Big Ten: Brandon Cottom

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
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Spring practice is off and running in the Big Ten, as Michigan took the field Tuesday and Northwestern followed on Wednesday. We're taking snapshots of where each team stands at each position group.

We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.

Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.

Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.

Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.

Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).

Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.

Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.

Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.

Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.

Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.

Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.

Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.

Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.

Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.

Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.

Spring game preview: Purdue

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
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Our look at a Saturday packed with spring games around the Big Ten continues with Purdue. Head coach Darrell Hazell wraps up his first spring session with the annual Black & Gold spring game at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Here's a closer look:

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.

Admission: Free. Gates open at noon. Free parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis in the A Lot (west half only), F Lot, G Lot, H Lot (upper and lower), R Lot and Z Lot. The family fun fest takes place from 11 a.m.-noon ET and is open to all kids in eighth grade or younger.

TV: Live on BTN2Go. Big Ten Network will air the game at 9 p.m. ET on April 15.

Weather forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, temperatures between 41-48 degrees, winds at 15-17 mph.

What to watch for: There are new schemes on both sides of the ball, an evolving quarterback competition and a different feel with Hazell and the new staff. Purdue drafted teams Wednesday -- secondary coach Jon Heacock will lead the Black team and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will lead the Gold squad. Full rosters are here.

The quarterbacks will be in the spotlight Saturday and it will be interesting to see how the Black squad rotates senior Rob Henry and freshman Danny Etling, as they seem to have separated themselves a bit in the competition. Henry tried to trade Etling to the Gold squad for offensive lineman Robert Kugler and punter Thomas Meadows but was shot down.

Etling made a move last week and shared most of the reps with the first-team offense in practice earlier this week. Henry has worked extremely hard to learn John Shoop's pro-style system, and while he's always branded as an athlete first, he wants to show he can be an effective pocket passer. Austin Appleby, meanwhile, will lead the Gold squad and has a good opportunity to end the spring on a strong note. Although Appleby seems to have fallen back a bit in the race the last week, he can leave the coaches with a strong impression coming out of the spring.

Line play also will be an area to watch as Purdue tries to get closer to being "Big Ten strong." Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. is back on the field after recovering from thumb surgery, and he'll lead the Gold squad line, while end Ryan Russell lines up for Black. Hazell told ESPN.com this week that the offensive line is "starting to make strides," so it will be interesting to see which team protects the passer better. The defensive line is thin as Ryan Isaac, Greg Latta and Brandon Taylor all are out with injuries.

The secondary could be a strength for Purdue this fall, and while top defensive backs like Ricardo Allen, Frankie Williams and Normondo Harris are split between the teams, all have opportunities to showcase their playmaking ability. Outside receivers Dolapo Macarthy and Charles Torwudzo, both of the Gold team, will challenge Williams and Harris.

Running back Akeem Hunt has had a very good string in establishing himself as the starter, and he'll help lead the Black team's offense. The Gold will counter with Robert Gregory and, if he's cleared, Brandon Cottom.
Purdue fans are closely monitoring the Robert Marve Watch, as they hope to see the senior quarterback return from his latest ACL injury.

As for the Ralph Bolden Watch, is anyone paying attention?

Bolden, a second-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009, has been somewhat of a forgotten man this year as he recovers from his latest knee injury, sustained in Purdue's 2011 regular-season finale at Indiana. Akeem Shavers has been Purdue's featured back through the first five games (58 carries, 240 rush yards, 3 TDs), while Akeem Hunt has been the secondary ball carrier (18 carries, 169 yards). The Boilers also have mixed in some others (Brandon Cottom, Raheem Mostert).

What about Bolden? Could he return soon, like for Saturday's Big Ten opener against Michigan?

"I'm not exactly sure," Purdue coach Danny Hope said Tuesday, "even though I think he's getting much closer to being ready to play, and I think in his mind he thinks he is. Again, it's his call as far as when he allows us to have the liberty of putting him in the game at our discretion. Just because he says he's ready doesn't mean we're going to put him in. But we're not going to put him in until he says he's ready, and he feels like he's ready now.

"So there's a chance he could play this Saturday, but again, situations will determine that and also the performance of some of the other running backs, that's going to determine some of it."

Anyone else confused?

Bolden made his position clear, telling The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier's Mike Carmin, "I guess they're waiting [for] me to say that I’m ready. I've been telling them I'm ready."

Hope's dilemma could be whether Bolden would merit playing time ahead of the other backs, especially if he's not 100 percent. Asked Tuesday if he'd support Bolden trying to get a sixth year of eligibility if he can't play this fall, Hope said, "I'd get on my knees and beg him, OK?"

But getting sixth years can be tricky, especially when players are quoted as saying they're ready to go. Purdue has had mixed results and doesn't want another Keith Smith situation on its hands.

Although the Boilers have some nice options in the backfield, using Bolden couldn't hurt. Although he might never be the back he was in 2009, when he racked up 935 rush yards and 11 touchdowns, he's an experienced option for a Purdue team looking to make a title run.

Boilermakers run away with easy win

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
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Purdue's quarterback situation might frustrate and confuse its fans at times, but the Boilers are pretty good elsewhere.

In fact, they might be the best team in the Leaders Division.

Purdue rode its run game and its defense to a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan, improving to 2-1 before a bye week. The Boilers forced three turnovers and didn't allow an offensive touchdown, until the fourth quarter following up their effort at Notre Dame with another stout defensive performance.

Facing an Eastern Michigan team that entered the game ranked 118th nationally in rush defense, Purdue took full advantage with its group of ball carriers and racked up 384 rush yards in the victory. Starting running back Akeem Shavers set the tone with a 40-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Brandon Cottom later broke free for an 87-yard scoring dash. The Boilers finished with 184 rush yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in the first half (9.7 ypc), surging to a 33-9 lead. Although Akeem Hunt's 51-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter was technically a reception, he did almost all of the work with his legs. Hunt (5 touches, 156 yards, 2 TDs) had a huge day, showing why he's such a big-play threat for Purdue.

Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush recovered from a shaky start that included a pick-six to complete 16-of-25 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, both to senior Antavian Edison. With Robert Marve (knee) sidelined at least for a while, the Boilers will lean on TerBush, who has to limit his turnovers when Big Ten play kicks off.

The run game did what it was supposed to against a bad defense, but Purdue's most encouraging element was the play of its own D. The line is one of the Big Ten's best, and several playmakers stepped up in the secondary, including Frankie Williams and Josh Johnson, who both had interceptions.

Purdue wraps up non-league play Sept. 29 against Marshall before beginning a season-defining stretch -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State -- to open Big Ten play. This much is known: the Boilers are serious contenders in a very winnable Leaders Division.

Purdue recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
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PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

The class

Recruits: 16 (12 high school seniors, three players enrolled early and one walk-on received a scholarship)

Top prospects: Athlete Raheem Mostert could be a game changer for Purdue, which has found some playmakers from the state of Florida under Danny Hope. Another Floridian, receiver Frankie Williams, should bolster the Boilermakers' passing attack. Pennsylvania product Armstead Williams ranks as the nation's No. 24 outside linebacker according to ESPN Recruiting.

Needs met: Running back depth became such a problem in 2010 that Purdue had to move some of its young receiver into the backfield. This class should address the running back spot as Purdue brings in Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. The Boilers also added to the tight end and linebacker spots, two positions that need boosts.

Analysis: A small class that lacks big names might not get too many folks excited, but Hope has a formula that needs some time to work. Purdue found some athletes this year like Mostert, Frankie Williams and Brandon Cottom. This might not be a difference-making class, but it addresses several position groups and could get Purdue back to making bowl games on a consistent basis again.

ESPN Recruiting grade: C

Big Ten lunch links

June, 15, 2010
6/15/10
12:00
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Hope you're enjoying Dan Beebe Appreciation Day.

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