Big Ten: Darius Mosely

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Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Dan Murphy, Josh Moyer and Austin Ward as they look around the conference heading into Week 9.

We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

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November, 6, 2013
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This will blow over in time. This will all blow over in time.
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

2012 record: 2-10
2012 conference record: 0-8 (sixth in Leaders division)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, RB Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, TE Jon Davis, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim, DE Tim Kynard, P Justin DuVernois

Key losses

C Graham Pocic, G Hugh Thornton, DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence, DL Glenn Foster, CB Terry Hawthorne, CB Justin Green

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Donovonn Young* (571 yards)
Passing: Nathan Scheelhaase* (1,361 yards)
Receiving: Ryan Lankford* (469 yards)
Tackles: Mason Monheim* (86)
Sacks: Michael Buchanan (4.5)
Interceptions: Steve Hull* (2)

Spring answers

1. Juco impact: Embattled coach Tim Beckman needs a quick fix after a 2-10 season and brought in a sizable group of junior college players during the winter. Several jucos made an immediate impact this spring, including wide receiver Martize Barr and Eric Finney, who Beckman said locked up a starting job at the Star (safety/outside linebacker) position. Defensive tackle Abe Cajuste will be in the rotation up front, and Dallas Hinkhouse gives the Illini another option at offensive tackle.

2. Offensive playmakers emerging: Bill Cubit's offense gives Illinois a chance to be much more explosive in 2013, especially in the passing game. The Illini needed more playmakers to emerge at both receiver and running back this spring and saw some encouraging results. Miles Osei and Steve Hull, both of whom converted to receiver from other positions, showed flashes, and Justin Hardee had a big performance in the spring game (6 receptions, 104 yards). Ryan Lankford certainly has the experience to be a No. 1 receiver. At running back, Donovonn Young looked good in the spring game with three rushing touchdowns, and Josh Ferguson provides a nice counterpunch with his speed.

3. O-line coming together: When a unit struggles as much as Illinois' offense did in 2012, the first place you look is up front. An offensive line that featured one NFL draft pick (Hugh Thornton) and another potential pro (Graham Pocic) significantly underachieved, although injuries and youth played a role. The group needed to take important steps this spring, and Beckman sounded pleased with the results. Tackle Corey Lewis, recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, performed well and put himself in position to start. Simon Cvijanovic, Michael Heitz and Alex Hill all benefited from game experience last fall and should provide a more solid front in 2013.

Fall questions

1. Mind games on offense: Cubit was more concerned about quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole picking up the offense this spring than which one separated himself in the competition. After all, Illinois will be running its third different offense in as many years, which will test both quarterbacks from the neck up. Scheelhaase came out of the spring with the lead, and he'll try to create some space between himself and O'Toole this season. Cubit wants to throw quick passes -- and a lot of them -- and Illinois' aerial game remains a work in progress entering the summer.

2. Special teams: The kicking game has been a major area of concern at Illinois for several years, and it will once again be in the spotlight when fall camp kicks off. Kicker Nick Immekus, who connected on 4 of 5 field goal attempts last season, left the team before spring practice. Taylor Zalewski, who made 4 of 7 attempts last fall, has the inside track for the starting job but must show consistency as he competes with Ryan Frain and Brennen VanMieghem (great name). Illinois should be strong at punter but needs a major spark in the return game after finishing 118th nationally in punt returns and 107th in kickoff returns in 2012.

3. Filling gaps on defense: Repairing the offense is priority No. 1, but Illinois also needs to fill spots throughout the defense, especially up front and in the secondary. Illinois had three defenders selected in the NFL draft -- linemen Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne -- and loses other key contributors like lineman Glenn Foster and cornerback Justin Green. Tim Kynard is the team's only lineman with significant experience, so building depth up front will be critical. Cornerback is another position to watch, as freshman Darius Mosely stood out this spring. The linebacking corps could be very good if Jonathan Brown returns from injury at top form.
The rosters are set for Illinois' Orange and Blue Spring Game, which will kick off at 8 p.m. CT Friday at Memorial Stadium.

Illinois' seniors on Tuesday night drafted the two teams, which you can see here. Because of depth issues, eight players -- Robbie Bain, Abe Cajuste, Tim Clary, Chase Haslett, Samuel Ogunkoya, David Reisner, Cameron Tucker and Sean White -- will play for both squads.

Not surprisingly, top quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase (blue) and Reilly O'Toole (orange) will match up in the game. The two have competed for the starting job throughout the spring and will continue to do so in fall camp.

At first blush, the Blue squad looks much, much stronger. Scheelhaase is joined by top running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young and veteran receivers Spencer Harris and Ryan Lankford. The Orange also has the team's top two healthy linebackers in Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina -- Jonathan Brown (shoulder) will miss the game -- as well as Tim Kynard, the only returning starter on the defensive line.

The Orange team needs a big night from players like wide receiver Martize Barr, a junior-college transfer practicing with the first-team offense, and Miles Osei, a former quarterback now playing exclusively at receiver. Tight end Evan Wilson also will play for the Orange. The defense includes linebacker Houston Bates, linemen Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams, and cornerback Darius Mosely, a true freshman who enrolled early and has made an impact this spring. The Orange squad also has top specialists Justin DuVernois and Taylor Zalewski.

Several players will miss the game, including Brown and wide receiver Steve Hull, who was having a good spring before being slowed by a hamstring injury.

The game will feature a normal clock for the first three quarters and a running clock in the fourth quarter aside from the final two minutes. There will be no kickoffs or returns (kickoff or punt), and quarterbacks won't be live.
The book on Ron Zook when he got to Illinois read like this: phenomenal recruiter, average coach.

The description didn't change much when Illinois canned Zook in November following seven seasons. Zook signed several nationally elite recruiting classes, including the 2007 crop (headlined by Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson), and he continued to recruit well until the on-field results took a dive. Illinois' recent NFL draft success -- the Illini have produced five first-round picks since 2008, more than any other Big Ten team during the span -- underscores the fact that Zook and his assistants knew where to find talent.

Tim Beckman arrived in Champaign with a similar recruiting profile to Zook's. He was known for his recruiting efforts at previous stops. Although the class Illinois signed in February didn't earn high marks regionally or nationally, it didn't seem fair to judge Beckman until he had more time to put his stamp on a class.

So far, the new coach is delivering.

Illinois has added four recruits in the past week as defensive end Dawuane Smoot gave his pledge on Tuesday night. The Illini already have 14 players committed for the 2013 class, the third highest total in the Big Ten behind national leader Michigan (22) and Iowa (15), which also has surged in recent days.

According to ESPN Recruiting, the Illini have two four-star recruits -- quarterback Aaron Bailey and cornerback Darius Mosely -- along with 10 three-star prospects.

I reached out to Jared Shanker, ESPN's Midwest Recruiting Coordinator, for some thoughts on the Illini's early recruiting success under Beckman.

"That is a little surprising," Shanker writes in an email. "For some, Illinois was their biggest offer at the time and they jumped on it, but the Illini have beat out some very good programs for a number of their commitments. Aaron Bailey was also high on Nebraska and Wisconsin, and Darius Mosely is a four-star corner who had offers from several BCS programs. The two four-star commits already on board is already half the number Illinois had in the previous three classes when they picked up only four.

"As for the three-star guys, Jarrod Clements was one of the top defensive line performers at the Columbus NFTC; Caleb Day is a versatile athlete the previous Ohio State staff was high on; and Kenton Gibbs was very good this spring competing at a few camps."

Beckman, who came to Illinois from Toledo and grew up in Berea, Ohio, not surprisingly has made his home state an emphasis in recruiting. Six Illini commits hail from Ohio.

"Beckman had a reputation for not being scared to compete with the BCS programs for recruits despite being at a MAC school," Shanker writes. "That mentality is going to serve him well at Illinois as the Illini are often considered a team in the bottom half of the Big Ten. A lot of the credit goes to recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh, who really worked the Ohio area hard."

Shanker added that while Illinois' class is shaping up well, the true test will be how well the staff scouted prospects who didn't receive much interest from the rest of the Big Ten. That's where the development component comes in.

"It won't matter who else offered them if they turn out to be as good as the Illini staff believes they are," Shanker writes, "and that is really all that matters."

Big Ten lunch links

June, 26, 2012
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What's on your plate today?
Another June weekend is in the books, which means it's time for another recruiting roundup. As camps take place around the league, several players joined the commitment lists for the 2013 classes.

Let's take a quick look at what has happened since Friday:
  • Penn State didn't have a recruiting spree like several Big Ten teams, but the Lions picked up by far the most decorated prospect of the weekend in offensive tackle Dorian Johnson from Belle Vernon, Pa. ESPN Recruiting rates the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Johnson as the nation's No. 26 overall prospect and No. 2 offensive tackle. He has received offers from Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among others. Penn State now has two of the top three rated commits in the Big Ten -- quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the other. Given all the turmoil outside the program right now, it's incredible how successful new coach Bill O'Brien has been in adding high-quality recruits for his first full class.
  • Accelerated recruiting has become the national norm rather than the exception, but Iowa is on a record-setting pace for early commits. The Hawkeyes stand at 15 commits for 2013, the second highest in the Big Ten behind national leader Michigan (22). Iowa has secured six commitments since late last week, adding linebacker Trevon Young, defensive back Solomon Warfield, offensive lineman Sean Welch and three athletes -- Ike Boettger, Andre Harris and Derrick Mitchell Jr. The Hawkeyes landed three commits alone on Sunday, including Warfield, who had received several Big Ten offers. The commitments of Mitchell and Harris continue Iowa's success in the St. Louis area, where the Hawkeyes plucked players like Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt. You have to wonder how much of the early success is due to the new, younger faces head coach Kirk Ferentz added to his staff during the offseason.
  • After scrambling to sign a class in February, new Illinois coach Tim Beckman is flexing his recruiting muscle so far for 2013. Illinois secured three commitments during the weekend -- athletes Darius Mosely and Caleb Day, and defensive tackle Bryce Douglas -- to bring its total to 13, the third highest in the Big Ten behind only Michigan and Iowa. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Mosely is Illinois' highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN Recruiting, earning a grade of 82. Beckman also is shoring up the interior defensive line with four defensive tackle prospects so far in the class.
  • Michigan State added a player with a familiar surname to its 2013 class as tight end Dylan Chmura pledged to play for the Spartans. Chmura, son of former NFL star tight end Mark Chmura, stood out during Michigan State's camp on Saturday. The Waukesha, Wis., product hadn't received an offer from Wisconsin but had planned to attend a Badgers camp later this month. Michigan State has eight commits for 2013.
  • After being stuck on one commit for several months, Minnesota picked up three more last week, including quarterback Chris Streveler from Woodstock, Ill., who made his pledge Friday night after attending a Gophers camp the weekend before. Streveler likely will be the only quarterback in Minnesota's class as the Gophers signed Philip Nelson in February and Max Shortell in 2011.
  • Although Hunter Niswander has a wide receiver's frame (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), he'll be doing the kicking and/or punting for Northwestern in future years after committing to the Wildcats on Friday night. Niswander received a scholarship offer from Northwestern, which has extended several to specialists in recent years after struggling in the kicking game for a stretch of seasons. Niswander's punting stood out during a recent camp at Northwestern, but he could handle both punting and place-kicking duties for the Wildcats.
  • Purdue picked up its third commitment for 2013 when athlete David Yancey made his decision Saturday. Yancey played quarterback in high school but is pegged as a running back for the Boilers, who loaded up on quarterback in their most recent class. Yancey has three older brothers who went to Purdue.

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