Big Ten: Bryant Allen

Big Ten lunch links

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
12:00
PM ET
"Monday Night Football" at a Big Ten stadium tonight. Who's excited?

Minnesota suspends Troy Stoudermire

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
12:55
AM ET
Minnesota is hopeful that MarQueis Gray can become its go-to wide receiver after recording 98 yards and a touchdown last week against USC.

Gray and the other wideouts need to elevate their play Saturday because junior Troy Stoudermire won't be with them. Stoudermire has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

Coach Tim Brewster announced the suspension Wednesday but didn't provide many details, saying only, "We'll work with him."

Stoudermire had six receptions for 114 yards this season, but he'll be missed mainly on special teams. He ranks second in the Big Ten in kick return average (23.3 ypr) and needs only 179 yards to become the conference's all-time leader in kick return yards.

Sophomore Bryant Allen steps in for Stoudermire in the starting lineup.

Minnesota lacks many proven wideouts and really needs production from Gray and Da'Jon McKnight on Saturday night against Northern Illinois.

Just another setback in a very rough stretch for the Gophers' program.
The position rankings finish with the special-teams units. For this list, I examine kickers, punters, return men and coverage units and look at each team's overall picture in the all-important third phase. The Big Ten loses several elite specialists, including punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Brett Swenson. It's a little odd not to see Ohio State near the top, but if there's a hole on Jim Tressel's team this year, it might be on special teams.

Here are my top five:

[+] EnlargeDerrell Johnson-Koulianos
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIDerrell Johnson-Koulianos ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009.
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast one of the league's top punters in Ryan Donahue, who has averaged more than 40 yards per punt in each of his first three seasons. Iowa also brings back Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009. There's competition at kicker (big surprise), but Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker both boast experience. Colin Sandeman quietly ranked second in the league in punt return average last year.

2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.

3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.

4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.

5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.

More rankings ...

After Minnesota ran a multitude of plays but very few of them well last season, new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came in with a simple plan.

Step 1: Identify a feasible package of plays for the Gophers execute well.

Step 2: Stick to it!

In preseason camp, he's seeing the desired results.

"We’re really close to that point right now," Horton told me after Friday's practice. "They’re even calling the plays along with me. They’re anticipating what’s going to happen because they’ve seen a variety of looks from the defense to what we’re doing.

Adam Weber
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMinnesota quarterback Adam Weber is a three-year starter.
"There’s still a lot we’ve got to clean up, but the effort is there and guys are working really hard to be good."

Minnesota didn't dramatically change its offense after Jedd Fisch returned to the NFL, but Horton spent most of the spring installing his plan. He needed the players to continue the process on their own in the summer to make sure they had it down for the season.

So far, Horton has seen "great carryover" in practice, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Adam Weber, a three-year starter who had to reclaim the top job this spring after beating out MarQueis Gray.

"He always approached it like he was going to be the starter, and he did a great job leading the workouts this summer, getting guys ready for camp," Horton said of Weber. "He gets a bad rap. I’m his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. I don’t know many people who can work for four bosses in four years. He’s doing a great job."

The easiest way for Minnesota's offense to keep it simple in 2010 is to effectively run the ball, something haven't done well in a while. One of the nation's premier rushing offenses just five years ago, Minnesota has finished 111th and 104th nationally in the past two seasons, ranking last in the Big Ten both times.

Horton expects to use multiple backs this season -- Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge can be considered co-starters, while Horton said freshman Donnell Kirkwood is performing well -- and he's thrilled to have fullback Jon Hoese back in the fold. But it won't matter who carries the ball if Minnesota's line doesn't markedly improve.

The experience is there, but Horton, head coach Tim Brewster and others have challenged the line to be tougher and more physical.

"They’ve played a lot of football for us, all five of them," said Horton, who singled out center D.J. Burris for his leadership. "I told them when we started camp, ‘It’s on you guys. You have to take charge.'"

Minnesota also has to survive without record-setting receiver Eric Decker, whose foot injury last fall coincided with the offense's nosedive. Horton joked that he almost expected Decker to be on the field for camp -- "That’s one of the reasons I took the job as offensive coordinator," he said -- but acknowledged the major production void left by No. 7.

Horton doesn't expect a receiver to catch 70-80 passes like Decker used to, but he likes the variety he has with players like Da'Jon McKnight, Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen.

“From what we put in in the spring, those guys worked on it in the summer, and you can see a big improvement running those plays in the fall," Horton said. "They’re not thinking as much. And if you’re thinking, you can’t play fast. They know what they’re doing, and that brings confidence."
Here's the second half of my interview with Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster, whose team kicks off spring practice today. For Part I, click here.

You can't expect another Eric Decker to emerge, but wide receiver will be a key position in 2010. Who do you lean on among the wideout group?

Tim Brewster: The guy who I think has a chance to be really good is Da'Jon McKnight. Again, [the wide receivers will] benefit from a guy like Steve Watson, who played 10 years in the NFL and coached wide receivers and was a wide receiver. He's going to do a great job with those guys. Da'Jon, he's 6-foot-3, he's 210 pounds, big, strong, physical guy that can run and catch. I'm expecting big things out of Da'Jon. Then you look at Troy [Stoudermire] and Brandon Green, and I really think Bryant Allen's got a chance to take the next step. Hayo Carpenter, last year he didn't do much, he got in here late and he's really showing some things. So we've got some talent there to work with.

On defense, as far as leadership, do you really lean on the two safeties, [Kim] Royston and [Kyle] Theret?

TB: Yeah. They're two guys that are really experienced, tough guys. And then Christyn Lewis has come in, the JC corner, and really done a nice job. And Michael Carter, I think is really going to take the next step at a cornerback position. Ryan Collado really did some good things for us last year, particularly down the stretch. But I'm really excited about our linebackers. We've got some linebackers that all can run, very physical type guys, and it's going to be good. Ra'Shede Hageman's got a chance to be a special player. He's 6-foot-6, he's weighing 292 pounds, runs like a deer. He's got a chance, along with Brandon Kirksey, Jewhan Edwards and D.L. Wilhite, to really have a pretty good group up front.

People always talk about up-the-middle defense. You have some good safeties, but middle linebacker and D-tackle have to be positions you're going to watch.

TB: When you look at middle linebacker, we've got competition there between Gary Tinsley and Sam Maresh. It's going to be fun to see Sam out there, competing this spring. They're two big, physical guys. And when you look at Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey, and Anthony Jacobs is also going to play inside, I think we've got the makings of a strong group down the middle and a group that is athletic and can run. That's the area where we've most improved, athletically.

You mentioned wanting to have the quarterback spot settled by the end of the spring. There are a lot of these other competitions. So how much of the depth chart would you like to know by the end of the spring?

TB: What we want to do is have a good feel for who we can count on from this group, excluding the incoming freshmen. I think we'll be able to come out of spring practice with a good feeling of who we're going to be able to count on when we go to Middle Tennessee [Sept. 2].

You've talked so much about recruiting and how it's a big emphasis. Is there a different feeling now that you recruited most of the guys on this team?

TB: I feel like we've done a good job recruiting, but that's got to translate to the field. We, as coaches, have got to do a great job of developing the young talent. That's the challenge for us. We've got some talented kids. We've got to do our job as a staff, and I feel good about our coaches. We'll get after it and develop these kids. And I think the competition is really going to push our players to take that next step.
I'm man enough to admit mistakes, so here's one: I haven't given special teams nearly enough attention in the blog. As we saw throughout the 2009 regular season and bowl season, the kicking game often makes the difference in the final outcome.

Consider this a fresh start.

Let's take a look at who's back, who's gone and how the special-teams units look for each Big Ten squad in 2010. We'll start with the first six teams (by alphabetical order) and examine the other five later Tuesday.

ILLINOIS

  • Kicker: Derek Dimke and Matt Eller both return. Dimke went 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts (all beyond 30 yards) after taking over for Eller, who struggled in his second year, connecting on only 4 of 11 attempts.
  • Punter: Senior Anthony Santella returns after ranking sixth in the league in punting average (41.3 ypp).
  • Kick return: Troy Pollard is back, but Arrelious Benn and A.J. Jenkins both depart. Illinois finished ninth in the league last fall in this category (19.3 ypr).
  • Punt return: Jarred Fayson and Jack Ramsey both come back. Illinois ranked last in the league in punt returns in 2009 (4.2 ypr)
  • Quick thoughts: Illinois needs to upgrade its kicking game to have any shot at turning things around in 2010. The return game really struggled (114th nationally in punt returns, 105th in kick returns), and kickoff coverage wasn't good, either (90th). Dimke provided a nice spark late in the season, but Illinois has too much talent not to make a bigger splash in returns.
INDIANA

  • Kicker: Sophomore Nick Freeland returns after connecting on 14 of 25 attempts in 2009. Redshirt freshman Mitch Ewald and senior Nick Ford also are in the mix here.
  • Punter: Junior Chris Hagerup is back after finishing eighth in the league in punting average (40.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Ray Fisher, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (37.4 ypr), is gone. Wide receiver Tandon Doss, who led IU with 25 runbacks, returns for his junior season.
  • Punt return: Indiana loses Fisher but brings back Doss. The Hoosiers finished second in the Big Ten in punt returns last fall (10.3 ypr).
  • Quick thoughts: Fisher is a major loss in the return game, but Doss certainly has the ability to fill the void. Indiana must figure things out on field goals, as it ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage last fall (.560). The offense should be pretty dynamic in 2010, so any help the kicking game provides would be huge. Indiana covered punts well but needs to improve on kickoffs after finishing 93rd nationally (23.2 ypr).
IOWA

  • Kicker: Daniel Murray handled all of Iowa's field goals in 2009, connecting on 19 of 26 attempts. Junior Trent Mossbrucker also returns.
  • Punter: Senior Ryan Donahue will contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall after averaging 40.9 yards per punt in 2009.
  • Kick return: Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is back after finishing second in the league in kick return average (31.5 ypr). Running back Brandon Wegher and wideout Paul Chaney Jr. also are back.
  • Punt return: Senior Colin Sandeman is back, and he'll compete with Chaney and possibly others for the top job.
  • Quick thoughts: Special teams should be a major strength for the Hawkeyes in 2010. Johnson-Koulianos showed against Ohio State how dangerous he can be on kickoff returns. Donahue and Murray are two of the league's more experienced specialists. Iowa's coverage units fared well in 2009, ranking ninth nationally in kick coverage (18.4 ypr) and 21st in punt coverage (5.7 ypr).
MICHIGAN

  • Kicker: The Wolverines must replace Jason Olesnavage, who connected on 11 of 15 attempts in 2009.
  • Punter: Michigan suffers a big loss here as Ray Guy Award finalist Zoltan Mesko departs. Mesko led the Big Ten in punting average (44.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wideout Darryl Stonum is back after averaging 25.7 yards per runback with a touchdown in 2009. Michigan's No. 2 option, Martavious Odoms, also returns for 2010. The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten in kick returns last fall (23.8 ypr).
  • Punt return: Junior Hemingway is back after leading U-M in punt returns (8.6 ypr). Odoms had six punt returns last fall, though Michigan could look to its younger players here.
  • Quick thoughts: Replacing Mesko won't be easy, and Olesnavage quietly turned in a strong season, especially from long range. Incoming punter recruit Will Hagerup will step into the fire right away for the Wolverines. Kick returns should be a strength, and Michigan did a decent job on coverage last year, ranking 20th in punt coverage and third in the Big Ten in net kickoff coverage.
MICHIGAN STATE

  • Kicker: The Spartans suffer a big loss here, as first-team All-Big Ten selection Brett Swenson departs. Swenson went 19-for-22 on field goals last fall and led the Big Ten in kick scoring (101 points).
  • Punter: Senior Aaron Bates returns after finishing fifth in the league in punting average (41.6 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is back after becoming arguably the Big Ten's most dangerous return man last fall. Michigan State needs a No. 2 option here.
  • Punt return: Martin did a nice job on punt returns in 2009, averaging 7.4 yards per runback.
  • Quick thoughts: Swenson leaves a major void at kicker, as Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma compete to replace the back-to-back All-Big Ten selection. Martin really blossomed on returns during Big Ten play and could be a huge X-factor for Michigan State this fall. The Spartans' coverage teams were average in 2009. If Conroy and/or Muma can hold their own on field goals, special teams could be a real strength for Mark Dantonio's team.
MINNESOTA

  • Kicker: Eric Ellestad is back for his senior year after connecting on 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, with all the makes coming from within 40 yards.
  • Punter: Minnesota loses Blake Haudan, who had a very solid 2009 season, ranking third in the league in average (42.6 ypp). Sophomore Dan Orseske will step in this fall.
  • Kick return: Wideout Troy Stoudermire is back after once again getting a ton of action on returns, recording 43 runbacks for 1,057 yards (24.6 ypr). Duane Bennett and Hayo Carpenter are possible No. 2 options.
  • Punt return: Sophomore wideout Bryant Allen is back after averaging 12.2 yards on six runbacks last fall. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average (14.7 ypr), although the Gophers also had the fewest opportunities (9).
  • Quick thoughts: Haudan was a very solid punter in 2009, so Orseske will have some big shoes to fill. Stoudermire and Allen are fine options on returns, and Ellestad did a nice job on the kicks he should make. Minnesota really struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking 102nd nationally (24.1 ypr). If the offense starts slow again this fall, Minnesota will need to be sharp in the kicking game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick analysis from halftime at TCF Bank Stadium, where California leads Minnesota 21-14.

Turning point: After Minnesota stopped Cal deep in its own territory, Bears safety Jesse Brooks drew a 15-yard penalty for crushing Gophers punt returner Bryant Allen, who was knocked silly trying to catch the ball. The foul gave Minnesota great field position and the Gophers converted for their second touchdown with 40 seconds left, reducing their deficit.

Stats of the half: Cal has outgained Minnesota 277-112, recorded seven more first downs and held the ball for 19:56 vs. 10:04.

Best player in the half: The best is Best, as in California running back Jahvid Best, who strengthened his case for Heisman Trophy consideration with 114 rush yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries in the half. Honorable mention goes to Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, who has caught two touchdown passes.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 15, 2009
6/15/09
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Who says June is a dead zone? A ton of links for you today.

  • Some interesting comments from Illinois head coach Ron Zook, who blames himself for easing off in preseason practice last year and doesn't expect defensive lineman Jerry Brown to be back, Loren Tate writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. Also, safety Donsay Hardeman (neck surgery) has been cleared medically. 
"It doesn't look good for Jerry Brown," Zook said. "There's a pretty good chance he won't be here. He is the only one with serious academic problems. As for Josh Brent, I'll comment later. I hope he can come back, but I have to sit down with [athletic director Ron] Guenther when his situation is more clarified."

The percentage payout for the Motor City Bowl drops from 5% of a coach's salary to 2%. The Insight Bowl drops from 5% to 3%. The Champs Bowl drops from 10% to 5%. Here are the bonus percentages for Wisconsin's other bowl possibilities: Capital One and Outback, 10%; Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta Bowl, 15%; national championship game appearance, 25%; national championship, 30%.

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