Big Ten: Brandon Walker-Roby
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Game week is almost here, and coaches around the league have some big decisions to make. Your only decision is to keep reading.
- Rejus Benn could use a shave, particularly if he ends up on stage accepting an award or two in December. But the Illinois sophomore wideout isn't concerned about his preseason hype, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette. Sirod Williams' season-ending knee injury put Illini defensive tackle Josh Brent in the mix to start, Mark Tupper writes.
- No one at Indiana has said much about the reasons behind quarterback Kellen Lewis' spring suspension. But Lewis finally opened up Monday, saying he had thrown himself into "a party lifestyle," skipping classes and team meetings, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Very candid stuff from the junior:
"There were times when they called me and couldn't get a hold of me for three days. I had gone out and partied and then missed two classes and didn't wake up until 12:30. ... When you start believing in your own hype a little bit, you start thinking you can slide in a little bit later than everybody else. And now that you don't have to follow the same rules, you can bend this rule or that one. 'The essay is due on Thursday, but I can just e-mail it to [the instructor] later that night,' that kind of thing. And then it all just kind of caught up with me and my grades slipped to a point they had never slipped to before."
Also, some notes from Hoosiers practice, as wideouts Andrew Means and Brandon Walker-Roby returned to the field.
- Iowa's linebacking corps has a youthful look after the losses of the Mikes (Humpal and Klinkenborg). Jacody Coleman leads the next generation of Hawkeyes linebackers, Ryan Suchomel writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' name isn't the only interesting thing about the sophomore wideout, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- More details are emerging about Michigan running back Kevin Grady's drunken driving arrest. According to police, the Wolverines junior was passed out at the wheel, The Grand Rapids Press reports. Michigan doesn't have many definitive answers on its depth chart, but coach Rich Rodriguez isn't lacking for options, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. The healing process continues for Wolverines offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, who lost his father and girlfriend in a car accident last Christmas.
- Brandon Long was overshadowed by Michigan State teammate Jonal Saint-Dic last season. The defensive end knows his time is now, Chris Solari writes in the Lansing State Journal. Long and the other Spartans defensive linemen face an immediate test in Cal's Jahvid Best, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Minnesota's offensive line is young and banged-up, but guards Chris Bunders and D.J. Burris are back in the mix after injuries, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Northwestern broke camp in Kenosha, Wis., after a solid 10 days.
- Ohio State opened its doors to the public Monday night, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor didn't disappoint, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. More on Pryor's throwing motion and wideout Dane Sanzenbacher, the star of Ohio State's camp, from The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises. Also, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel weighs in on the debate about closing practices and scrimmages to the media and the public.
- Josh Hull has gone from walk-on to projected starter at Linebacker U., Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The 50-yard Lion blog begins ranking Penn State's opponents, from easiest to hardest.
- The prognosis doesn't look good for Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor, who has his right knee evaluated today, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier. Boilers fifth-year senior safety Frank Duong has been rewarded with a scholarship, WNDU-TV reports.
- Wisconsin will name its starting quarterback Wednesday, with Allan Evridge the likely choice, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. The team also could open the season without star linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ankle). Badgers cornerback Niles Brinkley, a possible starter, is inspired by the memory of his sister, who died earlier this month.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Last fall, Indiana reached its first bowl game since 1993, a fitting tribute to its late coach, Terry Hoeppner, a master motivator whose mottos remain with the program to this day. But one of Hoeppner's greatest gifts to the team was a spread offense that caught fire last season. Led by All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis and all-conference wide receiver James Hardy, the Hoosiers finished third in the Big Ten in scoring (31.7 ppg).
But the offseason brought some obstacles. Hardy left early for the NFL and Lewis was suspended for spring practice before being reinstated July 7. Indiana implemented the no-huddle with the spread largely because of Lewis, but coach Bill Lynch said the junior will have to reclaim his starting job during training camp. I caught up with Indiana offensive coordinator Matt Canada earlier this week and discussed Lewis, the no-huddle and the outlook for the 2008 season.
How much progress did you guys make with the no-huddle during the spring?
Matt Canada: We're excited about it. We explored it in the offseason and used it in the spring, felt like it was something that we needed to look into, based on the success other people had and based on the new rule, with the 40-second [play] clock. So we really, really liked it in the spring. Our kids really like it. It wasn't as difficult a transition as some people might think. We were already a spread team. So it's just something to have as an option if you want to change the tempo of a game.
When did you start thinking of going to the no-huddle?
MC: It was after the bowl game, as you go out and recruit, talk to other coaches. Certainly we played some teams that were very successful with it against our own defense, and [we] saw the advantages it gives an offense. So as a staff, we talked and started exploring it then and took some trips, visited with some other coaches throughout February and early March and went from there. There's so many different variations of people running what you want to call the no-huddle, so you kind of pick and choose and find what you think might help you.
Who did you consult, or is that a state secret?
MC: It's not a state secret (laughs). But we just talked to a lot of people.
How much did you have Kellen in mind when you decided to go to the no-huddle?
MC: We certainly think Kellen can do well in this offense, but we also think it's a very good offense for Ben Chappell to run, and very good for the wide receivers to find ways to get the ball to 'em in different ways. We've got some good [running] backs coming back, so we felt like it was the best thing to do for our offense, not one particular player.
What will your message be to Kellen when training camp starts?
MC: It's what Coach Lynch said. He's got to come in and compete for the job. We had a very good spring, a very productive spring. Kellen's certainly had two very, very productive years, set a lot of records and did a lot of great things for us. But everybody we recruit, we think can come in and be a starter. Ben Chappell earned the respect of his teammates and did a great job in the spring. It will all work itself out.
How much did you talk to Kellen during his suspension? What's your sense of his attitude now that he's back?
MC: Kellen's really excited to be back. I was in contact with him. There are a lot of things that go on there. Kellen and I have a good relationship. I'm excited he's back, and I think he's looking forward to the challenges of the season.
Will Ben push him a little bit more than he would have if Kellen were here in the spring?
MC: There's no question. Ben certainly got a great jump, and Mitchell Evans as well, because they got a lot of reps.
Do you have a timetable on when you'd like to name a starter?
MC: No, not at all. The target date for us is we play Western Kentucky in the opener. We've got a lot of work to do from now until then.
You guys obviously lost a great wide receiver in James. What's your outlook for the guys you have coming back? Andrew [Means] is back in the mix with Ray [Fisher] and some others.
MC: We're excited Andrew's coming back. He's, obviously, a great talent, a great baseball player and we certainly wished him well with that. Ray Fisher's a big-time player for us. Terrance Turner was coming on strong last fall and he got a knee (injury). [Brandon] Walker-Roby's a very good player, in his fourth year playing. He's kind of waited his turn to play. Then we've got some young guys we've recruited we think are pretty solid as well. Obviously, James Hardy was a special, special player and did a lot of great things for us, but we've got a lot of other guys.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AJ Mast/Icon SMI|
|Marcus Thigpen led the nation in yards per return in 2006.|
CHICAGO -- Like the rest of his Indiana teammates, running back Marcus Thigpen has to wear school-issued sweats on road trips. He wishes things were different.
"I'd rather wear this," Thigpen said Friday.
Thigpen rolled into Friday's interview sessions wearing a suit that fell somewhere between peach and salmon on the color palette. The Hoosiers' senior stood out among his fellow Big Ten players, most of whom played it safe with their fashion choices.
The suit came from a store in Detroit, Thigpen's hometown, and he owns similar outfits in blue, red, purple and white. He has even taken teammates like Brandon Walker-Roby and Richard Council to the store.
"I like bright colors," he said. "They stand out."
Thigpen will be wearing the same thing as everyone else on the field this fall, but he hopes his play makes him stand out. The speedy senior is a proven threat on kickoff returns, leading the nation in return average two years ago (30.1 yards per return), but he has yet to make his mark as a running back.
He rushed for 568 yards as a junior but finished second on the team behind quarterback Kellen Lewis. At only 182 pounds last year, Thigpen received 11.5 carries per game and was used sparingly on runs between the tackles. As a result, he bulked up to 200 pounds during the offseason.
"Even though they try to get me more to the outside, I want to run up the middle, show them that I can do it," Thigpen said. "That was the main reason they didn't send me through the hole, because I was so little. I was like, 'I've got to get bigger, so I can be a fourth-down back. If we're at fourth-and-inches, I want to be in there. I don't want to be on the sideline, hoping that we get it."
Thigpen's weight-gain plan was, well, interesting. He actually gave up pork and beef and started eating turkey, fish, chicken and plenty of carbs (pasta, potatoes, rice). With six mini-meals a day, he added bulk.
How big a rushing load Thigpen would handle in 2008 became a key question after Lewis was suspended for violating team rules and missed spring practice. Thigpen originally thought Lewis, like wide receiver James Bailey, would not return to the team, but the quarterback was reinstated earlier this month. Despite Lewis' athleticism, Thigpen expects an enhanced role in Indiana's no-huddle spread.
"I feel like I should be the rushing leader, I'm the running back," Thigpen said. "Not taking anything away from Kellen -- he's a very good quarterback -- but I feel I should take more of the load, the running, the pounding, than he should."