Big Ten: Dick Anderson

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The seemingly interminable wait for college football gets a little easier about a month from now, when Michigan steps on the practice field for spring ball. The other 10 Big Ten squads will follow soon after as spring practice gets in full swing.

There are no shortage of spring story lines around the league, from Danny Hope's first workouts as Purdue head coach to six new coordinators to teams like Ohio State and Penn State trying to replace sizable senior classes. Six teams will feature some degree of competition at the quarterback spot, and position battles abound throughout the league.

Here's some can't-miss information about spring ball and a team-by-team look at what to watch:

Illinois Fighting Illini

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The defense needs leaders to emerge after a subpar year and with the graduation of first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Brit Miller. Martez Wilson is an obvious candidate to claim a greater role, but the immensely talented linebacker comes off surgery in December after being stabbed outside a bar. The defensive line loses three starters and top cover man Vontae Davis left early for the NFL draft, creating opportunities for young players to step up.
  • For the second consecutive spring, the running back position will be in the spotlight. Illinois never truly got settled at running back last year, as Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford split carries. Both players had their moments, as Dufrene averaged 5.7 yards a carry and Ford scored eight touchdowns, but it would be nice to see one man emerge as a featured back alongside quarterback Juice Williams.
  • New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz steps in, and former outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will work directly with Williams, who was extremely close with former coordinator Mike Locksley. It's vital for Williams and his teammates to jell with Schultz and the offensive nuances he'll bring to spring practice. Illinois remains one of the league's most talented offenses, but the players must get on the same page this spring.

Indiana Hoosiers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

Watch to watch:

  • Healthy bodies, at least a few more than at the end of last season. Indiana's roster was wiped out by injuries during Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers should get a better gauge of their strengths and weaknesses this spring. Quarterback Kellen Lewis struggled with injuries for much of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he regains the form he showed in 2007, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Lewis might need to reclaim the starting job after splitting time with Ben Chappell last fall. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk will miss spring ball with injuries, giving other players a chance to shine.
  • The Hoosiers' defense must take a step forward this spring, especially with so much experience and talent returning in the front seven. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton each have had breakout seasons, and Matt Mayberry at times looks like one of the league's best linebackers. With weak-side linebacker Will Patterson and others back in the fold, there's no reason Indiana can't be serviceable on defense in 2009.
  • Lewis can't continue to be Indiana's primary rushing option, and with Marcus Thigpen gone, a capable back or two must emerge. The competition this spring will feature players like Bryan Payton and Darius Willis, a heralded recruit who redshirted last year. Demetrius McCray will be limited in spring practice.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

  • Everyone knows Shonn Greene is gone, but the more damaging departures likely will come at defensive tackle, where Iowa loses four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The spotlight will be on the interior defensive line as players like Karl Klug try to fill the void. Arguably no position competition matters more than the one at defensive tackle, especially since Iowa appears strong everywhere else on defense.
  • Ricky Stanzi established himself as the starting quarterback, but Iowa would like the rising junior to take another step and become more consistent. Interceptions were a problem at times for Stanzi last fall, but he should benefit from a full spring as the starter and being able to work with the first-team wide receivers.
  • Rising sophomore Jewel Hampton is the likely choice to succeed Greene after rushing for 478 yards and five touchdowns as his backup last year. But head coach Kirk Ferentz likely wants to see what he has with the other backs, namely Jeff Brinson, who redshirted in 2008. There should be some healthy competition for carries throughout the spring and into preseason camp.

Michigan Wolverines

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. Any improvement on this team must start with the quarterback spot, and the competition during spring ball will be crucial. Steven Threet's decision to transfer shifts the spotlight to true freshman Tate Forcier, who enrolled in January and will practice this spring. Nick Sheridan remains in the mix after starting four games last season, but Forcier seems better suited to run Rich Rodriguez's offense. A strong spring could make him the frontrunner when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives this summer.
  • New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson starts working with a unit that finished 10th in the league in points allowed (28.9 ypg) last fall. Robinson seems less concerned about scheme changes and more focused on instilling a new attitude with the group. There could be an adjustment period on both sides, as players get to know a new coach and Robinson works as an assistant after overseeing an entire program the last four seasons at Syracuse.
  • Robinson undoubtedly will devote much of his attention to the defensive line, which loses three starters, including both tackles. The spotlight will be on young players like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and even early enrollee William Campbell as Michigan looks for answers up front. The Wolverines also need increased leadership from All-Big Ten end Brandon Graham, their only returning starter on the line.

Michigan State Spartans

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Spartans feature arguably the Big Ten's most intriguing quarterback competition. Third-year sophomore Kirk Cousins performed well behind Brian Hoyer in 2008 and seems to have the intangibles to lead the offense. Keith Nichol is a dual-threat quarterback who has a year in the system after transferring from Oklahoma. A decision on a starter might not be made until preseason camp, but the two players will start competing this spring.
  • Running back also is a mystery after the departure of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer. Michigan State didn't develop a second option behind Ringer, so players like Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett will get a chance to prove themselves before true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper arrive this summer.
  • Michigan State doesn't lose much on the defensive side, but co-captains Otis Wiley and Justin Kershaw both depart, leaving a void in leadership. The coaches will lean more on linebackers Greg Jones and Adam Decker this spring, and the secondary needs a new front man to replace Wiley, who led the team in interceptions (4) and ranked third in tackles (78). Danny Fortener came on strong last year, but the Spartans will look for another safety to emerge.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The offense begins a new chapter under new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run game coordinator Tim Davis. Minnesota wants to return to its roots as a running team and employ a pro-style offense. It will be interesting to see how players adjust in practice, and how Fisch and the influential Davis work together.
  • New arrival Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee take over a defense that made major strides under Ted Roof but showed some cracks down the stretch. Cosgrove will be working with experienced players at linebacker and in the secondary, and their ability to grasp his scheme will be huge this spring.
  • Starting quarterback Adam Weber will be held out of contact drills following shoulder surgery, giving the coaches a chance to evaluate heralded recruit MarQueis Gray. The multitalented Gray left the team last year because of questions about his ACT score. He has returned and will get a chance to learn Fisch's offense and establish himself as the team's No. 2 option.

Northwestern Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • It has been at least four years -- and likely more -- since the running back position has been so wide open. Stephen Simmons will get a chance to establish himself as the top back this spring after filling in behind Tyrell Sutton late last season. Scott Concannon and Jacob Schmidt also will be in the mix before several freshmen arrive in the summer.
  • Mike Kafka enters the spring as the starting quarterback after helping Northwestern to a season-turning win last year at Minnesota. But Kafka must develop as a passer to complement his excellent running ability. With a mostly unproven group of wide receivers, Kafka needs to establish a rhythm and become consistent on the short throws that make the spread offense move.
  • Two starters are gone and star end Corey Wootton is nursing a surgically repaired knee, putting pressure on Northwestern to identify another playmaker on the defensive line. The defensive tackle spot will be in the spotlight as Northwestern looks for an elite run stopper to replace John Gill.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • Ohio State needs a featured running back, and Dan Herron has a chance to be the guy. A strong spring from Herron would be beneficial before heralded recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde arrive. The Buckeyes could go with a committee system this fall, but Herron showed promise at times last year and could claim the job.
  • The offensive line was one of the team's bigger disappointments last year, and the group must come together this spring. Michigan transfer Justin Boren should step into a starting role right away, and sophomore tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts could join classmate Mike Brewster on the first team. This group has a ton of young talent, but it must be molded.
  • Keep an eye on the linebacker and cornerback positions all the way until Sept. 5. Ohio State loses national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as All-Big Ten selection Marcus Freeman. Three and possibly four starting spots are open, so the competition should heat up.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Big Ten's best offensive line loses three all-conference starters, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley. Line coaches Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney have plenty of work to do this spring as they try to build around holdovers Stefen Wisniewski and Dennis Landolt. With a formidable run game in place, replenishing the line will be
    Penn State's top priority.
  • Penn State's young wide receivers are gearing up for a wide-open competition as the team loses multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Can Brett Brackett and Graham Zug emerge as reliable possession-type guys? Can Chaz Powell be Penn State's deep threat? Those answers could come this spring.
  • Lions fans are confident that defensive line coach Larry Johnson will develop another first-rate pass rusher. The process begins in spring ball as Penn State must replace starters at both end spots as well as reserve Maurice Evans, a former All-Big Ten selection.

Purdue Boilermakers

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The Danny Hope era begins this spring, and it will be interesting to see what imprints the new head coach puts on the program. He's a Joe Tiller disciple but brings in two new coordinators and wants to make immediate upgrades to the team's speed and athleticism. Purdue loses starters at the skill positions on offense as well as its most productive defender (linebacker Anthony Heygood), so there's plenty of work ahead.
  • Quarterback could feature an interesting competition between Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. Elliott seems like the favorite to take over after backing up Curtis Painter the last three seasons. But the multi-talented Siller could fit the new mold Hope is trying to create with the Boilers' personnel. Siller had a big day against Michigan last year and brings the mobility Purdue could use at the quarterback spot.
  • With the secondary more or less intact, new defensive coordinator Donn Landholm will focus on the front seven. Landholm needs to build around defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, a potential All-Big Ten performer this fall. Heygood will be missed, but Joe Holland is a solid contributor and if Jason Werner can finally get healthy, the linebacking corps should be strong.

Wisconsin Badgers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Big surprise, another quarterback competition. After never truly finding stability at the quarterback spot in 2008, Wisconsin once again looks for a leader for the offense. Part-time starter Dustin Sherer will have to ward off Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr, who enrolled early. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst didn't settle on a starter last spring, but he would like some separation to occur.
  • Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will have a busy spring as he tries to replace three starters up front. Players like Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym and Brendan Kelly, who emerged last fall before an injury, will get a long look this spring.
  • P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL draft puts John Clay in the spotlight as the Badgers' featured running back. Can the immensely talented Clay take the next step in his development to master the offense and his assignments? He also must work with a new-look offensive line that must replace three starters.
Tags:

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