Big Ten: Cam Gordon

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
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Happy Sea Serpent Day.
2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

April, 18, 2013
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It's Thursday, so it's time for another mailbag. Remember to keep those questions coming during the offseason.

A.J. from Madison writes: Over/under on Badgers' defense giving up more points than last year? I have NO idea what to expect from them as it appears the scheme is completely different.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure that's technically an over/under, but you're right in that Wisconsin is going through a scheme change, with some 3-4 looks being added by Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The good news for the Badgers is that almost all of the two deep in the front seven is back, save departed senior linebacker Mike Taylor and injured defensive end David Gilbert. The defense should once again be very good up front. More concerning is the secondary, which lost three senior starters.

I think Wisconsin's defense should once again be one of the best in the league, but remember that last year's unit allowed only 19.8 points per game. With some potentially explosive offenses such as Arizona State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Indiana on the schedule, a repeat of that would have to be considered very good work.




Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes:Since the current coaching staffs for Minnesota and Indiana came on at the same time, have you been comparing them to see how they are developing? Minnesota was ahead based on record and getting to a bowl game. Is Indiana catching up due to better recruiting or is it too early to tell?

Brian Bennett: It's not a strict one-to-one comparison, since Indiana's Kevin Wilson replaced his offensive coordinator after the first year and saw co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler leave after last season. Minnesota is going into its third season with the exact same staff under Jerry Kill. Indiana was 5-7 the year before Wilson arrived, while the Gophers were 3-9 in 2010. Wilson played tons of freshmen and bottomed out at 1-11 his first season, while Kill seemed to have more talented veterans to work with the past two years (MarQueis Gray, Ra'Shede Hageman, Michael Carter, etc). In talking to some Minnesota coaches and players this spring, they seem confident that things are about to take off in the third year under Kill as they are finally starting to build some depth, and going to a bowl game did a lot for that program. Indiana remains a step behind because it will have to navigate a tough schedule just to have a chance at a bowl this year, but the Hoosiers are heading in the right direction.




Jay from Prince William County writes: DaQuan Jones is without a doubt the top returning interior D-linemen in the Big Ten. Unlike Hill, who I correctly predicted would be an upgrade over Still after he slid over from nose guard (Jones was an upgrade over Hill at guard) Jones won't have great numbers. It isn't the nature of the position in Penn State's defense, but he will be the best tackle in the league this year. He was the second or third best last year behind Jordan Hill and maybe Hankins. Together with Deion Barnes, the league's top end, Mike Hull, the league's top linebacker, Adrian Amos, the league's top D-back, and plenty of high quality supporting players, Penn State will again have one of the league's top two defenses. They will of course have the league's top linebacking corps for the tenth straight year. That much goes without question.

Brian Bennett: So let me guess: You're a Nittany Lions fan, eh? It's sometimes hard to judge a defensive tackle's impact on stats alone, and Jones is definitely a space-eater at 330 pounds. Then again, in his own words Jones said he hasn't made enough big plays his first three years, and he hasn't been a real game-changer. I wouldn't have ranked him that high last year, as I thought Hankins, Hill, Kawann Short and Hageman were all better and plenty of other tackles in the league were just as good. But the Big Ten was hit pretty hard by graduation and the NFL draft at the position. I'd probably rank Hageman No. 1 among returnees at tackle, but I'm not sure who I'd put at No. 2 at this point. If Jones can make the senior-year leap that other Penn State interior linemen have made recently, he could build a case.




Matt from Ann Arbor writes:Looking at the spring games that have already taken place, which position group for a team has raised its stock the most? Which has dropped the most? Why?

Brian Bennett: I'll expand that to include the entirety of spring practice for teams who have finished, because spring games themselves are often terribly overrated. I'd say Ohio State's defensive line definitely qualifies as a stock you want to buy. Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence looked great all spring and then combined for seven sacks in the spring game, lessening the worry about the Buckeyes losing all four starters from last year's D-line. I also think the arrow is pointing up for Nebraska's quarterbacks (backups Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg both looked good) and Indiana's receivers (even deeper than last year). Picking a group whose stock has dropped is tougher. But I was hoping to see a bit more out of Nebraska's defensive line, which had been billed as more athletic but didn't really make a lot of plays in the spring game. The Huskers did have to go against a great offensive line, though, and will get reinforcements this summer. Michigan's linebacking corps has to go down a notch just because of the loss of Jake Ryan, although a good spring by Cam Gordon and the emergence of James Ross III should help keep the dropoff from being too severe.




Do you believe in T-magic from Omaha, Neb., writes: I'm not sure why Devin Gardneris getting the hype he is. After watching him for several weeks after a better but still not talented QB "Shoelace" Robinson (obviously just a freak athlete) got hurt, all Gardner did was a less talented version of Robinson chuck the ball up and pray someone comes down under it. I don't think Gardner would even be third-string playing for the Big Red and that is sad. ... All Michigan does is try and recycle the same game hoping they get a lucky catch when it matters. Michigan 8-4 (at best) Nebraska 12-0 (showdown with 12-0 tOSUu in the title game) Where does this guy's hype come from? Do tell.

Brian Bennett: That's some world-class trolling right there, my friend. Take a bow. After taking over the Michigan starting job in the Nov. 3 game against Minnesota, Gardner threw for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for seven more scores in five games. Extrapolate that out to a 13-game season, and he would have passed for more than 3,100 yards and totaled 46 touchdowns. No one is saying he will put up those kinds of numbers over a full season, but the fact that he produced those stats after playing mostly receiver for more than half the year and doing so in an offense tailored around Robinson's running ability tells you all you need to know about Gardner's talent and potential.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- All players who walk through the door to Schembechler Hall understand what Michigan once was. They merely have to keep their eyes and ears open.

Many college coaches, even those at traditional power programs, concern themselves only with the present and the future. Michigan's Brady Hoke puts the past on a pedestal.

Hoke's players know what the numbers 134 and 42 mean -- Michigan enters its 134th year of football and boasts 42 Big Ten championships. They know about the program's national titles and award winners. They see the Bo Schembechler quotes, the Big Ten banners and the legends lockers dedicated to program greats.

Many of the current Wolverines hadn't put on a helmet and pads in their lives the last time Michigan won a national title in 1997, but they know what the program was like because coaches like Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, both Michigan assistants during the mid-1990s, tell them about it all the time. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who had no ties to Michigan before arriving with Hoke in 2011, often shows his players tape of former Wolverines stars Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Jon Jansen.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBrady Hoke and the Wolverines are working to get the program back to where it once was.
"There's a tremendous sense of pride that Brady instills," Mattison told ESPN.com, "and our entire football organization feels that 'Let's get Michigan back to the way we remember it,' where when Michigan gets on that field, everybody goes, 'Whoa, here they come.' That's what I envision. I want to do anything that I can do to help us get there, to get Michigan back to the football level it was when I remember it."

Senior linebacker Cam Gordon was 6 years old when Michigan won the national championship and 13 when the Wolverines claimed their last Big Ten title (2004, co-championship). But he hears about the glory days from coaches like Mattison and new outside linebackers coach Roy Manning, who played for Big Ten championship teams in 2003 and 2004.

"I do remember the stories about Michigan," Gordon said. "Before they even stepped on the field, the game was won."

The constant history lessons taught inside Schembechler Hall don't stem from an unhealthy state of nostalgia. Hoke wants his players to understand the standard at Michigan. He's also extremely blunt about the fact that the Wolverines have yet to meet it.

Hoke guided Michigan to 11 wins in his first season and ended the seven-year losing streak against archrival Ohio State. He has yet to lose a game at Michigan Stadium. He has pulled Michigan out of the fog of the Rich Rodriguez era. Recruiting is undoubtedly on the upswing, and Michigan looks more like its old self on both sides of the ball.

But Hoke's tenure to this point, by his own barometer, has been a failure.

"We didn't get it done," he said of the 2012 season, when Michigan went 8-5. "We were still in a second year of changing a culture and changing a philosophy to some degree, offensively and defensively and the whole scope of what we try and do as a team. But still, at the end of the day, this is about winning Big Ten championships. We have 42 of them, and we need to start on our 43rd."

Hoke's message is heard loud and clear from the team's best player on down.

"The standard at Michigan is a Big Ten championship every single year," All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "That's the minimum. Everything else is a failure. The Sugar Bowl, the BCS game, that was awesome. It was such a great experience, Bourbon Street was cool, New Orleans was cool -- failure. Outback Bowl, close game, lost in the last 20 seconds -- failure.

"Those are all games that are failures. The only way this team would be happy, would be satisfied with one season, is if we win a Big Ten championship."

Things weren't that way when Lewan arrived in 2009.

"The main goal was to make it to a bowl game," he said. "I don't know if that's how it's supposed to be at Michigan. I don't know how much my opinion counts, but I think it should be a Big Ten championship every single year. These coaches have done a great job of preaching that.

"We're not going to settle."

It has been nearly a decade since the Wolverines could call themselves league champions, their longest drought since a lull between 1950 and 1964. Every year that passes without a title means Michigan moves a little further away from the great times, a little further away from regaining the mystique Mattison and others preach about.

Talking about a winning culture in the past only goes so far without establishing a winning culture in the present. It's why much of Michigan's offseason work has been from the neck up.

"There were times where we were down in games and we came back and won the game based off our mental toughness," wide receiver Jeremy Gallon said. "And there were times in games where we didn’t come back, and it was our lack of mental toughness."

Defensive tackle Quinton Washington said Michigan worked on breaking "mental barriers" this spring, one of which is playing better away from the Big House. The Wolverines dropped three road games (Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State) and two neutral-site contests (Alabama, South Carolina) last fall.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
AP Photo/Dave WeaverTaylor Lewan (77) knows expectations are high for every player who wears a Michigan uniform.
Michigan is just 5-7 in road or neutral-site games under Hoke.

"We didn't play well on the road," Hoke said. "We didn't play with the toughness that it takes. We learned a lot in the bowl game about us as people, especially the guys coming back, good and bad."

Hoke has a Sun Tzu quote displayed in the weight room that reads: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. The goal is for the Wolverines to enter games with the same mindset as their predecessors.

Many think the Michigan mystique is dead, but Hoke's players are driven to revive it.

"If they don't fear Michigan," Gordon said, "then obviously that's something that we're going to have to change."

Beginning this fall.

"Anywhere you go in the world, everyone knows Michigan," defensive end Frank Clark said. "Anywhere in the nation, as far as college football, everyone knows Michigan. For the last couple years, we haven't lived up to those expectations. This next season, we have to.

"It's time. There aren't anymore excuses."

Video: Michigan LB Cam Gordon

April, 16, 2013
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Michigan linebacker Cam Gordon talks about filling in for the injured Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker and his expectations for the 2013 season.

Spring game preview: Michigan

April, 12, 2013
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Half of the Big Ten wraps up spring practice this weekend, and five squads are holding spring games/scrimmages that are open to the public. We're taking a look at each one. Up next: Michigan's Mott Spring Game presented by PNC Bank.

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission: Free. Michigan Stadium gates open at 10 a.m. ET. The alumni flag football game starts at 11 a.m., and the Wolverines take the field at 12:40 p.m. Parking is free in the lots that Michigan operates around the stadium, although space is limited. Fans can park at Briarwood Mall and take shuttles to the stadium, which start at 9:30 a.m. Fans can make donations to Mott Children's Hospital upon entry into the stadium and receive certain giveaways.

TV: The scrimmage will be streamed live on BTN2Go. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the scrimmage at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.

Weather forecast: Cloudy and windy with a 30-40 percent chance of rain. Temperatures between 39-40 degrees, winds at 22-23 mph.

What to watch for: Spring games are all about the future, and Michigan's future -- short term and especially long term -- will be on display at the Big House. The Wolverines return only five offensive starters and six defensive starters and have several potential starters -- cornerback Blake Countess and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint -- still recovering from major injuries. As a result, plenty of younger players will be showcased in the scrimmage.

Keep an eye on the interior offensive line as Michigan must fill starting spots at both guards and center. Sophomore Jack Miller has been working as the top center, but he's being pushed by Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow. Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis have drawn praise from the coaches as they target the starting guard spots. Most of the buzz at running back has been about Toussaint and incoming freshman Derrick Green, but others like Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls have a chance to step up in the scrimmage.

Michigan will be without star linebacker Jake Ryan for the start of the season, but Cam Gordon has drawn good reviews this spring. It will be interesting to see how Gordon and Brennen Beyer look at the strongside linebacker spot, and whether Michigan can generate a good pass rush with players like Beyer, Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made the pass rush a major priority this spring.

Wolverines fans also can monitor position competitions at safety (Jarrod Wilson seems to be in the lead to start opposite Thomas Gordon) and at outside receiver, where Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are getting a lot of work.

Notice that I haven't mentioned Devin Gardner? The Wolverines' top quarterback will be out there in a don't-even-think-about-touching-me orange jersey that Michigan got from Oregon State. Although fans want to see Gardner's offseason progress, the most important thing is keeping him healthy. It will be interesting to see how walk-on Brian Cleary, Michigan's No. 2 quarterback for the time being, performs in the scrimmage.

Michigan's Jake Ryan tears ACL

March, 20, 2013
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Michigan has suffered a huge setback early in spring practice, as the team announced Wednesday that junior linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL during Tuesday's practice.

Ryan is the team's top returning defensive player, having led the Wolverines last year with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. We named him to our 2012 All-Big Ten team and rated him No. 17 in our Big Ten postseason player rankings.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIJake Ryan's knee injury leaves a hole in the Michigan defense that will be difficult to fill.
Michigan officials said Ryan is out "indefinitely." If there's any bright side to this injury, it's that it happened on March 19. Typical recovery time for torn ACLs is generally said to be between six to nine months. We don't know how severe Ryan's injury is -- whether it's a complete or partial tear, for instance, or whether there's damage to other ligaments -- but if he were to meet the most optimistic side of that recovery timetable, then he could possibly still come back and play for the Wolverines by midseason. But again, that's if everything goes perfectly.

There have been success stories of athletes recovering quickly from torn ACLs. The most notable one is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season after suffering his ACL tear on Christmas Eve 2011.

"I know he will attack his rehabilitation just like he does everything else and will be back when he's ready," head coach Brady Hoke said in a statement.

Linebacker also looks to be Michigan's deepest position. Hoke told ESPN.com last week before Ryan's injury that "we feel a little stronger at that position" and that he expected great competition. Desmond Morgan, who started at weak side linebacker last year, had been working out at the middle linebacker spot to allow him and rising star James Ross to play at the same time. The Wolverines also have sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone, senior Mike Jones and incoming freshmen Mike McCray II and Ben Gedeon to compete for snaps.

However, most of those guys -- with the exception of McCray -- profile more as middle or weak side linebackers, and lack the size to play the strong side spot that Ryan occupied. That puts more pressure on senior Cam Gordon -- Ryan's backup -- to play a bigger role. Gordon has appeared in 33 career games, and Hoke praised his winter workout efforts in his interview with ESPN.com last year. But Gordon has yet to show that he can be a star or a major disruptive force the way Ryan has been. Make no mistake about it: this is a big, big loss for Greg Mattison's defense.

The Wolverines have plenty of time to figure out some answers, but it remains to be seen if they can find anyone to fill the playmaking shoes of Ryan. It's the first real negative of the offseason for Michigan, which got great news when Taylor Lewan returned, when Devin Gardner got his extra year of eligibility, and of course on signing day.

Time will tell how well the team will fill in for Ryan, or whether he can return at all for 2013. But until then, the guy with the flowing golden locks and penchant for making impact plays will be sorely missed.
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.
It will be weird for Michigan fans to see former star running back Mike Hart on the opposite sidelines wearing different colors this week. But Hart says he is prepared. Hart, who is now a quality control coach at Eastern Michigan, told the Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis that his heart now firmly resides in Ypsilanti.
"I'm committed to this team," Hart said. "This is who I am. I am Eastern Michigan. I coach at Eastern Michigan. I want Eastern Michigan to win every game. I don't cheer for Michigan ever anymore. I watch the game and I watch as a coach trying to see what they're going to do."

Hart said he doesn't care what the Wolverines do and is only trying to win a MAC championship at Eastern Michigan, which is 2-0 but has played a pair of FCS teams. He's not expecting to be overwhelmed by a flood of memories at Michigan Stadium.
"I think once you get in there, I'm so focused on the task at hand that I probably really won't notice," he said. "When I walk in it might be, 'Whoa, I'm on the other sideline,' but I've got a job to do."

Those are all the right things to say, and when you're a competitor your main goal is always to get your team a victory no matter who you're playing. But my guess is that Hart was watching Saturday night's game against Notre Dame as a little more than a dispassionate observer, and that he would love nothing more to get back to Ann Arbor as a coach some day.

In other Wolverines news, head coach Brady Hoke said Monday that running back Fitz Toussaint, who missed Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, should hopefully be ready for Eastern Michigan. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk is battered and bruised; he wore a hand cast Saturday after dealing with an ankle injury all week, and then he took a shot to the face in the game. But Hoke said Woolfolk would keep on playing. The health status of linebackers Cam Gordon and Brandon Herron will continue to be monitored this week. Junior Brandin Hawthorne is now listed as the starter at weakside linebacker.

Notes from Michigan-Notre Dame warmups

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
7:43
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Greetings from the Big House Night Club.

We're almost ready for Michigan-Notre Dame under the lights, and the atmosphere is already rocking. The Wolverines handed out yellow pom-poms to fans, and the student section in particular is making great, coordinated use of them. It looks cool and should be a good sight on TV.

Also pretty cool: Both teams' special throwback uniforms for this game. I was lukewarm on the striped Michigan duds when they were unveiled, but they look much better in person. And Notre Dame's are sharp as well.

Personnel news: Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk had a cast on his right hand during warmups. Woolofolk had an ankle problem earlier in the week but was supposed to be full go. It will be interesting to see how he handles the matchup with the big, physical Michael Floyd if he is indeed lined up against the Notre Dame star receiver tonight.

Linebacker Cam Gordon is not expected to play for the Wolverines tonight for the second straight week. Reserve linebacker Marell Evans is still not eligible.

Almost time to kick it off under the lights.

Big Ten Labor Day personnel roundup

September, 5, 2011
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The blog is lighter than normal during the Labor Day holiday, but Big Ten teams remain hard at work.

Here are a few personnel nuggets revealed today around the league:

NEBRASKA

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said linebacker Will Compton is day-to-day with a foot injury but has no structural damage. Compton missed the first five games of last season with a foot ailment. Pelini also said star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (pulled leg muscle) is improving and getting closer to a return. I'd expect to see Dennard on the field Week 3 against Washington, at the latest.

MICHIGAN

Michigan should be close to full strength for its prime time showdown against Notre Dame. Top cornerback Troy Woolfolk, who suffered a left ankle injury on kickoff coverage against Western Michigan, should be ready for the Irish, coach Brady Hoke said. Woolfolk missed all of last season with a dislocated right ankle. Linebacker Cam Gordon (back) also is expected to return. Freshman Jake Ryan performed well in Gordon's spot against Western. Left guard Ricky Barnum is back this week from a suspension, but he'll compete with Michael Schofield for the starting job in practice.

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin starting left guard Travis Frederick likely will miss this week's game against Oregon State after suffering a slight MCL sprain in the opener. Sophomore Ryan Groy is listed as the starter in place of Frederick. The Badgers should get receiver Manasseh Garner (hernia surgery) back for the Beavers. Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr underwent surgery Friday to relieve a nerve problem in his throwing arm. His return is uncertain. "It could be two weeks, it could be two months," coach Bret Bielema said.

NORTHWESTERN

As I tweeted Sunday, quarterback Kain Colter is fine after undergoing precautionary X-rays following the win against Boston College. Expect Colter to start again in place of Dan Persa this week against Eastern Illinois. The Wildcats will be without starting defensive tackle Jack DiNardo (leg). Sophomore Will Hampton and freshman Chance Carter will compete to fill DiNardo's spot.

INDIANA

Ed Wright-Baker is listed as the No. 1 quarterback for this week's game against Virginia. No surprise there, as Wright-Baker delivered a solid effort in his first career start and wasn't the reason why IU lost to Ball State. Two starters, linebacker Leon Beckum and right tackle Josh Hager, aren't listed on the depth chart following injuries in the opener. Junior Lee Rose is listed as the starting weak-side linebacker, while veteran offensive lineman Justin Pagan shifts from guard to tackle. Receiver Duwyce Wilson and tight end Ted Bolser both aren't listed on the depth chart again as they deal with injuries.

IOWA

Jason White will be the No. 2 running back this week after the season-ending injury to freshman Mika'il McCall. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominic Alvis has leapfrogged Thomas Nardo into a starting spot, while defensive tackle Carl Davis isn't listed on the depth chart because of an injury.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

July, 8, 2011
7/08/11
4:00
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Every Friday that goes by means we get another week closer to the start of the season. Or something like that. I may just be going stir crazy waiting for some actual football.

But every Friday also happily means a mailbag and a chance to interact with you guys. Let's kick it.

Karl J. from Pflugerville, Texas, writes: I know by now that the press and specifically ESPN has really enjoyed the problems at OSU. We have seen story after story and theory after theory and every news bit comes with extra commentary by you and or Adam; it's fair game -- OSU screwed up and deserves the shame and penalty. But I noticed the problems at Nebraska barely got mentioned -- yes it was included in the News Links -- but no additional coverage from ESPN, no additional coverage from the Big Ten bloggers and no commentary, theories, thoughts, etc. I know the press gets very defensive of anyone challenging your bias and reporting. But let's be honest, this is a clear case of bias, when not even one additional comment was added to Nebraska's story and yet every time OSU seneezed you all commented (even on situations that OSU has cleared).

Brian Bennett: Karl, you're comparing corn to buckeyes here. Ohio State has been accused of major violations, and its head coach knowingly used ineligible players and lied about. That's a major scandal. The Nebraska situation seems very minor to me. According to the Omaha World-Herald, "the violations occurred over several years when a large number of Husker student-athletes inadvertently received “recommended” textbooks from the university bookstore when only “required” supplies were covered in their scholarship money. The total value of the non-required textbooks provided to student-athletes from spring 2007 through fall 2010 was $27,869.47, with the average amount less than $60 per individual."

That's hardly a major controversy, and the whole thing sounds like more of a misunderstanding than anything else. What extra benefit did the Cornhusker athletes receive, other than getting some books to read (which isn't a bad thing for a college student)? Perhaps there's more to the Nebraska story, and we'll keep an eye on it. But for now, it's not even in the same universe as what's going on in Columbus.

Matt from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Brian, I just watched your "X Factor" video on Michigan's Cam Gordon and couldn't disagree with you more. Unlike you, I predict that Cam Gordon will lose his starting job at SLB early in the season. Reasons why? As you mentioned, he is too thin at 207 lbs., and he has great difficulty getting off blocks. I watched him last season and in the spring game a couple months ago. Shedding blockers was clearly a deficiency in his game (and one that should not be overlooked considering the position he plays). Also, while he may have had better instincts at the safety position, he displayed very poor linebacking instincts at his new position. How is Gordon going to be a 'playmaker' at SLB if he can't get off blocks and doesn't have that "it" factor going for him? My prediction: redshirt freshman Jake Ryan will take over his job at SLB in short time.

Brian Bennett: Matt, you certainly make some valid points about Gordon's lack of size, which I noted in my video. Perhaps he is not big enough to play that position. But I do think Gordon will be on the field somewhere and be able to make plays. At this point, Michigan needs playmakers on defense just about everywhere. If you're correct, please feel free to write back and say "I told you so" this fall.

Teddyrukk from Blue Springs, Mo., writes: Brian, good to get through to ya! I've been a Nebraska fan since I was in the womb, and born on a farm outside of Lincoln in the '70s so I think that classifies me with the knowledge to make this statement, but I feel the Huskers defense could make a run for the best defense to ever touch the field in college football history this year. Would you be the least bit surprised to see them shut down the Big 10 this year, cause I don't see ANY offenses out there that scare me in the least bit coming from the Big 12! The Huskers win the B1G with solid D, and a very complicated offensive attack based around the running game just like the teams of the '90s.

Brian Bennett: Wow. I admire your optimism. The Blackshirts have a chance to be very good this season, with some outstanding players at every level of that defense. Best in college football history? Um, I'm not going that far. I'm really interested to see how Nebraska's defense fares in the Big Ten, though. They were facing some of the best offenses in the country, at least statistically speaking, in the Big 12 most years. But the Big Ten style of play is also different. It will be fascinating to see how that translates.

Parker from Portland, Maine, writes: Just saw the list of Maxwell Award potentials among the Big Ten. Although I am an avid Hawkeye fan, don't you think it is a little bit too early to consider Marcus Coker as a Maxwell Award candidate? Don't get me wrong, I love that guy and how he plays, but I would probably wait and see how he handles the pressure and how well he executes this fall. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: First, a little insight into how these awards work. Usually the school or perhaps a voter from a certain region will nominate players for a preseason watch list. I've already seen an academically ineligible player and one who is no longer in the FBS pop up on some of these lists, along with lots of misspelled names. So these shouldn't be viewed as flawless lists. Is it a bit soon to nominate Coker for an award like this? Sure. If he can play like he did in the bowl game, he could pull a Shonn Greene and be up for national awards. But he's got a lot to prove still.

Will from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I'm looking for your opinion more than an answer to a question. Let's fast forward 12 years. Penn State falls to mediocrity when JoePa retires, OSU never recovers to glory after the NCAA gets done, Fitz get Northwestern to a league contender, Michigan is back, and Michigan St. plays like 2010 every year. Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska stay consistent in playing for a league title. Where I'm getting at is, what if the league has an imbalance of power down the road and the Legends Division has 4 of 6 teams as powers and the Leaders only 2 of 6? Do you think that the B1G will be open to possible realignment if a Big XII sorta imbalance takes place? We didn't choose divisions according to region, so I feel Delany, or whoever is commissioner in a dozen years, will think about it hard. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: That's an interesting question. Jim Delany is not afraid to think boldly, and surely the league isn't wedded to these particular division setups forever. But I also think these things tend to be cyclical. The SEC East, for example, was much stronger than the SEC West for several years, and now the pendulum has swung the other way. The Big 12 North was weak, but I think that was a function of the setup in the first place, as Nebraska was the only superpower. Programs like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc., just don't stay down that long.

I actually think there's a better chance of realignment being forced if Michigan and Ohio State reclaim their old status and start winning division titles, which would mean they play twice in a row. Let's hope if anything about the divisions gets changed soon that it's the names.

Joe from Toledo writes: I think everyone who is arguing against Russell Wilson making Wisconsin the preseason favorite is overlooking some important details. Yes Tolzien had a better passer rating and averaged more per attempt but he also attempted about half as many throws as Wilson did and Wisconsin will not be looking for Wilson to throw as much as he did at NC State. Yes the Big Ten is a tougher conference than the ACC, but Wisconsin is a tougher and better team than NC State was so he will be surrounded by better players. Just look at the running game -- NC State ranked 95th in rushing compared to 12th by Wisconsin. As for the fact that he is coming in late, Wilson is a very intelligent player and person (graduated in 3 years) and isn't coming from a completely different offensive scheme like a spread. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: I'm on record as saying Wilson makes Wisconsin the preseason favorite. You can pick apart some of Wilson's numbers, but after watching some NC State games the past two years, it seemed like the Wolfpack put most of the offense on his shoulders. If he didn't make a play, the offense wasn't going anywhere. Like you said, Joe, Wilson doesn't have to be spectacular at Wisconsin because of the running game and offensive line. The play-action passing game alone should be much better. My only real concern is how quickly Wilson can build chemistry with an entirely new cast of teammates in a short time.

Dustin R. from Cedar Falls, Iowa, writes: After reading a 'blogger debate' between yourself and Adam discussing Iowa and Cincy two years ago, I really didn't think you had any idea what you were talking about. However, since you have joined the Big Ten I thought you have done a great job. What is the best advice Adam gave you as you joined the Big Ten family that helped you ease into a new league?

Brian Bennett: Easy. He told me, "Never criticize the Hawkeyes."

Video: Michigan's X factor

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
5:00
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Brian Bennett says linebacker Cam Gordon has the potential to be a playmaker.
It's time to jump back into our preseason position group rankings. We've made our way through the offenses and the front line of the defenses. Now it's time to take a look at the linebackers.

As always, this is a ranking of the entire position group, so depth matters in addition to individual star players.

Away we go:

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Lavonte David led the Big 12 last season with 152 tackles.
1. Nebraska: Lavonte David set the school record with 152 tackles last year, best in the Big 12. He also added 15 tackles for loss and six sacks on his way to second-team All-America honors. David was a one-man wrecking crew last year but should get more help this year. Will Compton returns after an injury-shortened season, and Sean Fisher is back after a broken leg cost him all of 2010. With an excellent defensive front leading the way, the Cornhuskers' linebackers should make plenty of impact plays.

2. Penn State: Is this the return of Linebacker U? The Nittany Lions technically only return one starter at the position but have plenty of talent. The unit got hit by injuries last year, including one that knocked Michael Mauti out of the lineup for several games. He's one of the best in the Big Ten when healthy, which he should be in 2011. Senior Nate Stupar led the team in tackles last year. Sophomores Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt are among the skilled youngsters battling for playing time. This could wind up as the deepest linebacking corps in the league.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost two starters, including leading tackler Brian Rolle. But the Silver Bullets usually reload at linebacker. Senior Andrew Sweat should emerge as the unit's leader, and hopes are high for Etienne Sabino after he took a redshirt year in 2010. Sabino showed promise this spring and locked down a starting job. The battle is on for the third starting position. Incoming freshman Curtis Grant could make a sudden impact.

4. Wisconsin: Much depends on the health of Chris Borland, who missed nearly all of 2010 and sat out the spring with a shoulder injury. The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year will move to middle linebacker and should anchor the unit if he's sound. Mike Taylor finished second on the team in tackles for loss and interceptions last year, and Kevin Claxton is expected to take over at the strongside spot. The Badgers like what they have seen from redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter.

5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost a lot of experience from the 2010 team, including leading tackler Jeremiha Hunter. While there's some concern about the leadership void, Iowa has good young building blocks here. James Morris was pressed into service as a true freshman and was terrific; another year of development should only make him better. Tyler Nielsen was missed down the stretch when he suffered a neck injury, and the senior provides a veteran presence. Players like Bruce Davis, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens need to take on bigger roles.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesReplacing two-time All-American Greg Jones will be a tall order for the Spartans.
6. Michigan State: It would be difficult to overstate how much the Spartans will miss two-time All-American Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, who combined to start 95 games in their illustrious careers. But life goes on. The lone returning starter, Chris Norman, is a dependable veteran. The Spartans hope Max Bullough and Denicos Allen build on their potential, and TyQuan Hammock inspired confidence with his play this spring.

7. Minnesota: An experienced linebacker group could be the strength of the Gophers defense this season. All three starters -- leading tackler Gary Tinsley, Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis -- are back. Rallis needs to stay healthy after only appearing in 12 games the past two years because of injuries. Florida transfer Brendan Beal should provide a boost.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers are led by senior Joe Holland, who has 35 career starts under his belt. Junior Dwayne Beckford finished second on the team with 85 tackles a year ago. Will Lucas could break out after an excellent true freshman campaign. Senior Chris Carlino adds veteran depth.

9. Michigan: The Wolverines struggled defensively last year, and the linebackers shouldered some of the blame. They lost Jonas Mouton to the NFL. Cam Gordon moves down from safety and adds some playmaking ability. Kenny Demens had 82 tackles last year at middle linebacker. Freshman Jake Ryan should contribute right away. This group still has a lot to prove.

10. Illinois: The Illini have to rebuild after losing a pair of NFL draft picks at the position in Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey. Senior Ian Thomas now becomes the veteran leader. Sophomores Johnathan Brown and Houston Bates -- who had a strong spring -- will be counted on to step forward.

11. Indiana: Fifth-year senior Jeff Thomas could be the centerpiece of the Hoosiers defense. Another fifth-year senior is Leon Beckum, though he lacks top-end speed. Overall, there isn't a lot of depth here.

12. Northwestern: Linebacker play was a sore spot last season, and starters Nate Williams and Quentin Davie are gone. Bryce McNaul needs to recover all the way from shoulder surgery and has to stay healthy. Pat Fitzgerald thinks he has some talented young players at the position; they'll need to grow up fast.

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