Going camping in the Big Ten, Part I

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

August is upon us.

My summer wedding tour is finally over -- a belated congrats to Mara and Elia! - so I'm all yours for the rest of the fall. The endless wait for Big Ten football reaches a milestone this week as four Big Ten teams begin training camp.

As players return to the field in Champaign, Iowa City, Bloomington and West Lafayette, let's take a look at three key questions for each team at the start of camp. Part II arrives next week as the final seven Big Ten squads open camp.


Camp opens: Thursday

1. Who takes the early lead in the competition at running back?

Head coach Ron Zook praised senior Daniel Dufrene last week at Big Ten media days, though sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure appeared to have the inside track coming out of spring ball.

2. Can Martez Wilson establish himself as Illinois' defensive general, and will he have any help?

The move to middle linebacker should benefit Wilson, who has yet to match his recruiting hype at Illinois. The Illini are also looking for playmakers in the secondary after losing star corner Vontae Davis.

3. Did the Illini ace their chemistry class?

There's little doubt that Illinois has the talent to contend for a New Year's Day bowl and possibly a Big Ten title, but team chemistry was not a strong suit last year. Team leaders say they have turned a page and bonded during the offseason. Now is the time to prove it.


Camp opens: Friday

1. Is the pistol offense ready to shoot down opposing defenses?

Quarterback Ben Chappell and his teammates have welcomed the shift to the pistol, which should spark Indiana's rushing attack. The competition at running back between Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and heralded redshirt freshman Darius Willis should provide plenty of intrigue.

2. Who will be 100 percent and are there any lingering injury concerns?

Injuries wiped out much of Indiana's two-deep last fall, and several key players missed part or all of spring ball with injuries. This is a much better team when players like Austin Thomas, Nick Polk, Deonte Mack and Chris Hagerup are on the field.

3. Who will emerge as a legit playmaker?

Whether or not Kellen Lewis' dismissal was addition by subtraction in the locker room, his presence will be missed on the field. Lewis' name appeared at the top of every opposing defense's scouting report, and the Hoosiers need to find a bona fide playmaker this summer.


Camp opens: Friday

1. How is Jewel Hampton's knee?

Head coach Kirk Ferentz seems cautiously optimistic about Hampton, and the running back himself posted an encouraging message on Facebook, but only practice will tell how limited the sophomore might be. Whether Iowa can survive without Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene is the biggest question on this team, and Hampton's health looms large as camp begins.

2. Has Derrell Johnson-Koulianos restored his rep among the coaches, and if not, who else will emerge at wide receiver?

Johnson-Koulianos finished the 2008 season strong but endured some struggles in the spring. With Andy Brodell gone, DJK or someone else must emerge as a viable target for blossoming quarterback Ricky Stanzi. It could be Trey Stross or converted quarterback Marvin McNutt, and having a healthy Tony Moeaki certainly helps.

3. Can the Hawkeyes fill the holes in the middle of their defensive line?

The defensive tackle position is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest question mark, as the team loses four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. All eyes will be on Karl Klug and Mike Daniels as they step into enhanced roles this month. Iowa's run defense has been its trademark under Norm Parker, and maintaining a level of excellence starts in camp.


Camp opens: Saturday

1. Will Jaycen Taylor beat out a strong group of running backs for the top job?

Taylor returns from an ACL injury and boasts by far the most experience of any Boilermakers' back. He'll face some tough competition, though, as several players, namely sophomore Ralph Bolden, sizzled during spring ball. Heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse also joins the mix. Purdue wants to emphasize the run game much more this season, so the competition in camp should be a fun one.

2. How is Jason Werner's health?

Werner's ability to stay on the field could provide a major boost for a very iffy Boilermakers linebacking corps. The talented senior linebacker has battled back problems the last two years, but he can be a difference maker if healthy. Former Boilermakers head coach Joe Tiller called Werner the team's best linebacker, high praise given the presence of Anthony Heygood.

3. Can both the offensive and defensive lines come together?

Injuries hurt the O-line last year, but head coach Danny Hope, who oversaw the group in 2008, likes the progress up front. The defensive line boasts two excellent pieces in end Ryan Kerrigan and tackle Mike Neal, but several young players need to grow up quickly during camp to solidify things there.