Big Ten: Barkley Hill

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- No Big Ten coach takes the temperature of his team in spring practice quite like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. No Big Ten coach has lived in as many different climates.

The dean of the league's coaches knows the sunniness that surrounds teams after redemptive seasons such as the ones the Hawkeyes had in 2001, 2008 or last fall, when Iowa improved its wins total by four. He also knows the polar vortex that exists, at least outside Iowa's football complex, after poor performances like the ones the team delivered in 2007 and 2012.

Ferentz also understands how quickly the weather changes, like it often does on spring afternoons in the Midwest.

So at a recent team meeting, Ferentz detoured from the typical spring minutia -- replacing seniors, creating depth, finding leaders, building identities -- and addressed a macro item: the preseason polls.

"He said we might be ranked," running back Jordan Canzeri told, "and even if we are, no one is to keep that in their head. There were several teams that were ranked and didn't get to go to a bowl game this past year. You never want to be cocky. Even if the stats show you're good, you still want to prepare as you would with any other team, so you don't get satisfied and complacent."

Iowa likely will be ranked when the preseason polls come out. The Hawkeyes appear in some way-too early versions. They return eight offensive starters, including left tackle Brandon Scherff, a preseason All-America candidate, along with three of four starting defensive linemen from a team that flipped its regular-season record in 2013.

The quarterback uncertainty that hovered over the program last spring, when no signal-caller had taken a snap in a game, is no longer there, as junior Jake Rudock has established himself. An unprecedented stretch of running back maladies has subsided as Iowa returns three veteran options (Mark Weisman, Canzeri and Damon Bullock) and two promising young players (LeShun Daniels Jr. and Barkley Hill). There's more explosiveness at wide receiver, and the defensive line, led by senior tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, looks more like the elite units Iowa produced for most of Ferentz's tenure.

[+] EnlargeCarl Davis
David Purdy/The Des Moines Register via USA TODAY SportsWith Carl Davis and others back, Iowa's defensive line should be the team's strongest unit.
"We are a more experienced unit, probably the most experienced unit on the team," defensive line coach Reese Morgan said.

There are enough internal reasons to indicate Iowa will take another step this season, but the biggest factors in the Hawkeyes favor are external. Their new division, the Big Ten West, lacks a clear-cut favorite or a flawless team. And their schedule is undoubtedly the most favorable in the league.

Not only does Iowa miss Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State from the East Division, but it hosts both Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes' toughest league road game should be a Nov. 8 visit to Minnesota.

"It's a pretty favorable schedule for us," wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said, "but every week is going to be a challenge. Nothing that happened last year really matters."

Davis looks forward to visiting Big Ten newcomer Maryland, but he had hoped to play more of the league's traditional powers. The only way Iowa sees Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan is in the Big Ten championship game.

"When the Big Ten started, those are the teams that dominated," Davis said. "You want to be able to play those teams and beat those teams. I really look forward to it.

"I definitely feel we're in contention for a Big Ten championship. Every team says it, but we're hungry."

Ferentz has seen Iowa go from good to great in 2002 and again in 2009. He also has seen the program fall short of expectations, as it did in 2006 and 2010.

The first step to building upon success, Ferentz said, is not taking it for granted. Take Iowa's group of linebackers, which loses three multiyear starters from last year's squad: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens.

"If we're waiting for Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens to give us 300 tackles, that ain't gonna happen," Ferentz said. "Two years ago, we had a disappointing season. Last year was a new year and this year was the flip record-wise, but it's a new year again. This team has to form its own identity, and it starts with our experienced players. We're going to need them to play their absolute best, which is what those seniors did last year."

Iowa's linebacker reset has been a top spring storyline. Quinton Alston has stepped into the lead role, earning high marks from teammates and coaches. Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman, who played as a 17-year-old freshman last fall and doesn't turn 18 until August, are likely starters alongside Alston.

The biggest challenge could be replacing Kirksey, a converted safety who brought defensive back speed to outside linebacker.

"Chris had a different skill set than the guys we have out there now," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "It's been a long time since we had a guy who could run that fast and still have the power and explosion to play in the box, too, or at least on the tight end. We have three or four guys we're trying to look at with that position."

Other uncertainties include the cornerback spot opposite dynamic sophomore Desmond King, free safety and the second-string offensive line, which coordinator Greg Davis lists as the unit's biggest concern.

Iowa players understand that their margin for error remains slim.

"The determining factor is going to be winning those close games," Martin-Manley said.

Iowa won several such contests in 2009, its last truly special season. The 2014 team also could reach rarefied air, but Hawkeyes won't get caught with their heads in the clouds.

"That's what we do here; we work hard," Davis said. "That's something you get used to the longer you're in this program. The grind becomes normal, and I feel like all our hard work will be able to pay off."
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The tempo trend sweeping through college football has, for the most part, skipped over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

While teams such as Oregon and Baylor operate at a breakneck pace, Iowa continues to shape its offense around power and play-action, ball control and sustained drives. Huddling is still encouraged.

In 2012, the Hawkeyes ran fewer offensive plays than any Big Ten team. In 2011, an Indiana team that played 12 games ran more plays (870) than an Iowa team that played 13 (866). In 2010, Iowa ran 136 fewer plays than Big Ten-leader Northwestern in the same number of games.

But a shift began taking place last season. Iowa eclipsed 900 plays in 13 games. The offense ramped up the tempo late against LSU in the Outback Bowl, leading some to question whether the Tigers were faking injuries to slow down the Hawkeyes. Process that for a minute: LSU's defense trying to slow down Iowa's offense.

[+] EnlargeJake Rudock
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltJake Rudock and Iowa are joining the trend toward a faster tempo on offense.
But tempo at Iowa is here to stay. In fact, it's getting ramped up even more this spring.

"We would like to be able to play fast with any group, be it two backs, two tight ends, three tight ends, three wide receivers," offensive coordinator Greg Davis told "We played at a faster tempo last year than the year before, and we're playing at a faster tempo this spring than last year."

Iowa isn't going to turn into Auburn by Aug. 30. That's not Davis' intent. He recognizes the perils of pushing the tempo. At times, he wants his quarterbacks to have enough time to survey the defense before the ball is snapped.

More than anything, however, he wants defenses to be unsure about Iowa's pace.

"We're just trying to kick it up another notch," tackle Brandon Scherff said. "Once we get used to it, it'll be a good advantage for us."

Davis' ultimate goal is more explosion plays. Iowa averaged only 5.3 yards per play and 6.8 yards per pass play last season, ranking 10th in the league in both categories. There were some flashes, such as Tevaun Smith's spectacular catch and run for a 55-yard touchdown against Michigan.

But the Hawkeyes need more and could have the personnel to get it done. There are more options at receiver with veteran Kevonte Martin-Manley, Smith and Jacob Hillyer, along with Damond Powell, who averaged 24.3 yards per reception in limited action in 2013. Several redshirt freshmen are emerging this spring, including 6-foot-4, 210-pound Derrick Willies.

"If you don't have explosive plays, it's tougher to get the win at the end of the day," quarterback Jake Rudock said. "Every team needs to have those, whether it's running or whether it's passing."

Although running back will be a strength -- bruiser Mark Weisman returns alongside Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and exciting sophomores LeShun Daniels and Barkley Hill -- the pass game should be enhanced this fall. Iowa returns two quarterbacks with game experience (Rudock and C.J. Beathard), depth at receiver and tight ends Jake Duzey and Ray Hamilton. Iowa will miss tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz's blocking, but Duzey is a superior athlete with a higher ceiling as a pass-catcher, as he showed with 138 receiving yards against Ohio State last fall.

"The ball's going to be in our hands more. I feel like they're going to call our number," Martin-Manley said. "A few more plays downfield, and we've also been adding new plays to get us open and use the tools we have at receiver."

After starting every game last season, Rudock has done nothing to harm his standing this spring, showing greater comfort with the scheme, the signals and a leadership position. But that coaches also like Beathard, who should have a role even if Rudock tightens his grip on the starting spot.

"He has a little more lateral quickness than Jake," Davis said, "so the discussion [among coaches] could carve out a package for him, a little more zone-read. At the same time, he can really spin the football."

The skill position depth is there, especially if the receivers keep making strides. Scherff's return to the line is huge, and Davis likes the starting five, which includes veterans Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh and Andrew Donnal. Sean Welsh has emerged this spring as the starting left guard.

Line depth is a significant concern, Davis said, but beyond that there's a lot to like about an offense that will operate faster and should put more points on the board.

"The first year, new system, last year, new quarterback," Davis said. "We have more than we have in the past. I feel better about this spring than I have in any spring. We have the opportunity to be the best offense we've been in the three years I've been here."
Spring practice has begun in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what to expect from each Legends Division team this spring.


Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Questions at quarterback: The Hawkeyes played James Vandenberg for every snap last season, and now that he's gone, they have no quarterbacks on the roster with any game experience. Sophomore Jake Rudock has been viewed as Vandenberg's successor, but he's still a mostly unknown quantity who should get pushed in the spring by former junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Whoever wins the job will be tasked with improving an Iowa passing game that finished with a Big Ten-worst seven touchdown passes in 2012.

2. Skills competition: While the quarterback race is vital, Iowa also needs standouts to emerge at the other skill positions to fix an offense that sputtered under first-year coordinator Greg Davis. The wideout corps, which struggled to get separation or make big plays, now is without departed senior Keenan Davis, who tied for the team lead with 571 receiving yards. There's a reason why Iowa signed five receivers in the 2013 class. The running back position has strength in numbers, with Damon Bullock, Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all competing for carries this spring. The Hawkeyes just need to finally get some luck in the health and off-field departments at that position while hoping one player emerges as the go-to back.

3. Transition game: Iowa long had one of the most stable staffs in the country. But coach Kirk Ferentz added three new assistants this offseason for the second straight year, giving the program some fresh voices but also causing some potential bumps in transition. The offense in particular didn't mesh well last season under Davis, who'll look for solutions this spring. Ferentz has new coaches overseeing the running backs (Chris White) and receivers (Bobby Kennedy) and a new defensive assistant who'll work with the linebackers (Jim Reid). The Hawkeyes hope they can inject some life into a program that has seen its fortunes dip the past couple of seasons, including last year's 4-8 disaster.


Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Devin Gardner as starter: Denard Robinson is gone and Gardner is the presumed Michigan starter for the first time. How he adjusts to that -- and how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges develops more of a pro-style offense around him -- are a major launching point for the Wolverines next season.

2. Offensive line play: Michigan is replacing the entire interior of its offensive line and while there is a lot of young talent there, none of the potential candidates have any experience. Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said he would like to have at least one of the three slots, if not two, settled by the end of spring.

3. Linebacker competition: The deepest position on Michigan’s roster also has the most competition. Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker is almost a given, but the middle and weak side slots are wide open. A bevy of freshmen and sophomores, along with returning starter Desmond Morgan, will vie for playing time in what will be a likely increased rotation in the fall.

-- Michael Rothstein, WolverineNation


Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Still Maxwell's house?: Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season at quarterback but was pulled in favor of freshman Connor Cook for the deciding drive of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans will open up the competition under center, with Tyler O'Connor and eventually incoming freshman Damion Terry joining the fray. Though he has a big edge in experience, Maxwell will have to prove that he can greatly increase last season's 52.5 completion percentage to hold onto the job through the spring.

2. Replacing Bell: Saying running back Le'Veon Bell was a big part of the 2012 offense is like saying Tom Hanks had substantial role in "Cast Away." Bell carried the ball 382 times last year, more than any back in the country, and gained 1,793 yards. There is no ready-made in-house replacement, as leading returning rusher Nick Hill had just 21 rushing attempts last year and may be too slight (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) to be an every-down back. Junior Jeremy Langford will move back to the backfield after seeing time at receiver. Signees Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton might wind up with the job.

3. New playcaller in town: Mark Dantonio has yet to officially announce a replacement for former offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, who recently left for an assistant's post with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. But reports are that former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has been tapped to lead the Spartans' offense. Can Bollman, whom Buckeyes fans criticized as being too conservative, find the solutions for what was a dreadful attack in 2012? The Spartans' defense once again enters spring ball with very few question marks. Michigan State's hopes rely heavily on how much progress it can make on the offensive side.


Spring start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Defensive back end: The Gophers lost two outstanding cornerbacks in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, as well as starting linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Jerry Kill has tried to address this during recruiting, adding a pair of well-regarded junior college linebackers (De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson) as well as touted high school corner Jalen Myrick. But some holdovers from last season's roster will have to step into bigger roles this spring.

2. The full Nelson: True freshman Philip Nelson took over the quarterback job midseason and now will enter practice as the starter. He showed flashes of immense potential but still has a lot of things to learn. Kill has said Nelson is no lock to start in 2013 and that he'll face legitimate competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and incoming freshman Chris Streveler. Nelson has the inside track for now but must hold onto it.

3. Receiving line: The Gophers don't have a returning wideout who had more than 375 receiving yards last year, though Derrick Engel showed promise with a 100-yard day in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. You can blame some of that on the turnover and youth at quarterback. But Minnesota needs much better play at receiver to become a more balanced offense. Improvement by guys like Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte this spring will help, as would some immediate contributions from recruits Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky.


Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. Youth movement on defense: The Cornhuskers lost eight starters from last season's defense and will hope that some athletic young players are ready to step in. Guys like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose and Thomas Brown will be given long looks this spring. Nebraska coaches are hopeful that what they lack in experience, they'll make up for in speed. There's no bigger key for Big Red than having its young defenders make great strides in the spring.

2. Safety issues: The safety spot is an important one in Bo Pelini's scheme, and the Huskers lose both starters and a couple of top reserves from that position. Jackson will be given a look there, and the staff is high on Corey Cooper. But no starting jobs are locked down.

3. Martinez's progression: Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez won't be involved in a lot of live drills, and the spring will be a time to get freshman Tommy Armstrong some reps. But Martinez still needs to fine-tune a few parts of his game, most notably his tendency to force throws in key spots. He made great progress last offseason through extra hours of hard work; a similar leap this spring would make Martinez one of the very best players in the country.


Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. The quarterback duo: The Wildcats spent large parts of last season rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, using Siemian for more obvious passing situations. Will that continue this season? Colter needs to improve as a passer to become a better option as an every-down quarterback, and Northwestern's downfield passing game must get better. You can bet there will be a lot of eyes on Colter and Siemian this spring to see what offensive coordinator Mick McCall has planned.

2. Secondary concerns: The news that cornerback Nick VanHoose won't practice this spring because of injury could be a blessing in disguise. The Wildcats' secondary struggled when he was hurt last season, so this may provide an opportunity for others to get better without him. Jimmy Hall and Traveon Henry are youngsters who should see plenty of reps this spring in the defensive backfield.

3. Offensive line makeover: Three starters are gone from last season's offensive line, including both guards and left tackle Patrick Ward. Jack Konopka is the favorite to succeed Ward but will miss the spring with injuries, while 2012 signee Adam DePietro is among those who could step in at guard. Northwestern should have one of the best running games in the Big Ten in 2013 but will need its line to begin to take shape this spring.
Did you think AIRBHG would rest during the holiday season? Not a chance.

Unfortunately for Iowa, the running back exits continue as freshman Greg Garmon has decided to transfer from the team. There's nothing official from Iowa, but Garmon told multiple media outlets that he asked for and received his release from head coach Kirk Ferentz on Wednesday.

Garmon said Iowa wasn't a good fit for him, and Ferentz agreed.

A heralded recruit from Erie, Pa., Garmon saw the field a bit this fall and had 38 carries for 122 yards to go along with eight receptions for 57 yards. His playing time decreased following the emergence of Mark Weisman and the return of Damon Bullock from injury.

Iowa's running back depth -- knock on wood -- looks good for 2013 as Weisman, Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all return. But Garmon would have been a nice part of the mix, and his departure continues a frustrating trend for Iowa, which now has lost four running backs -- Garmon, Marcus Coker, Mika'il McCall and DeAndre Johnson -- in the past year. Garmon is the seventh Iowa running back to transfer in the past three seasons.

There's not much left to say about Iowa's unusual attrition at running back. Garmon's departure isn't as damaging because the team has others in line, but it raises more questions about why the Hawkeyes can't keep talented ball-carriers.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Iowa has more troubles involving one of its running backs.

Freshman Barkley Hill, who suffered a torn ACL in preseason camp and missed the season, was arrested for operating while intoxicated Friday night in Blackhawk County, Iowa. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced Saturday that Hill will face a minimum one-game suspension and internal discipline.
"Obviously, I was extremely disappointed to learn about this," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a prepared statement. "Barkley will go through the UI Student Athlete Code of Conduct process, and will be subject to any other University and/or team rule sanctions as we gather additional information."

I could rehash all the issues Iowa has had at running back in recent years, but you've heard it all before. The bottom line is Iowa won't have Hill on the field when it opens the 2013 season.
Last week in our look at the Best Case/Worst Case for Iowa, I poked fun at the seemingly endless line of problems at running back for the Hawkeyes.

No amount of fiction can match the absurdity of reality, however. Even more bad news involving the Big Ten's most cursed position arrived this afternoon, as Iowa confirmed this weekend's fear: freshman tailback Barkley Hill has torn his ACL and is out for the season.

Simply unreal.

Hill, who hurt the knee in the Hawkeyes' scrimmage on Saturday, was a candidate to start at tailback, along with sophomore Damon Bullock and fellow freshman Greg Garmon. But no one who is playing that position in Iowa City can ever feel safe.

A quick rundown of what has happened to Hawkeyes' ball-carriers just since the end of last season:
  • Marcus Coker, the team's leading rusher and one of the top backs in the Big Ten, transferred to FCS Stony Brook after some off-the-field issues;
  • Mika'il McCall, Coker's backup, left the team after a season in which he missed significant time because of injury and a suspension;
  • Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in spring practice;
  • De'Andre Johnson has two run-ins with police in a three-day span and is dismissed from the team;
  • Hill's injury.

And that's just in the past 10 months. We haven't even gotten into the history involving Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton and on and on and on.

I'm not normally one to believe in curses or jinxes. I never thought the Red Sox "Curse of the Bambino" was a real thing and was instead simply a media creation. But it's getting harder and harder not to believe in the AIRHBG ("Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God"), a term coined by the Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants.

As for the future, it looks like the Hawkeyes will turn to Bullock and Garmon as their main running backs to start the season. Depth is basically non-existent. And if I'm either guy, I don't walk under any ladders any time soon.

Big Ten weekend scrimmage roundup

August, 20, 2012
With training camp winding down, several Big Ten teams held full scrimmages this weekend. Some of them were open to the media. Here's a rundown on those in which details were available:


The Hawkeyes held a public scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium, where the biggest news of the day was an injury. Freshman running back Barkley Hill hurt his leg while scoring a touchdown and had to be carted off. There was no official word on the severity of the injury, but it didn't look good. The Iowa running back curse continues to defy all logic, but Iowa fans can hope for the best here.

Damon Bullock, a strong candidate to start at tailback, had six carries for 16 yards, while true freshman Greg Garmon produced 43 yards on 11 attempts. James Vandenberg completed six-of-12 passes for 101 yards and a 25-yard touchdown even though top receivers Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley were held out as a precaution. Defensive lineman Carl Davis had a sack and batted down a couple of passes.

Michigan State

The Spartans' offense topped the defense 52-48 the second preseason jersey scrimmage. According to the team's official stats, quarterback Andrew Maxwell was 13-of-24 for 212 yards and one touchdown pass, with tight end Dion Sims hauling in 10 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown.

"Andrew Maxwell and Dion Sims really impressed today," coach Mark Dantonio said. "They connected for some exciting plays."

Le'Veon Bell was limited, but Larry Caper and Nick Hill combined for 84 rushing yards.

Maxwell and the offense clinched the win by going on a a seven-play, 51-yard drive to set up a Dan Conroy 29-yard field goal on the scrimmage's final play.


The Gophers' weekend scrimmage was closed to the media, but the team's official site has a few video highlights.


The Wildcats held an intra-squad scrimmage that featured many of their younger players at Camp Kenosha. The defense allowed only one touchdown during the scrimmage and forced three turnovers, including two interceptions by by cornerback Mike Eshun. Backups Zack Oliver and Trevor Siemien handled most of the quarterback duties, combining to go 12-for-16 for 111 yards. USC transfer Kyle Prater had two catches for 29 yards.

Defensive end Dean Lowry also had a big day, and the true freshman could see playing time in the opener against Syracuse, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Best Case/Worst Case: Iowa

August, 15, 2012
Our look at the best and worst possible outcomes for each Big Ten team (in alphabetical order) rolls on with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Remember these are not actual game-by-game predictions, and we're having a little fun here while trying to illustrate the ceilings and floors of each team. Iowa, your case will now be heard.

Best Case

Yes, the Hawkeyes are frightfully young on the defensive line. Yes, they are replacing three starters on the offensive line. And, yes, the Iowa running back curse could mean that a school janitor is taking carries by the end of the season. Still, why are you still doubting Kirk Ferentz's ability to get the most out of his players? Ferentz has a standout senior quarterback in James Vandenberg, some promising receivers and tight ends and soild players in the back end of the defense. And a pretty good schedule to boot.

The Hawkeyes come out firing right away in Greg Davis' new offense, putting up 40 points against both Northern Illinois and rival Iowa State to give the young defensive front plenty of room to grow. They exact revenge on Minnesota in the Big Ten opener with an easy romp, going into the bye week at 5-0 and ranked in the Top 25. The week off gives them time to prepare an excellent game plan and beat Michigan State on the road, just as they did in 2009. In fact, it's starting to look a lot like '09 as Iowa then takes down Penn State at home, Northwestern and Indiana on the road and then Purdue at home for a 10-0 record. Fans fall in love with a team that plays an up-tempo offense and throws the ball all over the field.

The Hawkeyes are in the Top 5 heading into the Nov. 17 game against Michigan, where they suffer their first loss. But that's quickly forgotten the following Friday with a Heroes Game victory over Nebraska on Vandenberg's last-second touchdown pass to Keenan Davis. That clinches the Legends Division title, and a blowout win over Wisconsin brings home not just the Big Ten championship but the Heartland Trophy as well. Iowa goes on to the Rose Bowl.

Worst Case

Here's the difference between the 2012 Hawkeyes and the 2009 version: there's no Adrian Clayborn or Christian Ballard on the defensive line. Or, at least, there's no one mature enough to play like those guys yet. Iowa usually succeeds on the basis of strong play in the trenches and a powerful running game. Guess where the biggest questions are for this year's team?

The offense has Vandenberg, but he's missing Marvin McNutt. And Davis wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard in his final seasons at Texas. The Hawkeyes are upset in Week 1 at Soldier Field by a solid Northern Illinois team, and afterward Ferentz announces that starting running back Damon Bullock has been dismissed from the team. Iowa State makes it two in a row in Week 2; Ferentz announces the following Monday that new starting running back Barkley Hill has transferred. Iowa wins its next two but then loses its third straight Floyd of Rosedale game against Minnesota as MarQueis Gray runs wild. During the bye week, new starting tailback Greg Garmon is kidnapped by the Russian mafia. Michigan State blows out the Hawkeyes for the second straight year to send them to 2-4. The team rallies to beat Penn State at home but loses to its thorn in the side Northwestern on the road. Back-to-back wins over Indiana and Purdue are marred when A) new starting running back Jordan Canzieri, just back from an ACL injury, defects to Cuba and B) new starting running back Nate Meier is swept away by a tornado.

The season concludes with a three-touchdown loss at Michigan and a dispiriting four-touchdown loss to Nebraska in a half-red Kinnick Stadium. In the finale, new starting running back Todd Smith -- formerly a school janitor -- spontaneously combusts. Iowa finished 5-7 and misses a bowl for the first time since 2007.

More Best Case/Worst Case:


Iowa dismisses De'Andre Johnson

August, 1, 2012
Iowa running back De'Andre Johnson had two minor encounters with police last week that seemed to illustrate poor judgment, but not necessarily major offenses. Yet it was apparently enough for Johnson to get a one-way ticket out of Iowa City.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced Wednesday afternoon that the sophomore has been dismissed from the team. This comes after Johnson was A) ticketed for maintaining a disorderly house on Thursday -- a charge Ferentz initially laughed off during Big Ten media days -- and then, in his best Cincinnati Bengal impression, B) got in trouble again Saturday when he allegedly sped his motorcyle through a 25 mph zone and failed to pull over right away for cops. (The lessons here, as always: don't speed, and maintain an orderly house!)

Taken alone, neither amounts to much. Put together, they still don't seem to rise to the level of dismissal. Yet we don't know what other things were going on behind the scenes with Johnson, and Ferentz obviously felt he had seen enough.

Johnson probably wasn't going to be a star at Iowa, but he at least had some experience running the ball for a varsity college team, which is more than just about any other current Hawkeye can say. Meet your new leading returning, healthy ball carrier, Iowa fans: Damon Bullock, who had 10 attempts for 20 yards last year.

Now, Ferentz has those two guys and incoming freshmen Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon -- and maybe sophomore Jordan Canzeri if he makes a miracle recovery from his torn ACL. There are also rumors that Penn State signee Akeel Lynch is thinking about transferring to the Hawkeyes. Of course, such a development would constitute good news at the running back position for Iowa, so we should be immediately skeptical.

It's overkill at this point to rehash all the problems that Iowa's tailbacks have endured. But let's also point out that it has not been a very good offseason for Big Ten running backs in general.

There was the awful news about Montee Ball today. Michigan's Fitz Toussaint got busted for DUI and was then suspended. Silas Redd left Penn State for USC. Johnson got kicked off Iowa, and Garmon's fate was shaky when he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. Ohio State's Jordan Hall hurt his foot and could miss the start of the season, while Bri'onte Dunn made headlines with a traffic stop. Purdue's Ralph Bolden got arrested for allegedly forcing a kiss on a woman at a bar.

Geez. Can we start practicing already?

Big Ten weekend news roundup

July, 30, 2012
The season is within view now, and several teams will start practice later this week. So soon we'll be going to seven-day-a-week coverage on the blog. But for now, let's catch up on some of the news from the weekend in the Big Ten:
  • Iowa suspended running back De'Andre Johnson after the sophomore was cited for speeding and failing to pull over on Saturday night. That probably wouldn't have been a big deal if Johnson hadn't been ticketed two days earlier for maintaining a disorderly house (a charge I admit I'd never heard of before last week) after neighbors complained about a loud party. Head coach Kirk Ferentz made light of the first incident when asked about it Friday in Chicago. But Johnson showed poor judgment by acting recklessly just a couple of days after getting into trouble. I don't know that we can come up with any more to say about Iowa's running back troubles at this point. Getting suspended right before fall practice begins is not a wise career move for Johnson. It looks like Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will be the leading candidates for carries early on.
  • Georgia prep running back Keyante Green switched his commitment from UCLA to Purdue this past weekend. It's a nice pickup for Danny Hope and the Boilermakers, as Green is rated a four-star prospect and the No. 25 overall running back in this class by Green said he liked the opportunity for early playing time at Purdue, whose top two running backs -- Ralph Bolden (assuming he's healthy) and Akeem Shavers -- are both seniors. This is the ninth 2013 commitment for Purdue.
  • You didn't think we'd get through this without some Penn State updates, did you? The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that quarterback Rob Bolden visited LSU over the weekend and may transfer there. Bolden has started 16 career games for the Nittany Lions but could well be the third-string quarterback this season behind Matt McGloin and Paul Jones. So his possible transfer wouldn't do much but hurt the depth at the position for Penn State, and you'd have to wonder how Bolden could get any playing time at LSU unless Zach Mettenberger gets injured.
  • This happened Friday but got lost in the shuffle of media day madness. Michigan defensive tackle Will Campbell was sentenced to three months of probation and one day of community service for damaging a car hood back in April. The best part of the sentencing was when judge Chris Easthope asked Campbell, "Have you taken a physics class? Do you know what happens when 308 pounds slides across thin metal?" But Campbell can now put this behind him, as Michigan coach Brady Hoke said the senior would face no further punishment. That's good for the Wolverines, who desperately need Campbell to live up to expectations in the middle of their defensive front.
The preseason position rankings march on with the running back units in the Big Ten. If you missed the top 10 individual running backs entering 2012, check them out here. For the running back units -- and all position units, for that matter -- the strength of the starter is weighted fairly heavily. But if a team has a good starter and no proven depth behind him, it could hurt the rating a bit.

The top team here is obvious, while the next four groups all are very good. There's a bit of a drop off after No. 5. Several squads have virtually no depth, which is why they're at the bottom.

Let's get to it.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesWisconsin will be dangerous on the ground again in 2012 with Montee Ball and James White returning.
1. Wisconsin: The obvious choice for the top spot as Wisconsin returns two backs who would start for most FBS teams. Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball is back following a record-setting season, and James White has rushed for 1,765 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Wisconsin also has a future star behind them in Melvin Gordon.

2. Nebraska: Although Aaron Green's transfer to TCU hurts Nebraska's depth, the Huskers still boast a strong 1-2 punch in Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah has had a strong offseason and should be able to spell Burkhead more this fall. Freshman Imani Cross is a good get on the recruiting trail.

3. Michigan: Running back could be Michigan's deepest position entering 2012 as all the key names come back. Fitzgerald Toussaint established himself as the featured back during Big Ten play, and he'll be backed up by versatile senior Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls, who appeared in 10 games as a freshman last year.

4. Michigan State: Like Nebraska, Michigan State loses a key running back in Edwin Baker, who surprised some by entering the draft a year early. The Spartans still boast a potential star in Le'Veon Bell, along with veteran Larry Caper, a former starter, and the speedy Nick Hill.

5. Penn State: What the Lions lack at quarterback and wide receiver, they make up for at running back. Silas Redd returns for his second season as the starter, and Penn State has some insurance behind him with players like Curtis Dukes and Bill Belton, who moves over from receiver.

6. Ohio State: A healthy Jordan Hall makes this a much stronger group, as the senior can fill the hybrid role (tailback/receiver) in Urban Meyer's offense. Hall's absence early in the season will place a heavier burden on Carlos Hyde, who looked good at times last season. Freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith are in the mix, but there's no obvious star here.

7. Purdue: The Boilers have some nice options at running back, and they'll be even better here if former All-Big Ten selection Ralph Bolden returns at or near full strength. Co-captain Akeem Shavers enters the fall as the lead back, and he'll be complemented by speedy sophomore Akeem Hunt.
8. Indiana: Although IU will pass the ball more in 2012, it has several options in the backfield alongside quarterback Tre Roberson. Stephen Houston emerged as a reliable option in Big Ten play last fall. He'll be the lead ball-carrier, but Morehead State transfer Isaiah Roundtree will push for carries after a strong performance this spring. D'Angelo Roberts and Matt Perez also should help if they can stay healthy.
9. Illinois: New coach Tim Beckman is concerned about the lack of depth here, but he could have two good options in Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. Young got his feet wet as a freshman and rushed for 451 yards and six touchdowns, while Ferguson sparkled during the spring game and should be a valuable asset if he can stay healthy. The big question is who else emerges in the backfield.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats are by no means loaded at running back, but they have fewer depth questions than the other two teams on the list. Mike Trumpy, who has looked like the team's best back when healthy, returns from a knee injury and likely will enter the fall as the starter. Treyvon Green also returns, Venric Mark moves over from receiver and incoming freshman Malin Jones will play a role right away.

11. Iowa: If the Hawkeyes had Marcus Coker and a healthy Jordan Canzeri, they'd be in the top six. Unfortunately, Iowa has neither player available right now, leaving a group of unproven players. The good news is Iowa always finds someone to carry the ball, and one of its two incoming freshmen -- Greg Garmon or Barkley Hill -- could be the next in line. If not, Iowa will need Damon Bullock or De'Andre Johnson to make major strides.

12. Minnesota: Like Iowa, Minnesota is banking more on potential than anything else. Junior college transfer James Gillum could be the answer to the Gophers' sputtering ground game. Perhaps Donnell Kirkwood can stay healthy or become a difference maker. But when Kirkwood (63 carries last year) is the top returning rusher outside of quarterback MarQueis Gray, there's reason to be concerned.

Big Ten mailblog

June, 26, 2012
Your questions, my answers. Very good response on this piece.

Thomas from Columbia, Mo., writes: In the Rich Rodriguez years, MSU recruited the state of Michigan better than UM did. Now the tide has turned, and Michigan is dominating, with Michigan getting (in the state of Michigan) 5 out of the top 10 and the top 3 prospects(according to ESPN's state rankings). How much of MSU's success was due to RR not focusing on the motherstate AND will MSU's success decline due to Hoke's recruiting magic?

Adam Rittenberg: Thomas, while Michigan State certainly benefited from Michigan's previous staff focusing more on states like Florida, it wasn't as if Michigan landed no players from within the state or in neighboring Ohio. Michigan State deserves credit for elevating its recruiting efforts and bringing in top local prospects like William Gholston, Lawrence Thomas, Max Bullough and Tony Lippett. You can't just assume Michigan would have landed every elite prospect in the state had it had a different staff with a different focus. That said, Michigan has tremendous recruiting momentum right now under Brady Hoke and his staff. The Wolverines have piled up early commits in each of the past two seasons, and the quality of Wolverine recruits undoubtedly is going up.

This will test Mark Dantonio and his staff to keep pace. Michigan State has the momentum on the field, having beaten Michigan four consecutive times and having won 22 games the past two seasons. But Michigan's staff change has increased the competition on the recruiting trail. Michigan State will sign a small class in February, so Dantonio and his assistants need to make smart choices in their offers. The Spartans need a quality-over-quantity type of class.

Andrew K from East Lansing, Mich., writes: About aligning with Wisconsin: I can't do it, at least not this season. I hate the overblown hype around UM and OSU as much as the typical human, but between the intensity of the last two games and the abomination that is Boball, it is not within me to back that team across the lake. That said, after this season we don't play for, what, 3 years in the regular season, so I suppose I'll be returning them to the category of any other B1G team: strategic support for other teams when it benefits me (ie, cheer for Purdue against UM this season, etc). It really does stink that a promising rivalry, with basketball hatred to back it, was allowed to fizzle by the conference schedulers, but the road to Indy looks a lot easier without so many stops in Madison.

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, loved the line about "strategic support," Andrew, and you're not alone there. Several fans of both teams have expressed disappointment that Wisconsin-Michigan State isn't an annual series because the teams are in opposite divisions. Many Michigan State fans would rather have Wisconsin as the Spartans' protected cross-division rival than Indiana. While Wisconsin has stronger ties to the Minnesota series, Michigan State certainly has been a more formidable opponent as of late. It will be easier, though, for Michigan State fans to root for Wisconsin, and vice-versa, when the teams don't play. I don't think Badger fans will be too upset when their team doesn't have to travel to the house of horrors known as Spartan Stadium.

Tim from Hermosa Beach, Calif., writes: Adam, I would agree that a budding rivalry, COMBINED with an alignment of MSU and UW fans rooting for the Spartans and Badgers to beat everyone else, is a NECESSITY if the Big 10 is to make a leap from a classic underachieving league. As it is, sporting networks STILL view the league as the Big 2+ (the same people who still view Notre Dame as relevant). Badgers or Spartans or even Nittany Lions, I'd take seeing one of those three going to the national championship in order to boost the league's visibility/ranking/Q-factor. Michigan and OSU will ALWAYS get their top billing due to history, but for the league, Badgers/Spartans need to come out ahead for a while longer.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, some really good thoughts here. I agree that the default perception of the Big Ten, especially among those who don't really study the league, is that it's all about Ohio State and Michigan and no one else matters. While Ohio State has been the Big Ten's dominant program for the better part of the past decade, other programs have risen up, including Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State. But reaching the Rose Bowl or recording a few 10-win seasons is different than winning a national title. If the Badgers, Spartans or Nittany Lions raise the crystal football, it not only changes how they'll be viewed, but how the league will be viewed. They would need to follow up a title run with consistent success -- 2010 champ Auburn, for example, is seen as a one-year wonder because of Cam Newton -- but at least in terms of recent national titles, they'd be on par with Ohio State and Michigan. Wisconsin has separated itself more than any other program because of its success during the better part of the past two decades. But the Badgers need to show they can win the big bowl game and potential compete for a national title.

Dennis from Parts Unknown writes: The Big 10 is like a character straight out of a William Faulkner novel: the aging scion of a once-proud dynasty that has fallen from grace, but still demands the deference that everyone used to give but now no one does.

Adam Rittenberg: Dennis, while this description is a bit exaggerated and likely stemming from one of our friends in SEC country -- Faulkner lived in Oxford, Miss., right? -- there's some truth to it. The Big Ten's lingering power and influence in college football stems in part because of its tradition and former glory days. If you're 20 or 25 years old, I can understand you wondering why the Big Ten even matters, given the league's inability to win national titles. The Big Ten is by no means the worst major conference (hello, ACC), but it has been an underachiever, given its tradition and its wealth and the clout its programs have. As I've stated countless times on this blog, the Big Ten always will matter because of its massive, massive fan base, its wealth as a conference and the importance of football in this part of the country. But until the Big Ten starts winning more at the highest levels of the sport, more and more folks will agree with Dennis' take.

Ben from Connecticut writes: Everyone's concerned about bias on a selection committee. What if the conference reps had to abstain when voting for their own teams? Big Ten reps could vote for anyone but the Big Ten and SEC reps anyone but the SEC. Even the legions of trolls would be hard pressed to argue that, say, Phil Fulmer had an agenda towards getting Boise St. or Pitt into a playoff. Knowledgeable reps, no bias. What's to lose?

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, it's not even a question of whether committee members with ties to certain schools or leagues would have to recuse themselves when those teams come up for discussion. They would leave the room, period. The concern is whether reps from certain leagues would go out of their way to vote against teams from other leagues. The Big Ten and the SEC have a rivalry. Would this affect how committee members from the leagues would vote in teams from the rival league? I don't think it would, provided the right people are selected to serve on the committee. I also think having a larger committee of 10-15 members would allow thorough evaluations of teams even if 1-2 people had to recuse themselves. The more I think about this, the more I favor having league/school administrators serving on the committee instead of former coaches. While the former coaches know their football, they're also likelier to have petty biases infiltrate the room.

Steve from Maryland writes: Adam,I thought it would be interesting to point out that when people talk about the NCAA and the death penalty they refer to only the football program. When in reality this was an issue handled by administrators, and poorly handled I may add. The football people were actually the ones to report it. In truth since this was an admin issue if Penn State were to get the death penalty, which I do not agree with as an alumni, it better be against all of our sports teams, because they are just as innocent as the Football team. So you either punish the entire sports program or none at all. This was a criminal act and the NCAA better go after every school with criminal issues because if they do not the precedent they set here will open a can of worms. The reason people care about football is because it is an easy target and people care about football and Paterno. Sandusky was lost in the headlines because it wasn't the best story and that is a shame. I am glad a majority PSU jury put him away. As a PSU alum I'm sorry this happened, but to act like the Football team deserves all the punishment makes no sense, there are many groups that failed these kids and it started in 1998 with the DA and no charges being filed.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, you bring up some really good points, and the best one is that "Sandusky was lost in the headlines." The over-the-top furor about Joe Paterno's departure the Board of Trustees made everyone look bad -- particularly a portion of Penn State fans -- and eclipsed the real story here, which was Sandusky and his despicable crimes. To your larger point, the NCAA doesn't punish programs for criminal acts unless they relate to NCAA rules issues. It sounds odd, but that's how the NCAA operates. If the problems don't fit into its jurisdiction (NCAA rules compliance), penalties aren't imposed. The biggest failures at Penn State were at the highest administrative levels (president, VP, athletic director). I can see your point about punishing the entire athletic program and not just one team. While there absolutely were some failures in the football program -- too much smoke around Sanduksy for too many years and not enough response -- it doesn't make sense for the NCAA to impose penalties when no NCAA rules violations have come to light. Penn State has paid a price and will continue to do so with civil lawsuits, but this situation doesn't fit the description for NCAA penalties.

Kyle from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, A question regarding the Hawkeyes and their upcoming season. Is there any leads yet as to who will get the majority of the carries at runningback this year? I'm guessing they will do a runningback by committee and wait for somebody to emerge. With Canzeri tearing his ACL I would imagine Damon Bullock would be getting most of the reps with the first team. Do you think any of the incoming freshmen such as Greg Garmon can see a lot of reps this season?

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, the safe bet for Iowa is to go into the season with a committee system at running back. None of the team's current backs has a proven track record in games, and Iowa needs to use the non-league portion to audition several players in the backfield. The players who make the most of their opportunities will get more carries. I'd think Bullock and De'Andre Johnson would get the first crack, but if Garmon and fellow incoming freshman Barkley Hill impresses during preseason camp, they'll be right in that mix for carries. Iowa has played freshmen before and been fine, and the Hawkeyes simply don't have the luxury to let young backs develop behind a proven star.

William from San Francisco writes: you can't compare MSU and Wisconsin. Wisconsin has been to 5 Rose Bowls in the last two decades (won 3) and MSU hasn't been to any. A great argument could be made that Wisconsin already IS a national program. They've had a Heisman winner and a Heisman finalist. Certainly their success hasn't been a blip on the radar.

Adam Rittenberg: William, understand your points, and I agree that Wisconsin, more than Michigan State or Iowa or Penn State, has established itself as a force in the Big Ten alongside the two traditional powers (Ohio State and Michigan). But a lot of this is about perception, and a lot of perception is related to recruiting success. That's where Wisconsin finds itself closer to Michigan State and Iowa than to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Wisconsin doesn't pull in the elite classes every year, and while anyone with a brain respects what Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema have done on the field, there's some doubt about whether the Badgers will sustain their success when Ohio State and Michigan both return to prominence. In Bielema's case, there also is a step to be taken: he must win a Rose Bowl or a national title for Wisconsin to be viewed as a nationally elite program. The Badgers got there in 1998 and 1999 with the Rose Bowl wins and Ron Dayne's Heisman, but they haven't quite reached that peak again.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 20, 2012
Happy first day of summer.
Is the Iowa running back curse striking again?

Incoming freshman Greg Garmon, who was scheduled to report this weekend and compete for immediate playing time this fall, was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession on June 1 in his hometown of Erie, Pa.,, according to multiple media reports.

It remains unclear what this will do to Garmon's status with the Hawkeyes. Marc Morehouse points out in the Cedar Rapids-Gazette a wrestler named Cayle Byers never made it to Iowa after an incident with police, while running back/wide receiver Michael Malloy lost his scholarship and will walk-on after being arrested in Nebraska on several charges, including drug paraphernalia. But every case is different, so it's too soon to jump to conclusions about Garmon's future.

What we do know is that Iowa can't afford to lose another running back, after Marcus Coker transferred, Mika'il McCall left the team and Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL. Garmon is one of two freshmen tailbacks coming in; the other, Barkley Hill, recently reported to campus. Damon Bullock and De’Andre Johnson are the other options on scholarship.

Garmon rushed for 2,859 yards and 27 touchdowns in high school and is one of the jewels of Iowa's 2012 recruiting class.

We'll wait to see whether this legal trouble will affect his fate with the Hawkeyes, as we also wonder again whether the Iowa running back curse is ever going to end.

Iowa spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (fourth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Vandenberg, C James Ferentz, WR Keenan Davis, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, CB Micah Hyde, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, S Tanner Miller

Key losses

RB Marcus Coker, WR Marvin McNutt, OT Riley Reff, G Adam Gettis, DT Mike Daniels, DE Broderick Binns, LB Tyler Nielsen, CB Shaun Prater

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Coker (1,384 yards)
Passing: James Vandenberg* (3,022 yards)
Receiving: Marvin McNutt (1,315 yards)
Tackles: James Morris* and Christian Kirksey* (110)
Sacks: Mike Daniels (9)
Interceptions: Micah Hyde* and Tanner Miller (3)

Spring answers

1. Embracing change: Iowa is going through a historic number of changes, including the first new coordinators (Greg Davis and Phil Parker) in Kirk Ferentz's tenure as head coach. But for the most part, players and coaches seem to be embracing the new elements of the program, including an offense that will diverge a bit from what Iowa ran under Ken O'Keefe. The Hawkeyes will be a more up-tempo offense and mix in some no-huddle elements. "They've been extremely open to everything," Davis told "Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement. And I sense an excitement."

2. Back seven emerging: There's no doubt Iowa will lean on its defensive back seven this season. Cornerback Micah Hyde has established himself as a premier playmaker and a team leader, and Ferentz likened the career paths of linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey to those of former stars Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. Linebacker play could be a major strength for Iowa this fall, while players like Hyde and Tanner Miller bring experience to the secondary.

3. C.J.'s time: Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz arrived at Iowa with a lot of hype and attention. He appears poised for a breakout junior season in Davis' offense. "This is only 39 springs I've been in, and I've never had a tight end like C.J.," Davis told reporters. At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz can create a lot of problems for opposing defenses and should be an integral part of the Hawkeyes' passing attack this fall.

Fall questions

1. Defensive line: Iowa hasn't been this young up front in recent memory, and despite a strong track record at defensive line, there are major question marks entering the summer. The coaches are relying on Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione, the only veteran linemen on the field this spring, as well as Dominic Alvis, who will return from a torn ACL this fall. But Iowa undoubtedly needs young players like Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn and Carl Davis to take steps and contribute.

2. Running back: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Iowa enters the summer with big questions at the running back position following Marcus Coker's transfer and Jordan Canzeri's ACL injury during spring ball. The good news is that despite an unfortunate stretch of bad luck and bad circumstances, Iowa has consistently developed good to great Big Ten backs. The Hawkeyes must do so again as unproven returnees Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson compete with decorated incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill.

3. The search for No. 1 receiver: All-Big Ten selection Marvin McNutt leaves a significant void, and given Iowa's question marks at running back, the team really needs a No. 1 receiver to emerge. Keenan Davis seems like the obvious choice, but he had an "up and down" spring, according to Ferentz, with some injuries. Kevonte Martin-Manley played a lot last year and could be ready to make some strides, as could Don Shumpert. "We have some room there for guys to step up," Ferentz said.