Big Ten: Adam Hahn

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
11:43
AM ET
National Signing Day is right around the corner, and Big Ten teams will look to add depth and identify a few immediate contributors in the upcoming recruiting classes. What do these squads need the most?

Here's a look:

ILLINOIS

Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.

Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.

INDIANA

Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.

Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.

Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.

IOWA

Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.

Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.

Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.

Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.

MICHIGAN STATE

Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.

Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.

Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.

MINNESOTA

Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.

Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.

Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.

NORTHWESTERN

Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.

Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.

OHIO STATE

Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.

Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.

PENN STATE

Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.

Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.

Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.

PURDUE

Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.

Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.

Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.

WISCONSIN

Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.

Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The closest Mike Hankwitz ever came to taking a jab at Wisconsin took place during his introductory news conference as Northwestern's defensive coordinator in January 2008.

Hankwitz was asked for his thoughts on the color purple.

"I like it," he said. "I don't like the color red, so now I can trade it in."

Days earlier, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema had dismissed Hankwitz, a decision that surprised many because of Hankwitz's experience as a defensive coordinator and the fact the Badgers were just a year removed from finishing second nationally in points allowed (12.1 ppg). Northwestern wasted little time in hiring Hankwitz to fill its coordinator vacancy, while Bielema promoted co-defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to take full control of his defense.

Wisconsin and Northwestern didn't play in 2008, so Saturday's game at Ryan Field (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET) marks the first time Hankwitz will face his former employer. But if there's a revenge factor involved, Hankwitz isn't buying in too much.

"There's no time for that," he said following Wednesday's practice. "I'm excited to be here. I'm around great people, around great kids and I'm proud of what we've done here. I have pride, yeah, but the players, they're not going to know anything about the past. They don't care, so it wouldn't matter anyway."

Bielema had nothing but complimentary things to say about Hankwitz this week, though he did acknowledge the dismissal, saying, "I'm sure I'm not very popular in the Hankwitz household."

Hankwitz's presence on the Northwestern sideline creates an interesting subplot for Saturday's game.

Does he provide an extra edge for Northwestern because he knows Wisconsin's staff, or will the Badgers coaches have the advantage because they know Hankwitz's tendencies?

The players are different on both sides, but Wisconsin and Northwestern haven't changed their offensive schemes.

"It's probably an advantage and a disadvantage," Bielema said. "We know what Mike likes to do, he knows what we like to do. If there's a time to break tendencies, this would be it."

Hankwitz's preparation regimen is already legendary among Northwestern's players. He arrives in the office at 6 a.m. and usually doesn't leave until 10:30 p.m. Hours before last week's game against Illinois, Hankwitz made a few tweaks to the defense after watching several games the night before.

He has watched every Wisconsin game from this season, several from last year and the Badgers' last two bowl games.

"Just trying to be thorough," Hankwitz said. "And I'm sure they've done the same."

Still, he's the only coach who has been on both sides.

"For his two years there, he put in a lot of time against their offense," Wildcats defensive tackle Adam Hahn said. "So he would have a head's up compared to a coordinator that maybe only plays them once a year or every other year."

Hankwitz plans to say hello to his former Badgers colleagues before Saturday's game. He still remains in contact with Doeren, his co-coordinator at Wisconsin in 2006 and 2007.

They first started sharing information back when Hankwitz coached at Colorado and Doeren was at Kansas, and have continued to do so even after Hankwitz left Wisconsin. Coincidentally, Northwestern would have pursued Doeren for its coordinator vacancy if Hankwitz didn't become available.

"[Doeren's] done a great job," Hankwitz said. "I have great respect for him. ... I learned things from him when I was at Wisconsin. We felt like it was a collaboration."

Things have worked out well for both teams. Northwestern has played its best defense this decade under Hankwitz, while Wisconsin ranks 19th nationally in total defense and 14th against the run this season.

Hankwitz hasn't talked to his players about his departure from Wisconsin, but they're well aware of the situation.

"I would think he'll have a little more at stake in this game," Hahn said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Northwestern waited patiently for Corey Wootton to get back to normal and start playing like an All-America candidate.

Weeks and months passed, and the senior defensive end still looked like a shell of his former self, as he recovered from offseason ACL surgery. After recording 10 sacks last season, Wootton had only one through the first nine games.

But this week, head coach Pat Fitzgerald sensed that Wootton's time would be coming. Fitzgerald's rationale was simple.

"This was the first week he practiced on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," the coach said.

You can bet Wootton's teammates took notice.

"At practice, we were all yelling, 'Corey's back! Corey's back!" linebacker Quentin Davie said. "He definitely came back today."

Wootton made the biggest play of Northwestern's season -- and unfortunately a play that altered Iowa's season -- when he sacked Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the end zone early in the second quarter. The senior jarred the ball loose from Stanzi and teammate Marshall Thomas recovered for a touchdown.

Northwestern went on to upset the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes 17-10 and notch its first win against a top 10 opponent since 2004.

Iowa led 10-0 at the time and had completely dominated until Wootton's play.

"It feels great to be able to contribute," Wootton said. "Last year, I had a little more production. ... I'm just starting to feel a little more comfortable out there. I'm still getting over the mental aspect [of the injury]. This is going to take time, but the more I practice and the more things I do to get ready for the games is going to help me."

Stanzi sprained his right ankle on the play, left the game and didn't return, as Northwestern held Iowa to no points and only 127 total yards the rest of the way.

"[Wootton] made a play down there," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Cost us a touchdown and a quarterback, unfortunately."

Northwestern isn't going to feel too sorry for Iowa. The Wildcats have been decimated by injuries this season, especially on the defensive line as Wootton and defensive tackles Corbin Bryant and Adam Hahn all came off of surgery.

"The expectations we have for him are the ones he sets for himself, and they're very high," Fitzgerald said of Wootton. "I couldn't be more proud of him. He has stayed the course, he's battled, he's persevered. It's not been great for anybody on our team, but he found a way to get the job done today, and it's a credit to him."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Mike Hankwitz has coached defense long enough to know when a problem can be isolated and immediately fixed.

Unfortunately for Hankwitz, Northwestern's defensive decline this season can be attributed to multiple factors.
  • Injuries have hit the unit especially hard. All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootton is still working back into form following ACL surgery in January, and fellow defensive linemen Corbin Bryant and Adam Hahn are also not 100 percent. None of them participated in spring ball. The team's top defensive back, safety Brad Phillips, dealt with elbow and calf injuries in preseason camp after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier in the offseason. Injuries have kept two starters, cornerback Sherrick McManis and middle linebacker Nate Williams, off the field for games and thinned the depth behind them.
  • The linebacking corps is enduring some growing pains after losing two starters from 2008. Outside linebacker Ben Johnson played primarily on special teams last year after missing some time with an injury. Junior Quentin Davie started 11 games last season but is learning a new position this fall, Hankwitz said.
  • Players are simply not executing on game day. Missed tackles have been a problem throughout the Wildcats' last three contests, and the team has lost opportunities to secure takeaways at key times. Hankwitz spotted three missed interceptions in Saturday's loss to Minnesota. The line hasn't put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"It’s a lot of little things," said Hankwitz, the team's second-year defensive coordinator who fostered massive improvements in Year 1. "Sometimes it hasn’t carried over from practice. Part of our problem is a lot of guys are fighting through injuries, and they haven't been able to practice as much as we’ve needed them to. The linebackers are brand-new players. And we aren’t getting the consistent execution we were getting last year.”

Defense was Northwestern's calling card in 2008, as it ranked fourth in the league in both points allowed (20.8 ppg) and rush defense (126.4), tied for first in sacks (34) and finished third in both red zone defense (78.6 percent) and third-down defense (34.7 percent). Despite returning eight starters this fall, the defense has backslid in several key areas, looking more like the unit that struggled mightily before Hankwitz's arrival.

Northwestern has surrendered 72 points and 823 yards in consecutive losses to Syracuse and Minnesota, hardly offensive juggernauts. The defense's tackling struggles against Minnesota stunned head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who described the performance as "awful."

Things need to get fixed before Saturday when Northwestern visits Purdue, which boasts and improved offensive line several big-play threats, including running back Ralph Bolden.

"We don’t feel we’re that far away," Hankwitz said. "We’re trying to show them how close we are. If we all do our job a little better and more consistently, a lot of these things wouldn’t happen. We’re right there. We have to go do it in a game."

The defense hasn't executed zone blitzes as well as it did a year ago, leaving gaps for opposing ball carriers to shoot through. Hankwitz also admits he has had to adjust the way he calls games for several reasons, including the new offenses Northwestern has faced in all four games.

"You don’t have as much background on them, as much experience," he said. "You play somebody the year before, you have a lot better feel for their philosophy. We’re trying to do the things we did last year. At times we’re limited a bit because of youth and the injuries.”

The defense can't afford another step back this week, but Hankwitz sees signs of progress as key players like Wootton and Phillips work through injuries and young players like Johnson get more comfortable.

"Our guys are disappointed, but we’re not discouraged," he said. "We're trying to show them how close we are. As much as challenging them, it’s encouraging them and making them realize they're not that far away."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Northwestern released its injury report for Saturday's opener against Towson.

OUT
  • LB David Arnold, leg
  • CB Mike Bolden, leg
  • RB Alex Daniel, ankle (season)
  • DT Adam Hahn, foot
QUESTIONABLE
  • DT Jack DiNardo, knee

Hahn is the only projected starter from the group, and both he and Bolden, a second-stringer, are expected to return at some point. Daniel's injury hurts the depth at running back a bit, and Northwestern looks a little thin at defensive tackle for the opener.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Leave it to Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan, to use a baseball reference to describe the keys to a good defense. 

"It's important to have a great catcher, pitcher and center fielder," Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

Translated to the football field, that means having formidable defensive tackles, a productive middle linebacker and two do-it-all safeties. When Fitzgerald surveys Northwestern's depth chart, he likes what he has at those spots. 

Though standout tackle John Gill departs, the Wildcats return three veteran interior linemen in Marshall Thomas, Adam Hahn and Corbin Bryant, who started eight games last fall before a knee injury ended his season at Michigan.

Like All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootton, who tore several ligaments in his knee in the Alamo Bowl, Bryant faced a long rehab process but is 100 percent for camp.

"We're like the anchors of the defense," Bryant said of the defensive tackles. "It goes through us. When they pass the ball, we have to get pressure on the quarterback so we can interceptions for [the defensive backs]. And then during the run, we have to be stout, we have to be tough up there. 

"We're going to be as solid as we were last year, if not even better."

Nate Williams returns at middle linebacker after starting the final six games last fall. Williams recorded 56 of his 66 tackles in the six games after taking over for the injured Malcolm Arrington. 

Next to Ohio State's Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, the Wildcats return one of the Big Ten's top pairs of safeties in Brendan Smith and Brad Phillips, both of whom have started two seasons. Phillips led the team with 109 tackles and three interceptions last year, while Smith recorded 82 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns, including the game-winner at Minnesota.

"The playmaking ability of Smitty and Brad is as good a tandem as anybody in this league," Fitzgerald said.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

They're baaaaack. Many of you who checked out colleague Heather Dinich's ACC position rankings asked when I'd be doing the same for the Big Ten. Well, Big Ten media days are done and we have a bit of a break before the first preseason practice begins Aug. 6 at Illinois. This seems like the perfect time to rank the positions heading into the season.

Defensive line is up first. There's only one elite group on paper, but no truly bad units, either. Really not much difference between Nos. 4-11.  

1. Ohio State -- The group has drawn comparisons to the 2002 line that helped Ohio State win a national title. Ohio State looks loaded at defensive end with Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Lawrence Wilson, a one-time starter who comes off of two major leg injuries. Gibson should have a big year after coming on strong late last fall. The tackles have been a bit iffy in recent years, but Doug Worthington boasts a ton of experience and should shore up the middle with Todd Denlinger, Dexter Larimore and Garrett Goebel.

2. Penn State -- Larry Johnson's body of work is simply too powerful to overlook, even though Penn State loses a lot from a group that led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally against the run (93.2 ypg). Jared Odrick is the Big Ten's most dominant interior defensive lineman, and he'll lead a group of promising young players. Hopes are extremely high for sophomore end Jack Crawford, and juniors Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore hold down the other end spot. Depth is a bit of a question, but Penn State should get a boost from a healthy Jerome Hayes. 

3. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are another team dealing with major personnel losses as four-year starting tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. But what Iowa loses inside, it makes up for on the edges with ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Clayborn recorded eight tackles for loss last year and should contend for All-Big Ten honors. It'll be interesting to see how Karl Klug and Mike Daniels adjust to playing more on the inside.

4. Northwestern -- A lot depends on Corey Wootton's durability after the senior defensive end tore his ACL in December. Wootton is probably the Big Ten's most versatile lineman, applying pressure to quarterbacks and also clogging pass lanes with his 6-foot-7 frame. Sophomore Vince Browne is primed for a big season at the other end spot. Replacing standout tackle John Gill won't be easy, but the Wildcats have veterans in Corbin Bryant, Marshall Thomas and Adam Hahn.

5. Wisconsin -- I'm taking a bit of a chance here, seeing how the Badgers lose three multiyear starters up front. But the line dominated Wisconsin's offseason program and boasts several exciting pieces, including Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt, who can play either end or tackle. O'Brien Schofield is a solid leader at defensive end, and young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu should blossom.     

6. Illinois -- The Illini lose their top four sacks leaders from last year, but they should be much better against the run, an area that really hurt the defense in 2008. With Josh Brent back in the fold, Illinois boasts arguably more depth at defensive tackle than any Big Ten team. Corey Liguet showed a lot of potential as a true freshman, and senior Sirod Williams returns from a torn ACL.  There are some questions at end aside from Doug Pilcher.

7. Michigan -- Senior end Brandon Graham should be the Big Ten's most dominant pass-rusher this fall, and if he gets some help from his teammates, he'll be even better. Michigan is very young elsewhere on the line but boasts a good deal of talent. Sophomores Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin showed promising signs in the spring, and it'll be interesting to see how much true freshman William Campbell gets on the field. 

8. Michigan State -- This is the only area of Michigan State's defense that doesn't wow me, but senior end Trevor Anderson leads a decent group. Anderson should build off of a nice junior season (8 sacks, 10.5 TFLs), but the Spartans need a second pass-rusher to emerge. Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw will be missed, and it'll be up to Colin Neely, Oren Wilson and others to fill the void. 

9. Minnesota -- The Gophers tied for the league lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose standout end Willie VanDeSteeg, who accounted for 10.5 of those sacks. Minnesota's strength is inside with senior tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small. If Cedric McKinley or someone else develops into a reliable pass-rusher, Minnesota should finish the year higher on the list.

10. Purdue -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finished the year much higher on the list, but there are quite a few questions entering the fall. The Boilers know what they have in end Ryan Kerrigan and tackle Mike Neal, but the other two spots are mysteries. There are high hopes for Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden, but I need to see more evidence in games before bumping up the Boilers.     

11. Indiana -- We all know the Hoosiers can rush the passer with standout ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. But can Indiana stop the run? There are some major question marks at defensive tackle entering preseason camp, and Bill Lynch needs a bona fide run-stopper to emerge. Junior tackle Deonte Mack needs to step up after missing spring ball with a hip injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern's post-spring depth chart is out, and there aren't too many revelations.

Senior Mike Kafka remains the top quarterback and junior Stephen Simmons the top running back. Sophomore Jeravin Matthews and redshirt freshman Alex Daniel are competing for the No. 2 running back spot, though I could see either player claiming the top job at some point.

The only significant change is senior wide receiver Zeke Markshausen moving into a starting job at inside receiver ahead of Charles Brown. Northwestern boasts good depth at superback (tight end/fullback), with Josh Rooks still the starter ahead of both Drake Dunsmore and Brendan Mitchell.

Position battles to watch include right tackle (Kurt Mattes or Desmond Taylor) and defensive tackle (Adam Hahn or Marshall Thomas or Jack DiNardo). The starting linebacker corps appears set, though Northwestern might want to take a look at Matthews as a kickoff return man alongside Simmons and Sherrick McManis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The sun was shining, AC/DC had been cranked up and Northwestern players gathered for the always entertaining "board drill" just as I rolled up to the practice field.

What perfect timing.

For those who don't know, the board drill is the ultimate display of testosterone. It calls for a series of offensive and defensive players to line up across from each other, separated by a board. The object is pretty simple: push the other guy back.

Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who absolutely loves this drill, determined the winners. Not surprisingly, the defense seemed to have the edge in Thursday's session. As "Thunderstuck" played in the background, cornerbacks Jordan Mabin and Mike Bolden, and defensive tackle Niko Mafuli won their board-drill matchups.

Other thoughts from Northwestern's hyped-up workout:

  • Running back is the team's biggest question after the loss of four-year starter Tyrell Sutton, and junior Stephen Simmons took most of the reps with the first team. Simmons performed well during team drills, showcasing his skills as both a runner and a receiver, much like Sutton did. He caught several screen passes and had a 15-yard touchdown run during the red zone work.
  • Redshirt freshman Alex Daniel is a bit banged up, so sophomore Jeravin Matthews got a lot of work at running back with the second-team offense. Matthews, one of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, moves over from wide receiver and brings top-end speed to the backfield.
  • Projected starting quarterback Mike Kafka looked good to me, firing several passes to senior Andrew Brewer, the starting slot receiver who might finally be ready to be a No. 1 target. I heard after the workout that Kafka wasn't thrilled with his performance, but I didn't see too many mistakes. He hit Brewer on a deep out route early in team drills and had a touchdown run late in the workout.
  • Quarterback Dan Persa got a lot of work and looked very strong both on throws and as a runner. Persa made a nice throw to Zeke Markshausen on a post route and hit superback Brendan Mitchell for a touchdown during the red zone portion.
  • It's no secret that the defense will be the strength of this team once again this fall. Though All-American candidate Corey Wootton watched from the sideline -- he's recovering from ACL surgery -- several players stood out. Senior safety Brendan Smith recovered a fumble against the second-team offense, and cornerbacks Mabin and Sherrick McManis both broke up passes.
  • Northwestern will be deep in the secondary, and Brian Peters, who was very active Thursday, provides a third option at safety behind Smith and Brad Phillips. Ben Johnson also has generated some buzz at linebacker, as well as Jack DiNardo at defensive tackle.
  • Athletic director Jim Phillips stopped by to chat about a variety of topics. He plans to meet Chicago Cubs chairman Crane Kenney and several architects in the next few weeks at Wrigley Field to determine whether the field is large enough to accommodate a college football game. If so, Phillips said Northwestern definitely will play a late-season game at the Friendly Confines, most likely in 2010 or 2011. He wants to have enough time to promote the game and ensure all the logistics are in place at a stadium that hasn't held a football game since 1970.
  • Phillips also said a new contract/extension for Fitzgerald is "No. 1 on my to-do list." Conversations are under way and going well, so expect something to be finalized before preseason camp in August.
  • Defensive tackle Adam Hahn hobbled onto the field on crutches with a large cast over his right foot. Hahn broke a bone in his foot the first week of spring ball and had surgery. D-line coach Marty Long doesn't expect him to be out long. Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and Wootton both are making progress following knee injury, with Bryant already starting to jog a bit.
  • The first-team offense: Mike Kafka at quarterback, Stephen Simmons at running back, Andrew Brewer at wide receiver, Sidney Stewart at wide receiver, Charles Brown at wide receiver, Kevin Frymire at wide receiver, Al Netter at left tackle, Doug Bartels at left guard, Ben Burkett at center, Keegan Grant at right guard and Kurt Mattes at right tackle. Desmond Taylor, a candidate to start at right tackle, is out for the spring with an injury. When Northwestern used superbacks, Brendan Mitchell and Josh Rooks got most of the work.
  • The first-team defense (keep in mind several starters are injured): Vince Browne at defensive end, Kevin Watt at defensive end, Jack DiNardo at defensive tackle, Marshall Thomas at defensive tackle, Ben Johnson at linebacker, Nate Williams at linebacker, Chris Jeske at linebacker, Sherrick McManis at cornerback, Jordan Mabin at cornerback, Brendan Smith at safety, Brian Peters at safety.
  • Jeske's work with the first-team defense is notable. He came to Northwestern as a blue-chip recruit but endured recurring back problems that have kept him on the field. Linebacker is the one thin position on the defense, so Jeske could provide a major boost.
  • After a play finished a little too close to where we were standing on the sideline, Fitzgerald ordered all spectators to the bleachers overlooking the practice field. The coach then came over and singled me out, joking that he didn't want to pay ESPN's insurance bill if I went down. Thanks, Fitz.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Update your depth charts, people.

NORTHWESTERN

Backup quarterback Mike Kafka is expected to be fine for Saturday's regular-season finale against Illinois after sustaining a concussion in the win at Michigan.

The news isn't so good for defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury that will require surgery. Junior Adam Hahn, a two-year starter at defensive tackle, will get the start against the Illini.

OHIO STATE

Junior wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small might be able to play Saturday against Michigan (ABC, noon ET), head coach Jim Tressel said today. Small has been suspended for the last two games for repeated violations of team rules. After the suspension, Small's father told several media outlets that Ray would have a chance to return for the Michigan game.

Tressel expects running back Chris "Beanie" Wells to be fine for the game after the star junior tweaked his hamstring on a highlight-reel leap over Illinois' Donsay Hardeman in Saturday's win. Nickel back Jermale Hines (leg) is the only Buckeyes player to miss the game because of injury.

WISCONSIN

Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Jefferson likely will miss Saturday's game against Cal-Poly after sustaining a concussion in the win against Minnesota. This comes as no surprise, as Jefferson was briefly knocked unconscious and taken from the field in an ambulance.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema expects starting right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel (leg), starting safety Jay Valai (shin) and backup running back Zach Brown (ribs) all to be available for Cal-Poly.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I've never played this much attention to another man's foot, much less his toes. But Beanie Wells' right foot dominated the Big Ten headlines on Labor Day. No matter how this turns out, Buckeyes fans have to be a bit concerned about Wells' growing injury history. For a guy who is 237 pounds and freaking huge up close, Wells seems to have a lot of ailments.

Here's a quick look around the league this afternoon as several teams released their Week 2 depth charts.

  • Columbus Dispatch beat writers Ken Gordon and Tim May weigh in on the Beanie brouhaha, agreeing that the Buckeyes have no business playing Wells against Ohio. It might even force the coaches to think more creatively before the USC game.
  • Wells remains as the starting running back on the Week 2 depth chart (page 11) ahead of redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron. Defensive tackle Nader Abdallah is still listed before Doug Worthington, who sat out the first three quarters against Youngstown State, presumably as a punishment for his DUI.
  • Purdue's depth chart for Saturday's opener against Northern Colorado shows Greg Orton, Keith Smith and Brandon Whittington as the starting wide receivers. Junior college transfer Aaron Valentin is listed behind Whittington, while fellow JUCO transfer Arsenio Curry isn't on the two-deep, but plenty of wideouts will play, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier. Keep an eye on strong safety Dwight Mclean, who won a starting safety spot opposite Torri Williams and could provide a big boost for the Boilers secondary.
  • Standout defensive tackle John Gill is listed as a starter on Northwestern's Week 2 depth chart (page 8) after being suspended for the opener against Syracuse. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's message clearly got through to Gill, who last week was named defensive practice player of the week, a distinction that usually goes to younger players still proving themselves. Gill's replacement against Syracuse, sophomore Corbin Bryant, turned in an impressive performance and is now pushing incumbent Adam Hahn for the other starting spot. Offensive lineman Desmond Taylor continues to make strides and is listed as a potential starter at both right guard and right tackle.
  • Michigan's depth chart (page 11) didn't change much at the key positions, as both Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet are listed as possible starters at quarterback and freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw are the same at running back. Linebacker Marell Evans is making a push for a starting outside linebacker spot, and freshman wideout Darryl Stonum finds himself in the mix at two receiver positions (X and Z). The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg is convinced Threet should start against Miami (Ohio).
  • Starting fullback Chris Pressley will be back for Wisconsin this week against Marshall, and tight end Travis Beckum practiced Sunday and could return. But defenders Jonathan Casillas and Aaron Henry still are a bit away from seeing the field, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
  • Penn State's matchup against Oregon State is by far the best Big Ten game this weekend, and it might not even be that great if the Beavers don't upgrade their run defense, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- It starts with simple footwork, a six-inch step Northwestern defensive end Kevin Mims knows he needs to execute on every snap this fall.

Last season, in an effort to get Northwestern's underachieving defense on track, the coaches kept changing the footwork, the formations and the philosophies. When Mike Hankwitz took over the unit this winter, he brought a clear philosophy, one shaped at six previous stops as a defensive coordinator. 

"We were trying to make stuff work [last year], so we kept changing things up," Mims said. "But coach Hank came in and said, 'This is what we're doing,' and we're really excited about that. We get to come off with the same six-inch step every time, coming off and tackling the guy. Be attacking all the time instead of having some other stuff going on. It's really nice to have a focused point of attack." 

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Hankwitz, "brings a confidence to our defense."

"His resume speaks for itself," Mims said. "He has that national championship ring [with Colorado in 1990], he has all that experience, so there's no way we shouldn't listen to him." 

Despite having six defensive linemen with previous starting experience, Northwestern finished 10th in the Big Ten in sacks with only 18 last fall. The defense struggled to execute blitzes and finish off sacks, and it repeatedly got gashed for big plays, particularly in lopsided losses to Ohio State and Illinois.

Hankwitz, who spent the last two seasons as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator, is known for zone blitzing schemes that sprinkle in man blitzes. Though he'll shape his scheme around the new personnel, the goal is greater aggression. 

"Whether you're extremely quick or not, you still have to stunt to be disruptive," Hankwitz said. "In the spring I was trying to get a good feel of our personnel, but we still taught our things. This fall, we'll try to utilize the guys that are best blitzers, the best stunters, and put them in that role."

Hankwitz has been impressed with junior end Corey Wootton and senior tackle John Gill, who is suspened for the season opener. He's finally getting a live look at Mims and tackle Adam Hahn, who were injured this spring, and likes the line depth provided by Marshall Thomas, Corbin Bryant, Jack DiNardo and Vince Browne.

"I like our kids," he said. "We're going to make the best of what we have. We'd all like to have an All-American at every position, but we're not going to have that. But I like our attitude."

The players' ability to pick up the scheme could allow Hankwitz to call more defensive audibles this fall, but he doesn't want his defenders "too cerebral" where they outthink themselves on the field.

Safety Brendan Smith looks forward to the prospect of more blitzing this fall, but the players first have to earn Hankwitz's trust. 

"Every coach has blitzes and those schemes in their playbook," Smith said, "but if the players aren't playing fast and getting to the quarterback, then you look bad and then [opponents] are throwing it deep because there's not enough guys. So you've got to cut those out. But we have players that want to make plays and want to play fast. It gives coach the opportunity to open up his full playbook." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
 Pat Fitzgerald took over a tough situation, but sees improvement from his squad regularly.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Northwestern football office is filled with memories from Pat Fitzgerald's playing career. Visitors are immediately greeted by one of his National Defensive Player of the Year trophies, and a display case several feet away holds several other awards given to the former Northwestern linebacker, who headlined the 1995 Rose Bowl team. More items are on the way when Fitzgerald gets enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame next summer.

The Hall of Fame selection provided Fitzgerald the chance to reflect on his on-field accomplishments, but his focus has switched back to his current responsibilities. He wants to bring more hardware to Evanston, this time as a head coach. Northwestern underachieved in 2007, falling short of a bowl game, and Fitzgerald's missteps cost the team at times. Fitzgerald's legacy a player is undeniable, but he still has plenty to prove as a coach. No longer the novice who took over following the sudden death of Randy Walker, Fitzgerald understands the significance of this season.

After a family vacation to Florida during which he did not get a tan -- impossible, he claims -- Fitzgerald sat down last week to discuss the Hall of Fame, the upcoming season, his two new coordinators and his evolution as a coach.

How has your life changed since being selected for the Hall of Fame?

Pat Fitzgerald: (laughs) I don't know if it's changed at all. It's an incredible, humbling honor. Someone asked me what it meant to be on the ballot. I think it just shows how strong of a football team we had. My career in the NFL was not very long, probably the shortest of anybody being enshrined this year. So I look back to what we accomplished here and I look at this honor, and it's my name, but it's more of our team that's going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

You're obviously asked about that team a lot, but did this make you reminisce about it even more?

PF: As you get a little bit older, you look back at that time in your life and you really appreciate the experiences you went through and the people you were with. For me, still living it every day, still being here every day, I think about it almost daily. We had a little milestone with the 10-year reunion the last couple years, and hopefully for some of my teammates, this opportunity to celebrate our team will be an opportunity to reconnect again.

Given all the places you've been and the experiences you've have since then, does the Rose Bowl feel like a long time ago?

PF: Yeah, it does. So much has changed, not only for myself, but a lot of my teammates. Most of them are married now, most of them have children, so we've all taken another step in our lives, milestone-wise. It seems a little distant now. We need to get back.

Coaches talk about finding their voice. Do you think you've found your voice now more than before?

PF: I'm more set on what I want. Looking back to Year 1, there were things I felt strongly about, but now as we've gone through a couple years of it, I'm very confident in what I want to have. I'm excited about this year. We've got a lot of experience coming back, a lot of guys that have been around me and know what I expect. I think I'm doing a better job of articulating that.

With (quarterback) C.J. (Bacher), what's been the biggest difference in him, leadership-wise, from when he took over as the starter?

PF: He's confident. He's kind of run the whole gamut you go through at quarterback. He was the backup, watched a great player (Brett Basanez) have a great end to his career, got hurt, had to battle his way to a starting job, won it, we didn't have success, then got us to bowl eligibility last year, was not satisfied with that. Now he's poised to have a great year. He's worked hard, he's strong. I'm encouraged with where he's at.

Mick (McCall) is his third offensive coordinator in four years. How did it go with those two in spring practice?

PF: Mick came in with some automatic credibility to the development of two All-American quarterbacks (Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs) while he was at (Bowling Green). So C.J. was excited to work with a coach like that. Not that things weren't going great with Garrick (McGee), but to have this opportunity and to watch the job C.J. did, learning and growing, giving extra time to get to know coach McCall better, I'm excited where that relationship is right now.

Will fans notice dramatic differences with what you do on offense with Mick calling plays?

PF: Mick is smart enough and our offensive staff has got a good dynamic where they're not going to ask C.J. to do things he doesn't do very well and put him in an area where he's strong. I don't think it'll be dramatic. Will there be some nuances? Yeah.

More dramatic on the defensive side?

PF: Hopefully in being a little bit more successful, but from a scheme standpoint, we're trying to attack and be more aggressive. What does that mean? As we solidify that top 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 guys, what do they do best? I would assume we'll be four-down most of the year, based on where we're at health-wise right now and the strength of our defensive line. But who ends up being that nickel guy? Do we keep two linebackers in? Do we keep one linebacker in? Is it a corner? Is it a safety? Those are all left to be determined. But Mike Hankwitz has run just about everything you can run, so the flexibility in our system will give us an opportunity to be successful.

How beneficial has having him around been for you, as a young head coach?

PF: Both him and Mick. Mick's been a former head coach for a number of years, and for me, it's great to have those two guys in the room. I like being in a staff room where there's not a bunch of yes-men, where anything I say, they bobblehead, 'Yeah, yeah.' That's what I enjoyed the most about the spring, the challenge of being able to say, 'Do you have any ideas? We did this a certain way.' And they say, 'Well, OK, we did that a couple years ago, too.' To talk through those things, the growth that happens is tremendous.

Who needs to step up on that side of the ball?

PF: The experiences we had there are going to hopefully make us a better defense. You think of the experience up front, Corey Wootton being a multi-year starter, John Gill being a multi-year starter, Adam Hahn being a multi-year starter, Kevin Mims, as we sit here today, being a multi-year starter. And they're being pushed every day by the Vincent Brownes and the Corbin Bryants and the Marshall Thomases. I'm excited about that group, but that group needs to step up. We had good pressure last year. Now we need to finish the job. That's kind of indicative of our whole team. We had some games that we need to finish the job in and we didn't and stayed home for the holidays. At linebacker, Malcolm Arrington had a very solid spring. In the secondary, I'll rattle off more names than we've ever rattled off. (Brendan) Smith coming back off
injury and (Brad) Phillips, two guys that have made a lot of plays for us. They're going to be pushed by David Arnold, who we were going to play as a freshman but then got a little banged up. Same thing with Brian Peters. At corner, Sherrick (McManis) is being pushed by (Jordan) Mabin and (Mike) Bolden and then on the other side, you've got (David) Oredugba and (Justan) Vaughn fighting it out for a starting job. That's six names at corner. We've never had six names at corner of guys I feel confident about. We need to figure out which 11 pieces fit.

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