Big Ten: Andrew Green

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
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Nebraska returns senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and most of the firepower from the Big Ten's top offense in 2012. Most believe the Huskers' season hinges on a young, inconsistent defense under the guidance of coordinator John Papuchis and head coach Bo Pelini.

The Blackshirts finished fourth nationally in pass defense and ninth in pass efficiency defense in 2012, but they struggled against the run (90th nationally) and hemorrhaged points in Nebraska's four losses, surrendering 63 to Ohio State, 70 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 45 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska must replace all three starting linebackers and its top pass-rusher, Eric Martin, among others. The Huskers return an experienced secondary led by nickelback Ciante Evans.

ESPN.com caught up with Papuchis earlier this month to discuss the state of the Nebraska defense.

After looking at the unit during spring practices, what were some of your big takeaways from their performance?

John Papuchis: That's an interesting question because what I've been doing the last couple weeks is going back and looking at our spring cutups. One thing that jumped out to me, after having a little bit of time away from it, was that we improved pretty significantly and steadily as the spring went on. From the first practice to the 14th practice leading up to the spring game, we were much crisper in our alignments and understanding our assignments, we played faster. There was just a lot of development that took place over the course of those 14 practices. We're a young group, and we're going to need all 29 practices before we kick it off against Wyoming.

[+] EnlargeJohn Papuchis
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJohn Papuchis knows his defense will need to be better against the run after finishing 90th in the nation last season.
Were there specific areas or groups where you saw the most improvement, or was it across the board?

JP: Each position group has its own learning curve. Defensive line, we are relatively young, so for a lot of those guys, it was their first opportunity to really get coached. Where I saw the improvement had more to do with technique than it ever had to do with scheme. They had a pretty good feel of the scheme; it's a little bit simpler in terms of what they're asked to execute. Linebacker, another young group, and where I really saw their improvement was just better understanding of alignment and where they fit in the run game and the pass game. And then in the secondary, where we are a little bit more mature, Ciante Evans, Stanley Baptiste, Mo Seisay, Harvey Jackson, Corey Cooper, where I really saw those guys make a jump is just a better feel of the nuances of the defense. They were kind of a little bit ahead, the linebackers and D-line, and they showed improvement as spring went on, but it was kind of Level 2 and Level 3 improvement, as opposed to just the basics.

Who do you look for to be leaders up front and with the linebackers, and how much competition do you anticipate with those groups?

JP: There's going to be a ton of competition, and that's going to be a good thing for us. Really since I've been here, the way things have fallen, a lot of times going into camp, you have a pretty good idea of who your core guys are going to be. And although we have an idea right now, there are some spots that need to be ironed out. In terms of leadership, Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle across the front. Both of those guys are fifth-year seniors and have been in the program a long time. Jason has started and played a lot of games for us. Thad has been a little nicked up the last two years. But both of them have done a nice job of being leaders through the offseason.

Linebacker, we're young, but the one guy who has some pretty good playing experience is David Santos. He's done a good job of taking that leadership role. And another guy who has been in the program for a while and has played on special teams, and has always been one play away from having a more significant role is Trevor Roach. He's done a nice job of being a leader and more of a veteran guy with that group.

(Read full post)

Nebraska's defensive players enter their first game week feeling good vibes.

"Our confidence is high," senior linebacker Will Compton told ESPN.com. "And I think it's only going to get higher as the days go on."

All offseason, the Cornhuskers have talked about having a better understanding of the scheme and principals on defense, of communicating better and working together more. That, they believe, will lead to a much stronger performance from the Blackshirts than the disappointing showing of 2011.

[+] EnlargeWill Compton
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWill Compton is looking to help Nebraska's defense regain its swagger after struggling in 2011.
Nebraska's defense had better be ready. Because it doesn't get much time to ease into things.

The season begins Saturday against Southern Miss, a team that averaged nearly 37 points per game a year ago. Week 2 brings a road trip to UCLA, followed by a visit from Arkansas State, which is now coached by former Arkansas and Auburn offensive whiz Gus Malzahn. September ends with a showdown against Wisconsin, which hung 48 points on Nebraska last season in Madison.

"We are going to get challenged right out of the gate," Compton said.

The Huskers think they're up to the challenge more than last year's defense was. Despite leaving the generally more offensive-minded Big 12, Nebraska's defensive numbers took a major tumble. To wit:

2009: 272 yards allowed per game (seventh in the FBS); 10.4 points allowed per game (first)

2010: 306.8 ypg (11th); 17.4 ppg (ninth)

2011: 350.7 (37th); 23.4 ppg (42nd)

So what has changed? More knowledge and more attention to detail. Better depth up front on the defensive line. And more experience at safety, a crucial spot in Bo Pelini's scheme.

"It's a much more mature group," first-year defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "Guys like Daimion Stafford, Ciante Evans, Andrew Green were in their first year of playing last year. Another year in the system gives them a greater understanding of their roles.

"Right know, our knowledge of what we're asking our guys to do is at a greater level, and we're able to progress further along in our package than we were a year ago."

It is also a defense that, at least going into the season, lacks stars. Last year's team had Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard as the defensive headliners. These Huskers don't have a single player who was a first- or second-team All-Big Ten performer on defense in 2011. But they don't expect to be a no-name defense for long.


"These guys will certainly be better well-known through their play this year," Papuchis said. "Daimion Stafford, Ciante Evans, Will Compton, Jason Ankrah -- these guys are on the cusp of being the names people identify with and recognize.

"But at the end of the day, I believe this is a very unselfish defensive unit. I don't believe that they're worried about individual recognition and who the stars are. They want to go out there as a group and play the best defense they can. I don't think anybody needs to be the star to do that."

Pelini called Compton the unquestioned leader of the defense this summer. Papuchis said leaders at other positions have emerged this month, including Stafford in the secondary and seniors Baker Steinkuhler and Cameron Meredith on the defensive line.

Leadership could be key early as Nebraska deals with some unknowns. Southern Miss has a new head coach in Ellis Johnson, a new starting quarterback and a new offensive coordinator in Steve Buckley, who spent the previous five years as a high school coach. Huskers coaches have prepared by watching all kinds of different film, including high school games, but they expect surprises.

"You're going to see some things that we haven't seen before, and we have to be ready to make adjustments on the fly," Pelini said Monday.


Compton has seen evidence of his team's ability to do just that in preseason practice. He said the defense has done a great job of getting off the field on third downs and readjusting if it does give up a third-down conversion. In doing that and communicating on the field, he said, the Blackshirts have "made a big jump."


Nebraska's defense is eager to show that last year was a blip and that this is another dominant unit. They'll get the chance to prove themselves in September.



"We need to take care of business our first couple of games," Compton said. "It's on us to do so. We need to make a statement early."

We're nearing the end of our Big Ten position rankings, and it's time to finish up the defense rundowns with a look at the secondaries. Let's start off with the unit rankings.

As a reminder, we're basing these mostly on last year's performance and who returns, along with potential for the 2012 season.

The top four groups could be very good, while the next five have question marks but potential. Even the bottom three groups have realistic opportunities to make strides this fall.

Let's get rolling ...

[+] EnlargeJohnny Adams
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireJohnny Adams should help make Michigan State tough to beat through the air in 2012.
1. Michigan State: The Big Ten's most formidable defense once again should be very strong in the back four. Although All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson departs, Michigan State returns its other three starters, led by standout cornerback Johnny Adams. Some project Adams as a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Safety Isaiah Lewis could have a breakout season, and the Spartans have recruited well here to build good depth.

2. Ohio State: The defensive line has bigger names and more hype, but the secondary might turn out to be Ohio State's best unit in 2012. The Buckeyes bring back all four starters, including arguably the league's top cornerback tandem in Bradley Roby and Travis Howard. Expect Roby to take another big step as a sophomore. Hard-hitting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant return, and Ohio State can go two- or three-deep at most positions.

3. Michigan: This group has come a very long way from the Rich Rodriguez era and should be the strength of Michigan's defense in 2012. Safety Jordan Kovacs is an excellent leader who blossomed in Greg Mattison's system last fall. The Wolverines also boast a promising cornerback tandem in J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess, and have good overall depth at both corner and safety.

4. Nebraska: While the Huskers lose the Big Ten's top defensive back in Alfonzo Dennard, they should have greater overall depth and the potential for new stars to emerge. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford leads the group, and P.J. Smith provides a veteran presence at the other safety spot. Nebraska is loaded with options at cornerback, including the improved Andrew Green and juco arrival Mohamed Seisay. New assistant Terry Joseph should get a lot out of this group.

5. Purdue: The rankings already have mentioned some good cornerback tandems, and Purdue adds another in Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson. They've combined for 48 career starts, and Allen has led the team with three interceptions in each of the past two seasons. Max Charlot returns at safety after recording 41 tackles in 2011, but there are some question marks around him.

6. Illinois: Terry Hawthorne rarely gets mentioned as one of the Big Ten's top defensive backs, but he should. The senior has been a natural playmaker throughout his career and will lead Illinois' secondary in 2012. Senior Justin Green brings experience to the other corner spot. Although the Illini return both of their starting safeties -- Steve Hull and Supo Sanni -- they need more consistency from that position this fall.

7. Wisconsin: The Badgers lose a key player at both cornerback (Antonio Fenelus) and safety (Aaron Henry), but they have a chance to improve upon last year's performance and rise up these rankings. They'll undoubtedly benefit from the return of cornerback Devin Smith from injury. Head coach Bret Bielema doesn't downplay what Smith's absence meant last season. The Badgers need more consistency out of projected starters Dezmen Southward and Marcus Cromartie.

8. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have a nice piece to build around in playmaking senior cornerback Micah Hyde, but they'll need more after a so-so season in 2011. Tanner Miller returns as a starter at safety, and hopes are high for junior B.J. Lowery at the other corner spot. Iowa's depth looks better at corner than it does at safety.

9. Penn State: Most see the secondary as Penn State's weak link, to which Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris say, "Bring it on." Still, the Lions have questions to address after losing all four starters from the 2011 team. Morris, Willis and sophomore Adrian Amos all have been in the fire a bit, but Penn State needs them to take steps and remain on the field. Depth is a significant concern after the offseason departures of Curtis Drake and Derrick Thomas.

10. Minnesota: This is a bit of a projection pick, but I like Minnesota's potential to take a step forward in the secondary this fall. The biggest reason for optimism is cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who returns for a fifth year after missing most of last season with a foot injury. Stoudermire was on track for a big year before the injury. Cornerback Michael Carter had a strong spring and could finally reach his potential. The bigger concerns here come at the safety spots.

11. Northwestern: Three starters depart from a secondary that struggled to stop anyone and endured major communication breakdowns far too often in 2011. Northwestern is younger in the back four, but it also could be more talented this season. Sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell comes off of a 100-tackle season, and cornerback Nick VanHoose impressed during the spring. A few veterans return, but the coaches can't be afraid to go with the youth movement here.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers finished eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense last fall, but only because teams had their way with IU on the ground. Indiana surrendered a league-high 26 pass touchdowns and only recorded five interceptions. There's hope, though, as the Hoosiers return three starters, including top cover man Lawrence Barnett. If Mark Murphy and Greg Heban make strides, and some newcomers help right away, Indiana could be decent in the back four.

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
8:30
AM ET
2011 record: 9-4
2011 conference record: 5-3 (third, Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Kenny Bell, TE Ben Cotton, DT Baker Steinkuhler, DE Cameron Meredith, LB Will Compton, S Daimion Stafford, K/P Brett Maher

Key losses

LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DT Jared Crick, S Austin Cassidy, C Mike Caputo, WR Brandon Kinnie, T Marcel Jones

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rex Burkhead* (1,357 yards)
Passing: Taylor Martinez* (2,089 yards)
Receiving: Kenny Bell* (461 yards)
Tackles: Lavonte David (133)
Sacks: Lavonte David (5.5)
Interceptions: Austin Cassidy and Lavonte David (2)

Spring answers

1. Secondary makes strides: Although Nebraska's defensive backfield loses a key piece in Alfonzo Dennard, the sense coming out of the spring is that the Huskers will have more overall depth in the secondary this season. Details were a theme for the entire defense, but especially for the secondary, and new coach Terry Joseph frequently tested his players on their responsibilities. Players like cornerback Andrew Green had a strong spring, and the Huskers look pretty solid at safety with Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith. Juco addition Mohammed Seisay increases the competition at cornerback.

2. More weapons emerging: Coordinator Tim Beck wants to be a more balanced offense this fall, and he should have the weapons to upgrade the passing attack. Nebraska returns all but one major contributor at receiver, as well as veteran tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed. Kenny Bell showed impressive spurts last season and should build on his performance this fall. Quincy Enunwa is another nice piece, and Tim Marlowe provides a veteran presence. If Jamal Turner polishes his blocking, he should see increased opportunities on the field.

3. Ready and Will-ing: The Huskers acknowledged their depth issues at linebacker during their Big Ten transition, but they aren't worried about finding a leader at the position. Senior middle linebacker Will Compton has stepped forward and taken a proactive approach toward leadership. Compton, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2011, is a heady player who understands the defense and can motivate others. He'll help fill the production void left by standout Lavonte David.

Fall questions

1. Taylor Martinez: The Huskers quarterback was the talk of spring ball after he spent the winter -- and his spring break -- working on his footwork and his throwing mechanics. Martinez received good marks from his coaches, and he seemed more comfortable as he'll operate the same offense in consecutive seasons for the first time in his college or high school career. But the junior still has a lot to prove as a passer after completing just 56.3 percent of his attempts in 2011 and often looking unsettled in the pocket.

2. Defensive line rotation: Head coach Bo Pelini likes the potential of the defensive line, but injuries slowed several key players this spring. The Huskers should go four deep at defensive end, but they'll need to solidify the interior line alongside veteran Baker Steinkuhler. Players like Chase Rome, who saw action last fall following Jared Crick's injury, and Thaddeus Randle should be healthy entering fall camp and need good performances.

3. Linebacker depth: Compton has the middle on lock down, and Buck linebacker Sean Fisher is healthy and playing well, but the Huskers need more bodies in their defensive midsection. Junior-college transfer Zaire Anderson will be a key player to watch in fall camp as he should compete for field time right away. Whether Alonzo Whaley can land the starting weak-side spot remains to be seen, but Nebraska would be better off being able to go five or six deep at linebacker.
Nebraska boasts arguably the Big Ten's deepest running back corps, but the group just got a bit thinner.

Sophomore Aaron Green has decided to transfer, his father told multiple media outlets Sunday night. Green, a San Antonio native, likely will move closer to home and select a Big 12 program. Oklahoma and TCU are among his potential transfer destinations, according to his father, Tony.

From the Omaha World-Herald:
"He wasn't happy," Tony Green said. "He didn't feel that he fit into the system. He wants to get closer to home."

Green had 24 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2011, playing behind Nebraska's All-Big Ten back Rex Burkhead. Green seemed frustrated with his limited role, but he and classmate Ameer Abdullah logged most of the running back reps this spring as they competed to back up Burkhead in the fall. Both players drew praise from the coaching staff and likely would have received most of the carries in Nebraska's spring game, which was canceled because of bad weather.

"Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah have had really good springs," Huskers offensive coordinator Tim Beck told me this month. "They were just true freshmen last year, so they're another part of the recipe."

The recipe apparently left a sour taste for Green, who made his decision to transfer during spring practice, according to his father.

Green arrived at Nebraska as the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit in the 2011 class, ranked as the nation's No. 11 overall player in the ESPN 150. While he wouldn't have played ahead of Burkhead this fall, he and Abdullah seemed positioned to compete for the top job heading into 2013.

Green's older brother, Andrew, is a cornerback for the Huskers.

Nebraska still has decent depth at running back, although it moved Braylon Heard, who had 25 carries last season, to cornerback this spring. Heralded recruit Imani Cross joins the Huskers this summer, and fullback Mike Marrow, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, drew strong reviews this spring.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
5:30
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You can't handle the truth.

Perry the Platypus from Indianapolis writes: Curious as to why you and Brian seem to think MSU is clearly the best Big Ten team. I do agree they have the best defense, but from what I have heard thus far this spring, their offense is quite a bit behind their defense. UM has the best offense in the league, and one of the best defenses. In my opinion, UM is a more complete team than MSU, at least at this point in time. Obviously a lot of things can change before September. Why so much love for MSU, and not so much for UM?

Adam Rittenberg: Perry, I don't think there's way more love for one team over the other. The truth is not much separates Michigan State and Michigan entering the season. Both squads could be preseason top 10. Both should challenge for the Big Ten title. And the biggest game in the league very well could be Michigan State at Michigan on Oct. 20. The Spartans have some issues on offense, particularly at wide receiver, although it could be offset by a stronger rushing attack and a stronger commitment to the run. Michigan has the more potent offense. But if I had to pick one of the teams' four major units, I'd take Michigan State's defense. It's a dominant group filled with difference-makers. Michigan also could be strong on defense, but there are more question marks with the Wolverines, particularly in the front seven.

The other thing some Michigan fans have to think about is whether the Wolverines could be a better team with a worse record in 2011. The schedule is brutal, even more so than Michigan State's in 2011. While Michigan State doesn't have an easy path, either, few major-conference teams will be tested more than Michigan this fall.


Joe from St. Paul, Minn., writes: Minnesota QB Questions. Do you feel that Gray can get to the next level this year? If not, do you feel that Brewster not red shirting him was a huge issue with his development? Should the Gophers bring in Phillip Nelson sooner rather than later? Overall impression of Gopher QB situation and future. Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: MarQueis Gray should be much more comfortable in the offense this season. The question I have is whether he'll be surrounded by enough weapons to consistently attack defenses. Minnesota needs to build depth at wide receiver, running back and along the offensive line to really make that unit take the next step. While Gray's development as a quarterback was slowed by him playing so much wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore, the bigger factor is he had to learn new offenses every year. That's not the case entering the 2012 season, and while Gray has to improve his accuracy and pocket presence, he should have a much better feel of the system. Nelson is an intriguing prospect, but this is still Gray's team in 2012.


Lavar A from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Adam, Apparently Bill O'Brien has a laid out a fairly aggressive learning curve for his QB's a la the play book of the N E Pats. That said, it sounds like the PSU QB's aren't picking it up that quickly. Not really surprising. With that in mind and the fact that no team really wants to tip its hand, I suspect the passing (and play-calling in general) in the Blue-White game will be very vanilla. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Lavar A from Maryland? Hmmm ... Well, Lavar, your suspicions are correct. Here's what O'Brien recently told me about the Blue-White Game. "They said if it's a nice day, we'll get 85,000 in here," O'Brien said. "I hope those 85,000 people aren't expecting a whole lot, because I'm certainly not going to show a whole lot in that game. But we're going to be organized, we'll play hard, we'll play fast. But I wouldn't say it's going to be a dazzling show." He added that the game will be "very much of a business day" for the coaches and players. So while fans inevitably will make sweeping judgments about the quarterbacks, it's probably smart to look at the event for what it really is. From what I saw in State College, it's a work in progress for all three quarterbacks. But they did show some bright spots, and all three have strengths. It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out.


Joel from Bismarck, S.D., writes: You've mentioned any number of times Iowa's recruiting disadvantage by virtue of the location. I don't disagree, but looking at the team's roster what really jumps out to me is the number of Hawkeyes coming from Iowa City or nearby towns like Solon or Kalona. Maybe I'm reading the roster too selectively, as there are a number of other native Iowa players, but it jumps out at me just the same. I acknowledge that much of the state is rural, but with all respect to Iowa State and UNI, Iowa is "the" state school with fans all over the state. When I see the over-representation of local players I wonder if the staff is unnecessarily limiting itself by tapping them and possibly missing gems elsewhere in the state. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Joel, this is an interesting observation, but I don't think it shows a flawed approach to local recruiting. Iowa is going to miss on some in-state players, or not pursue some players hard enough, just like every team in the country. There are some players on Iowa State's roster who Kirk Ferentz would like to have. But Iowa can't compete for Big Ten championships solely with in-state talent. It needs to do well in the Chicago area. It needs to recruit St. Louis and neighboring states. And it probably needs a few studs from outside the region, which was the case for stars like Brad Banks (Florida) and Shonn Greene (New Jersey).


Ryan from Omaha, Neb., writes: Hey Adam, Nebraska not playing a spring game leaves somewhat of a mystery for Husker fans. The coaches have been saying Taylor Martinez has improved his throwing mechanics and we were going to get to see if he truly did. We won't find out until September now. We also won't know if Damion Stafford is having as good as an offseason as the coaches say he is and who else on the defense is stepping up. I am more interested in seeing how good our recievers have improved and how much better Andrew Green is. I also want to know more about Braylon Heard's move to cornerback. What is your take on Nebraska not playing game this year?

Adam Rittenberg: It's unfortunate for the fans, Ryan, but as I often say, these events are more for fans than they are for everyone else. The amount of absolute statements I hear from fans after watching a spring game -- where their team is intentionally trying to be as bland as possible -- is pretty comical. Yes, there have been times where players have big spring games and then turn out to be stars in the fall, but it's usually not the case. It's tough for folks to hear about Martinez's mechanics, or Stafford's and Green's strong spring, or the receivers' greater comfort, and not see it with their own eyes. It's why I'd encourage teams to put video clips of spring practices on their Web sites (many already do this), so fans can at least see a bit of what's happening. I don't fault Nebraska for canceling the game, as the risk doesn't outweigh the reward for the team. And while patience is tough for fans, it's the reality until September.


Craig from Bordentown, N.J., writes: "you'd have eight Big Ten squads with two or more "titles":"Adam, putting quotes on titles as you did here is unacceptably insulting. I don't care whether you don't like split titles, that's your opinion, but the rules are the rules. The titles were legitimately won. Teams don't control the rules within the season, the rules are what the rules are, and teams do their best to succeed within the parameters they're presented. It wasn't even within the B1G's control - The NCAA mandates we couldn't have a championship game until we had 12 teams. You ought to know this. To insult the championships that have been won simply because we had 11 teams, are you serious? You're a professional, try acting like it. Look Adam, you like what you like, but don't you dare insult teams for doing everything asked of them.

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, these are fair criticisms, although the "don't you dare" line made me laugh a little. Don't you dare have an opinion on a college football blog! Roar!!! Anyway, those championships are legitimate. They're in the record books and are mentioned on this blog when discussing a team's past. The question that prompted the response related to Nebraska in the Big 12 and how many titles it would have won in the Big Ten. My point is that by having a structure without a championship game, you have a lot of teams that can call themselves champions. That's fine. As you say, those were the rules at the time. I'm just thrilled that the Big Ten has a true championship game and one champion crowed every year, the way it should be in sports.


David from Hershey, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, I'm hoping to get your take on the Michigan offensive line. Around this Big Ten blog, it seems to be getting bashed. And I don't understand that. The depth is terrible, and that deserves to be pointed out. Also deserving pointing is the fact that the five starters may make the best starting OL in the conference (it could only be M or UW). Lewan is a probable All-American and four players on the line started last year. More yet, last year's offensive line was awesome. And, by the time the Class of 2012 arrives, last's year's OL will have had far worse depth yet. I'd like your opinion as to why the low opinions then? Please and thank you.

Adam Rittenberg: David, you bring up some good points. Michigan's starting line could be pretty darn good. Where it will rank in the Big Ten is tough to tell. Wisconsin will be good. Michigan State and Nebraska will be better up front. Penn State's offensive line also has been a "pleasant surprise" this spring, according to coach Bill O'Brien. Not sure about Lewan as a "probable All-American," but he should be in the All-Big Ten mix. I think any bashing or concerns expressed stem from Michigan losing All-American center David Molk. He shouldered a lot of responsibility in Al Borges' offense, and his presence and toughness will be missed. It will be an interesting group to monitor, but it has the potential to deliver another strong season.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- They can't be called pop quizzes because they happen every day.

When safety P.J. Smith and his fellow Nebraska defensive backs enter their meeting room each day, they know exactly what's coming.

"This is the first time we've ever taken tests," Smith told ESPN.com. "Since the season ended, we had a test every week. And now, since [defensive backs coach Terry Joseph] is here, we have a test every single day we get in the meeting room."

Joseph's exams typically contain three questions, which require short written responses. The players have two minutes to complete their choices, which is 119 seconds longer than they have during games in the fall. The players with the lowest grades at week's end typically have to clean the secondary room.

"He tries to put pressure on us," Smith said.

Pressure is one word to describe the theme of Nebraska's offseason, particularly on the defensive side. Details is another. So is accountability.

[+] EnlargeWill Compton
Troy Babbitt/US PresswireWith star LB Lavonte David gone, Nebraska will look to Will Compton to make an impact at the position.
The team ended the 2011 season with a thud, falling 30-13 to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. A defense that had entered the fall with a star-studded lineup -- tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were the headliners -- finished 42nd nationally in points allowed and 37th in yards allowed, significant drops in both categories from the previous season (ninth in points allowed, 11th in yards allowed). The Huskers' D received some A-level performances from David and Dennard, but the overall unit, aside from a few exceptions, wasn't exceptional.

Nebraska didn't generate enough pressure (84th in sacks, 112th in tackles for loss) and didn't really have a hallmark.

"Generally, we didn't make a ton of busts a year ago," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis, who coached the defensive line in 2011. "But it's the small details within each defense that make the difference between being a good defense and a great defense. At times, we showed signs of being a very good defense. And at other times, we didn't live up to the standard we have set for ourselves.

"And I think what held us back more than anything came into those details."

Papuchis and the other defensive assistants have spent the offseason stressing concepts rather than pure memorization. The how and the why became more important than the what and the who.

They "went back to square one," even with older players, and worked on terminology as an entire unit. Crick and other Nebraska players talked before last season about the uniqueness of their defense, how the scheme would help set the Huskers apart in a new league.

"There's not one defense that’s comparable to ours," Crick said. "Very complex, and that's what makes it unique. As a defensive lineman, I have five responsibilities, where other defensive linemen, all they've got to do is shoot their gap. We want it that way."

And it is different, as Nebraska uses a two-gap system not employed by most college teams. But because of several reasons -- the coaches point mainly to attention to detail -- the Huskers didn't enjoy a major schematic advantage.

"Our defense is kind of like learning how to study math," Papuchis said. "If you don't have a foundation, everything else after that won't make sense."

One issue Papuchis noticed with Nebraska's youngish secondary in 2011 was alignment. Players knew their responsibilities, but they would line up inside when they needed to be outside, or vice versa.

"What doesn't seem like a big deal, six inches one way or the other, makes all the difference in the world if they convert third-and-6," he said.

It's why Joseph tests them every day. Mistakes happen, Smith said, but Joseph wants the DBs to "make a new mistake. Don't make the same mistake."

Nebraska should have a more seasoned secondary in 2012, and Papuchis has been pleased this spring with Daimion Stafford, Ciante Evans, Andrew Green and Antonio Bell, among others. Linebacker Will Compton said the secondary is receiving extra attention this spring from both Papuchis and head coach Bo Pelini.

"We're getting back to some of the multiplicity we've had in the past," Pelini said. "I'm excited. I think we have a chance to be pretty good on defense."

There are different challenges for the other two groups on defense. The linebackers begin life without David, one of the nation's most productive defenders the past two seasons. Compton will lead the group, but depth is still a concern and will be for the next few years.

"We'll have guys very capable," Compton said. "It's about being a successful Will linebacker, not about being the next Lavonte David."

Nebraska has good depth at defensive end with Cameron Meredith, Jason Ankrah, Eric Martin and Joe Carter. And while the scheme stresses the need to prevent offensive linemen from reaching the second level, pass rushers could be turned loose more as Nebraska tries to generate more pressure.

New line coach Rick Kaczenski has brought an attacking style.

"Last year, we were a little bit passive," Meredith said. "Now offensive linemen at practice are telling us, 'You guys attack a lot more.'"

The linemen also are stressing accountability. If anyone is late for a meeting or another activity, the whole group runs or does Turkish get-ups.

"Everybody had a sour taste in how we finished up the season," Pelini said. "I said, 'Either you can talk about it or do something about it.' I think everybody around here has taken the attitude to raise their level of accountability.

"To get over the top, we've got to have a little bit more attention to detail, raise our standards that much more, raise our accountability that much more."

Big shoes to fill: Nebraska

February, 14, 2012
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As we tick off the days toward spring practice, we're taking a look at how each Big Ten team will replace key players on their depth charts. We're picking two departed players who left big shoes to fill and identifying who might be ready to do that filling.

Up today is Nebraska, which has two rather large sets of empty cleats to occupy from the defensive side.

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireNebraska has 133 tackles to replace now that linebacker Lavonte David has graduated.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Lavonte David, LB

Why: There was arguably no more valuable defensive player in the Big Ten last year than David, an All-American and Butkus finalist who led the Huskers with 133 tackles. When Nebraska needed a big stop, David was usually the guy to provide it. The front seven for Bo Pelini underachieved in some ways in 2011, and David was easily the team's most consistent player on that side of the ball. David made up for a lack of overwhelming size with his speed, tackling ability and instincts for the game. And his top two listed backups at weakside linebackers were also seniors.

Replacement candidates: Sean Fisher (6-6, 235, Sr.), David Santos (6-0, 205, RFr.), Alonzo Whaley (6-1, 235, Sr.), Zaire Anderson (6-1, 220, incoming junior college transfer), Jared Afalava (6-3, 215, incoming freshman), Michael Rose (6-0, 225, incoming freshman), Thomas Brown (6-2, 210, incoming freshman)

The skinny: Nebraska brought in four linebackers in this year's recruiting class to fill some holes at the position. Fisher has been held back by injuries and inconsistency and is built more like a defensive end. Santos could be ready to make an impact after redshirting. Anderson is a well-regarded junior-college signee, just as David was two years ago. Rose and Brown are viewed more as inside linebackers, but nothing is set in stone. The Huskers hope someone from this wide pool of candidate announces himself this spring.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Alfonzo Dennard, CB

Why: When healthy and on point, Dennard was the best lock-down cornerback in the Big Ten last season. Though he had a few lapses, like in the Michigan and South Carolina games, he also shut out Michigan State star B.J. Cunningham in a big win over the Spartans. Getting great play from the cornerback spot is a key part of Nebraska's defensive scheme.

Replacement candidates: Daniel Davie (6-1, 185, RFr.), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-3, 220, Jr.), Ciante Evans (5-11, 185, Jr.), Mohammed Seisay (6-1, 200, incoming junior college transfer), Corey Cooper, (6-1, 210, Soph.).

The skinny: Someone will have to make a major leap forward in order to match Dennard's performance level. Evans and Jean-Baptiste saw plenty of time last year as backups, though Evans seemed more suited as a nickel back and the rangy Jean-Baptiste is still learning the position after an in-season switch from wide receiver. Cooper started a game at corner against Wyoming but was then moved to safety. Seisay and Davie will each have an opportunity to prove they're up to the challenge. The other hope for Nebraska is that returning starter Andrew Green raises his game to the point where he becomes the next dominant Huskers cornerback.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
12:00
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Lunch links roasting on an open fire ...
Nebraska's defense could use a boost from a star player after a lackluster Week 3 showing against Fresno State.

Whether cornerback Alfonzo Dennard can provide one remains to be seen.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini isn't sure whether Dennard will make his season debut Saturday against Washington. Dennard has been sidelined since the middle of training camp with a pulled leg muscle.

Pelini on Monday said Dennard remains ahead of schedule in his recovery but that the injury requires 6-8 weeks of rehab and he's probably in week 5 of that process.

"He's as good a corner as there is in the country, so obviously that’s going to affect you some," Pelini said. "You've got to deal with that at different times in different spots. Other guys have got to step up."

While Dennard adds a shut-down corner to Nebraska's secondary, he also brings tremendous value as a run defender, as the Omaha World-Herald's Sam McKewon writes.

Fresno State racked up 190 rush yards and 444 total yards in a 42-39 loss.

From McKewon's story:
Last year, Husker safeties rolled down into run support with ferocity. Eric Hagg, Dennard and Prince Amukamara allowed them to. The gulf between those three and Ciante Evans, Andrew Green and [Justin] Blatchford alters how NU's defense must play. Washington, Wisconsin and even Ohio State will see how Fresno emptied the box and then attacked it with power.

Pelini described the play of the Dennard-less cornerback corps as "average."

"When we play technique, we're pretty good," he said. "When we get away from our technique, we're not very good."

Pelini added of the entire unit: "I don't think we handled anything well defensively. We didn't play well."

I wouldn't want to be around Pelini or his brother Carl this week. Expect a crisper performance from the Blackshirts against a Washington team that looks mediocre on offense.

But the Huskers could use Dennard on the field as soon as possible.

Nebraska releases depth chart

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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Nebraska has released its depth chart for Week 1 against Chattanooga. You can find it here.

A couple things stand out:
  • One, we knew Nebraska would be young at spots on the offensive line, but that's really brought home by the two-deep. The starting right tackle is a true freshman (Tyler Moore), while the right guard (Spencer Long) is a sophomore walk-on who has never appeared in a game. The Huskers also have another sophomore (Andrew Rodriguez) at left guard.
  • Alfonzo Dennard is listed as the starting right cornerback, even though he probably won't play because of a pulled hamstring. Sophomore Andrew Green is his backup.
  • Nebraska fans were excited about the trio of freshman running backs that entered the program, and all three -- Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Aaron Green are listed as co-backups to Rex Burkhead. There's a good chance we see all of them Saturday if this game goes as expected.
  • Courtney Osborne and Daimion Stafford are listed as co-starters at one of the safety spots. Jason Ankrah and Eric Martin are co-starters at one defensive end position.
  • Coach Bo Pelini is not revealing much about his special teams. Both the kickoff and punt returners are listed as "To Be Determined," while there's an "OR" situation for the kickoff specialist.
  • Another place where the Huskers are young, at least in terms of depth, is at receiver. Freshmen Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner are listed as top backups, while sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste backs up senior Brandon Kinnie. Sophomore Quincy Enunwa won one of the three starting positions.
The first Big Ten coaches teleconference of the season took place earlier Tuesday. Given all the news and nuggets of Week 1, we're compiling notebooks for both divisions. We'll try to do these as often as possible on Tuesdays during the season.

Let's get things started with the Legends division.

IOWA

  • Coach Kirk Ferentz said if the Hawkeyes played a game today, A.J. Derby would serve as James Vandenberg's backup at quarterback. Derby, a fan favorite who boasts tremendous athleticism, has clearly made strides during camp to move slightly ahead of John Wienke, who Ferentz said also is improving. After so much talk about where Derby would end up playing, it seems like his future is at quarterback.
  • Ferentz said the biggest change we'll see on Iowa's defense this fall will be a larger rotation up front. Iowa typically went with a 5-man rotation the past few seasons, but after losing three linemen to the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes will rotate 6-8 players and possibly nine up front this season.
  • Jason White will get the next shot at running back behind starter Marcus Coker. Ferentz also said Iowa will use its freshmen tailbacks early in the season to get them accustomed to games. The past two seasons have shown Iowa can't take anything for granted injury-wise at running back.
MICHIGAN
  • Brady Hoke fielded several questions about the defense and not surprisingly spoke mainly about the line. He likes the depth the Wolverines have in the front four but emphasized the need to get off blocks and maintain "gap integrity" when the games begin. Got to love that football lingo.
  • Hoke gave a shout out to his boss, athletic director Dave Brandon, for allowing the Wolverines' kickers to use Michigan Stadium often during camp. The stadium not only provided a more realistic setting for the kickers, but the wind conditions in the Big House are different than on the practice fields. Hoke also praised Brendan Gibbons, who will handle field goals, saying he's "very excited about his progress."
MICHIGAN STATE
  • I asked Spartans coach Dantonio a bit about all the co-starters on his Week 1 depth chart, and he basically said anyone listed in bold will play a lot Friday night against Youngstown State. Not only will Michigan State rotate quite a few defensive ends Friday, but the offensive line rotation also likely will be larger as the Spartans figure out spots like left tackle and center. "How they play in a game situation determines where we go from there," Dantonio said.
  • Despite four consecutive bowl appearances and a Big Ten co-championship in 2010, Michigan State remains a fairly young team. The offense boasts a mix of veterans and youth, while the defense is fairly young entering 2011. "We're a young football team with a blend of experience," Dantonio said. "We have three seniors on defense in our top 22 players, so good things should be around the corner for us."
  • Dantonio began the call by thanking everyone for their support since the passing of his father, Justin, on Sunday. He'll return home to Zanesville, Ohio, in the middle of the week for the funeral and be back for the Youngstown State game.
MINNESOTA
  • Coach Jerry Kill said he has discussed a plan for future nonconference scheduling with the university administration, although he declined to provide details. Don't expect Kill's plan to include many more openers at USC. Said Kill: "Would I like to open up with USC every year? No. I’d like to open up right here at home."
  • Kill's Week 1 depth chart is filled with true freshmen and redshirt freshmen, but he considers his entire roster freshmen because they haven't gone through a season with the coaches. The result will be a more pared down game plan for Saturday. "There's no question we have to keep things simpler," Kill said. "We can't be like we were at Northern Illinois, so we'll have to adjust."
NEBRASKA
  • Coach Bo Pelini wants to see efficiency from his offense Saturday against Chattanooga. He stressed the need to limit penalties and turnovers, and to form sustained scoring drives against the Mocs. "At the end of the day, that's what's going to determine our success, how efficient we can be," Pelini said. You can tell Nebraska's poor finish on offense at the end of the 2010 season still irks Pelini.
  • Like his brother, Carl, the Huskers defensive coordinator, Bo is excited about what the team brings back in the secondary. He singled out the preseason play of cornerback Andrew Green, who likely will start in place of the injured Alfonzo Dennard on Saturday.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the competition between running backs Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt will continue through game week. Trumpy has come on strong as of late, while Schmidt's consistency has impressed the coaches. "Both guys are going to play," Fitzgerald said. "If one guy gets hot, he'll take over the role and be the bell cow."
  • Fitzgerald didn't say much about the status of quarterback Dan Persa for Saturday's game. He does, however, know what to expect from Boston College. "They will try to run it down your throats until you stop them," he said.
It has been a fairly quiet preseason in Lincoln, which is normally a good thing.

The only potential negative for Nebraska has been the pulled leg muscle suffered by standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. The Huskers senior hasn't been practicing the last few weeks, and his return is unknown.

While Dennard hasn't been officially ruled out for Saturday's season opener against Chattanooga, there's really no reason why he should get anywhere near the field. Nebraska knows what it has in Dennard, one of the nation's top cornerbacks. The Huskers certainly don't need him against Chattanooga, and the game provides an opportunity for other cornerbacks, namely Andrew Green, to log playing time.

"He's not real uncomfortable," coach Bo Pelini said Monday. "But you don't want to put him out there too soon."

Absolutely not.

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Monday that Green and Ciante Evans will start at cornerback Saturday if Dennard can't play. Pelini also sounds confident about the team's depth at cornerback.

Again, the risk completely outweighs the reward here. A pulled muscle isn't an injury that should be rushed.

Nebraska doesn't face a dynamic passing attack for some time, so Dennard should get all the time he needs to get back to 100 percent.

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