Keep your eyes on these 11
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Robert K. O'Daniell|
|Martez Wilson has already been a defensive playmaker for Ron Zook.|
We'll get to the Big Ten's top freshmen before long, but on this preview day, I'd like to spotlight a player on each team who I can't wait to watch this fall. I didn't want to restrict this to freshmen, so the criteria are fairly open. The picks are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, players returning from injury/off-field issues or guys finally getting their shot at major field time. Here's the list:
Illinois: Martez Wilson, LB (6-4, 246, So.) -- Wilson will be featured in Illinois' defensive midsection, which loses starters J Leman and Antonio Steele. Often likened to former Illini star Simeon Rice, he was among the headliners of Illinois' program-changing 2007 recruiting class. Wilson added 10-15 pounds of muscle during the offseason while maintaining top-shelf speed. He'll be a force at outside linebacker.
Indiana: Darius Willis, RB (6-0, 220, Fr.) -- Indiana needs another backfield threat to complement reinstated quarterback Kellen Lewis, and Willis could be the answer. The true freshman headlined Indiana's recruiting class, finishing as the runner-up for Mr. Football in the state last year. Willis has good size and strength and could be the power runner IU wants.
Iowa: Shonn Greene, RB (5-11, 227, Sr.) -- Iowa needs a savior at running back and hopes to find it in Greene, who returns to the team after spending 2007 at a junior college to improve his academics. Greene has 69 career carries and performed well as a reserve, but how he transitions back to Big Ten football after a year away will be interesting to watch.
Michigan: Darryl Stonum, WR (6-2, 190, Fr.) -- Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will need help from a new-look wide receivers corps, and Stonum should be a factor right away. The true freshman enrolled early and impressed during spring ball. He has put on 20 pounds and provides the big-play skills Michigan must have after losing Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington.
Michigan State: Trevor Anderson, DE (6-2, 255, Jr.) -- An All-Big East selection at Cincinnati, Anderson followed coach Mark Dantonio to Michigan State and will step in this fall after sitting out 2007. He fills an immediate need at end, where the Spartans lose top pass rusher Jonal Saint-Dic (10 sacks in '07). Anderson has good speed and spent the last year improving his strength.
Minnesota: Tramaine Brock, FS (6-0, 187, Jr.) -- Of the seven junior-college transfers Minnesota brought in, Brock could see the most immediate playing time. He dazzled the coaches during spring practice and fills a hole in a secondary that got shredded last season. The hard-hitting Brock plays with an edge Minnesota could use as it rebuilds on defense.
Northwestern: Andrew Brewer, WR (6-3, 210, Jr.) -- Brewer would have been NU's No. 1 wide receiver entering last season, but he fractured his humerus two weeks before the opener. His size and speed make him a matchup headache at slot receiver, but he's caught only one pass in a college game after playing quarterback his freshman year. Northwestern's offense is based on short passes, but Brewer gives quarterback C.J. Bacher a downfield threat.
Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor, QB (6-6, 220, Fr.) -- An obvious choice here. All eyes will be on Pryor and how Ohio State uses the nation's No. 1 recruit to complement starter Todd Boeckman. The Tim Tebow comparisons are out there, and Pryor's rare combination of size, speed and strength won't go to waste as Ohio State tries to get back to the national title game.
Penn State: Stephfon Green, RB (5-10, 189, Fr.) -- Sophomore Evan Royster likely will start, but Green is all the rage in Happy Valley. He hasn't touched the ball in a game, but his breakaway bursts during spring practice signal exciting times are on the way this fall. With sprinter's speed and the ability to score on any play, Green could be the greatest asset for Penn State's new starting quarterback.
Purdue: Jason Werner, LB (6-4, 221, Jr.) -- Back surgery in December 2006 nearly ended Werner's career, but he has since come on strong and appears on the brink of a breakout season. The former Indiana Mr. Football likely will start at strongside linebacker after moving down from safety. He's the team's most athletic linebacker, and his experience at defensive back will pay off in pass defense.
Wisconsin: John Clay, RB (6-2, 237, Fr.) -- For now he'll share carries as a member of the league's deepest group of running backs, but before long Clay will be featured in the Badgers' offense. Wisconsin has done well with big backs and Clay should fit right in, bringing a mix of size and speed. He rushed for 94 yards in the spring game and should see time behind P.J. Hill.