Big Ten: Cory Benton

Big Ten internal affairs: Week 8

October, 15, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.

Michigan State -- The Spartans went deep into their roster against Northwestern, as 59 of the 70 players in uniform for the game saw action in a 37-20 victory. Freshmen Glenn Winston and Keshawn Martin made big contributions on kickoff returns and in the passing game, and Jeremy Ware sparked a banged-up secondary with five pass break-ups. Michigan State could be a bit healthier for Saturday's clash against No. 12 Ohio State, as top cover corner Chris L. Rucker might return from an elbow injury. Wideout Mark Dell remains the starter on the depth chart despite being limited against Northwestern with an undisclosed injury.

Ohio State -- Head coach Jim Tressel reaffirmed his support Tuesday for starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor despite struggles on offense the last few weeks. Tight end Jake Ballard stumped for senior Todd Boeckman and a two-quarterback system that could better balance the offense. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in pass offense and 70th in scoring, but Tressel is satisfied with the direction. Pryor's individual yardage totals have dropped in each of the last three weeks, but Ohio State continues to win and didn't fare much better with Boeckman at the helm.

Wisconsin -- In addition to having no definitive starting quarterback at this point in game week, Wisconsin could have a new look on the offensive line Saturday at Iowa. Right guard Kraig Urbik, who has made 45 consecutive starts on the line, likely will miss the game after sustaining a knee injury last Saturday against Penn State. Sophomore Bill Nagy would start in Urbik's place. The Badgers are a bit more hopeful about getting left tackle Gabe Carimi back for Iowa, though Carimi also has a knee injury and is questionable. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby could get his second straight start and would protect the quarterback's blind side if right-hander Dustin Sherer replaces Allan Evridge.

Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offensive line had another setback with the season-ending loss of tackle Garrett Miller to a foot injury. Miller, a fifth-year senior, will undergo surgery in the coming weeks. Purdue's other tackle, Sean Sester, has been battling back problems this season, and right guard Justin Pierce is struggling with headaches. Starting center Cory Benton hurt his elbow against Ohio State and reserve center Jared Zwilling recently had an ankle injury. Purdue is tied for 52nd nationally in sacks allowed (1.67 per game) and on Saturday faces a Northwestern defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (19).

Illinois -- Juice Williams' importance to the Illini offense has become even greater after the weekend arrest of backup quarterback Eddie McGee. The sophomore was arrested for allegedly shoving a woman, and his status for Saturday's game against Indiana is unclear. McGee has appeared in only one game this season, completing one of two passes, but he's the only other Illinois quarterback with collegiate game experience. Williams leads the Big Ten in passing (279.5 ypg) and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (353.7 ypg).

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Several more Week 1 depth charts came out Monday, but few major questions were answered. Penn State still doesn't have a starting quarterback, and neither does Indiana or Michigan. The first Big Ten coaches' teleconference is later Tuesday, so perhaps some light will be shed on the league's top position battles. Check back for updates.

Link time:

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Joe Tiller enters his final season at Purdue much like he did his first, with an under-the-radar team that could surprise people this fall. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," he said.

After having some fun during team pictures on the Ross-Ade Stadium field -- on the final do-what-you-want shot, Tiller turned his cap to the side, C.C. Sabathia style, and flexed for the camera -- the Boilermakers coach met with the media.

Here are some of the items he touched on:

  • Tiller announced that defensive end Nickcaro Golding, safety Josh McKinley and defensive tackle Preston Numa will be suspended for the season opener against Northern Colorado for "conduct detrimental to the team." Senior safety Torri Williams, a candidate to start, has been fully reinstated. Williams was suspended this spring after an arrest for shoplifting.
McKinley started one game last fall but looks to be in a reserve role this year. Both Golding and Numa redshirted last year.
  • Linebacker depth is Purdue's biggest concern in training camp. Fifth-year senior Anthony Heygood and promising junior Jason Werner look good at the two outside spots, and Tiller is hopeful Kevin Green can step up in the middle. But after those three, the cupboard is pretty bare.
Purdue conducts its first full-pads practice later today, and the coaches will closely examine who else they have at linebacker, and who could move over to the position.
"It's a daily discussion," Tiller said. "Today's an important day for us. We've been out there dancing our underwear for a couple day and playing pass-and-tap with shells on. Now we're going to start playing football, so we'll see if somebody will demonstrate an ability to help us. Until that happens, we're reluctant to move anyone."
Green recorded only seven tackles in eight games last fall, and Tiller wants to see more from the man at the core of the Boilermakers defense.
"He could really help us," Tiller said. "Kevin's the type of guy that's had his moments but from a consistency point of view hasn't been there yet."
  • Purdue made several moves with its starting offensive linemen, who are all healthy after a painful spring. The Boilers swapped tackles Sean Sester and Zach Jones, moved Jared Zwilling to guard and established Cory Benton as the No. 1 center. Sester, one of the team's top pro prospects, moves to right tackle after protecting Curtis Painter's blind side a year ago. Tiller said he didn't know what to expect from Jones a year ago and wanted a more experienced player at left tackle.
But after evaluating Jones in his first season as a starter, Tiller made the switch.
"Jones is the more athletic guy than Sester and really is better suited to play the left side than Sean is," Tiller said of the former walk-on. "And Sean is better suited to play the right side. We think we have them at their natural positions now."
Tiller likened Zwilling to Jones, saying guard is an easier position to transition into than center. Benton played mainly at guard but is expected to perform well at center.
"He smells it," Tiller said of Benton. "He knows he's got a chance to be the lead tank and be the starter at center all year."
  • Tiller provided a little background on Purdue's big home showdown with Oregon on Sept. 13. Six or seven years ago, Tiller started discussing the game with then-Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, who Tiller had coached at Washington State in the early 1970s.
Moos brought up the idea of playing Purdue, but Tiller didn't have much interest.
"Finally Bill said, 'Well, let's schedule a game that's so far out there that both of us will be retired, so it really won't matter,'" Tiller recalled. "And of course, Bill's retired and I'm not, so that worked for one guy and not the other."
The "real reason" Tiller agreed was that Oregon had dropped September road games against Big Ten teams, falling to Michigan State in 1999 and to Wisconsin in 2000.
"I thought, 'You know, here's a West Coast team that has to travel a long way and probably doesn't play well on the road early, so let's sign 'em up,'" Tiller said. "That was a long time ago and obviously isn't true about them any longer."

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Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Tackle Alex Boone is one of four returning starters on the Buckeyes' offensive line.

All of the previous positions I ranked (quarterback, running back, wide receiver/tight end) matter little without sturdy offensive lines to block for them. And despite lingering questions about its speed, the Big Ten continues to churn out elite linemen. The league has had three offensive linemen selected in the top 5 of the NFL draft in the last two years, including former Michigan tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in April. Several elite players return this fall, including Ohio State tackle Alex Boone and Penn State center A.Q. Shipley, but offensive lines should always be graded as a group. Four teams look very solid up front. The rest of the league? Not so much.

Here's the rundown:

1. Ohio State -- Led by Boone, who passed up NFL bucks for another national title push, the Buckeyes bring back four of five starters up front. Sophomore Bryant Browning emerged at right tackle in spring ball and joins a group that helped Beanie Wells finish 11th nationally in rushing last season. If the first-team unit stays healthy, the offense will surge this fall.

2. Penn State -- All five starters return to a unit that mirrored Ohio State in both sacks allowed and rushing production last season. Shipley and guard Rich Ohrnberger solidify the interior line along with Stefen Wisniewski, who last year became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start at Penn State since 1999. Hopes are high for whip-smart left tackle Gerald Cadogan.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lost no starters and feature All-Big Ten candidates throughout the line. So why isn't this unit rated higher? Wisconsin finished 91st nationally in sacks allowed with 33 last season, a number that must go down with a new starting quarterback. Four-year starter Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp form the league's best guard tandem, and sophomore left tackle Gabe Carimi held his own last fall after succeeding Joe Thomas.

4. Illinois -- If not for two vacancies, the Illini would be higher on the list. They allowed just 16 sacks last fall, the second fewest in the league, and had the Big Ten's top rushing attack. All-conference candidates Ryan McDonald and Xavier Fulton return. If Ryan Palmer solidifies the right tackle spot, this group will have a big season.

5. Michigan State -- Replacing all-conference left tackle Pete Clifford became a priority this spring, and Michigan State filled the gap with talented junior Rocco Cironi. If Cironi can effectively protect Brian Hoyer's blind side, the interior line should be solid with returning starters Roland Martin and Joel Nitchman. Depth is a concern, and several incoming freshmen could help.

6. Purdue -- Health is the biggest question for Purdue after mainstay Sean Sester, Zach Jones and Zack Reckman missed spring practice with injuries. Head-coach-in-waiting Danny Hope needs all three returning starters at full strength in camp. The all-important center spot could feature an intriguing competition, as freshman Andrew Brewer joins the mix with Cory Benton and Jared Zwilling.

7. Iowa -- A veteran group could definitely climb the list, but after hemorrhaging for 46 sacks last fall, significant improvement is needed. Guard Seth Olsen anchors the line in his third season as a starter. Though several other full-time or part-time starters return, Olsen's spot appears to be the only safe one entering preseason camp.

8. Michigan -- Strength coach Mike Barwis will try to work his magic with a group that returns only one starter, right tackle Stephen Schilling. A lot hinges on junior Mark Ortmann, who succeeds Long at left tackle. If Ortmann steps in smoothly and David Moosman locks up the center spot, the Wolverines might be fine. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs linemen who can fit in his system, and if need be, he'll look to incoming freshmen like Ricky Barnum.

9. Indiana -- The left side looks strong with Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, but there are questions elsewhere. A lot is riding on a talented group of sophomore linemen that includes potential starters Alex Perry and Mike Stark. Sacks were a problem at times last season, and the Hoosiers must generate a stronger rushing attack outside of quarterback Kellen Lewis.

10. Minnesota -- Of all the Gophers' problems last season, the offensive line wasn't one of them. Minnesota allowed a league-low 13 sacks and ranked third in pass offense. But the departures of left tackle Steve Shidell and center Tony Brinkhaus raise questions up front. Hopes are high for sophomore left tackle Dominic Alford, but a young group must build chemistry.

11. Northwestern -- The Wildcats lost mainstays at both center and left tackle, and right tackle Kurt Mattes is the only returning starter who secured his job. A lot is riding on three young players -- freshman left tackle Al Netter, sophomore left guard Keegan Grant and freshman center Ben Burkett. If those three step up, a veteran group of skill players will put up points.