Going camping in the Big Ten, Part II

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
9:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.

Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.

MICHIGAN

Camp opens: Monday

1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?

Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.

2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?

Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.

3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?

The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.

MICHIGAN STATE

Camp opens: Monday

1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?

Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.

2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?

None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.

3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?

Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.

MINNESOTA

Camp opens: Monday

1. How has the offensive line progressed during the offseason?

The line had some growing pains this spring as it adapted to new coach Tim Davis and a dramatically different offense. Minnesota has experience and several exciting newcomers (Matt Stommes, Matt Carufel, Jeff Wills), but the learning curve needs to be accelerated. The progress up front will be the story of camp.

2. Who steps up at running back?

Head coach Tim Brewster shook up his offensive staff in hopes of sparking the rushing attack, which ranked last in the league in 2008. Duane Bennett is back in the mix after tearing his ACL early last fall, and he'll compete with DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salamon and Kevin Whaley.

3. Can the pass rush reload after losing All-Big Ten defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg?

Minnesota tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks last fall, and VanDeSteeg played a major role. The pass-rush duties now fall to Cedric McKinley and Derrick Onwuachi, and veteran tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small also should help in this area.

NORTHWESTERN

Camp opens: Monday

1. Who steps up at running back and wide receiver?

Quarterback Mike Kafka will lead the offense, but his weapons are unknown entering camp. Junior Stephen Simmons and sophomore Jeravin Matthews compete with a host of freshmen at running back, while Northwestern needs veteran wide receivers Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to claim big roles.

2. How is Corey Wootton's knee?

Wootton tore pretty much every ligament possible in his right knee at the Alamo Bowl, but his rehab went well and he's fully cleared for practice. Northwestern should allow Wootton to test the knee without taking too many chances with the potential All-American defensive end.

3. Can the special teams improve?

Special teams have doomed Northwestern all too often the past decade, and the area should once again be a primary focus for head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who oversees the specialists. True freshman kicker Jeff Budzien joins the mix for camp, and the Wildcats will try to improve their return units.

OHIO STATE

Camp opens: Monday

1. Who wins the starting job at left tackle?

The Buckeyes' offensive line should be better this fall, but there are questions at left tackle. Senior Andy Miller paced sophomore Mike Adams for much of the spring, but Adams clearly has the talent to be a special player. Another highly touted tackle, J.B. Shugarts, also could factor in here.

2. Will Terrelle Pryor continue his momentum from the spring?

Pryor clearly made progress from the season to spring ball, and he needs to take another step forward as the Buckeyes open camp. The wide receiving corps looks a bit shaky, and while Ohio State should be better at tight end, Pryor will need to be sharper and more consistent with his passes.

3. Who wins the second cornerback competition?

Chimdi Chekwa looks like a lock at one corner spot, but several players will compete to start opposite the junior. Andre Amos boasts experience and finally looks healthy, but he'll be pushed by junior Devon Torrence and freshman Travis Howard.

PENN STATE

Camp opens: Monday

1. How will things shake out in the secondary?

The back four will be defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's top priority this month. Penn S
tate must replace all four starters and hopes cornerback A.J. Wallace gets on the field following some academic issues. Safety Drew Astorino is ready to lead, but he needs decent pieces around him.

2. How much can tackle DeOn'tae Pannell improve before Sept. 5?

Veteran Dennis Landolt could be moving from right tackle to left tackle, but Penn State still needs Pannell to have a good camp. The O-line struggled in the spring against an aggressive defensive front and must replace three All-Big Ten players. There's no Big Ten player more valuable to his team than quarterback Daryll Clark, and the Lions must do all they can to protect him.

3. Who emerges as the starting wide receivers?

I don't think this group will be a major problem for Penn State, but the competition in camp should be interesting to watch. Hopes are high for Derek Moye, and reliable veterans Graham Zug and Brett Brackett will compete with Chaz Powell and most likely several incoming freshmen, including Justin Brown.

WISCONSIN

Camp opens: Monday

1. Who will separate himself in the quarterback competition?

For most Badgers fans, no other question really matters right now. Senior Dustin Sherer and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips appear to be the frontrunners for the starting job, with junior Scott Tolzien still in the mix. Sherer needs a strong start to camp after struggling late in the spring, while Phillips looks to continue his momentum from spring ball.

2. How will the linebacking corps shake out?

Wisconsin must replace two mainstays in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. Jaevery McFadden is a lock at middle linebacker, but there will be plenty of competition around him as players like Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen try to cement spots.

3. Will John Clay reach an acceptable playing weight?

There's little doubt that Clay can be a star in this league as long as he doesn't get too heavy. He has had ankle problems in the past and ended last season somewhere around 250 pounds. Clay hopes to get down to 235, but the realistic hope is he plays at 240-245.

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