Big Ten: David Lindquist
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Last season, Illinois fans got a taste of good Juice (total offense records in three stadiums, including the Big House) and bad Juice (nine interceptions in the last five games).
Those in attendance Wednesday at a blustery Memorial Stadium for Illinois' full-pads scrimmage saw both sides of Juice Williams but left with a slightly sour taste about the Illini senior quarterback.
Williams looked solid in 7-on-7 red zone drills, firing touchdowns to Jeff Cumberland and dynamic Florida transfer Jarred Fayson. But Williams threw at least four interceptions, two of which went to cornerback Travon Bellamy, who appeared to injure his neck after making a pick in the end zone. Walk-on cornerback Nattiel Perkins also picked off a Williams pass.
"We got the best of him out there," cornerback Tavon Wilson said with a smile. "We compete like that every day, though."
Illini fans shouldn't be too concerned about Williams, who has loads of experience and a ton of weapons at his disposal. But seeing that limiting turnovers was one of head coach Ron Zook's top two goals for spring ball -- limiting big plays on defense was the other -- Wednesday's mistakes shouldn't become a habit.
There were several bright spots at the practice, and here are my other observations.
- Illinois' rushing game will be much better in 2009, and Williams shouldn't have to carry such a large load as a runner. Sophomore backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure both performed well in the scrimmage, delivering just as many hits as they took. The physical development of both players is obvious -- more on that in the coming days -- and as bigger backs, they can do some damage this fall. Ford broke free for a big gain late in the scrimmage, and LeShoure rocked Patrick Nixon-Youman after catching a screen pass.
- Ford and LeShoure rotated with both the first- and second-team offense because both Daniel Dufrene and Troy Pollard are banged up. Don't be surprised, though, if the two sophomores are Illinois' primary backs this fall.
- The Illini should have the Big Ten's top wide receiver corps this fall. Even without All-America candidate Arrelious Benn, who had class Wednesday and missed practice, the Illini receivers showed plenty of promise. The 6-5 Cumberland is a huge target, and Fayson already looks like one of Williams' favorite targets.
- Former NFL coaches Jim Haslett and Rick Venturi attended practice for the second straight day. Haslett, the former Saints and Rams coach, will coach the Orlando franchise in the newly formed United Football League. They were in town to see Zook, their former colleague from the New Orleans Saints, and the three spent a lot of time breaking down film.
- Several Illinois coaches raved about Tavon Wilson's progress when we talked earlier in the day, and he didn't disappoint. The sophomore defended a screen well during the red zone portion and rocked LeShoure on a run, eliciting cheers from his fellow defenders.
- After playing two years at outside linebacker, junior Martez Wilson worked mainly in the middle on Wednesday. It makes sense since he's by far the team's most experienced linebacker. Wilson, who has recovered from a stabbing incident in December, still looks huge at 6-4 and 240 pounds. He had some good and bad moments during practice but teamed with Rahkeem Smith to drop LeShoure for a loss.
- I was impressed with third-string quarterback Jacob Charest, who made several nice throws to Cordale Scott.
- Suspended defensive tackle Josh Brent was at practice, watching from the sideline and hanging out with several recent Illini players, including former defensive lineman David Lindquist. The feeling is that Brent is expected to rejoin the team at some point.
- The first-team offense: Williams at quarterback, LeShoure and Ford at running back, wide receiver Cumberland, wide receiver Chris Duvalt, wide receiver Fayson, tight end Hubie Graham, offensive lineman Corey Lewis, offensive lineman Jeff Allen, offensive lineman Eric Block, offensive lineman Jon Asamoah.
- The first-team defense: defensive lineman Rahkeem Smith, defensive lineman Antonio James, defensive lineman Clay Nurse, defensive lineman Corey Liuget, linebacker Martez Wilson, linebacker Russell Ellington, linebacker Ian Thomas, cornerback Tavon Wilson, cornerback Patrick Nixon-Youman, safety Bo Flowers, safety Garrett Edwards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.
Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.
Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.
Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.
Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.
Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.
Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.
Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Talent certainly wasn't the problem last season in Champaign, and Illinois once again will return several game-changing skill players in 2009. Though Ron Zook must be mindful of impending departures at both quarterback and wide receiver, he can steer his recruiting elsewhere.Illinois must improve at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. A defensive line that Zook labeled the team's strength before the season underperformed, and Illinois still loses three key contributors in ends Will Davis and Derek Walker and tackle David Lindquist. Sirod Williams returns from a knee injury and Cory Liuget looks like the real deal, but Illinois could use some depth along the defensive line. With a new line coach joining the mix, the front should be the team's top priority.
Jeff Allen emerged as a stud at right offensive tackle, but Illinois also needs to beef up on the offensive line. There's a question mark at center following the graduation of Ryan McDonald, and left tackle Xavier Fulton also departs.
Despite a disappointing 2008 season, Martez Wilson remains Illinois' future at the linebacker position. All-Big Ten standout Brit Miller, Rodney Pittman and Sam Carson all graduate, so adding a linebacker or two wouldn't be a bad idea.
Zook also must prepare for Juice Williams' graduation and will add another quarterback to the mix in Nathan Scheelhaase, who could play a critical role if Eddie McGee doesn't pan out in 2010. The Illini look fine at running back, wide receiver and defensive back, though cornerback Vontae Davis' early departure to the NFL and the likely departure of Arrelious Benn following the 2009 season creates some holes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A great weekend of Big Ten games is on tap, and not just the big one at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I expect all of you to gain a few pounds sitting on your couches throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Anything less will be unacceptable. I get a rare Friday night at home -- fiancee is happy -- before hitting the road early Saturday to watch Purdue and No. 16 Oregon go at it (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
A quick disclaimer about this post because I've gotten a lot of nasty e-mails. These are the best 10 things to watch on a given Saturday, not the best thing to watch for each team. There often will be two items for a marquee game -- like the one in L.A. -- and multiple teams won't make the rundown, especially those playing weak competition. That's how it works.
Here are 10 things you don't want to miss:
1. Beanie watch ends: Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is listed as doubtful for the matchup against top-ranked USC, but nothing will be settled until kickoff. Coach Jim Tressel doesn't want to risk further injury to Wells in September, but if the Heisman Trophy candidate can contribute, the Buckeyes will use him. If not, get ready for a guy (Dan Herron) nicknamed "Boom." Unfortunately, that's also the sound Rey Maualuga makes when he connects with ball carriers.
2. Pryor restraint: Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will play a role against the Trojans. How significant a role largely depends on Beanie Wells' availability. If the offense stalls like it did last week without Wells, Pryor could get extended time in an effort to throw off the USC defense. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is a special talent, but can he handle the spotlight of such a marquee game?
3. Badgers hit the road: Wisconsin has survived slow starts against inferior opposition, but it can't afford to drag against Fresno State. Keep your eyes on Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who makes his first road start since 2005. Coach Bret Bielema gets two big pieces -- tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas -- back on the field following injuries, but both players could be a bit rusty.
4. 'Hell' with the victors: Michigan players saw Charlie Weis' words around their training room this week. The Wolverines head to South Bend hoping to hand Weis and Notre Dame a third humiliating loss in the last three years. Quarterback Steven Threet gets the start and needs to show greater consistency, but he'll get help from a veteran defensive line that swarmed Jimmy Clausen last year.
5. Track meet at Ross-Ade -- Purdue has marveled at Oregon's team speed all week, and the Boilers have to find a way to keep pace Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of several defining games for Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter, who will set plenty of records but needs signature wins to complete his resume. The Boilermakers' back seven has improved but will play without speedy linebacker Jason Werner. Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson could capitalize.
6. Backer bonanza: NFL scouts will be drooling as arguably the nation's best linebacker tandems take the field at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman hope to continue their takeaway trend against Mark Sanchez, while the "scary" Maualuga and Brian Cushing bring the pain to the Buckeyes offense.
7. State pride on the line: This is more than a rivalry game for Iowa. Iowa State provides the first significant test for the Hawkeyes, who have looked dominant against shoddy competition. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a grasp on the starting job and the support of Iowa fans, but he'll need to continue to make progress against the Cyclones. The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk trophies, a good sign for Iowa.
8. Rush hour in East Lansing: Michigan State's defensive line has yet to break out, and Saturday would be a fine time to do so. Sun Belt champ Florida Atlantic and standout quarterback Rusty Smith come to town, and the Spartans need to apply pressure to avoid problems. With uncertainty in the secondary, Michigan State needs big things from end Trevor Anderson and tackle Justin Kershaw.
9. Illini D-line under the gun -- Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rush defense (201 ypg), a troubling sign as Louisiana-Lafayette's dynamic quarterback Michael Desormeaux comes to town. Can veterans like Will Davis, Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and David Lindquist shore up the defensive front? This would be a perfect time as Illinois inches closer to a tough opening stretch in league play.
10. Orange could be feeling blue: What was once a great rivalry could get ugly Saturday at the Carrier Dome as Penn State's high-powered offense faces the worst BCS team in the country. Syracuse should be pumped for the game: coach Greg Robinson desperately needs a positive showing: but Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions should put up some ridiculous numbers in this one.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
More than once in recent months, Illinois coach Ron Zook has called the defensive line the strength of his team.
Quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Rejus Benn and cornerback Vontae Davis might garner greater hype, but as a unit, the D-line rises above the rest. The Illini return starting ends Will Davis and Derek Walker, starting tackle David Lindquist and several others (Doug Pilcher, Josh Brent) with at least a pinch of game experience. The season-ending loss of tackle Sirod Williams will hurt, but it frees up opportunities for Brent and heralded freshman Corey Liuget.
Co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch expects to use a rotation of up to nine players up front.
"We're pretty deep there compared to our other positions," Disch said. "We've got some kids that have been around, that's the key. We're looking to them to get us through the first couple weeks."
First up is Saturday's season opener with Missouri (8:30 ET, ESPN), a team against which the Illini line looked anything but superlative last season. Quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 359 yards as Missouri outlasted Illinois 40-34.
Lindquist recorded one of two sacks against Daniel, but the Missouri star attempted 54 passes and proved too much for the Illini defense.
"He doesn't give up on the play, no matter what," Davis said of Daniel. "If it's a broken play, he's going to find a way to make something out of nothing. But at the same time, the defensive line and the defense in general, we bring more speed to this game than we did last year."
Davis, a converted tight end, leads the charge after recording 9.5 sacks last season. Walker enters his fourth season as the starter after leading the team in sacks in 2006.
Lindquist led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries (4) as a sophomore before starting every game last fall.
Another year of experience should help a group that watched Missouri score 37 points in the first two-and-a-half quarters last season.
"Last year, we were still trying to find each other as a team," Walker said. "We were confident, but we weren't sure. This year, we know we can be good. We know if we play how we're supposed to play, we'll be one of the best D-lines in the nation. We just have to go out there with that mind-set and prove it to people."
They get a chance to prove it right away.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Iowa DT Mitch King is the Big Ten's top interior lineman.|
Several e-mailers have asked me why I left Iowa standout Mitch King off the list of the Big Ten's top defensive ends. Well, it's because King plays defensive tackle, and he's one of the best (see below). King, Michigan's Terrance Taylor and Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk headline this year's crop of interior linemen.
Here's a look at the Top 10:
1. Mitch King, Sr., Iowa -- A rare four-year starter, King earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season after recording 4.5 sacks, seven pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. He has recorded 11 or more tackles for loss in each of his three seasons with the Hawkeyes.
2. Terrance Taylor, Sr., Michigan -- Second-team All-Big Ten selection last season has started 24 games at nose tackle. Last season Taylor led all Wolverines defensive linemen with 55 tackles (8.5 for loss). How he adjusts to new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer and the 4-3 alignment will be key, but Taylor is consistently around the ball.
3. Mike Newkirk, Sr., Wisconsin -- He's one of several key Badgers defenders coming off an injury (shoulder), but if healthy, Newkirk can be disruptive. As a junior he ranked second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and had five quarterback hurries. After playing most of the season at end, Newkirk switched to tackle for the Outback Bowl and is projected to start there this fall.
4. Matt Kroul, Sr., Iowa -- Kroul has started more consecutive games than King (37) and gives opposing offensive lines another threat to worry about. Though King makes more big plays, Kroul led Iowa's defensive linemen and ranked fourth on the team with 74 tackles last season. The four-year starter's consistent play and leadership are invaluable for Iowa's defense.
5. David Lindquist, Sr., Illinois -- The former walk-on has solidified a spot in the middle of Illinois' talented line. He recorded 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss as a junior, and should take on a greater role as the Illini try to replace mainstay Chris Norwell.
6. John Gill, Sr., Northwestern -- Haven't heard of Gill? NFL scouts and draft analysts have. The Northwestern senior drew high marks from Mel Kiper Jr. last season and didn't disappoint, recording four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Gill consistently gets into the backfield and should have a strong senior season, especially if his linemates improve.
7. Chris Baker, Jr., Penn State -- Baker remains suspended and his playing status seems to hinge on summer school grades. If cleared, he gives Penn State a legitimate threat in the middle of the line. Baker ranked third on the team in sacks (4.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (8) last season.
8. Alex Magee, Sr., Purdue -- The veteran defensive tackle anchors Purdue's line and forms a strong tandem with Ryan Baker. Magee has recorded eight tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles in the last two seasons.
9. Jason Chapman, Sr., Wisconsin -- Health is once again the concern here, as Chapman comes off a knee injury that shortened his junior season and kept him out of spring ball. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2006, finishing second on the team with five sacks. If he's at full strength, Wisconsin could rival Iowa for the league's top tackle tandem.
10. Will Johnson, Sr., Michigan -- The switch to the 4-3 provides more opportunity for defensive tackles, and Johnson looks ready to cash in after a strong summer. He started every game last fall and racked up 40 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The rankings switch to the defenses today, and things begin up front. Like their offensive trench mates, defensive linemen are best graded as a unit, so that's where we'll start. But because there are so many standouts in the Big Ten, I'll follow-up with individual rankings for interior linemen and defensive ends. Examining the personnel at Penn State, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, defensive line is arguably the league's strongest position group.
Here's the rundown:
1. Penn State -- It's tight at the top, but the Nittany Lions get the nod with an experienced and talented group. Defensive ends Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines lead the way after combining for 26.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks last season. Aaron Maybin provides depth at end, and the interior line features Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and the reinstated Chris Baker.
2. Illinois -- Coach Ron Zook was extremely high on this group coming out of the spring, and for good reason. The Illini are stacked at end with All-Big Ten selection Will Davis, Derek Walker and Doug Pilcher. They must replace mainstay Chris Norwell at defensive tackle, but former walk-on David Lindquist comes off a strong 2007 in which he recorded 4.5 sacks.
3. Ohio State -- It's rare to see the Buckeyes outside of the top two, but they certainly have the talent to jump up the list. The main concern is the loss of defensive end Vernon Gholston, who tied for third nationally in sacks last fall. But the Buckeyes have a capable replacement in Lawrence Wilson, who returns after breaking his leg in the 2007 opener. Blossoming end Cameron Heyward helps the pass rush, and Ohio State has four capable interior linemen.
4. Michigan -- All four starters are back, and the line should be Michigan's strongest position group entering the season. End Brandon Graham had a strong summer after recording 8.5 sacks last season. He'll team with Tim Jamison to provide a formidable pass rush. The Wolverines will use multiple fronts but should operate mostly out of the 4-3, giving senior tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson the chance to do damage.
5. Wisconsin -- Health and depth are the major questions entering camp, but there's little doubt the Badgers have loads of talent up front. End Matt Shaughnessy earned second-team all-conference honors last season and should have a stellar senior year if he recovers from a broken fibula. Senior tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk also come off injuries, as does end Kirk DeCremer, who recorded 5.5 sacks as a freshman.
6. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes boast the league's best interior line with senior tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. King has started the last 32 games, and Kroul's starts streak stands at 37. If Iowa can find disruptive pass rushers to bookend King and Kroul, it will shoot up the list. The spotlight will be on sophomores Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn, who had their moments as reserves last fall.
7. Indiana -- Greg Middleton headlines the group after leading the nation in sacks last season with 16. Indiana's challenges will be identifying a second pass-rushing threat and becoming sturdier against the run (159.7 ypg allowed in 2007). Junior end Jammie Kirlew recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season, numbers that should increase with the double-teams Middleton will draw. Senior Greg Brown and the Burrus twins (Keith and Kevin) must solidify the interior.
8. Purdue -- Cliff Avril's departure hurts, but the Boilermakers return several experienced players up front and could easily leapfrog some teams by the end of the season. Seniors Alex Magee and Ryan Baker could be the best defensive tackle tandem in coach Joe Tiller's tenure, and Keyon Brown finished last season with 2.5 sacks in the Motor City Bowl.
9. Michigan State -- I'd be surprised if Michigan State doesn't jump up the list, but it's hard to minimize the losses of standout ends Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin. Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati, steps into one spot and gives the Spartans a proven pass rusher. Hopes are high for tackle Justin Kershaw in his senior season, and sophomores Antonio Jeremiah and Oren Wilson will compete at the other tackle spot.
10. Northwestern -- With four multiyear starters back for the fall, the Wildcats should be much higher on the list. But a disappointing 2007 season leaves the group with plenty to prove. Tackle John Gill is a fail-safe NFL prospect and 6-7 end Corey Wootton provides size on the edge, but the line simply doesn't make enough plays. Northwestern must finish off sacks after collecting only 18 last season, and senior end Kevin Mims must step up opposite Wootton.
11. Minnesota -- This will be a familiar spot for Gophers defenders until they prove otherwise. Minnesota generated a league-low 11 sacks last season and got gashed for 229.3 rushing yards per game. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg tries to regain his 2006 form (10 sacks) after a disappointing junior season. New coordinator Ted Roof must find two capable tackles and could look to the team's crop of junior-college transfers.