Big Ten Spring
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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