Big Ten: Arjen Colquhoun

Summer's almost here, but we're still looking forward to the fall. Today, we begin a series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/eaten by a bear, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's start with the defending league champs, Michigan State:

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook is one of the Big Ten's best QBs and a big reason why the Spartans are title contenders.
Connor Cook, QB, Jr.

The Spartans are not without options at quarterback. Tyler O'Connor should be a capable backup after seeing some action early last season, and the bubble wrap is coming off multitalented redshirt freshman Damion Terry. Still, Michigan State's quarterback situation was a mess before Cook grabbed hold of it in the middle of last year, and if he needed to be replaced, the entire offense could suffer the same fate we saw in the 2012 season. The 2013 Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl MVP entered this offseason riding a wave of confidence and should be one of the league's top quarterbacks.

Trae Waynes, CB, Jr.

There are a lot of other players we could have picked for this second spot, including star defensive end Shilique Calhoun and running back Jeremy Langford. Losing Calhoun would obviously be a very difficult blow for the Spartans, but they still would have Marcus Rush at the other end spot, plus some promising young players such as Demetrius Cooper. Similarly, Langford's production would be tough to replace, but Michigan State usually finds a way to get it done in the running game and has some other options behind him. Waynes is the pick here because of the youth and inexperience behind him at the cornerback spot. Sophomore Darian Hicks and junior Arjen Colquhoun are battling it out for the other corner spot this offseason, but neither has proved much on the field. Pat Narduzzi's defense works best when it has a lockdown cover corner, and Waynes could be that guy this year.

Michigan State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
8:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan State.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Cook in command: Last year's spring was dominated by talk of a quarterback competition, one that was never finally settled until late September. Things are much different this year, as Connor Cook entered the offseason as the unquestioned starter for the first time. By all accounts, Cook came into the spring riding a wave of confidence, as he should have after MVP performances in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl. Michigan State has enviable stability in its backfield with both Cook and 1,400-yard tailback Jeremy Langford returning.
  • Tight-ening up: Tight ends didn't play a huge factor in the offense last year, as the Spartans were really young at the position after Dion Sims left a year early for the NFL. But that could turn back into a strength this year. Josiah Price, who had the big touchdown catch in the Big Ten title game, is a year older and wiser. Jamal Lyles made a major impression this spring and could be a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds. Redshirt freshman Dylan Chmura might be ready to contribute. Look for the tight ends to take on a larger load in the passing game this fall.
  • Tackling the issue: When people talk about the Spartans' losses on defense, they usually mention Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis. Makes sense, as all four of those were All-Big Ten performers. But Michigan State also has to replace its starting defensive tackles from a year ago, fifth-year seniors Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds. That would be a major area of concern for a lot of teams, but both guys were under-the-radar players last year and the Spartans feel very comfortable with Joel Heath, Damon Knox, Brandon Clemons and former Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping in at those spots. Heath has the physical skills to be a star and highly touted recruit Malik McDowell arrives this summer to add some more depth.
Three questions for the fall
  • Offensive line makeup: The Spartans' offensive line is by no means in dire straits. Yet three starters (Blake Treadwell, Fou Fonoti and Dan France) are gone from a position that was the team's secret strength. The coaching staff likes what it has in sophomore Jack Conklin, junior Jack Allen and senior Travis Jackson, and expects more from junior Donavon Clark and sophomore Kodi Kieler. But Michigan State is still searching for the right mix up front and hopes to build the kind of depth and versatility it had there last season.
  • Replacing Dennard: Few players are harder to replace than Dennard, the All-American and Thorpe Award-winning cornerback who looks like a surefire NFL first-round pick. Sophomore Darian Hicks is the leading candidate to do so after emerging on top of a heated spring competition involving Arjen Colquhoun, Ezra Robinson and Jermaine Edmondson. Hicks played in very limited duty as a freshman in 2013 and has to continue to hold off the others this summer. And then he'll have mighty big shoes to fill in the fall.
  • Linebacker lineup: The Spartans will have a much different look at linebacker after the departures of three-year starters Bullough and Allen and Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth. Taiwan Jones appears to be the heir apparent to Bullough at middle linebacker, but Jon Reschke is pushing for playing time. Darien Harris logged time at that position in the Rose Bowl and is in good shape to start at an outside spot along with Ed Davis, who was injured this spring. Riley Bullough, Max's younger brother, will also be in the mix. There's talent and speed here, but the standard they have to match is awfully high.
One way-too-early prediction

With so many new faces and different roles on defense, Michigan State will finish outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense for the first time in four years. But just barely, as Pat Narduzzi's crew comes together in time to be a dominant unit in Big Ten play.
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.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/bested by a super villain, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Next up: Michigan State.

Max Bullough, LB

The Spartans are so loaded on defense that they could probably make up for the loss of any one guy. But Bullough isn't just any guy. He's the on-field computer for Pat Narduzzi's defense, a guy who knows where every player is supposed to be on every snap. Bullough is more than just a leader in making defensive calls, however. He has also led the team in tackles each of the past two years, including 111 stops in 2012. Could Michigan State find another linebacker to take over Bullough's role? Probably, with potentially Kyler Elsworth or maybe even Max's younger brother, Riley. But could Narduzzi find someone to do the job at the same level as Bullough? No way.

Darqueze Dennard, CB

We'll stick with two defensive players for the Spartans, because no one on the offensive side of the ball is distinguished enough to be considered indispensable at this point. Like with Bullough, Michigan State would see a dropoff without Dennard, who could stake a claim to being the Big Ten's top cornerback. People touted teammate Johnny Adams as a possible first-round pick last summer, but Dennard ended up outplaying him. Sophomores Trae Waynes and Arjen Colquhoun got lots of first-team reps with Dennard injured earlier this spring. The Spartans hope that was a one-time only deal for 2013.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 3-5 (fourth in Legends division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Denicos Allen, S Isaiah Lewis, DE Marcus Rush, QB Andrew Maxwell, LT Fou Fonoti, C Travis Jackson, WR Aaron Burbridge

Key losses

DE William Gholston, DT Anthony Rashad White, CB Johnny Adams, RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, G Chris McDonald, K Dan Conroy

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell (1,793 yards)
Passing: Andrew Maxwell* (2,606 yards)
Receiving: Bennie Fowler* (524 yards)
Tackles: Max Bullough* (111)
Sacks: William Gholston (4.5)
Interceptions: Darqueze Dennard* and Johnny Adams (3)

Spring answers

1. Waynes, Calhoun secure spots: The Spartan Dawgs just keep on rolling. Michigan State's defense didn't have too many major questions entering the spring, but it needed an end to replace William Gholston and a cornerback to play opposite Darqueze Dennard. It found both. Shilique Calhoun, who had a mini-breakout game in the bowl against TCU, secured a starting spot at defensive end. Trae Waynes and fellow sophomore Arjen Colquhoun logged most of the snaps at cornerback as Dennard recovered from hernia surgery, and Waynes did enough to land the No. 1 job.

2. Life of Riley: Riley Bullough opened the spring backing up his big brother Max at middle linebacker. He ended the session as a bulldozing running back, a spot where Michigan State is looking for answers after losing national carries leader Le'Veon Bell to the NFL draft. No other running back distinguished himself in practice, so the coaches moved Riley Bullough to the position, and he did some impressive things. Bullough was Michigan State's leading rusher (46 yards) in the spring game. Although he could move back to linebacker, he gives the Spartans another option in the offensive backfield.

3. Burbridge continues to emerge: The Spartans are searching for offensive playmakers and appear to have found one in sophomore wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. He moved into the starting lineup midway through the 2012 season and provided a bright spot for the struggling receiving corps. Burbridge benefited from a full offseason in the program and capped the spring with a five-catch, 113-yard performance in the Green-White Game. He could emerge as Michigan State's No. 1 receiver and/or push veterans Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback quandary: Michigan State is still looking for the man to lead its offense in 2013. Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season, and although he did some good things in practices, he didn't separate himself and looked a bit shaky in the spring game. Connor Cook answered the coaches' challenge to improvise when plays broke down, and he'll continue to push Maxwell when fall camp begins. Redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor and incoming recruit Damion Terry also could be in the mix.

2. Third linebacker: The Spartans boast one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, both of whom enter their third season as starters. Who will line up next to them this fall? It could be Taiwan Jones, who capped the spring with 11 tackles in the Green-White Game. But Jairus Jones, who moved from safety to outside linebacker this spring, is very much in the mix and drew praise from the coaching staff and teammates. Jones made a good transition to linebacker and helps an already strong position group.

3. Man on the run: Riley Bullough's emergence adds a new twist to the running back competition, but nothing is settled entering fall camp. Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford took most of the reps with the first-team offense this spring but didn't separate themselves, and Hill underwent sports hernia surgery last week. The coaches also want to see how incoming freshmen Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams perform when they arrive this summer. Although Michigan State typically has one featured back, it could use more of a committee system this season. But there are definitely questions in the offensive backfield.
In anticipation of spring practice kicking off Tuesday, Michigan State on Monday released its depth chart for the session, while head coach Mark Dantonio addressed the media.

Here are some notes:
  • Three players will miss spring ball after offseason surgeries, including two projected starters in linebacker Denicos Allen and offensive lineman Jack Allen. Top cornerback Darqueze Dennard also is banged up but should return to the field for the final two weeks of practice, Dantonio said.
  • The depth chart reflects several changes along the offensive line. Dan France, who has started 24 games at left tackle the past two seasons, is listed as the starter at right guard. Fou Fonoti, who opened the 2012 season as the starting left tackle before suffering a season-ending foot injury in September, is listed as the No. 1 left tackle, while Skyler Burkland is the top right tackle. Fonoti and top center Travis Jackson both are 100 percent following leg injuries, which could be a major boost for the line. Blake Treadwell is listed as the starting left guard, but Allen could fill that spot when he returns from injury.
  • Michigan State also moved safety Jairus Jones to outside linebacker, where he's listed as the backup to Taiwan Jones. Dantonio said injury issues at linebacker spurred the move and that Jones can switch back to safety, but the Spartans have excellent safety depth with starters Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond, reserves RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox and others. Dennard's injury means two largely unproven players, sophomores Trae Waynes and Arjen Colquhoun, open the spring as the team's top cornerbacks. But Dantonio on Monday sounded very excited about the team's young defensive backs.
  • Dantonio said the quarterbacks all will take contact during scrimmages, a move you don't see often in the spring. The coach didn't say whether the quarterbacks would evenly split repetitions, but they all will compete against the No. 1 defense. As expected, Andrew Maxwell is listed as the No. 1 quarterback, followed by Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor.
  • Michigan State's defensive staff visited LSU earlier this spring. Both teams finished in the top 10 nationally in defense in 2012. Dantonio hopes the offensive staff can do a similar visit after spring ball (the offseason shuffle made it difficult to do so before).
  • Nick Hill is the team's top running back, followed by junior Jeremy Langford and redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins. Bennie Fowler led the team in receiving yards last season (524), but he's listed on the depth chart as a backup to Keith Mumphery. Aaron Burbridge and Tony Lippett are listed as the other No. 1 receivers, and Dantonio said Monty Madaris will be in the mix at wideout as well.
  • Lawrence Thomas started three games at fullback last season but appears as a backup defensive tackle behind Tyler Hoover on the depth chart. Dantonio told ESPN.com last week that Thomas could move back to offense if needed.
  • Linebacker/fullback TyQuan Hammock is finished with his career and soon will graduate, while guard Nate Klatt will take a medical hardship/disqualification because of several concussions.
  • Dantonio singled out redshirt freshmen linebackers Riley Bullough and Jamal Lyles as players to watch this spring.

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