Big Ten: DeAndre Levy

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After Wednesday's practice, Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield was having a hard time charging his cell phone.

"Aw, man, terrible," Schofield said. "You know phone chargers these days die out real fast."
 David Stluka/Icon SMI
 Changing positions from linebacker to defensive end has worked out for O'Brien Schofield (50) and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Fortunately for the Badgers, the same can't be said for Schofield. His battery is fully charged this season, and he provides a major jolt to the Wisconsin defense every time he steps on the field.

After a fairly quiet career, Schofield has been the Big Ten's biggest surprise on defense this fall, not to mention one of the nation's true breakout performers. The senior from Great Lakes, Ill., leads the nation in tackles for loss with 14.5, 2.5 more than any other defender, and leads the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks, 2 more than anyone else. Schofield has recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss in four games and could challenge Tom Burke's amazing single-season school record of 31.5 tackles for loss in 1998.

Not bad for a guy who entered the season with only five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 31 games during his first three seasons.

"Did I expect it? Yes. Did I know it was really going to happen? Didn't really know until we saw the bullets start flying," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's playing as high a level as anybody that I've been around since I've been here at Wisconsin.

"To be leading the nation in tackles for loss, that doesn't just come about by luck. He worked very hard to get there."

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The national spotlight will shine brightest in Dallas and South Bend this week, but quite a few eyes and ears will be tuned to what happens Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Bret Bielema's Badgers are looking to rebound from Saturday's loss at Ohio State.

The Iowa-Wisconsin matchup means something, and not just to the two rivals competing for the Heartland Trophy. It means a lot in the Big Ten title race, and possibly the national title chase, given Iowa's unblemished record. Granted, we'll hear the standard storylines all week (Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema facing his alma mater, border battle, homecoming in Madison, etc.), but the matchup has bigger-picture implications.

Back in the preseason, a marquee matchup seemed unlikely as both teams dealt with major concerns.

Wisconsin entered August without a starting quarterback -- again. The Badgers were banged up along the offensive line and had major questions at linebacker after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. Running back John Clay, a projected star, didn't have the offseason many had hoped for and slipped behind Zach Brown on the depth chart. Dark horse quarterback candidate Scott Tolzien emerged as a surprise starter. Veteran safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant were indefinitely suspended. Bielema showed up on lists of coaches on the hot seat, even though his job was never in serious jeopardy.

Iowa, meanwhile, endured arguably the worst preseason of any Big Ten team. Hawkeyes running back Jewel Hampton, the projected successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, couldn't recover from a knee injury and had to be shut down for the season. Injuries also hit the wide receiving corps hard. Things still looked bleak after the season began, as Iowa barely survived its opener against Northern Iowa and lost more standout players (left tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) to injuries.

The fortunes have changed for both teams heading into Saturday's matchup (ESPN, noon ET).
 AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
 Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are 6-0 for the first time since 1985.

Iowa is 6-0 for the first time since 1985, a season that resulted in a Big Ten championship and a trip to Pasadena. The Hawkeyes own the nation's second-longest win streak (10) and the longest in head coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. They're tied for second nationally in takeaways (19) and rank 20th in points allowed (15.8 ppg). The defensive line has been fabulous, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi continues to show resiliency despite some troubling miscues. Perhaps most important, Iowa has maintained its poise in close games, winning three by a combined six points.

"This year's team just has that air about them," running back Adam Robinson said. "Everybody wants to win when it's crunch time. We just have that no-quit attitude."

Wisconsin continues to sniff the national rankings despite a loss to Ohio State that in many ways validated the team's 5-0 start. The Badgers boast the Big Ten's most balanced offense and a defense that ranks third in the league in takeaways (16). Tolzien has emerged as the answer at quarterback, and Clay re-established himself as the team's top back with big performances against Michigan State and Minnesota. Senior end O'Brien Schofield has been the Big Ten's best defensive lineman this season, leading the nation in tackles for loss (2.42 per game). Defenders like Mike Taylor, Chris Maragos and Chris Borland have emerged as surprise stars.

If Wisconsin had translated a strong game plan into more points and fewer mistakes in Columbus, Saturday's matchup would pair two undefeated teams. Would that take the spotlight away from Texas-Oklahoma or USC-Notre Dame? Hard to tell.

But the Badgers and the Hawkeyes still deserve your attention.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- To understand Jay Valai's passion for bone-crushing hits, you must learn his list of YouTube favorites.

Before every Wisconsin game, Valai, a junior safety for the Badgers, watches "Weapon X," better known as Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins. His video selections also include big hits from the late Redskins safety Sean Taylor and "some Oklahoma State game from the 1990s" where a player loses his helmet in a collision.

Valai's playlist even includes a clip that makes Wisconsin fans cringe -- Tennessee's Eric Berry crushing Badgers quarterback Tyler Donovan in the Outback Bowl two years ago.

  Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
  Making the big hit has helped Wisconsin's Jay Valai make a name for himself.

"Even Eric Berry knocking out TD," Valai said, "it kind of excites me, I don't know why."

Valai is developing his own library of YouTube-worthy hits.

He knocked the 'M' decal off the helmet of Minnesota running back Shady Salamon last November and delivered huge blows against Ohio State, Indiana and others. He led the team in forced fumbles (3) in 2008 and knocked out four players from games.

Valai also led Badgers defensive backs with 56 tackles (35 solo).

"He thinks he's Brian Dawkins," cornerback Aaron Henry said. "With Jay being so small and compact, he can hit somebody and it'll seem like a bullet hit 'em."

As Valai steps into a bigger role this fall for the Badgers, his goal is simple.

"Controlled violence," he said. "That's the key."

While Valai is known as one of the Big Ten's biggest hitters, he also must rein things in after delivering several questionable blows. New Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo wants to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits, and Valai likely will be on officials' radar.

"When he's in on something, he really wants to go whack it," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "Sometimes, it's better to be a little bit more on the side of caution to make sure you've got everything down."

Valai has several explanations for why he craves the big hits, and he's happy to share them.

  • "Little-man syndrome." Valai stands only 5-foot-9.
  • "Me and [DeAndre] Levy last year, we just found something to be disrespected about."
  • "Texas football. It's just run, see, hit." Valai hails from Euless, Texas.

Though Valai agrees he was born to be a safety, his all-time favorite hit takes him all the way back to the eighth grade, when he also played offense.

His team was facing fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line.

"My quarterback was running into the end zone," he recalled, "and some guy was directly behind him. So I ran straight at him for about 10 yards, took a sidestep to the left and crack-back blocked him. He flipped kind of sideways. We didn't even [score a touchdown], but the crowd was on their feet.

"Ever since then, man, it's been like a drug to me."

Valai wants to keep building his reputation in the Big Ten, but he knows he needs to become a more complete defender.

He was a strong coverage safety in high school, operating mostly in a man-to-man defense. It's taken a few years to master the more complex zone coverages college teams use, but Valai has caught up.

"He always is going for the big hit," Bielema said. "There's a time and place for those things, and those have to be a part of who he is, but I need him to make every play. I want him to make a play in a tough situation, in the open field, be able to get a guy down and have accountability to your teammates."

The über-confident Valai expects to elevate his overall game, but he still salivates when opposing receivers dare to cross over the middle.

"That's just like dessert after dinner, man," he said. "You're licking your chops every play."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.

Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.


Camp opens: Monday

1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?

Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.

2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?

Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.

3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?

The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.


Camp opens: Monday

1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?

Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.

2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?

None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.

3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?

Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The position rankings march on with the linebackers, another position that looks fairly stacked throughout the Big Ten. Much like the D-lines, I don't see many truly weak groups here, though there's a drop-off after No. 4. 

1. Penn State -- The Lions return the Big Ten's most explosive linebacker from a year ago (Navorro Bowman) and one of the league's most productive 'backers from 2007 (Sean Lee). If Lee returns to form, he and Bowman will form arguably the nation's best linebacker tandem and anchor a Nittany Lions defense that led the Big Ten against the run. Josh Hull adds experience at the third starting spot, while hopes are very high for sophomore Michael Mauti. 

  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  Greg Jones, the Big 10 preseason Defensive Player of the Year, leads Michigan State's linebacking corps.

2. Iowa -- Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds lead a group that always seems to get it done. Angerer tied for the league lead in interceptions last year and led the team with 106 tackles in a breakout junior season. His production overshadowed the solid play of Edds, who should have a big senior season. Jeremiha Hunter also returns for his second year as the starter. Depth might be a bit of a concern here, but the top three are very good. 

3. Michigan State -- Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones is the headliner, and he has a nice supporting cast around him. Jones has led the Spartans in tackles in each of his first two seasons and consistently finds his way into the offensive backfield. Eric Gordon has developed into a fine outside linebacker, and Brandon Denson takes on a bigger role this fall. The Spartans also can look to their bench for Adam Decker, who made the game-clinching tackle against Iowa's Shonn Greene last year.

4. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose one of the more productive linebacker tandems in recent Big Ten history, as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman move on to the NFL. The good news is Austin Spitler, Tyler Moeller and others have waited their turn and probably would have earned starting jobs on any other team. Spitler and Moeller step into bigger roles along with Brian Rolle, and Ohio State needs bigger things from Ross Homan in his second year as a starter. There are some question marks, but this should be a good group.

5. Michigan -- Linebacker figures to be Michigan's strongest area on defense. Obi Ezeh has proved to be a reliable Big Ten defender, and he'll benefit from having a healthy Jonas Mouton in the fold. The big question is whether Stevie Brown makes a smooth transition from safety and builds on a strong spring. If Brown steps up, the Wolverines should be fine here. Hopes are also high for Brandon Herron and Marell Evans.   

6. Minnesota -- This group could take a major step forward in 2009, but the Gophers must defend better against the run. Lee Campbell quietly had a nice junior season, recording 80 tackles and four sacks, and Simoni Lawrence proved himself as a playmaker with 10.5 tackles for loss (4 sacks), two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Minnesota boasts a ton of speed at linebacker, and it'll be interesting to see how Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley perform. Sam Maresh could provide an emotional lift after his amazing return from heart surgery. 

7. Indiana -- It's time for Matt Mayberry and his fellow 'backers to lead this defense to better results in 2009. Mayberry has the talent and the experience to turn in a monster senior season, but he needs to show up every week and make big plays. Will Patterson provides leadership at middle linebacker, and Tyler Replogle steps into a bigger role. If Indiana turns things around on defense, the linebackers must lead the way. 

8. Northwestern -- Head coach Pat Fitzgerald identified his top three linebackers in spring, which bodes well for a group that loses Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng. Outside linebacker Quentin Davie has quietly put up some very impressive numbers, and Nate Williams will be more comfortable in a major role. Fitzgerald is excited about speedy sophomore Ben Johnson, and safety Brad Phillips might see more time in a hybrid role. There are some lingering questions here, but this group could make a big jump.

9. Wisconsin -- The jury's out on the Badgers after they lose DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, who combined for 15.5 tackles for loss last year. I like what Jaevery McFadden brings at middle linebacker, but he'll need some help from Culmer St. Jean, who saw increased time down the stretch in 2008. Aside from McFadden and St. Jean, the group is unproven and needs to show it's not the weak link of the defense.

10. Illinois -- Ron Zook thinks this will be the year Martez Wilson emerges as an elite Big Ten defender, and history is on his side. The move to middle linebacker worked out well for Brit Miller last year, and Wilson showed some promise in the middle this spring. Illinois needs big things from Wilson because it lacks much experience around him. Junior college transfer Aaron Gress might be a key addition, but I'm far from sold on this group.

11. Purdue -- The Boilers lose an extremely productive and underrated linebacker in Anthony Heygood, and a lot of questions remain with this group. As much as Purdue wants to see Jason Werner healthy, the team can't rely on a guy with a history of back problems. Joe Holland and Chris Carlino need big seasons this fall, and Purdue must build some depth around them.  

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Biggest reason for hope -- John Clay and the run game

Wisconsin can always fall back on its offensive line and power run game, and the 2009 season should be no different. P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL clears the way for Clay, who was very impressive in spurts last season as a backup. Clay finished seventh in the league in rushing (68 ypg) and had a sparking 5.7 yards-per-carry average as a redshirt freshman. If he can maintain a decent weight (235-240 pounds) and avoid further ankle problems, he should have a breakout season this fall. Wisconsin loses a few key pieces up front, but always seems to reload on the O-line.

Biggest reason for concern -- Holes on defense

Most would list the quarterback position as Wisconsin's biggest concern, but the passing game shouldn't be as big of a problem this fall with improved play from the wide receivers. The defense, meanwhile, loses its top two linebackers (DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas), its top pass defender (corner Allen Langford) and three multiyear starters on the line (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman). It could signal problems for a unit that struggled in the red zone and in the fourth quarter of games in 2008. Wisconsin should be pretty solid up front this fall, but there are questions elsewhere.

Recapping the hope and concern series:

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.

Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.

Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.

Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.

Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.

Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.

Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.

Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.


Picks: 7


Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)


Picks: 4


Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)


Picks: 3


Picks: 2


Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)


Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin senior linebacker Erik Prather sustained a "potential career-ending knee injury" during Saturday's scrimmage, according to the team's latest practice report. Prather, who had to be carted off the field Saturday, likely will have surgery in the next few weeks. 

Prather appeared in all 13 games last fall and recorded 18 tackles (1.5 for loss). He would have provided experience and depth at linebacker, an area of concern for the Badgers after losing multiyear starters DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas.

Badgers linebacker Mike Taylor returned to practice in a limited capacity after battling a hamstring injury. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the superlatives rundown. Quarterback certainly hurt the Badgers more than any other spot last season, but the team should be better stocked under center this year.

Here's the good news and bad news for Wisconsin entering spring ball.

Strongest position -- Safety

Key returnees: Junior Jay Valai, senior Chris Maragos, senior Shane Carter, senior Aubrey Pleasant

Key departures: None

The skinny: The secondary as a whole should be stronger despite the loss of top cover corner Allen Langford, and the safeties are all back for 2009. Valai has established himself as one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters, and Maragos is a solid tackler with experience at free safety. If Carter improves his tackling to complement his ball-hawking skills, he'll be an asset this fall. The running backs would have earned this distinction if P.J. Hill had stayed, though the group still remains solid. Other strong positions include tight end and cornerback.

Weakest position -- Defensive line

Key returnees: Senior end O'Brien Schofield, senior end Dan Moore

Key departures: Tackle Mike Newkirk (59 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (8 TFLs, 4 sacks, 10 QB hurries), tackle Jason Chapman (5 TFLs, 2 sacks)

The skinny: Several offensive position groups could fit in this category, especially quarterbacks and wide receivers. The linebackers also will be restocking after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. But enough players are back at all of those spots, and the production hit along the defensive line might be a bigger problem for the Badgers. Newkirk was terrific last season, recording nine tackles for loss and four sacks, and Shaughnessy brought a pass-rushing presence to the edge. Schofield could be a star this fall after a productive junior year, but he'll need some help.

A few more Big Ten combine numbers

February, 24, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The linebackers and defensive backs took center stage Monday at the NFL scouting combine, and several Big Ten players helped their causes with strong showings. 

Here are a few notables:

40-yard dash

  • Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, seventh among linebackers, 4.74 seconds

Bench press

  • Illinois' Vontae Davis, first among cornerbacks, 25 repetitions
  • Michigan's Morgan Trent, tied for fourth among cornerbacks, 23 reps

Vertical jump

  • Ohio State's Freeman, tied for first among linebackers, 37 inches

Broad jump

  • Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy, tied for eighth among linebackers, 9'11"

3-cone drill

  • Ohio State's James Laurinaitis, third among linebackers, 6.93 seconds
  • Ohio State's Freeman, tied for fourth among linebackers, 6.98 seconds

20-yard shuttle

  • Ohio State's Freeman, first among linebackers, 4.12 seconds
  • Ohio State's Laurinaitis, sixth among linebackers, 4.24 seconds

The underappreciated and overshadowed Freeman needed a strong performance at the combine, and he got one. Laurinaitis should have no trouble on draft day, but Freeman likely improved his stock with top performances in four categories, including a win in the 20-yard shuttle by six one-hundredths of a second (that's actually a lot).

Davis should be a first-round pick, and his performance in the bench press cemented his status as a physical freak. Though Malcolm Jenkins is the more accomplished college cornerback, Davis' physical gifts could project better at the next level. 

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.


  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker


IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent


  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley


  • Running back Tyrell Sutton


  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^


  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams



  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik


Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likely will return to his roots with his 2009 recruiting haul.

A former defensive lineman at Iowa, Bielema needs to replenish a Badgers' defensive front that loses three multiyear starters (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman). Wisconsin needs to start generating pressure again, and Bielema will be looking for contributors at both line positions.

The Badgers also lose plenty of experience at linebacker, as mainstays DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas graduate. Though Jaevery McFadden developed nicely this fall, there's not too much experience behind him.

For the second straight season, the Badgers will lose their best cover man as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford graduates. The secondary isn't a pressing need, but the Badgers would be well served by adding a defensive back or two.

On the offensive side, a mammoth line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in rushing loses three starters, including standout guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. Wisconsin likely won't need a true freshman to start but should try to build depth up front.

Wisconsin's wide receivers were a major disappointment this season, and while the team remains young at that position, a sure-hands target or two in the 2009 class wouldn't be a bad move. Standout tight end Travis Beckum graduates and Garrett Graham enters his senior season, so tight end also is somewhat of a need with this class.

The Badgers' struggles on return and coverage teams also provide paths for several freshmen to see the field this fall.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The rankings continue today with another of the Big Ten's strongest positions -- linebacker. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he didn't top this list, a testament to the league's depth at linebacker. 

Here's your top 10. 

1. Navorro Bowman, Penn State -- Bowman began the season as a reserve, but was easily the league's most noticeable linebacker by the end. He racked up 31 more tackles than any other Penn State player and finished with four sacks, two forced fumbles and 16.5 tackles for loss, tops among Big Ten backers. One of few bright spots in the Rose Bowl, Bowman racked up five stops for loss. The LaVar Arrington comparisons look legit.

2. Brit Miller, Illinois -- The Illini didn't have the season they wanted, but Miller did his part and then some as J Leman's replacement in the middle. Miller led the Big Ten in tackles (132) and ranked eighth in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (15.5). He forced three fumbles, returning one for a touchdown, and was by far Illinois' most consistent defensive player. 

3. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State -- Laurinaitis turned in a very solid senior season, piling up 130 tackles and four sacks. He didn't always make the spectacular play, but consistently carried out his assignments and seemed to get stronger as the season progressed. Laurinaitis leaves Ohio State as one of the most decorated players in team history, and he certainly made a mark on the Big Ten. 

4. Greg Jones, Michigan State -- He flies under the radar a bit at Michigan State, but Jones will undoubtedly be a household name in 2009. The Spartans sophomore finished third in the league in tackles (127), bringing his two-year total to 205. Jones is only a junior, but along with Bowman he will enter next season as a candidate for All-Big Ten and All-America honors. 

5. Pat Angerer, Iowa -- In addition to having a great name for a linebacker, Angerer showed this fall that he can cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. He rallied from a very frustrating 2007 season to finish second in the league in interceptions (5) and sixth in tackles (107). With Laurinaitis graduating, Angerer might be the league's best linebacker against the pass, tallying eight deflections to go along with his five-pack of picks. 

6. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State -- He played second fiddle to Laurinaitis throughout his career, but would have been the No. 1 linebacker on almost any other team. Freeman was solid this fall, leading Ohio State in tackles for loss (9.5) and ranking second in total tackles (84). A second-team All-Big Ten selection in each of the last two seasons, Freeman will be missed next fall. 

7. Anthony Heygood, Purdue -- Purdue's defense was better than the numbers showed this fall, and Heygood led the way with 114 tackles. Though his tackles for loss total dropped from 2007, he had six or more stops in nine games and racked up 11 solo tackles against Ohio State. 

8. Obi Ezeh, Michigan -- It was a tough year for Michigan's defense, which got next to no help from the offense and endured its own problems. But Ezeh blossomed as a bright spot in the middle, leading the team with 98 tackles to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after the season opener and contributed seven tackles for loss and a sack. 

9. Matt Mayberry, Indiana -- Many readers would rank Mayberry much higher, but I need to see more from the Hoosiers' talented middle linebacker. He clearly has tremendous physical gifts and racked up five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss this fall. If he continues to make strides and elevates a historically bad defense, Mayberry will find himself in the top five next season.

10. DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin -- Levy was one of few consistent performers on a Badgers defense that looked great at times and awful at other times. He won National Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Fresno State win, in which he registered four tackles for loss, including a critical sack, as well as an interception and a pass breakup. Levy led Wisconsin with 9.5 tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks (5).