Big Ten: Chris Colasanti
Free agent deals are finally taking place during a whirlwind week in the post-lockout NFL.
We'll have additional updates as the day goes on, but here's a look at where Big Ten players are landing.
- CB Travon Bellamy, St. Louis Rams
- WR Jarred Fayson: New Orleans Saints
- G Randall Hunt: St. Louis Rams
- DE Clay Nurse: New England Patriots
- QB Ben Chappell: Washington Redskins
- WR Terrance Turner: Philadelphia Eagles
- P Ryan Donahue: Detroit Lions
- LB Jeremiah Hunter: New Orleans Saints
- TE Allen Reisner: Minnesota Vikings
- LB Jeff Tarpinian: New England Patriots
- T Perry Dorrestein: New York Jets
- CB James Rogers: Denver Broncos
- TE Martell Webb: Philadelphia Eagles
- WR Mark Dell: Denver Broncos
- LB Eric Gordon: Jacksonville Jaguars
- T D.J. Young: Arizona Cardinals
- T Dom Alford: Cleveland Browns
- FB Jon Hoese: Green Bay Packers
- QB Adam Weber: Denver Broncos
- K Adi Kunalic: Carolina Panthers
- TE Mike McNeill: Indianapolis Colts
- DE Pierre Allen: Seattle Seahawks
- G Ricky Henry: Chicago Bears
- T D.J. Jones: Miami Dolphins
- S Rickey Thenarse: Seattle Seahawks
- DT Corbin Bryant: Chicago Bears
- LB Quentin Davie: Detroit Lions
- G Bryant Browning: St. Louis Rams
- G Justin Boren: Baltimore Ravens
- RB Brandon Saine: Green Bay Packers
- WR Dane Sanzenbacher: Chicago Bears
- DT Dexter Larimore: New Orleans Saints
- CB Devon Torrence: Minnesota Vikings
- WR Brett Brackett: Miami Dolphins
- LB Chris Colasanti: Indianapolis Colts
- LB Bani Gbadyu: Oakland Raiders
- DT Ollie Ogbu: Indianapolis Colts
- TE Kyle Adams: Chicago Bears
- WR Keith Smith: Detroit Lions
- CB Niles Brinkley: Pittsburgh Steelers
- RB John Clay: Pittsburgh Steelers
- QB Scott Tolzien: San Diego Chargers
Record: 3-3 (0-2 Big Ten)
Penn State entered the season with somewhat tempered expectations after losing more individual standouts -- seven All-Big Ten performers from 2009, including three first-team selections -- than any team in the league. But no one in Happy Valley expected this. The Nittany Lions reach the midpoint of the season at 3-3, but totally unsure of who they are after getting pounded at home by Illinois. They rank last in the Big Ten in both scoring (18.2 ppg) and total offense (335.2 ypg), struggles you can attribute partly to starting a true freshman quarterback in Rob Bolden. But Bolden doesn't deserve blame for a unit that boasts a senior running back in Evan Royster and enough experience along the offensive line. Penn State twice has been held out of the end zone and hasn't eclipsed 24 points against an FBS opponent. The defense held up nicely for a while, but injuries both before and during last Saturday's game against Illinois leave the unit depleted. If Tom Bradley can't fill gaps after the bye week, it could be a very long second half. Penn State clearly has enough talent to turn things around, but the preseason questions about leadership, from Joe Paterno on down, are very real. It's very hard to replace replace leaders like Daryll Clark and Sean Lee, and Paterno's involvement after a rough spring/summer of health-related issues is up for debate.
Offensive MVP, WR Derek Moye: There aren't many candidates for a struggling unit, but Moye turned in a nice first half. The junior leads Penn State in both receptions (22) and receiving yards (17.1 ypg), and he has showcased his big-play ability on more than one occasion, hauling in an 80-yard touchdown from Bolden against Illinois. Fellow wideouts Brett Brackett and Devon Smith also have done some good things.
Defensive MVP, LB Chris Colasanti: Safety Nick Sukay (3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble) has made more impact plays, but Colasanti's overall production can't be overlooked for a defense that held its own before the injury bug struck. Colasanti leads the Big Ten with 59 tackles, including 18 against Illinois, the highest single-game total at Penn State since Dan Connor in 2007. Colasanti boasts four tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)
I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.
Here's what stood out:
- Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
- Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
- The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
- Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
- Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
- James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
- Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
- Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
- Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
- True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
- Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
- Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
- Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
- Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
- Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
- Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
- Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
- Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
- Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
- Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
- Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
- Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
- Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
- After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
- Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
- The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.
Here are some thoughts and observations:
- We didn't get to watch a ton of tape on the quarterbacks, but it's easy to see why folks are getting excited about true freshman Robert Bolden. He's very impressive physically, and his arm strength was obvious on several throws, including one over a defender and into the arms of a diving Derek Moye. Bolden moves around well in the pocket, and he's very good on his pass drops for a young player. The Big Ten Network analysts agreed, as both Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith picked Bolden as Penn State's starter for the opener.
- Again, not much passing seen on the show, although Matt McGloin had an overthrow and Paul Jones appeared to underthrow wideout Justin Brown on one play.
- DiNardo said both Kevin Newsome and McGloin have had time to create separation, but it just hasn't happened yet. "Bolden has separated himself physically from the other guys," DiNardo said. "To me, he throws the ball a lot better than his competition."
- Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno told the BTN crew that limiting turnovers and managing the game will be the top priorities early on for Penn State's quarterback. "Right now, we're looking for a guy that's going to not lose the game for us and make plays when he has to," JayPa said. While both Jay Paterno and Joe Paterno didn't rule out playing two quarterbacks, they'd strongly prefer one to emerge.
- DiNardo, Griffith and host Dave Revsine were very impressed with Penn State's younger players, particularly at the offensive skill positions. They singled out sophomore wideout Devon Smith as someone who can contribute both in the passing game and on returns. Smith showed good speed in the drills we saw. "They have to find a way to get him the ball in this offense," Griffith said.
- The BTN crew also liked freshmen running backs Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes, who they feel can challenge junior Stephfon Green for the backup spot behind Evan Royster. Both Redd and Dukes bring a physical running style, but I'm not ready to count out Green one bit. Although labeled a speed guy, he actually has decent size. Green had a nice run during the 9-on-7 portion of practice, hitting the hole and then bouncing outside.
- Linebacker Gerald Hodges really stood out to me. He landed several big hits on Green and looks like he can be a solid contributor this fall. The BTN crew said Michael Mauti, who comes off of an ACL injury, didn't look 100 percent.
- The 9-on-7 drill started with the offensive line getting decent push up the middle, but soon enough, Penn State's defensive front emerged. Sophomore end Pete Massaro did a nice job of closing gaps up the middle.
- Defensive end Jack Crawford and linebacker Chris Colasanti stood out in individual drills. Crawford is a big dude at 6-5, 256, but he keeps his pads low. Colasanti brings it as a hitter.
- A classic JoePa line when asked to assess the team: "Sloppy, not sure of themselves, lack of leadership, no quarterback. Other than that, we're pretty good." He also talked about special teams costing Penn State the Iowa game last year, and how it can't happen again.
- While Penn State almost certainly will be a run-heavy team early, JoePa knows he'll need the quarterbacks to do more. He doesn't want to see a good group of receivers go to waste.
- Final thought: Penn State's defense will be fine this fall. It comes down to the offensive line, generating a consistent run and limiting mistakes from the quarterback spot. Bolden's play certainly is encouraging.
Adam from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Just read your Camp Preview for Ohio State. Not sure how you see David Durham making an instant impact. You do realize they are going to start him out at LB, arguably the deepest position on OSU's roster. Not sure how he is going to beat out the likes of Dorian Bell, Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein, Jonathon Newsome, and Jordan Whiting? Christian Bryant making an immediate impact as well? Do you even look at the depth chart and/or roster? The defensive secondary is possibly the second deepest position on the team. Do you think guys like Donnie Evege, Nate Oliver, Corey Brown, Travis Howard, Dominic Clarke, and Zach Domicone are all going to quit? How about doing some research before making statements and predictions that have no chance of proving true.
Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you're right, none of the Buckeyes freshmen will many any impact this year. No chance. We're talking about a category in a training camp preview, not a proclamation that guys definitely will see the field. It might happen, it might not. You're right about the depth at linebacker, but the secondary is definitely not the second-deepest group on the team. Ohio State has more proven depth at offensive line, running back and linebacker, and I like the defensive line group better than the secondary. Sure, several defensive backs return, but Ohio State loses Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell at safety. Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines are nice pieces, but I don't see anyone back there who you can say is a sure-fire all-conference player.
Greg from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: "Geography shouldn't be a deciding factor," you wrote regarding Big Ten football divisions. "Not that many fans travel to road games as you think."That may be true for some teams, but not Iowa. Away game tickets can be very hard to get, even for many season ticket holders who are donors. And Hawkeye fans have been known to outnumber the home team's fans at Minnesota and Northwestern.
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I'm well aware of Iowa fans' fondness for traveling, but on the whole, road travel among Big Ten fans is down. And while the league wants to accommodate its fans, it also must look at the bigger picture, specifically television appeal. My problem with divisions based on geography is that when (not if) Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all are good in the same year, no one nationally will care about the other division. That's not a knock against what Wisconsin and Iowa do on the field, but those are excellent regional programs that don't appeal nationally as much as Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska do. That's my concern.
Rakesh from Memphis writes: Hey Adam,Everyone talks about Zook getting canned but can they even afford it? And if they buy out his contract then how are they going to pay a quality coach for the next round?
Adam Rittenberg: Rakesh, these are very relevant questions. After spending so much money on new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning, Illinois might have to consider whether or not to take another financial hit if it comes down to that. I can't see how you push forward after another three- or four-win season, especially after all the pressure from boosters and others to make a change. But AD Ron Guenther seems willing to let this situation run its course. Your second question is a good one, too. If you buy out the remainder of Ron Zook's contact, can you spend enough to get a solid replacement? It won't be easy, especially given the budgetary struggles in the state right now. At least Illinois has some stability at the top with a new president.
Scott from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Adam, nice blog. If the BT moved OSU and UofM into different divisions, the game would need to be earlier in the season, why not opening BT game, and then a week off for each team as their bye week-end. The players that I have talked to, say that they would need a week off just to get over the physcial play that their body had to endure in that game. That would book end the season and really move the needle. Also the loser would have the season to make up for the loss. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, an Ohio State-Michigan Big Ten opener? That would seem pretty strange. It also would be tough to have a permanent bye week for those two teams while rotating the bye weeks for the other 10 Big Ten squads (Nebraska included). If they move The Game, and I'm not sold on moving it, I'd rather see it played in mid to late October. There's enough of a gap before the end of the regular season, and it could shape the league title race in certain years.
Steve from State College, Pa., writes: Adam,Love the blog and it keeps me goin throughout the day. My question is about Penn State's linebackers. Obviously they won't be as good as Lee, Bowman and Hull but no one expects them to be. People expect them to carry on "Linebacker-U". I feel Stupar, Mauti and Gbadyu can keep that tradition going. But what about the other guys? Hodges, Colasanti, and Yancich. Hodges is a converted safety and if he was still at safety he would kill people. Whats your take on that position for Penn State?
Adam Rittenberg: Gerald Hodges is a guy I'm really looking forward to seeing on the field this fall. He played sparingly in 11 games in 2009 and recorded three tackles, but he should be a much bigger presence in 2010. Chris Colasanti may or may not start, but he boasts a lot of experience as a reserve the past three years. He'd start on several Big Ten teams this fall. The reports on Michael Yancich are very favorable, and he should see the field a good amount this fall. So you're right: the linebackers won't be as decorated as Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull were in 2009, but the overall depth should help Penn State continue the Linebacker U. tradition.
Dirk from Cincinnati writes: Are you Jared from the Subway commercials?
Adam Rittenberg: I wish. I'd be A LOT richer.
Kyle from Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Hey Adam,A future Big Ten member here, and I read your article about splitting up Michigan and OSU, and I think that is a terrible idea. Coming from the Big 12 I can tell you that will destroy the rivalry the same way it did with Nebaska and Oklahoma. The final game of the regular season in each division needs to be OSU vs Michigan in one and Nebraska vs PSU/Iowa/Wisconsin in the other. That way the OSU-MU rivalry still potentially decides the Big Ten Champion the same way it has for many years.
Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, thanks very much for the perspective. It's a real shame how the Big 12 destroyed Nebraska-Oklahoma, and the Big Ten certainly should learn from what happened. Now, the Big Ten never will let the Ohio State-Michigan game go off the schedule in any season, but it must preserve the integrity of the rivalry. I'd love to see the Big Ten have a second blockbuster matchup to go up against Ohio State-Michigan on the final Saturday of the regular season, whether it be Nebraska-Penn State, Nebraska-Iowa or Nebraska-Wisconsin. All three of those games would get some play nationally, especially Nebraska-Penn State.
Nick from Madison, Wis., writes: Wisconsin's offensive line is looking to be one of the best in the nation. What would be a good name for this squad? Moffits marauders? the big red blockade? I'm sure you/the blogosphere can do better.
Adam Rittenberg: I'll open this one up to the group. Suggestions? Here's one option: The Thick Red Line. Here's another: The Madison Block Party.
Jon from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Regarding the Michigan QB situation, do you get the impression that Rich Rod is just humoring Tate with the starting job until one of the Uber-Athletes steps up to snatch the job away?I like Tate, and I think he was largely underrated last year, despite some definite freshman performances, but I don't get the feeling that he's going to be welcome as a 4-year starter in Rich's program. Specifically, once Devin Gardner (at 6'4") gets online as a viable option, Tate, IMO is history at UM.
Adam Rittenberg: I don't think Rodriguez has the luxury to humor anyone right now, especially a quarterback. If Tate gives Michigan the best chance to win right away, he'll be the starter. But this is certainly more of a real quarterback competition than what we saw the last two seasons in Ann Arbor. Devin Gardner could very well be the quarterback of the future at Michigan. He certainly has both the physical tools, and, from what coaches told me last week, the intelligence to play the position at a high level. Is Forcier just a stopgap? Maybe or maybe not, but he still could be the Wolverines' best option in a season where the coaches need results to be back in 2011.
Nina from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Adam, what's worse. If a team steals offensive signals or a quarterback steals laptop computers (how about a rim shot)?
Adam Rittenberg: Nina will be here all night, ladies and gentlemen. The late show is different from the early show. And be sure to tip your waitress.
Scott from Philadelphia writes: Adam, love the blog, but what's with the lack of love for PSU linebackers on your Underrated Linebackers piece? I know its not our best crew, (its tough to compete with Posluszny, Lee and Connor as your starting LBs), but what about Mauti, Gbadyu, Stupar or Colasanti? You don't think any of them will step up and be a force to be reckoned with? Especially given how Penn State always seems to have stud LBs coming out of the woodwork.
Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I don't think you understood the point of that post. I wanted to recognize linebackers who had impressive seasons in 2009 but didn't get much recognition because of the Big Ten's incredible linebacker depth, to which Penn State contributed. These players are all returning for 2010, so that's why I listed them. One example of an underrated linebacker not returning for 2010 is Penn State's Josh Hull, who led the team with 116 tackles last fall. None of the Penn State linebackers you've listed had more than 37 tackles last season. All the guys I listed were starters in 2009, and all but one recorded 77 tackles or more (Wisconsin's Mike Taylor led the team in tackles before his knee injury Oct. 17). Will Penn State have a star or two emerge at linebacker this fall? I wouldn't bet against Ron Vanderlinden's crew, but those players don't meet my definition of underrated for that post.
Jason from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, for the love of god. Can you please end the rather hall incident with Mark Dantonio saying that Owen Wilson a starter on the troubled D-line can NOT COME BACK due to lying about not being involved even though it was his first offense?! All national exposure to this subject has gone against Dantonio implying that he is only letting the starters or contributors back on the team!!!!!!!!Can you please write a head liner on Owen Wilson please?!!!!!!! Or is it just going to get buried on a head liner that says another one of MSU football players was reinstated after his jail time was up?!!!!!
Adam Rittenberg: First of all, it's Oren, not Owen!!! And I did include the fact that he's not coming back in my news story. A player being reinstated is almost always going to be more headline-worthy than a guy who the coach already said was transferring. I also praised both Michigan State and Dantonio for making the right call with Wilson, who didn't deserve another chance after failing to come forward about his involvement until he was identified after the bowl game. My advice for Michigan State fans is to sit back and just take it right now. This was an unfortunate incident that involved a ton of players, but it's essentially over now. Look forward to the 2010 season, which I think will be good in East Lansing, and stop worrying about national exposure. If the Spartans win this fall, a lot of this stuff will go away.
Tim from Oakland, Calif., writes: Adam.It's pseudo blogs like yours that compel people to distrust the media and pseudo-media like you.First, there is nothing new here. You and your 'media' brethren just repeat the same old crap whether it's true or not. Everyone says the allegations are major when no one knows that because that is still being deliberated. So all this garbage is just speculation, which is what you idiots do best -- guess.I have stopped reading blogs like yours because the information either is just retreaded or purely speculative, which never amounts to anything. You can speculate all you want, but it means nothing.You are entitled to your opinion, sure. but yours is no more learned than anyone else's.
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, Tim, I'm truly crushed that you've reduced me to a pseudo blogger. The following words come directly from the NCAA's letter to Rich Rodriguez, dated Feb. 22: "You should understand that all of the allegations charged in the notice of allegations are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary violations." No designation was made, so according to the NCAA, not me or anyone else, Michigan is facing potential major violations. Sure, it's been deliberated and could change. No decisions about guilt or innocence have been made. As for speculation, that's part of my job, but to think there won't be at least some repercussions for Michigan is pretty naive. Just look at the NCAA's history with situations like this. There's usually some penalty or penalties.
Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, With the recent news that the Capital One/Citrus Bowl will be installing artificial turf for next season, I got to thinking...why? Other than the sissies and equipment managers, is there anyone who does not like to see grass and mud stains on the jerseys and helmets of two clashing college football teams? Seriously, this is football. If your team cannot play this game, except under ideal conditions, then you shouldn't have a team and you shouldn't play.
Adam Rittenberg: Paul, aside from the national embarrassment for the bowl game to have such a dreadful field, there are injury risks and other factors. A lot of those guys in the Capital One Bowl are playing their final college game before going onto the NFL, and the bowl game doesn't want to see guys slipping and falling and getting hurt. I agree that the weather is part of the game, especially in the Big Ten, but player safety has to be considered, especially when you have the technology to help prevent injuries. I also think the bowl experience is different than the regular season. It's a reward for players and coaches, and the conditions should be as ideal as they can possibly be. They certainly weren't for Penn State and LSU at the Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Jon from Tumalo, Ore., writes: Adam, are all spread offenses "gimmicky" or just Oregon's? How is what OR runs any different, other than perhaps an emphasis on the run game over the passing game, than the majority of spread O's run across the country?Is OR's O any less "gimmicky" than Michigan or Pudue's O?Of course, unlike the great D players at Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota the guys in the PX are all "arm tacklers?" How sick has Pryor when on his game made B10 defenders look?Rey Malaluga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews can't tackle? Seems they did an OK job against the B10 for years, no?BTW: There are many PX grads starting on the D line in the NFL (mebane, Ngata, Patterson, etc.) Where did they learn to tackle?TOSU finally wins a BCS game and it's because the Ducks can't tackle? What does this say about TOSU
Adam Rittenberg: Jon, I probably came on too strong about the gimmicky part, as a lot of offenses these days fall under the spread label. And Oregon does run a very effective offense that is a ton of fun to watch. I just got tired of everyone, especially my media colleagues, fawning over offenses from Oregon and Georgia Tech during the bowl season, and dismissing Big Ten defenses just because they were from the Big Ten. Ohio State and Iowa made Oregon and Georgia Tech look pretty average, and in Iowa's case, the Hawkeyes totally dominated the triple option. Yes, the Pac-10 has some good defenders, but I don't believe the league's overall quality of defense matches up with the Big Ten. Just like the Big Ten offenses don't match up overall with the Pac-10. I watched the Civil War last year, and Oregon State displayed some of the worst tackling I've seen from a BCS team. Did Oregon have something to do with it? Sure. But the Ducks had more trouble shaking free of Ohio State's defenders in the Rose Bowl.
Then, in classic Paterno fashion, he muttered, "I'm here. Unfortunately, so are you."
Yes, we missed you, JoePa.
- There's no timetable on a decision to name a starting quarterback. Paterno is open to modifying the offense so it fits the players' strengths. "We want to get them comfortable, see what they can do, and not do more than what they can handle," he said.
- Paterno reiterated that former walk-on Matt McGloin is very much in the mix at quarterback, while wide receiver Brett Brackett hasn't been working with the signal callers this spring. Paterno is making the rounds in spring ball and hasn't seen much of early enrollee Paul Jones. JoePa is happy with the way Kevin Newsome handles himself in the huddle, saying Newsome "has made a lot of progress."
- Wide receiver Chaz Powell is getting a look at cornerback this spring. Powell ranked fourth on the team in receptions with 28 last fall. He also served as the team's primary kickoff return man and finished second in all-purpose yards (67.8 ypg). Powell played both defensive back and wide receiver in high school and was a standout on special teams. "I'm not sure Powell's going to be a corner," Paterno said. "Obviously, Powell's a good athlete. He could play offense or defense."
- Asked about the situation at offensive tackle, Paterno jokingly asked reporters if they had a big sheet of paper with them. Penn State is auditioning several players at the tackle spot, including DeOn'tae Pannell and redshirt freshman Eric Shrive. "We argue every morning, can so-and-so handle the pass protection?" Paterno said. "For me to make any kind of statement on where guys will play is ridiculous right now."
- Starting safety Drew Astorino (shoulder) and linebacker Michael Mauti (knee), who many project as a starter in 2010, are out for the spring with injuries. Reserve running back Brandon Beachum (knee) will only do some light running this spring. Paterno didn't sound too concerned about the linebacker position and likes what he has with Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar and Chris Colasanti.
- Paterno doesn't expect starting running back Evan Royster to do too much this spring, as he has little to prove to the coaches. Backup Stephfon Green and Shaine Thompson, a former walk-on who recently received a scholarship, will be in the spotlight there.
- The jury is still very much out on defensive tackle Brandon Ware, who has struggled with academic issues and weight problems. "I think he's still a little too heavy," Paterno said. "But he's got a long road to go academically before I'm going to think about him playing."
- Doug Klopacz is back for a fifth year and will back up Stefen Wisniewksi at center. Running back Brent Carter and defensive tackle Tom McEowen are no longer with the team.
Eric from Knoxville writes: Hey Adam, i'm a lifetime UM and BIG 10 fan and i think all the talk about expansion is great for the league in a lot of ways. I'm just wondering why i dont hear more about Nebraska. I read about Tom Osborne's thoughts in the lunch links today and coudn't help but wonder. Any thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: We've definitely explored Nebraska here on the blog, and to recap, I think the Huskers bring a name football program, a good academic reputation, a solid overall athletic program and a below-average TV market to the Big Ten. Nebraska certainly would help from a football standpoint as a national power that seems to be on the rise again. The Huskers also excel in other sports like baseball but need to elevate their profile in men's basketball. If the expansion decision comes down to TV, which I hear it likely will, Nebraska doesn't add a market like Rutgers could. Osborne definitely sounds willing to listen to the Big Ten, and he should.
Eric from Lansing, Mich., writes: i know there are still 5 spots left in the top 30. but the only one i could think of making it still from my spartans is Jones. but even i dont think he is one of the top 5 of the conference. so how worried should i be about my team that no one still with the team cracked the top 30? oh and love the blog. i know no questions get through without the lip service.
Adam Rittenberg: First off, to Eric and to everyone, you don't need to tell me you love the blog to get in the mailblog. In fact, tell me you hate the blog if it's the truth. I want good questions, first and foremost. As for Michigan State, you'll see Greg Jones in the top 5. He was the Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year and the co-postseason DPOY. Michigan State likely will have a few more players in the 2010 preseason top 30, but I'm not giving away any secrets now.
Jeff from Minneapolis writes: Adam, I totally agree with Frank the Tank's (the blogger, not the guy who wanted to go streaking through the quad up to the gymnasium) belief that the only purpose for the leaking of the Big Ten's report that they could make more money by adding Rutgers, Syracuse, or any number of schools was just a simple, and very public, message to Notre Dame and Texas saying this: while the conference could make the most money by adding one or both of them, they could still make a LOT of money without them. Simply put, it's a public way of saying that Texas and Notre Dame need the Big Ten a lot more than the Big Ten needs them. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, I was discussing this very topic with some folks who know the Big Ten well on Thursday, and then I saw Frank's blog entry. I thought a lot about this when the Big Ten announced its expansion study, whether it was a signal to Notre Dame, a last-chance proposition to join a league. Notre Dame still makes by far the most sense of any expansion candidate, and the Big Ten is a more attractive league now than it was the last time it approached the Irish. Notre Dame can increase its television revenue by joining the Big Ten. It also could increase the exposure for its non-revenue sports because of the Big Ten Network. Notre Dame should at least listen if the Big Ten reaches out. The Big Ten will be healthy if it expands, and healthy if it doesn't expand. It's not 100 percent necessary by any means.
Dave from Gold Coast, Australia, writes: Hey AdamLove reading your blog all the way here in Australia. Penn State usually has great depth at linebacker,Who did you think are the next guys to step up and continue the tradition of Linebacker U?
Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I've always wanted to visit Australia, and it's good to know there are Big Ten fans there. There's a lot of buzz among Penn State fans about Michael Mauti, who was really impressing people last summer before tearing his ACL. If Mauti's knee holds up, he'll certainly challenge for major playing time. Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu both got decent playing time in 2009, combining for 68 tackles. So I'd watch those two along with Chris Colasanti, Gerald Hodges and incoming freshman Khairi Fortt.
James from Key Largo, Fla., writes: What are the chances of seeing Carlos Hyde at OSU this year? I think he's the equal of a Clarett, as good as Chris Wells.
Adam Rittenberg: Hyde certainly will be in the mix this spring, James, but he's got to leapfrog several players to get significant carries. Brandon Saine has the best shot to claim a starting/featured role, along with Dan Herron. Jaamal Berry also is in the mix along with Jermil Martin and Jordan Hall. Hyde certainly generated some hype as a recruit, as did Berry, but he'll need a very strong spring to work his way into the mix.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
- Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
- Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
- End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
- Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
- Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
- Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
Spring practice starts: March 14
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
- Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
- Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
- Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
- Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
- The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
- Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
- Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
- Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
- Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
- Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
- Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
- Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
- Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
- The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
- Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
- The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State made it official Monday afternoon and ruled sophomore linebacker Michael Mauti out for the season after he tore the ACL in his right knee during Saturday's scrimmage.
Mauti will have surgery sometime during the next three weeks and undergo a nine-month rehab, team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli said in a news release.
The talented sophomore was in the mix for a starting job alongside standouts Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman. He was one of only three true freshmen to appear in all 13 games last fall and recorded 26 tackles and a forced fumble for the Nittany Lions. Needless to say, hopes both inside and outside the program were very high for the Louisiana native.
Mauti's injury creates a lot more questions about Penn State's depth at linebacker. The Lions boast one of the nation's best tandems in Bowman and Lee, and senior Josh Hull, a former walk-on has the inside track for the third starting spot with Mauti out.
"Josh is a great student of the game," Bowman told me last week. "With him being a walk-on, I take my hat off to him. He works hard and really wants to show us that he can do the job. With him being part of the group, he doesn't lack anything."
Penn State now needs linebackers like Nate Stupar and Chris Colasanti, a potential redshirt candidate, to take on bigger roles. But the Lions need Bowman and Lee to stay healthy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.
Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.
Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.
Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.
Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.
Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.
Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.
Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.
Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.
Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's impossible to minimize what Penn State has lost at key positions on both sides of the ball.
But think about what the Nittany Lions could regain at linebacker.
|Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI|
|Linebacker Sean Lee hopes to return to his 2007 form.|
- 239 career tackles, including 138 as a junior in 2007
- 18.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks, including 5.5 in 2006
- 26 consecutive games started between 2006-07
- Five fumble recoveries and two interceptions
There's only one looming question: Will Sean Lee be the same player?
If he is, Penn State will reclaim one of the nation's best linebackers, a Bednarik Award candidate who can lead a defense that loses seven starters after finishing eighth nationally in yards allowed (280.1 ypg), points allowed (14.4 ppg) and rush yards allowed (93.2 ypg) last season. But Lee hasn't played a down since the 2007 Alamo Bowl, where he earned defensive player of the game honors, and comes off surgery to repair a torn right ACL sustained on a noncontact play last spring.
"The only thing I worried about was, 'Will my knee hurt me? Will I feel like I don't have explosion off the knee?'" Lee said. "And the knee felt great, so I really feel if I continue to rep and work hard, I'll be the same player, if not better.
"I've tried to be really disciplined along this rehab so I can come back a better player."
Lee tore the ligament on April 11, 2008, and underwent surgery April 28 before beginning the long rehab process.
Before the mishap, Lee had been projected as a leading candidate for the Bednarik Award, claimed by his Penn State linebacker predecessors Dan Connor (2007) and Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006) in the previous three seasons. Instead, he spent practice time in the training room and games on the sideline, serving as an honorary captain.
Lee took a positive approach to the situation and found benefits in his season offstage.
"Reading pass routes and trying to dissect plays, I feel a little bit quicker mentally now," he said. "Because last year, that's all I did, try to study other teams, study offense during practice. I tried to take every opportunity I had to better myself."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A few items before the weekend.
Adam Kahn writes: After a disappointing season for Wisconsin football, how do you think they'll fare next season. They got some pretty good recruits and many players that are coming off of redshift seasons. Nick Toon has established himself as a top recieved and we know John Clay is already the Big Ten's next great running back. I'm wondering about your thoughts of Wisconsin's football team for next season.
Adam Rittenberg: I like some of the changes Wisconsin made during the offseason, both with the strength program and also emphasizing a greater sense of accountability among players. The blame for last year should be shared, but from talking with Bret Bielema, it seemed like there was a lack of leadership at times. It will be an interesting season, and once again the quarterback position will be in the spotlight. Wisconsin needs to do a better job of developing the quarterback and the passing game. Toon certainly has talent, and the Badgers need a pass-catching target other than a tight end to emerge.
I loved John Clay from the first time I saw him carry the ball at Michigan last year. The offensive line gets a mini-makeover, but Wisconsin usually is solid up front. If so, Clay could have a huge year. But there are enough holes on both sides to make me want to take a wait-and-see approach with this team.
Josh from Tempe writes: Hey Adam -- Has any program claimed Defensive Line U? Penn State obviously reloads at linebacker every year; but as of late the defensive line has created a national buzz under coach LJ Senior. As for the linebackers, I don't see any other unit in the country being better then Sean Lee, Navarro Bowman, and Chris Colasanti this year (that includes the almighty Trojans).
Adam Rittenberg: I don't believe that title has been claimed, Josh, and Penn State certainly makes a case with guys like Tamba Hali and Aaron Maybin the last two years. Fans are extremely confident that Larry Johnson Sr. will produce another star pass-rusher this year, so I'm excited to get out to State College and see. Penn State will enter the season with the Big Ten's top linebacking corps, though Iowa isn't too far behind.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I didn't get a chance to have the regular Friday mailbag, so here are a few items before the early kickoffs.
Andy from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Michigan has a very capable running back in Sam McGuffie who I think will be the future of the position. However, we have seen Brandon Minor break several large runs this year and Carlos Brown has also exhibited great speed. Why is Rich Rod not giving our veteran running backs a little better look out there? Do you think he should be working them into the slot position, direct snaps, etc...? It seems like a bit of a waste of talent. Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: Rodriguez saw last week the benefit of having multiple running backs in the game. Junior Kevin Grady provided a big lift in short-yardage situations, and Minor had the big touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Brown won't be available today with a sprained foot, but Minor, Grady and Michael Shaw should see time alongside McGuffie. You're absolutely right. Michigan needs its veteran running backs in the game, even if McGuffie is the future. Both Brown and Minor have value, and they both should be used more as the season progresses.
Brian from Baltimore writes: How arrogant is Beanie Wells that he could even think for a minute that he can win the Heisman? Even in the games he's played in, he hasn't posted Heisman worthy numbers.
Adam Rittenberg: Wells might come off that way, but I see it as confidence more than anything, which is never bad. He wants to carry the load for this team, and quite frankly, Ohio State needed someone to step up after the first few games. It will be nearly impossible for Wells to even be in the Heisman discussion, but he still believes he's one of the best players int the country, and more important, so do his teammates. Beanie Wells is the best leader on that team, not the seniors.
Bob from Parts Unknown writes: Adam As you cover the Big 10 - doesnt the completion percentage of Brian Hoyer depend on the receivers helping catch balls in the game. I have watched all the games and certainly there are incomplete passes....but also too many drops from a young receiving corps - something the media all questioned going into the season. So isn't Hoyer overall performance a bit better than his stats show.
Adam Rittenberg: Dropped passes are definitely a factor for Michigan State and several other teams (Wisconsin), but it would take an awful lot of drops to put the completion percentage at 46.5 percent. To his credit, Hoyer hasn't made a lot of mistakes, just two interceptions in 157 pass attempts, but I just can't see Michigan State making a serious run at the Big Ten title without its quarterback completing better than 50 percent of his passes. Hoyer manages a game very well, but he's got to make more plays. Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham are solid receivers and should be used more.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I didn't get a chance to make it to Happy Valley during the preseason, but now that the quarterback situation is settled, it's time to take a look at Penn State. Here are three questions facing the Nittany Lions this fall.
1. Did Penn State make the right call with Daryll Clark at quarterback?
Clark has the right mix of size, speed, arm strength and intangibles to effectively run the Nittany Lions new offense, the Spread HD. Those expecting a reincarnation of Michael Robinson might be disappointed, but Clark should be able to manage an offense stacked with weapons at wide receiver and running back. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said sophomore Pat Devlin also likely will play this fall, which isn't a bad idea, but Clark will get the first opportunity. The 6-2 senior doesn't lack confidence and projects as a strong vocal leader, which should help him transition to the top spot and earn his teammates' respect.
2. How will the recent off-field incidents and the speculation about Paterno's future affect the team?
If things go bad early on, some of those distractions could creep in for Penn State, but the team has good senior leadership in players like A.Q. Shipley, Josh Gaines and Derrick Williams. The Nittany Lions can't afford any more disciplinary incidents after a well-publicized offseason in the blotter, and it will be up to the captains to maintain order. The Paterno questions could crop up more toward the end of the season, especially if the team is struggling. Players maintain they don't worry about the 81-year-old coach, but constantly getting asked to speculate about his future could take a toll.
3. Who will step up on defense after the season-ending injury to star linebacker Sean Lee?
Penn State still should have one of the Big Ten's best defenses despite the loss of Lee. Junior defensive end Maurice Evans is on the cusp of a monster season after collecting 21.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last fall. Safety Anthony Scirrotto will be fully focused after dealing with his own off-field problems last season and should lead Penn State in interceptions for the third consecutive year. If the Lions get good leadership from Tyrell Sales and production from former walk-on Josh Hull and promising sophomores Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu, the linebacker corps won't be an issue.