Mick McCall is taking over the Wildcat offense and is looking to provide more pop by getting his players in space. The Wildcats aren't going to necessarily be about power, and they aren't going to run the same type of spread attack that's been so productive in the past. McCall wants to get his players in the open and let them operate. His offense is going to count on the playmakers more than the past as he'll try to put his top players in a place where they can produce, as opposed to forcing the players to work within a system.

Getting Defensive ... On the defensive side, new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz comes over after getting canned by Wisconsin and brings a world of experience to the program. Former defensive coordinator Greg Colby was more about just making the play, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted a coach who could make his defense more aggressive. Hankwitz is doing that. An old-school type who's been coaching longer than Fitzgerald has been alive, the 60-year-old Hankwitz is doing what his head man wants by changing the style. The Wildcats will look to attack more and force more big plays than in the past.

The Receivers Are Back ... While RB Tyrell Sutton is the star of the offense and QB C.J. Bacher is growing into one of the Big Ten's most dangerous passers, the key to the offense's improvement is at receiver, and two key ones are back and healthy. Juniors Andrew Brewer and Brendan Smith were supposed to be the top targets last year, but Brewer missed the entire season with a broken arm and Smith suffered a shoulder injury and missed most of the season after an ineffective few games. Both are giving Bacher more explosive targets to work with.

Ohio State  

Terrelle Who? ... Lost in all the hype and excitement of getting super-recruit Terrelle Pryor is the quarterback the Buckeyes already have: Todd Boeckman. The Buckeye starter has been excellent this spring throwing the deep ball better than ever. He's playing like a veteran who can be a top producer for the offense rather than just be along for the ride while the running game and the defense lead the team to wins. With Pryor coming in this summer, it's up to Antonio Henton and Joe Bauserman to establish themselves now, and neither one has stood out.

Basically, They're Being Sent To Their Room ... Is there a problem in the Ohio State secondary? Donald Washington, Jamario O'Neal, and Eugene Clifford weren't technically suspended, but they were suspended. No one's talking about why, and the speculation is rampant considering Clifford was held out of the BCS Championship loss to LSU after failing a drug test, and while he and O'Neal have been held out, Washington has been practicing with the team.

Keeping Beanie Under Wraps ... Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel didn't get to where he is by being dumb. He's keeping his star, RB Chris Wells, out of action to let a banged up wrist heal. As it turns out, Wells was far less than 100% healthy throughout his fantastic sophomore season, when he ran for 1,609 yards with 15 touchdowns. With Wells limited, it's allowed Brandon Saine, one of the fastest backs in the bunch and a possible slot receiver, Daniel Herron, and veteran Maurice Wells to get plenty of good work in to create more experienced and developed depth.

Penn State  

Waiting For Something Positive ... The overall talk about Penn State football has been on anything but how the team will likely be this year. From the knee injury to All-America LB Sean Lee, which will likely keep him out for the year, to how the Joe Paterno era will likely end, to all the arrests and suspensions, this hasn't been a fun off-season. DTs Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, TE Andrew Quarless, WR Chris Bell, and DE Knowledge Timmons, among others, have cast a bad light on the program. The team desperately needs something good to go its way.

Replacing Lee ... With Lee likely to redshirt and be ready for 2009, sophomore Bani Gbadyu is getting the first look as the fill-in on the outside, Josh Hull will be the main man in the middle, and Tyrell Sales, a big, experienced veteran will work on the other outside spot. Gbadyu made six stops last year and he has good upside and nice skills, but he's not Lee. Sophomore Chris Colasanti could fill in on the outside if needed, but he's been working in the middle so far. There's still a possibility that the suspended
Navorro Bowman could be back to see time on the outside.

Oh Yeah, The Quarterback ... The offense should be fine with a good-looking line, great receivers, and a decent group of running backs, with Stephfon Green causing a huge stir with his blinding speed, but QB Anthony Morelli has to be replaced. Darryl Clark is the mobile all-around playmaker, while Pat Devlin is a bit more of a passer than a runner. Clark is the type of player to design running plays for, while Devlin can run when needed. While those two are the main challengers for the job, there's also Paul Cianciolo, a long-shot to make a late run this summer.


Painter Needs Someone To Hand Off To ... While QB Curtis Painter and the passing attack will get most of the off-season attention, there's still a running game that should be potent. Back for what seems like their 14th seasons in the backfield are Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets once again battling it out for the number one job, with Taylor the likely winner when all is said and done. Taylor has more power and is far better at holding on to the ball, but Sheets brings a bit more pizazz. The two will rotate again making this a key strength for the attack.

Painter Has To Throw To Someone ... Selwyn Lymon was booted off the team, Dustin Keller might be the best tight end in the upcoming draft, and all-timer Dorien Bryant is gone. Greg Orton returns, and while he's good, he's not a dangerous No. 1 target. The team's best receiver will likely be D.J. Donley, but he's sitting out the year after transferring from Georgia Tech and he won't have Painter throwing to him or Joe Tiller coaching him. Orton will be Painter's main target to start the season, while the offense has to wait this off-season for Desmond Tardy to return from a shoulder injury. The hope will be for JUCO transfers Arsenio Curry and Aaron Valentin to make an immediate impact, and for Joe Whitest, Roberto McBean, and Brandon Whittington to go from little used reserves to steady producers.

Painter Has To Have Someone to Block For Him ... The offensive line is a mess, and it only got worse throughout spring ball. Three starters are coming back, but they're all hut with tackles Sean Sester (bad back) and Zach Jones (bum hip) the biggest issue. Guard Zach Rekman has a shoulder injury. How bad have things been? Key backups Garrett Miller and Eric Henderson are struggling after knee surgeries. Even star recruit Mike Chacksfield, who would've gotten a shot at the starting job right away, is out after injuring his knee shoveling snow. Things aren't all gloom and doom as 6-7, 361-pound freshman Ken Plue looks like a keeper at tackle.


Far From 100%, For Now ... Wisconsin suffered a rash of injuries as last season went on, and now the team is still recovering. On the plus side, almost all the missing starters are expected to be back in time to start the season, but the absences have made spring ball a little strange. The defense will be far different in a few months when top DT Jason Chapman is back after suffering a torn ACL, while Mike Newkirk is nursing a shoulder injury. No. 1 corner Allen Langford, and Aaron Henry a challenger for a starting corner spot, are also returning from knee injuries. Sophomore DE Kirk DeCreamer will be back after a back problem. All-America tight end Travis Beckum and his backup Garrett Graham have been practicing again, but neither are getting hit, as they still recover from their shoulder injuries.

The QB Situation Isn't Quite Settled ... Everyone assumed it was a forgone conclusion that Allan Evridge, the transfer from Kansas State who was locked in a battle with Tyler Donovan for the starting job last year, was going to be the starter. Evridge has been fine, but he hasn't been off the charts, while Dustin Sherer has been just good enough to be in the hunt. The only sure thing is that Scott Tolzien is the No. 3. Evridge runs better than Sherer, a drop-back passer, and has a better arm. It's all about consistency; the one who keeps things moving will get the job.

Getting Defensive ... It's not like veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz did a poor job, but UW head coach Bret Bielema was looking to get more out of his defense and made a gut-wrenching firing. Hankwitz moved on to Northwestern while Dave Doeren was moved up to become the main defensive coordinator. Last year's defense was crushed by injuries, but Doeren is changing the all-around attitude that the defense must produce no matter what. He's trying to get his defense in even better shape by cranking up the strength and conditioning sessions even more than it's been in the past. Basically, things are more intense.