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Thursday, May 6, 2010
Big Ten names to know after spring ball

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Quite possibly the best part about spring practice is learning about players who come out of the blue to make some noise. Now there are numerous cases of spring practice stars who do absolutely nothing when it matters in the fall, so take this with a grain of salt.

But from time to time, spring ball can be a springboard for big things during the season.

There were quite a few relative unknowns who made names for themselves this spring in the Big Ten, but here are five (actually, six) who stood out to me:

1. Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis: He's the first player listed on Wisconsin's alphabetical roster, but few had heard of Abbrederis before this spring. The walk-0n became the story of the first part of spring ball, as he repeatedly made big catches against veteran defensive backs. Wisconsin has had success with walk-on wide receiver before, with Luke Swan topping the list, and Abbrederis could be a factor in a receiver group that needs a No. 2 option behind Nick Toon.

2. Indiana DEs Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush: I had heard of Johnson, but only because I repeatedly listed him on Indiana's injury report throughout last season. But these two ends made a strong impression this spring, at least with co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic, who said they'll make folks forget about multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Johnson and Bush combined for two sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in the spring game.

3. Michigan S Cameron Gordon: I talked to six players and four or five coaches at Michigan during my spring visit, and every one of them mentioned Gordon's play this spring. I didn't know much about him, as he redshirted last year as a wide receiver before switching to safety. Gordon's hard-hitting style and presence in the secondary certainly came through to teammates like Roy Roundtree and Troy Woolfolk. Michigan really needs help at safety this fall, so Gordon should be a factor.

4. Minnesota LB Mike Rallis: A converted safety, Rallis locked up a starting spot at strongside linebacker with an excellent performance this spring. He played some as a freshman but missed all but three games last season after breaking his leg. Minnesota loses all three starters at linebacker, so it really needed a boost like the one Rallis provided in spring ball. "He's going to be a playmaker for us," Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said.

5. Iowa TE Brad Herman: I knew about projected starter Allen Reisner, but Tony Moeaki left a pretty big hole to fill at tight end this spring. Herman seemed to step up nicely and provided a second option alongside Reisner. Heralded incoming recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz also could be a factor, but it sounds like he'll need to beat out Herman. "He's clearly had his best period of practice," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's something we really needed to see."