Thursday, May 17, 2012
Spring breakout players in the Big Ten
By Brian Bennett
Spring practice is a time when coaches install new schemes or just instill the fundamentals. The most exciting part of spring practice is potential new stars emerge, with newcomers or former reserves turning heads with their performances.
Some of these guys will fade back into the shadows come fall. But others will be making major contributions on a field near you. Here's a list of some players who had breakout springs:
Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois: Redshirted last year after a hamstring injury, Ferguson blew up for 130 yards and caught six passes in the Illini spring game. He flashed his speed and versatility for an offense that desperately needs playmakers in its new spread attack. Ferguson should be in line to get a lot of touches in 2012.
Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: A true freshman who enrolled in January after spending a year in prep school, Thomas suddenly became Braxton Miller's favorite target in the spring game, hauling in 12 catches for 131 yards. Like Ferguson, he gave a glimmer of hope to a position that was sorely in need of a boost for the Buckeyes, and he'll get a shot at plenty of playing time right away.
Darien Harris, LB, Michigan State: Few people were talking about Harris at the start of spring, especially since the Spartans return all three starting linebackers. But with Chris Norman out this spring with an injury, Harris got a bunch of reps and ran with it. Mark Dantonio called the redshirt freshman "one of the exciting surprises of the spring." He'll play this fall, but the question is how much?
Bill Belton had a nice performance during Penn State's Blue-White spring game, rushing for 53 yards and a TD.
Joey Burzinski, OL, Michigan: Even most Wolverines fans had probably not heard of Buzinski, a walk-on freshman, before this spring. But a strong work ethic and a lack of depth on the Michigan O-line helped him make a move until he found himself working with the first string. Burzinski is no lock to start but should see minutes somewhere on the line and is a great story.
Bill Belton, RB, Penn State: Belton was a highly-regard recruit who started to make an impact at the end of last season. Moved to full-time running back this spring, he responded by making a lot of plays and adding depth to a spot that was extremely thin behind Silas Redd. Belton's versatility should help him become a useful weapon in Bill O'Brien's offense.
David Cooper, LB, Indiana: There's no question that the Hoosiers desperately needed some help on defense, and head coach Kevin Wilson scoured the junior college ranks for a talent injection. Cooper, along with Jacarri Alexander, proved he could run and tackle this spring, and he also brought a high energy level that rubbed off on his teammates. He's slated to start at middle linebacker and hopefully bring some improvement to the overall defensive effort.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa: He was a hyped recruit, and now Fiedorowicz might be about to show why. A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, the junior is expected to play a major role in new offensive coordinator Greg Davis's offense, and James Vandenberg has to love having such a big target.
Frankie Williams, S, Purdue: By the end of last season, Danny Hope regretted his decision to redshirt Williams because he felt he could have contributed at cornerback. Williams moved to safety this spring and got the start there in the spring game. The Boilers are deep at corner but could use a little help at safety, and Williams looks ready to fill that need.