Big Ten: Dezmen Southward

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, Chris Ash, 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, Nico Law, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, 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, Leo Musso, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.
The official invite list for the 2014 NFL combine is out, and 36 Big Ten players will try to impress pro scouts during workouts in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-25. In case you were wondering, that's fourth most among conferences behind the SEC (71 invitees), the ACC (48) and the Pac-12 (45).

Here are the Big Ten players who were invited, broken down by position:

Quarterbacks (0)

Running backs (2)

Wide receivers (8)

Tight ends (2)

Offensive linemen (8)

Defensive linemen (2)

Linebackers (7)

Defensive backs (7)

Specialists (0)

Breakdown
It's a strong list of players, but were there any snubs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen and Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery jump out right away as missing, though Martinez has injury (and position) concerns, while Allen's small frame means he'll have to prove to scouts he can play at the next level.

I'm also a bit surprised not to see Indiana's Ted Bolser on this list; he's not a traditional blocking tight end, but his receiving skills would seem to translate to the NFL. Only nine kickers and punters were invited to Indy, yet it's a little disappointing that Purdue's Cody Webster and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien weren't included in the specialists.

Others who could have gotten an invite include Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Ohio State guard Andrew Norwell and Nebraska defensive back Ciante Evans.

That doesn't mean those guys won't play in the NFL. But their path to the league might be a little more winding.
The North team lost 20-10 to the South in the Senior Bowl on Saturday, but it was still a good day for many Big Ten draft hopefuls.

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIJames White was one of a few Wisconsin players who stood out at the Senior Bowl.
Wisconsin seniors in particular grabbed the spotlight in Mobile, Ala. Former Badgers tailback James White led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and had the game's only rushing score, a 1-yard, fourth-quarter plunge that also was his team's lone touchdown. White added five catches for 15 yards, showing the versatility that made him a standout for four years in Madison. After he was long overlooked in college, it's good to see White getting a chance to shine on his way toward the NFL.

White's teammate, former Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen, led the North squad with 46 receiving yards on four catches. Meanwhile, ex-Wisconsin star Chris Borland wrapped up a terrific week of practice with a team-best eight tackles, including a tackle for a loss and his signature play: the forced fumble.

Borland was named the most outstanding linebacker at the Senior Bowl on Friday. He appeared to answer any lingering concerns about his height and should be drafted within the first two or three rounds in April.

One Wisconsin star didn't play in the game, as receiver Jared Abbrederis tweaked a hamstring late in the week and flew home to recover. That opened a spot for Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, who contributed two catches for 19 yards on Saturday.

Iowa's Christian Kirksey finished second on the North team with six tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He received positive reviews for his play all week. His former Hawkeyes teammate, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, did not record a catch but was credited with two tackles. Fiedorowicz was named the most outstanding tight end at the Senior Bowl on Friday, and his impressive physical attributes should make him attractive to teams on draft day.

Other Big Ten players who collected stats included:

  • Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.
  • Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown had four tackles.
  • Wisconsin defensive back Dez Southward made two tackles.
  • Penn State's DaQuan Jones and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman each collected just one stop but drew praise for their work in stuffing the run.
  • Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis, another late addition to the team, registered one pass breakup.

The North team also featured Big Ten offensive line products Jack Mewhort (Ohio State) and Michael Schofield (Michigan).

Big Ten early all-star invitations

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
4:00
PM ET
Bowl season is just around the corner, and all-star season is just beyond the bowls. Invitations for several pre-draft events have gone out to seniors around the Big Ten.

This is not a final list, just an early rundown to give you an idea of who is going where to showcase their skills in front of the NFL folks.

REESE'S SENIOR BOWL (Jan. 25, Mobile, Ala.)
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME (Jan. 18, St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl has announced only a few player confirmations (including former Wisconsin DE David Gilbert), but none yet from the Big Ten. We'll include Big Ten invites in our next update. The Texas vs. Nation game and Raycom College Football All-Star Classic will not take place this season.

Friday Q&A: Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
2:00
PM ET
Tanner McEvoy was a star quarterback in junior college last season and signed with Wisconsin with every intention of competing for the Badgers' starting quarterback job. So of course now he is the team's starting safety, earning his first start last week vs. Northwestern. And he's 6-foot-6.

I recently caught up with McEvoy to talk about his unusual transition for this week's Friday Q&A:

So you're the starting safety for Wisconsin. Is there any way you could have ever imagined being described that way?

Tanner McEvoy: (Laughs.) No. I don't think anyone could have.

Can you walk us through how this whole thing happened and when this opportunity first came up?

TM: Well, it's kind of related to an injury. I hurt my wrist a bit [in preseason practice], and I had to get a screw in it. And that meant that I obviously couldn't take a snap. So they put me at receiver, and I was starting to make some strides in that area, but I realized it was just too much, trying to make catches with a cast and stuff. So my last shot, honestly, was when I talked to the coaches and they said they'd give me a shot over at safety. After a week or so, it started to click and we got more and more plays in. I guess that's kind of how that all started.

When you made the move, did you think you'd be playing at Ohio State and starting against Northwestern?

[+] EnlargeTanner McEvoy
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesA wrist injury prompted a position move for Wisconsin safety Tanner McEvoy, who still wants to try to play quarterback next season.
TM: I always had high hopes for myself. I always want to be the best I can be. I wanted to be on the field and I thought I could. That's why I went over there. So I thought I could get on the field pretty quick, and it seems like it has worked out for everyone.

What's been the biggest adjustment for you?

TM: Just offense/defense; it's been a pretty big adjustment. But playing free safety, I'm mostly a center fielder. Just trying to not let anything get past me and make plays on the ball. I think that's what I kind of bring to the table, just being a bigger person. I don't know how many 6-6 safeties there are this year, but it can't be a high number. So it's been fun. I'm just trying to get back there and make some plays.

I was impressed how physical you played, especially against Ohio State. Was that something you had to develop going to defense, or was it a mindset you already had?

TM: I've always kind of had that. Playing safety back in high school and wide receiver, it's a physical sport. You have to have that mindset at quarterback -- though maybe the NFL guys slide more. But I'm all for it. I like being physical. It's fun being the one hitting the person instead of getting hit, you know?

Being 6-foot-6, does that provide any advantages as a safety?

TM: I don't really have much to compare it to, because I've always been this height. But it is easier seeing the ball, I guess, come off the quarterback's hand and you can see the quarterback's eyes. And when the ball's in the air, I'm usually taller than the person I'm going against. So I guess that helps.

When did you feel like you started to get this position down?

TM: I only got a couple of snaps against Purdue, just kind of like third-and-longs. Then that week before Ohio State, we really got after it in practice. I think that's when I started coming into the role. That game, we started to rotate [safeties] every series.

Coming into the year, the secondary seemed to be a concern, as you had a lot of youth and inexperience back there. Things seem to be going well right now. How has that group developed throughout the season?

TM: We knew we had a great group back there. We've got some younger guys but we've got Dez [Southward], and he's an older guy who's kind of been there. We're starting to come into our own, and I think the whole defense is after that Northwestern win. I'm just looking forward to keeping this thing rolling.

You play this week at Illinois, a team that likes to pass the ball a lot. What challenges are you expecting in this game?

TM: They've got a lot of athletes on their team at the skill positions, and they do a bunch of stuff. So we've got to be prepared for everything they'll throw at us and kind of keep the same thing going as we had against Northwestern. Just keep rolling, and just try to make some more turnovers. That's kind of been our theme the last couple weeks. I'm trying to get my first pick. I know the rest of the DBs are, too. Sojourn [Shelton] has three. So we're trying to join the board. We can't leave him all alone.

When I talked to you this summer, you didn't seem to have any interest in switching positions. Was it ever hard to accept this move?

TM: With my injury, I realized it had to happen. I hate sitting on the bench and watching things. I really wanted to play. So I accepted it. Obviously, the first couple of minutes I was like, shoot, I'm not going to get to play quarterback. But that just comes with an injury. But then I changed my mindset and the coaches supported me, so we rolled with it like that.

Do you see this as a permanent move, or do you still think you can compete for the quarterback job next year?

TM: No, I still think I'm a quarterback. I still think the coaches think I'm a quarterback. And I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out on that front. We'll see.

On an unrelated note, you redshirted at South Carolina two years ago. Ever go up against Jadeveon Clowney as a scout-team quarterback?

TM: Every day. I was the scout-team quarterback and it was Clowney's freshman year. And they had Melvin Ingram, who was a very good defensive player, too. I played against them every day.

Ever get steamrolled by those guys?

TM: No, they were actually all nice to me since I played quarterback, and I was friendly to them. They were nice and didn't try to kill me too bad. I can't say the same for our running backs or the receivers.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:00
AM ET
How much heartburn can one team and one fan base take?

That's one of the lingering questions from Week 5 for Wisconsin, which dropped another close game Saturday in a 31-24 loss to Ohio State. That's 10 defeats by seven points or less since the start of 2011 for the Badgers, who have done this so much that we're starting to see reruns.

Prime example: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller's 40-yard touchdown pass to Corey Brown with one second to go in the first half covered the same distance as Miller's game-winning heave in the last half Wisconsin played in the Horseshoe, back in 2011. This time, safety Dezmen Southward was late in providing help after cornerback Peniel Jean peeled off, making an inexcusable mistake by letting a receiver get free in the end zone on the half's final snap.

“It’s basically a play that shouldn’t ever happen,” Southward said afterward.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsGary Andersen couldn't pull out a win for Wisconsin against Ohio State.
The Badgers also had two potential Ohio State turnovers negated by penalties, one on a face-mask call that didn't look like a face-mask violation on replay and the other on an illegal punt formation. Kicker Kyle French also missed a 32-yard field goal -- the same distance he was being set up for at Arizona State.

The late-game problems can't really be blamed on the head coach's late-game management. Gary Andersen had his team in position to win at Arizona State until the officials botched the final seconds. On Saturday, he elected to have his team punt on fourth-and-1 from its own 17 with under seven minutes left, while trailing by 14 points. At the time, that looked like a potential mistake. But Wisconsin got the ball right back and scored a touchdown with 2:05 left.

The Badgers then tried a pooch onside kick that Bradley Roby had to knock out of bounds. In retrospect, with all three timeouts remaining, Andersen could have just kicked off and potentially gotten better field position after his defense held for a three-and-out. But it was a totally understandable call to try to get the ball back on the road.

Meanwhile, every decision seems to continue working out for Urban Meyer in his 17-game winning streak. I thought Meyer was a little more conservative than normal on Saturday night. It was very surprising, for instance, to see him not go for it on fourth and 2 from the Wisconsin 45 in the first half, instead trying the lame "Let's-try-to-draw-them-offside" technique before punting. Ohio State also played it safe in the fourth quarter instead of going for the kill shot. Miller's wounded duck pass before the touchdown at the end of the half should have been picked off.

But the Buckeyes -- who scored only seven points in the second half -- again came away unscathed. They have become the anti-Wisconsin, having won six games by seven or fewer points since the start of last season.

Badgers fans have to wonder when their heartburn will finally be soothed.

Take that and rewind it back …

Team of the week: Ohio State. The Buckeyes got their first major challenge of the season and pulled through in a tough game against Wisconsin. The environment in the Horseshoe was electric from start to finish and included a visit from LeBron James and this amazing halftime show by TBDBITL (try not to be impressed by the formation around the 4:30 mark). Seventeen in a row and counting.

Worst hangover: Minnesota. The Gophers thought they had made progress in getting ready for the rigors of Big Ten play and that this year's 4-0 start meant more than last year's. Instead, they got manhandled by Iowa in game No. 5 just like last season, leading to questions about what really has changed for this program.

Big Man on Campus (offense): We usually don't single out players from teams who lost for this honor, but the best effort we saw this past weekend came from Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State thought it could slow down the Badgers' only notable receiving threat by putting All-America cornerback Roby on him. Not close. Abbrederis finished with 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. His Twitter handle is @abbrecadabra, and how he keeps getting so open might just be magic.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Iowa linebacker James Morris had an outstanding game against Minnesota, recording eight tackles, a sack and an interception and leading the defensive effort that limited the Gophers to just 165 total yards. "He plays the way I expect him to,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s a complete football player. Nobody prepares any harder, works any harder. He does things you would hope anybody would do. And he backs it up every Saturday." Ohio State's Ryan Shazier and Wisconsin's Chris Borland also had standout games, but what else is new in this star-studded linebacker league?

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston placed all six of his punts inside the Wisconsin 20-yard line and five of those inside the 10, helping the Buckeyes maintain great field position most of the night. The Badgers managed just three return yards on punts. "Our punt team is solid, and that's probably the star of our special teams," Meyer said.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info): Ohio State’s Miller was 9-for-11 for 107 yards and had three of his four passing touchdowns off play-action Saturday. He has completed more passes off run fakes against Wisconsin (17) in his career than any other opponent. … Meanwhile, Badgers QB Joel Stave threw the ball 25 times without using play-action and completed just 13. It was only the third game in the last four seasons that a Wisconsin quarterback attempted at least 25 passes without a run fake; the Badgers have lost all three of them. … Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has completed 21 passes that have gone for at least 20 yards. That's tops in the Big Ten and tied for eighth in the nation. … Remember how frustrating it was to watch Iowa continually come up short of the sticks on third down last season? That's not the case this year for the improved Hawkeyes. They're converting on 52.5 percent of their third-down tries, good for 13th best in the country. … Northwestern has scored 83 points off turnovers in four games, the most in the nation. … Purdue's opponents have committed just 12 penalties in five games, second fewest of any team in the FBS. The Boilers' penalty margin is the worst in the country, as they have committed 30 themselves for a minus-18 margin.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
12:00
PM ET
If that's true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.

Wisconsin season preview

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:30
AM ET
Today we're looking at Wisconsin, the three-time defending Big Ten champion, which enters a new era under coach Gary Andersen.

WISCONSIN BADGERS

Coach: Gary Andersen (30-31 overall, five seasons; 0-0 at Wisconsin, first season)

2012 record: 8-6 (4-4 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB Montee Ball, C Travis Frederick, OT Ricky Wagner, LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, DE David Gilbert

Key returnees: RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jared Abbrederis, OL Ryan Groy, TE Jacob Pedersen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward, DT Beau Allen

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaIf Wisconsin wants to win a fourth straight Big Ten title, it will have to do so under new coach Gary Andersen.
Newcomer to watch: Freshman CB Sojourn Shelton stood out in spring practice for a secondary that needs bodies after losing three starters from the 2012 team. Shelton is a natural playmaker who should see plenty of field time, potentially as a starter opposite Peniel Jean.

Biggest games in 2013: The Badgers face two significant road tests in their first five games as they visit high-powered Arizona State (Sept. 14) and Big Ten favorite Ohio State (Sept. 28). They also have home tests against Northwestern (Oct. 12) and Penn State (Nov. 30), and face rivals Iowa (Nov. 2) and Minnesota (Nov. 23) on the road.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The quarterback competition between Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and possibly Tanner McEvoy is worth watching in camp, but it's more important for Wisconsin to figure out its secondary before a Week 3 trip to Arizona State. Safety Dezmen Southward is the only returning starter, and the admissions denial of junior college transfer Donnell Vercher hurts the depth there.

Opposing quarterbacks undoubtedly will challenge Wisconsin's young corners, and players such as Jean, Shelton and Darius Hillary will need to grow up in a hurry. Andersen will address the secondary through recruiting, but he and his staff must simply hold the group together through Year 1.

Forecast: No team in the country faces a situation quite like Wisconsin's entering the 2013 season.

The Badgers are a veteran-laden team, led by a 25-member senior class that knows only how to win Big Ten championships. They're also a team in transition after going through an assistant-coach overhaul following the 2011 season and the surprising departure of head coach Bret Bielema three days after the 2012 Big Ten championship game.

Bielema often cited 2013 as "The Year" even before the start of the 2012 campaign. But he's not around to see it in Madison. Instead, the Badgers turn to Andersen, who brought Utah State back from the depths but now steps onto a much bigger stage.

Andersen will keep Wisconsin's proven power offense in place, and for good reason. The Badgers return two dynamic running backs in senior James White and upstart sophomore Melvin Gordon. They're not deep along the offensive line but boast valuable pieces such as versatile senior Ryan Groy. Wisconsin must find a top quarterback, and Joel Stave and Curt Phillips will compete with junior college arrival Tanner McEvoy in camp. A greater concern is who will complement standout receiver Jared Abbrederis in a passing attack that plummeted to 111th nationally last fall.

The bigger changes will come on defense, Andersen's area of expertise. Wisconsin will be the only Big Ten team operating primarily out of a 3-4 set, which Andersen thinks will be used 60 percent of the time. The Badgers boast an excellent centerpiece in All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Borland, one of the nation's more decorated defenders. They'll need big years from linemen Beau Allen, Brendan Kelly and others, and the secondary is the biggest question mark, as only one starter returns.

"All defenses come with challenges," Andersen said, "but we've done it enough to make it fit."

Wisconsin's path to a fourth consecutive Big Ten title won't be easy, as it visits Ohio State in Week 5 and plays rivals Iowa and Minnesota on the road.
Wisconsin's secondary, which was already a position facing some depth concerns this season, has suffered its second departure by a safety in about a week.

Last week, redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell -- who had practiced as the team's starting free safety this spring -- was granted his release for an expected transfer to Pittsburgh. Now there is word that Donnell Vercher, a junior college transfer whom the Badgers signed in February to help shore up the safety spot, isn't coming to Madison after all.

According to a Fresno, Calif., TV report, Vercher was denied admission to Wisconsin and instead will play for Fresno State this season. Vercher, who had eight interceptions for Fresno City College last season, had committed to the Badgers right before signing day and was viewed as a potential challenger for a starting safety job.

So now there are even more questions for a Badgers secondary that returns only one starter: strong safety Dezmen Southward. The competition for the other safety spot figures to include junior Michael Trotter, who started three games last year but needs to raise his level of play; juco transfer T.J. Reynard, who signed with the Badgers just last month; and Jeff Lewis, who has reportedly moved from running back to safety to provide help.

I spoke with Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on Monday and asked about the depth concerns in the secondary (before the Vercher news broke). Here's what he told me:

"Everybody has places where I guess they feel comfortable with the depth, and other places where they're a little bit concerned," he said. "Because Reggie departed, I don't think that makes me more overly concerned about the depth. It puts us in a situation kind of like the offensive line, where the depth is a little bit worrisome and we've got to be careful and smart. And I'd say the same thing about the safety position.

"The key thing at the safety position is to truly identify the two starters. As we came out of spring we had a starter, and we had some kids competing for the other spot. Reggie was one of those guys competing. Dez has the one locked down, which is as it should be. The other one is up in the air and we'll see how it goes. It is a concern, but it is what it is. We've all got some depth issues or concerns, and as we move forward, we'll do our best to clean it up."
Gary Andersen inherited a veteran-laden Wisconsin team that featured good depth at most positions with one obvious exception: the secondary.

The Badgers returned just one starting defensive back, safety Dezmen Southward, from last year's Big Ten championship squad. Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda knew they needed bodies in the back four and found a potential solution this spring in Reggie Mitchell.

A cornerback who moved to safety under the new staff, Mitchell drew praise from Andersen and Aranda for his performance this spring. Andersen last month told Sirius XM’s "College Sports Nation" that Mitchell "is going to lock down one of those safety spots."

But Mitchell won't be playing for Wisconsin this season. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh are reporting that Mitchell has been released from his scholarship at Wisconsin. WPXI-TV reports Mitchell, a Pittsburgh native, will transfer to Pitt. Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph recruited Mitchell to Wisconsin while he was on the Badgers' staff.

I'm sure there's more to the story as Mitchell seemed to be in a good spot at Wisconsin, and we'll pass along information as it becomes available.

Mitchell's departure makes a thin Badgers secondary even thinner. The competition to start opposite Southward in camp should be ramped up. Andersen has brought in two junior-college defensive backs in Donnell Vercher and Tekeim Reynard. Junior Michael Trotter also could be in the mix at safety, and there are reports that running back Jeff Lewis has been moved to safety to help the depth there.

Lewis' move is a bit odd so late in his career, although Wisconsin clearly needs help at safety and should be OK at running back with James White, Melvin Gordon, Vonte Jackson and incoming freshman Corey Clement.
Our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team is all wrapped up, and Monday we asked you to identify the league's most indispensable offensive piece for the 2013 season.

Let's turn the spotlight to the defense. As a reminder, by indispensable, we don't necessarily mean the best players, but the players who would be the hardest to place between now and the start of the season if they were hurt, suspended or vaporized.

Here are the nominees for defense (in alphabetical order):
  • SportsNation

    Who is the Big Ten's most indispensable defensive player?

    •  
      32%
    •  
      7%
    •  
      12%
    •  
      35%
    •  
      14%

    Discuss (Total votes: 3,208)

    Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State: The Spartans once again should have a nationally elite defense, and they're the only Big Ten team that had two defenders (Bullough and CB Darqueze Dennard) listed in its most indispensable capsule. But Bullough is undoubtedly the leader of the unit, as he plays an integral role in communicating calls and setting alignments. Bullough earned first-team All-Big Ten honors (coaches) last season and second-team honors as a sophomore in 2011. He has 223 career tackles, including 21 for loss, and has started the past 27 games. Although MSU doesn't have a major depth problem at linebacker, Bullough would be a significant loss because of all that he brings to the field.
  • Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Purdue: It's hard enough to replace one standout interior lineman, as Purdue must do after losing Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft. The Boilers would have a tough time filling Gaston's shoes, too. He has started his first three seasons at Purdue, racking up 17 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Purdue's defense isn't "Big Ten strong" just yet, but the 6-2, 303-pound Gaston certainly fits the description. Given the question marks at linebacker and elsewhere on defense, the Boilers really need No. 90 on the field.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers have holes to fill at both linebacker and cornerback, so they'll need to be stout up front and that starts with Hageman. He always has had next-level potential and showcased it at times in 2012, when he recorded six tackles and 35 total tackles in 13 starts. Minnesota must be better against the run after finishing 72nd last season, and the 6-foot-6, 311-pound Hageman takes up a lot of room in the interior line. Although the Gophers need safety Brock Vereen and others to stay on the field, Hageman has the superstar potential the defense has lacked and would be a very tough piece to replace.
  • Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: Put aside the fact Shazier earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012 after recording 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, 11 pass breakups and an interception in a breakout sophomore season. He's also the only member of Ohio State's defensive front seven with meaningful starting experience. The Buckeyes lose all four starting linemen, and while there's optimism about talented younger players stepping into larger roles, there's more concern about the depth at linebacker. Ohio State needs Shazier's production, playmaking ability and leadership to bind the defense together at it chases a national championship this season.
  • Dezmen Southward, S, Wisconsin: Here's the thing about the Badgers. Yes, most of their coaches are new, but most of their players aren't. They return capable pieces at wide receiver, tight end, running back, quarterback and offensive line. All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Borland also is back, along with several veteran defensive linemen. But the secondary could be a major problem, especially if Southward, the lone returning starter from the 2012 team, can't stay on the field. Southward recorded 69 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble last season and will provide leadership for a new-look back four this season.

It's time to vote. Make yours count.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
12:00
PM ET
Is it late August yet?
Now that spring practice is over, we’re taking a look at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don’t necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/bitten by a Komodo dragon, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We’ll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: the Wisconsin Badgers.

Jared Abbrederis, WR

Abbrederis led the Badgers with 49 catches for 837 yards and five touchdowns last year. The next top receiver on the team was Jordan Frederick, who had just 17 receptions for 196 yards and one score. Only one other wide receiver, Jeff Duckworth, caught a touchdown. Nowhere on the team is there such a large difference between the best player at his position and the No. 2 guy. That was amplified last year when Abbrederis was banged up and the team struggled to get much going in the passing game. New receivers coach Chris Beatty is trying to develop some complementary players to go with Abbrederis this offseason, but so far it seems to be going slowly. That's why he's so important to the Badgers' hopes in 2013.

Dezmen Southward, S

You could argue that Chris Borland belongs on this list, and you'd have a strong case, especially with Wisconsin using more 3-4 looks on defense this season. But at least the Badgers have some experience at linebacker besides Borland. That's not the case in the secondary, where Southward is the lone returning starter. Redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell is a possible starter at the other safety spot, and there's precious little experience behind Southward. Gary Andersen is bringing in two juco defensive backs for a reason. Southward developed into a very solid player last year, and Wisconsin needs him both for his ability and his leadership.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Is Gary Andersen turning Wisconsin into Kansas State?

His plan isn't nearly that extreme, but the new Wisconsin coach has so far kept to his word so far about bringing junior-college players to Madison. Andersen, himself a former junior college All-American before moving onto Utah, makes it clear that Wisconsin is in the market for junior-college talent.

The Badgers added another piece during the weekend as cornerback Tekeim Reynard committed to the school. Reynard, who played last year at Independence Community College in Kansas, will be eligible to play this fall and have three seasons with Wisconsin. The 5-11, 175-pound cornerback, originally from Virginia, picked Wisconsin ahead of Colorado, Kentucky and others.

Reynard is the third junior-college player to join Wisconsin since Andersen's arrival. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy and safety Donnell Vercher both arrive this summer.

"They told me how I would fit in and elevate their defense," Reynard told BadgerNation.com. "I feel excited about it and can't wait to dominate. This is just the beginning of something special. I'm an impact player and a dynamic player. You’ll see a passionate player with a lot of energy on the field for Wisconsin. I just can't wait."

Well, he certainly doesn't lack confidence.

Andersen and his assistants haven't hidden the fact that they need bodies in the secondary, where just one starter (safety Dezmen Southward) returns from the 2012 team. Sophomore Darius Hillary and junior Peniel Jean worked as the first-team cornerbacks during spring practice, and freshman early enrollee Sojourn Shelton received steady praise from the coaching staff. But Wisconsin still lacks significant game experience at corner, so bringing in Reynard, who recorded 88 tackles (56 solo), an interception and seven pass breakups in seven games, makes sense from a depth standpoint.

Andersen has stated often that any junior-college player brought in will get a fair chance to compete for a starting job in preseason camp, so keep an eye on Reynard, McEvoy and Vercher in August.

Junior-college players aren't unusual in the Big Ten, but they are at Wisconsin, which before Andersen's arrival hadn't brought in a juco player since 2008.

"It's a privilege to be at this school," Andersen said in February. "For junior college kids, if they take care of business, they have high academic standards ... they'll be able to come in without any problem."

Andersen is putting his imprint on Wisconsin's recruiting efforts. Expect more players from the West in future classes, as well as a greater emphasis on speed and athleticism at receiver and defensive back.

But the most dramatic change so far has been the junior-college arrivals, who could make an impact this season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES