Big 12: Devin Gregg
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.
Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.
Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.
Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.
Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.
Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.
Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.
Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.
Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.
Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.
Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.
Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After struggling through a disappointing 4-8 season that was Texas A&M's worst since 2003, coach Mike Sherman has redoubled efforts in his first full recruiting season with the Aggies.
Sherman has seen some strong results with increased athleticism from several top early commitments, most notably breakaway running back Christine Michael from Beaumont, Texas -- the program's first five-star recruit at the position in the past decade.
Michael's arrival is important as the Aggies lose Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson opted to declare for the NFL draft as a junior. The Aggies have little experience at the position as sophomores-to-be Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens and Keondra Smith will likely be battling Michael for immediate playing time. Any improvement would be noticeable after the Aggies ranked 114th nationally in rushing last season.
The Aggies' passing game looks in good shape with the return of quarterback Jerrod Johnson, freshman receiver Jeff Fuller and redshirt freshman receiver Ryan Tannehill. There's a need for an upgrade in the offensive line considering last season's struggles and the fact that starting tackle Michael Shumard, starting guard Lee Grimes and starting center Kevin Matthews all will be seniors in 2009.
The defensive line will take a hit as starting defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cyril Obizor and top substitute Amos Gbunblee all were seniors last season. But the development of freshman tackles Eddie Brown and Tony Jerod-Eddie will make the need less immediate inside.
An upgrade is also needed in the secondary after the Aggies lost starting cornerback Arkeith Brown and rover Devin Gregg and the top two substitutes at the position as seniors. And it behooves the Aggies to develop some young players quickly with starting cornerback Jordan Pugh and starting free safety Jordan Peterson both entering their senior seasons in 2009.
The Aggies ranked no better than 108th in any of the four major defensive statistical categories as they finished with losses to all of their South Division rivals for the first time in school history. So an immediate upgrade of defensive talent is mandatory after those struggles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Considering the spread passing offenses in the Big 12, the conference's defensive backs should receive an extensive workout this season. The Big 12 has some productive players. Here is my choice for the 10 best.
- William Moore, Missouri: Unquestioned heart and soul of Tigers' defense after leading conference with eight interceptions last season.
- Nic Harris, Oklahoma: Physical safety has knack for making big plays and delivering shivering hits.
- Jamar Wall, Texas Tech: Closest thing that the Big 12 has to a lockdown cornerback.
- Jordan Lake, Baylor: Counted on for too many tackles in Baylor's sieve-like defense, produced 120 stops last season -- 30 more than any Big 12 secondary players.
- Darrell Stuckey, Kansas: Hard-hitting strong safety who led Kansas secondary in tackles; broke up six passes last season.
- Chris Harris, Kansas: Big 12 newcomer of the year last season after producing 65 tackles, two interceptions in 2007.
- Devin Gregg, Texas A&M: Workmanlike player who has started 32 straight games for the Aggies.
- Larry Asante, Nebraska: Once a special-teams tackling machine, he now is a disciplined pass defender after working with Bo Pelini.
- Chris Carney, Kansas State: Produced 64 tackles and four interceptions last season and should be even better with infusion of junior college talent around him.
- Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma: Can be torched deep occasionally, but Sooners have opted to move him around the secondary to help plug holes.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State