Big Ten: David Pittman
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota kicked off spring ball this afternoon as the team held its first practice indoors at Rod Wallace Field. Players and coaches seemed amped up to get started, and here are some notes from the Gophers' first workout.
- Linebacker Sam Maresh participated in his first practice as college player after battling back from open heart surgery last summer and a benign tumor in his left calf discovered this winter. Maresh worked with the third team and ran a bit gingerly, but he looks strong at 6-foot-3 and 235 and should improve throughout the spring. The first-team linebackers consisted of Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, while Gary Tinsley and Ryan Grant alternated at the third spot. Freshman Keanon Cooper certainly brings speed to the group, but he's a bit undersized at outside 'backer.
- The Gophers' four new coaches are fun to watch, particularly offensive line coach Tim Davis and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who employs some creative teaching techniques. The line will be a focal point throughout the spring as Minnesota transitions to a pro-style, power run offense. The first-team line consisted of left tackle Matt Stommes, left guard Dom Alford, center Trey Davis, right guard Matt Carufel and right tackle Jeff Wills.
- Stommes, who made a meteoric rise to a starting tackle position after switching from defensive line, passes the eye test. He flat out looks like an athlete at left tackle. Wills, a junior college transfer, is huge but probably needs to improve his conditioning just a touch. Tim Davis rode him pretty hard for not finishing a drill.
- The NCAA prevents teams from hitting during the first three practices, so starting quarterback Adam Weber (shoulder surgery) participated alongside backup MarQueis Gray, who looks every bit 6-foot-4 and showed good arm strength on several throws. Fisch spent time working with the quarterbacks on quick releases and at one point had them throw passes any way but overhand, to expand the types of throws (sidearm, flips) they need to make in games. "Turn that double play," Fisch told Weber and Gray while working on their releases.
- Running back Duane Bennett, who comes off ACL surgery, ran with the first-team offense along with fullback Jon Hoese, wide receiver Brandon Green and others.
- The best line of the practice came from defensive line coach Tim Cross after several players jumped early on a drill with the blocking sled. "You can't make a mistake being an assassin," Cross said. "One shot, one kill."
- David Pittman, Green and Marcus Sherels (out for spring ball after shoulder surgery) worked as return men during a special-teams period.
- Guard Ned Tavale definitely makes my early All-Big Ten hair team. Nice 'do.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State coach Joe Paterno thinks he should be seeing a 1-0 Oregon State team Saturday in Happy Valley.
Most people who tracked last Thursday's game between Oregon State and Stanford saw the continued renaissance of a dormant Stanford program behind coach Jim Harbaugh. Paterno saw the inferior team win.
"Oregon State was the better team," Paterno said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "They just blew it. They made a couple of mistakes and took themselves out of the football game."
Paterno was impressed with Oregon State's secondary, which allowed only 91 passing yards against the Cardinal. The group should test Nittany Lions starting quarterback Daryll Clark, who completed 11 of 14 passes against Coastal Carolina.
Oregon State's offense, led by quarterback Lyle Moevao, also provides a challenge for Penn State's talented defense.
"It's a tough trip across the country," Paterno said, "but they should have beaten Stanford. I think they'll come here ready to go and prove to people how good a football team they really have."
Some other items of note from the teleconference:
- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said redshirt freshman Steven Threet could take more reps with the first-team offense than sophomore Nick Sheridan in practice this week. Rodriguez lamented a "very disappointing" run game against Utah and several big-play opportunities that weren't converted, but he didn't sound too down on the quarterbacks.
"They're pretty conscientious guys," Rodriguez said. "They understood during the game what they were seeing, the mistakes, the good and the bad. They saw some of the things they've got to get better at. ... They did not seem overwhelmed."
- Indiana starting wide receiver Ray Fisher is day-to-day after sustaining a shoulder injury against Western Kentucky. Fisher didn't play the second half of the game and will be evaluated throughout the week. Coach Bill Lynch expects to have a decision on Fisher's status by Thursday and said former safety and quarterback Mitchell Evans likely will fill in during the interim. Standout defensive end Greg Middleton and the three reserves who were suspended for the opener will be back in action Saturday against Murray State.
- Michigan State running back Javon Ringer racked up 102 yards on kickoff returns before Cal started kicking away from him in last week's game. Despite the pounding Ringer takes at his primary position, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio expects to keep the senior on kickoff returns for the foreseeable future.
"Last year we used [wide receiver] Devin Thomas in that capacity and we had the No. 3 kickoff return team in the nation," Dantonio said. "If we can get that kind of production on that team, we'll continue to use the personnel we have. We have to have a guy that can be explosive there. One thing Devin did last year was he broke tackles, he broke arm tackles, and that was one of the things you saw Javon do."
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz expects sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and cornerbacks Jordan Bernstine and Drew Gardner to return from hamstring injuries Saturday against Florida International. Junior quarterback Jake Christensen will start the game but Ricky Stanzi also likely will see action as the competition continues.
"We'll just watch and see how things go," Ferentz said. "I don't know if you can put a timetable on these things. It's a healthy situation right now, which is good."
- There's been some concern about Purdue's wide receivers after the losses of Dorien Bryant and tight end Dustin Keller, but coach Joe Tiller thinks most people are overlooking Greg Orton. The senior has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
"For 80 percent of the teams in the country, 60 [receptions] would lead the team," Tiller said. "It might even lead the league. This guy's an accomplished receiver in his own right."
- Coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't expect Northwestern's travel plans to Duke to be affected by Hurricane Hanna, but the Saturday night game could be played in sloppy conditions. Fitzgerald has tried to prepare his players for inclement weather by practicing outside in the spring, which in Evanston feels like winter. The Wildcats also likely will practice outside Wednesday and Thursday, when the forecast calls for rain.
"It'll definitely be a factor on Saturday," Fitzgerald said, "but it'll be the same for both teams."
- Minnesota quarterback David Pittman, a junior college transfer, has recovered from a hamstring injury and will be available, giving the team a full complement of healthy players. Pittman provides another option at quarterback after the announcement Monday that prized freshman MarQueis Gray won't be with the team this season. Coach Tim Brewster said Gray's absence won't affect the depth chart but added, "We're very much looking forward to getting MarQueis back."