Big Ten: Donovan Warren

Big Ten recruiting rewind to 2007

January, 31, 2011
As signing day approaches, it's fun to take a look back at how some of the Big Ten's top recruits from years past fared on the college stage.

ESPN Recruiting took a comprehensive look back at the 2007 recruiting class: how the top players fared, who met expectations, who exceeded them and who turned out to be a bust. It also revised the team recruiting class rankings.

Here's how some of the Big Ten recruits in the ESPNU 150 fared:

Illinois LB Martez Wilson (No. 5 nationally): After recording 73 tackles as a sophomore for the Fighting Illini, Wilson's junior season was cut short due to a herniated disc and he was granted a medical hardship. In 2010, he had 104 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.

Michigan QB Ryan Mallett (No. 12): As a true freshman, he played in 11 games for Michigan before transferring to Arkansas. After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, Mallett started all 13 games in 2009 and threw for more than 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns. He completed an Arkansas single-season record 242 passes in 2010 and is expected to be drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Illinois WR Arrelious Benn (No. 17): He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and followed that up in 2008 by earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, as well as being named team MVP. He was given honorable mention All-Big Ten as a junior and drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is currently the team's No. 2 WR.

Michigan WR Junior Hemingway (No. 19): Hemingway played in 10 games as a freshman and redshirted in 2008 due to mononucleosis. Hemingway was the Wolverine's fourth-leading receiver in 2009 and third-leading receiver in 2010. He has started 18 contests at wideout in his career.

Wisconsin T Josh Oglesby (No. 28): After redshirting in Oglesby he played in 13 games as a sophomore and started every game in 2009. However, a knee injury in Week 2 ended his 2010 season.

Ohio State S Eugene Clifford (No. 37): After playing in four games for the Buckeyes in 2007, he was suspended for violating unspecified team rules and then kicked off the team before the 2008 season after being charged with assault. He transferred to Tennessee State where he finished his career with 204 tackles and was named as a first-team FCS All-American in 2010.

Minnesota QB Clint Brewster (No. 45): After redshirting in 2007, Brewster went to the College of Sequoias in 2008. He joined the Tennessee Tech roster in July 2008, but has sat on the bench since.

Illinois DT D'Angelo McCray (No. 64): McCray redshirted at Illinois in 2007, before transferring to Eastern Illinois. After playing in 2008 for Eastern Illinois, he transferred to Coffeyville Community College in 2009 and then transferred to Memphis University in 2010 totaling six tackles.

Michigan CB Donovan Warren (No. 86): In 2007, he played in all 13 games and totaled 35 tackles and one forced fumble. He was on the Freshman All-America Team and was named the Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year. In 2008, he started 10 games at corner and one at safety, recording 36 tackles. As a junior, he started all 12 games at corner, totaling 66 tackles, four interceptions and 11 pass breakups.

Michigan S Mike Williams (No. 94): After not seeing any game action in 2007, he played in 11 games in 2008, including nine at safety. In 2009, he started nine games at safety and played in 10, registering 56 tackles. In 2010, he appeared in two games before missing the rest of the season due to a head injury.

Iowa T Bryan Bulaga (No. 96): He played in seven games as a true freshman, starting five. In 2008, he started all 13 games at left tackle, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. As a junior, he made 10 starts at left tackle and was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. He was drafted No. 23 overall by the Green Bay Packers in 2010 and is the team's starting right tackle.

Ohio State moved up to No. 7 in the revised class rankings, while Michigan fell out of the top 10.

Michigan's Hemingway and Jerimy Finch, a safety who signed with Florida before transferring to Indiana, are listed among the recruiting busts of the 2007 class.
Big Ten teams have faced some major personnel challenges this season.

No team in America has been hit harder at key spots than Purdue, while other Big Ten squads like Wisconsin and Penn State also have lost key players.

But I can't remember a single position being ravaged more by both injuries and player departures than Michigan's cornerback spot.

The latest bit of bad news arrived Wednesday, as Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez confirmed that cornerback J.T. Floyd will miss the rest of the season after suffering a "freak" ankle injury in practice Tuesday. Floyd's ankle isn't broken, but he suffered ligament damage and needs surgery that will keep him sidelined for a while.

The redshirt sophomore has started all eight games for Michigan and ranks third on the team in tackles with 66. Floyd also has an interception, a forced fumble and four pass breakups.

Michigan's struggles in the secondary are no secret, and this certainly doesn't make things easier.

Rodriguez said true freshman Courtney Avery will start Saturday against Illinois opposite senior James Rogers, the Wolverines' only non-freshman cornerback still available.

"We're pretty young in the secondary," Rodriguez told reporters on a conference call. "We're getting younger."


Remember these names?
  • Troy Woolfolk: Multiyear starter in the secondary suffered season-ending ankle/foot injury in camp.
  • Justin Turner: Decorated recruit was granted his release from the team in August.
  • Vlad Emilien: Young defensive back left the team in September.
  • Demar Dorsey: The Big Ten's top-rated recruit signed with Michigan in February but was denied admission in June.
  • Boubacar Cissoko: Blue chip recruit started the first four games in 2009, missed two games because of a suspension, returned for a game and then was dismissed for violating team rules. Cissoko is now in jail serving time for his role in multiple robberies.
  • Donovan Warren: First-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 declared for the NFL as a junior but wasn't drafted in April.
  • Adrian Witty: Signed with Michigan in 2009 but never made it to Ann Arbor because of academic issues.

Michigan's defense has more issues than just one position, but the Wolverines certainly would be better with some of these guys on the field right now.

Rodriguez also said Wednesday that receiver Martavious Odoms (foot) and safety Mike Williams (concussions) likely won't return this season. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (shoulder) will miss Saturday's game.

Not good for a team that desperately needs a win.
Connecticut at Michigan is one of the more intriguing opening-week matchups. The Wolverines desperately need to get off to a good start, while UConn has drawn a lot of offseason buzz. Plus, the biggest Big House yet makes its debut.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break it all down.

BB: All right, Adam. No more talk of the Big Ten raiding the Big East. Just Big Ten and the Big East meeting, thankfully, on the field. How badly does Michigan need this win, and are the Wolverines aware of just how good Connecticut is?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Icon Sports MediaAfter another rough offseason, coach Rich Rodriguez needs to start the season off with a win.
AR: Michigan needs this game real bad, but not for the obvious reasons. We saw this team start fast last year and fall apart in Big Ten play, so a win against Connecticut might still be greeted with some skepticism. Michigan needs a win because it needs something good to happen after another rough offseason. The Wolverines need to show their fans that progress is being made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They need to get their renovated stadium fired up again. They need to revive what's left of the Michigan mystique. This gets us to your second question (double-barrel, tsk, tsk). After the last two seasons, the Wolverines shouldn't be taking any team lightly, especially a very solid UConn team that consistently produces NFL talent and has an outstanding head coach in Randy Edsall. Michigan players know many folks are picking them to lose to the Huskies.

Let's look a little deeper at UConn. What are the two or three things Michigan must be most concerned about on Saturday?

BB: I know, it was bad question form but we're trying to save space here. Anyway, Michigan must be most concerned about the UConn running game. The Huskies have a big, physical offensive line that bulldozes people. Jordan Todman went over 1,100 yards last year, and they have a stable of other backs including USC transfer D.J. Shoemate.

Defensively, Connecticut has three standout, senior linebackers in Lawrence Wilson (140 tackles last year), Scott Lutrus and -- surprise! -- Greg Lloyd. They can all run and make plays. And mostly, Randy Edsall's team never beats itself. UConn is always very well coached, fundamentally sound and avoids mistakes.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsal
Jim Owens/Icon SMIA win for Randy Edsall's Huskies against Michigan would be one of the biggest in Connecticut history.
On the other hand, the Huskies are small up front defensively and will have their hands full with Michigan's offensive line. Speed could be a major issue, as it was whenever Rodriguez played Edsall when the former was at West Virginia. The secondary is also unsettled and was the worst in the Big East against the pass last year.

What other areas should concern UConn?

AR: Michigan certainly can put up a ton of points. Everyone is fussing about the quarterback situation, but I'm not overly concerned. Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier both have experience in Rodriguez's system, and true freshman Devin Gardner might be the most natural fit for the offense. You can't underestimate the importance of Year 3 in the spread. The O-line should be solid, as center David Molk returns to a group that has a good mix of experience and promising young players.

Rodriguez hasn't announced a starter at quarterback, but Robinson seems likely to take the first snap. He's got ridiculous wheels, and he has improved as a passer after completing just 45.2 percent of his throws last year. Forcier also brings some playmaking ability to the backfield, especially when he's on the move. The receiving corps could be a strength for Michigan, as Roy Roundtree leads a group that boasts excellent speed.

The biggest questions for Michigan are on defense, especially after losing Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham and corner Donovan Warren. There's not much depth in the secondary, so the Wolverines need a strong performance from hulking nose tackle Mike Martin and the rest of the defensive line. The kicking game also is a concern.

Connecticut had a historic win at Notre Dame last year but fell just short against several good teams on the road. How do the Huskies get over the hump at what should be a fired-up Big House?

BB: This is a veteran, confident UConn team that won't be intimidated by the atmosphere. As long as the Huskies can keep the Michigan quarterbacks from running wild like Pat White used to do against them, I like their chances of pulling this one off. They're going to score points with Zach Frazer running the no-huddle offense and the running game pounding away. I say they get an early lead, causing Michigan and its fans to get nervous and tight. Dave Teggart kicks a winning field goal in the final minute for a 31-28 win.

Your take?

AR: I agree that UConn won't flinch at what's left of the Michigan mystique, but I still expect the Wolverines to make some big plays early and feed off of the atmosphere. Robinson doesn't need much space to take it to the house, and I expect him and some of the backs to break off several big runs behind an improved offensive line. Michigan's defense worries me, especially in the back seven, but Martin leads a strong effort from the front four to contain the Huskies' rushing attack. This one definitely goes down to the wire, but I have the more desperate team winning. Michigan, 28-27.
If you asked me Tuesday morning to form a short list of players Michigan must have on the field this fall, Troy Woolfolk's name would be right at the top.

Woolfolk isn't Michigan's best player, nor is he the team's most talented. By most measures, he was an average Big Ten cornerback for the half season he spent there in 2009.

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
Eric Bronson/Icon SMITroy Woolfolk, who was in line to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback, reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg in practice on Tuesday.
But Woolfolk brought leadership and experience to a secondary that severely lacks both. Plus, he eased some concern (not all) at a position that has gone through a major talent drain in the last 10 months.

That's why the news that Woolfolk reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg at Tuesday's practice is so painful for Michigan to endure. Head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn't said much about the situation, only that it was a lower body injury and that Woolfolk went to the hospital from practice.

But Woolfolk's high school coach, Jim Creech, told colleague Joe Schad that "it looks like [Woolfolk will] miss the season." Woolfolk was treated and released from University Hospital on Tuesday night, and his father told multiple media outlets that a decision on surgery will be made later.

Woolfolk posted on his Twitter page late Tuesday night: "Even though T-Woolf will be absent, Troy will be on sidelines coaching&cheering for Michigan till all air has vacated my lungs." T-Woolf, for those who don't know, is Woolfolk's alter ego.

Fortunately, Woolfolk has a redshirt season and could return in 2011, but his injury leaves Michigan young and thin at cornerback. Considering how well Michigan has recruited the cornerback spot in recent years, it's amazing to think that the program could get to this point.

Remember these guys?

  • Donovan Warren: First-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 declared for the NFL as a junior but wasn't drafted in April.
  • Boubacar Cissoko: Blue chip recruit started the first four games in 2009, missed two games because of a suspension, returned for a game and then was dismissed for violating team rules. In a truly sad story, Cissoko is now in jail serving time for his role in multiple robberies.
  • Demar Dorsey: The Big Ten's top-rated recruit signed with Michigan in February but was denied admission in June, a decision that didn't sit well with the coaching staff. Dorsey is still waiting to see whether he gets admitted to Louisville.
  • Adrian Witty: Signed with Michigan in 2009 but never made it to Ann Arbor because of academic issues. He eventually landed at Cincinnati, where he has been impressive in training camp.
  • J.T. Turner: Decorated recruit was granted his release from the team last week and intends to transfer.

It's quite a list, and Michigan certainly could use the help this fall.

I wonder if Pacman Jones has any eligibility left. Or Charles Woodson.

Michigan feels good about J.T. Floyd at one corner spot, but the other spot is a mystery and the overall depth is very shaky. The Wolverines have been fighting a numbers game on defense since Rodriguez's arrival, and the situation at cornerback has exacerbated the problem.

One thing is clear: youth will be served in 2010, and freshmen like Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery had better grow up fast.
Craig Roh's job description actually is more defined than it was a year ago, even though it sounds more ambiguous.

"I’m that hybrid type of position," Roh told me in April. "Half linebacker, half defensive lineman."

[+] EnlargeCraig Roh
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCraig Roh had two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2009 as a freshman.
Roh started his first collegiate game for Michigan at the aptly labeled "quick" position, a combination of linebacker and defensive line. His bio on Michigan's official website reads that he started all 12 games at outside linebacker in 2009, but Roh said he only got out of the three-point stance during practice this spring.

As Michigan's defense worked more in the 3-3-5 set during spring ball, Roh divided his time between linebacker and defensive line.

"There’s some changes," he said. "I’ve never been in a linebacker [position], second-level, setting up there. Some guys are playing basically the same position they played last year. For me, this is something new and different.

"[Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson] is helping me a lot with the learning curve."

Roh should be a lot further along when the season kicks off Sept. 4 against Connecticut. Michigan's defense needs him to provide a major boost.

At 6-5 and 251 pounds with excellent speed, Roh boasts the size and skill to excel in the hybrid role. He expects to have more responsibilities in pass coverage but will remain a pass-rushing threat after recording two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2009.

Although Roh did some good things as a true freshman, he recognized the steps he needed to make during the offseason.

"I saw a guy that definitely did need to gain some size," Roh said. "That was a big factor. And a guy that really needed to learn every facet of the defense so he could play his position."

Roh arrived at Michigan weighing just 238 pounds and lost some of it during the season.

Describing himself as "tiny" among Big Ten defensive linemen, Roh spent the winter, spring and summer bulking up in the weight room. He also followed a diet most people would dream about: six meals and more than 4,000 calories a day.

"I have crazy metabolism, and putting on weight was tough for me," he said. "It's something I've really got to concentrate on. Some meals, you're like, 'I really don't want to eat this right now,' but you have to."

Michigan loses its top two defenders -- end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren -- from a unit that struggled for most of 2009, finishing last in the Big Ten in both points allowed (33.2 ypg) and yards allowed (428.5 ypg) in conference games. Although Robinson tried to downplay talk about the 3-3-5 alignment, Michigan undoubtedly will tweak things this fall, and Roh is a big part of the plan.

"I'm a guy that's expected to perform this year," Roh said. "BG [Graham] was just an amazing player, and I feel like in some sense I need to replace what he's done."

Opening camp: Michigan

August, 9, 2010
Schedule: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines are on the field right now in Ann Arbor for their first preseason practice.

What's new: After losing linebackers coach Jay Hopson to Memphis, Rodriguez promoted Adam Braithwaite to safeties and outside linebackers coach. He also added special teams to the plate of secondary coach Tony Gibson, who will continue to work with free safeties and cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will work with the linebackers. There was a lot of talk this spring about the 3-3-5 defensive alignment, as Michigan must replace standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren.

Sidelined: Defensive lineman Will Heininger (knee) is the only player out because of injury, and he might not play this season. Running back Vincent Smith is expected to be 100 percent for camp after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Running back Mike Shaw appears on the team's 2010 roster, although he had some eligibility issues to clear up with summer school.

Key battle: You might have heard, but Michigan's quarterback spot is undecided and Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson resume the competition today. The Wolverines also need to identify a featured running back or two, and Smith, Shaw, Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint are in the mix. Kenny Demens will push Obi Ezeh at middle linebacker, and J.T. Floyd looks to cement himself as a starting cornerback opposite Troy Woolfolk. Both kick specialist jobs also are up for grabs.

New on the scene: Michigan still needs its freshmen to play, especially on defense. Look out for defensive back Cullen Christian, defensive lineman Richard Ash and linebacker Marvin Robinson, among others. In a perfect world, Michigan could redshirt quarterback Devin Gardner, but if he's the best option, Rodriguez won't hesitate to play the freshman.

Back in the fold: Center David Molk was Michigan's best offensive lineman before knee problems cut short his 2009 season. After a strong offseason, Molk will boost a line that has enough talent and depth to be the team's biggest strength this fall. Receiver Junior Hemingway, who had a strong start last fall before being sidelined by mononucleosis, also returns to the mix.

Breaking out: If Denard Robinson builds on his spring performance, he could be the difference maker for Michigan's offense this fall. Receiver Roy Roundtree could be on the verge of bigger things after leading the team in receptions (32), receiving yards (434) and receiving touchdowns (3) last year. Hopes are high for defensive end/linebacker Craig Roh, who recorded 7.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman in 2009. Safety Cam Gordon was the star of spring practice and could be poised for a big year.

Quotable: "There's a lot of hungry football players up in Ann Arbor, and I think they're as excited as I am to get going. We have some questions, certainly, on both sides of the ball." -- head coach Rich Rodriguez

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 30, 2010
You should already know this, but Big Ten media days begin Monday. The top three teams and preseason players of the year are announced Monday morning, so check the blog early and often. It'll be worth it.

As always, contact me here and follow me on Twitter.

Kurt from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Adam,You mentioned that one of the issues that will be discussed at the Big Ten Meetings will be the possibility of going to a nine-game conference schedule. Why would the Big Ten do this? To me, I see nothing but downfalls to this, including: 1. Big Ten teams will play an un-even number of home and road games, a trend that would be reversed every season. 2. Big Ten teams will have more potential losses, which could and would hurt bowl selections. 3. In the season that a Big Ten team would have five conference away games, there is less likelihood that the team will schedule tough non-conference games, and it would be almost guaranteed that if the Big Ten team does schedule an "A" level opponent, it would have to be at home. 4. Having nine conference games, then that would possibly cut into revenue from eliminating a non-conference game. 5. Adding another conference game would take away from the "prep" non-conference schedule where a team is able to "prepare themselves" for the conference slate. What do you think about this?

Adam Rittenberg: Kurt, do you mind if I copy your photonote and pass it out to the Big Ten coaches on Monday? Because you outline many of the reasons why the coaches might not be excited about the prospect of a nine-game Big Ten schedule. It means six more losses for the league, five conference road games every other year for each team, and most likely fewer bowl appearances. From the coaches' perspective, it's probably not a good idea. But for the athletic directors, it makes sense for a number of other reasons. It eases the burden of nonconference scheduling and likely reduces the number of guarantee games they pay for FCS or lower-tier FBS opponents. More important, it gives the ADs a more attractive home schedule every other year to sell to fans. A schedule with five Big Ten home dates looks a lot more attractive than one including Towson, Eastern Michigan and Arkansas State. Your point about potential lost revenue could be offset by increased revenue from a better schedule. To get the ADs' perspective, check out what Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told me. Bottom line: a nine-game Big Ten schedule will be discussed next week, and the AD's ultimately have more say here.

Andrew from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam - loving the hope/concern series! Seems like the secondary is a concern for a lot of teams in the Big 10 for this upcoming season. Seems like Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois are all either coming off poor performances last season or lost some major talents in the off season. Is this just a coincidence for this season or is there a specific reason why this position group seems poised to under perform across the big 10?

Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, that's a great observation. The Big Ten retains some great defensive backs like Iowa's Tyler Sash, but secondary could be a weak spot for the league this season. Among the big losses are Iowa's Amari Spievey, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips, Michigan's Donovan Warren, Wisconsin's Chris Maragos, Ohio State's Kurt Coleman, Minnesota's Traye Simmons and Purdue's Torri Williams. It'll be very interesting to see how certain groups bounce back. Can Purdue replace all four starters? Will Iowa find a shut-down corner like Spievey? Can Northwestern avoid a relapse? Will Michigan State be younger but better in the back four? We'll find out soon enough.

Dale from San Marcos, Texas, writes: Can I get your personal opinion on RFR running back Jamaal Berry? What are his strengths and how does he measure compared to the other Ohio State backs? For instance when QUIZZ Rodgers arrived at Oregon State, his coach said it took about 3 seconds to know he was a player. Berry didn't even play in the Spring Game for Ohio State after sitting out a year. He's like a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Oh wait that's Russia. I'm perplexed.

Adam Rittenberg: I like the analogy, Dale. As for Berry, Ohio State fans seem to be obsessed with this guy. I've only seen him a few times in practice, and I was neither blown away nor disappointed by him. He was OK. We just have to wait and see if he can make up ground in preseason camp, because right now Brandon Saine and Dan Herron are the bell cows for Jim Tressel. Berry certainly comes in with some impressive credentials, but he's got to stay healthy after nagging hamstring problems last fall and really challenge Saine, Herron and Jordan Hall (don't forget about him) for carries.

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Welcome back! Two things: When the BT expanded, I thought a championship game was a no brainer. But now I've heard a very intriguing idea - play nine conference games, and schedule the rivalry games on the first Saturday in December. This solves the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem with not playing after Thanksgiving, but also avoids the championship loser out of the BCS problem. Plus, some of the rivalry games could prove more attractive than other conference championship games. What do you think? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I've heard the same idea from people within the Big Ten. You add two bye weeks to the schedule and finish in early December, much like the Pac-10 does right now. There's certainly a contingent of coaches around the country who don't love league championship games, but there's also a ton of support for these events and lots of money to be made. Can a wealthy league like the Big Ten afford to stiff-arm millions and maybe help its second-place team reach BCS bowls every year? Sure. But I still think you'll see a title game when all is said and done.

Seann from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Hi Adam. Thanks for the updates on the blog. What do you think about the Spartans' recruiting for the 2010 and 2011 classes? It seems like they are doing a better job competing for some of the top talent. A few years ago if you asked a top recruit if he wanted to go to Michigan or Michigan State he probably would have looked at you weird. Now it seems like state is in the mix. Do you think Mark Dantonio has improved the recruiting at state for the long term?

Adam Rittenberg: I really like what Mark Dantonio and his staff have done with local and regional recruiting. It's the right approach, and they've gone about it in a very effective way. Michigan State is consistently putting itself in the top half of the league in recruiting and, in some years, in the top three. I know the Michigan State/Michigan local recruiting debate makes for good fodder, but the truth is both programs have done pretty well and improved themselves. One potential concern for Michigan State is the departure of Dan Enos to Central Michigan. Enos really spearheaded the team's recruiting efforts in the Detroit area, and the other coaches need to pick up the slack.

The Revolving Door: Michigan

June, 17, 2010
Tenth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools in 2010.

Going ...

Brandon Graham, DE: Graham didn't win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall, but no defender in the league looked more dominant than No. 55. His numbers were simply insane: 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, one recovery of a blocked punt for a touchdown. Graham's stats and leadership will be sorely missed up front.

Donovan Warren, CB: Michigan's secondary wasn't good in 2009, but it could have been even worse without Warren's contributions. He led the team with four interceptions, including a pick-six at Iowa, and also topped the chart in passes defended with seven. Warren earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Staying ...

Stephen Schilling, G: Schilling has been through it all at Michigan, and he'll help anchor a line that should be one of the Wolverines' strengths this fall. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2009, Schilling has started 36 of his 37 career games at tackle or guard. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him as the No. 4 senior guard for the 2011 NFL draft.

Troy Woolfolk, CB: If Michigan's defense turns things around this fall, Woolfolk figures to play a major role. The converted safety has built up his confidence at the cornerback position and brings both experience and talent to the secondary. After a strong spring, Woolfolk will step into Warren's spot and cover the Big Ten's top receivers.

Coming ...

Cullen Christian, CB: Michigan has an obvious need in the secondary, and Christian should see the field this season, especially since Demar Dorsey isn't coming to Ann Arbor. Christian is an intelligent player with good size who can read quarterbacks and understands coverage schemes.

Will Hagerup, P/K: Graham and Warren are major losses, but Michigan really will miss All-American punter Zoltan Mesko this fall. The Wolverines also lose kicker Jason Olesnavage, so Hagerup will make a major impact in 2010. Like Mesko, Hagerup has excellent size (6-4, 210) and was heavily recruited coming out of high school. Michigan's specialists struggled this spring, so Rich Rodriguez will turn to Hagerup.

More revolving door ...

After taking a look Thursday at Big Ten offenses in need of repair, let's switch the focus to the defensive side. I think some of you misunderstood the selections. These are units that struggled in 2009 and need to get better this fall, not good units that lost a few key pieces from last year (i.e. Penn State's defense, Iowa's defense).

Here we go ...


1. Indiana: Defense repeatedly has been the big problem in Bloomington, and last season was no exception. Indiana finished 10th in the league in both points allowed (29.5 ppg) and yards allowed (401 ypg). What's scary is that the Hoosiers lose three starters in the secondary and several extremely productive front-seven players in end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Matt Mayberry.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines fell victim to a series of major defensive breakdowns in 2009, particularly during Big Ten play. They lose their top two defenders in end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren, and still lack the type of scholarship numbers they need on that side of the ball. Michigan finished last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense during conference games last fall.

3. Illinois: Ron Zook's offensive staff paid the heaviest price for last season's shortcoming, but the struggles on defense weren't excused, either. Illinois couldn't stop anyone during nonconference play and finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (30.2 ppg) and total defense (403.2 ypg) last season (all games). Injuries and a lack of depth at key spots doomed the Illini, and Zook demoted both his defensive coordinators following the season.


1. Illinois: Vic Koenning was a very good hire as defensive coordinator, and he has ramped up the level of accountability for an underachieving unit. Illinois has some good pieces in linemen Corey Liuget and Clay Nurse, linebacker Ian Thomas and cornerbacks Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne. If linebacker Martez Wilson stays healthy and can be a leader, Illinois could turn things around this fall.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers coaches like their young players and incoming juco transfers, but history isn't on their side. Indiana hasn't fielded a defense ranked in the top half of the FBS for more than a decade, and the unit loses a lot of production in the front seven. Perhaps a switch to the 3-4 alignment will spark the Hoosiers, but they need to build depth, especially in the secondary.

3. Michigan: We heard quite a bit about promising young defenders this spring, guys like Cameron Gordon and J.T. Floyd who could spark the defense. But the spring game didn't ease many concerns about the group, and Michigan coaches admit they'll be relying on incoming freshmen like cornerback Demar Dorsey for a boost this fall. The talent certainly is there, but the questions will linger until after the season kicks off.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 27, 2010
Bring it.

Tim from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: Adam,After the Blue and White game this past weekend many questions still remain at quarterback and along the offensive line. While Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome seem to be the front runners for the job they were very shaky at the game and it seemed to me Paul Jones gave the best performance. I know it wasn't against the first team defense but i don't understand why it seems Jay and Joe Paterno have written this kid off from starting next year. He seems to already posses the physical tools to perform at the next level and if its experience that is worrisome McGloin has never started a game plus Newsome has only played in garbage time. With three away games against top ten opponents i don't think we are making a run at a national championship this year, would it really be that bad if we started a freshman?

Adam Ritenberg: Jay Paterno sounded open to the idea of playing Jones after the Blue-White Game, and certainly Penn State can't close the door on any of its quarterbacks right now. I would give the coaches the benefit of the doubt. They've seen these guys every day in practice, Jay has charted every pass thrown and graded them out. Jones played well in the spring game, but how did he perform in the other 14 practices? While most of the players who spoke to reporters last week only talked about Newsome and McGloin, the opportunity for Jones seems to be there. True freshmen start at quarterback these days in the Big Ten, and I would hope Penn State coaches wouldn't be naïve to what's happening around them.

Ian from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Overall, I like MSU's new digs. The bronze is a little much and the fonts are overstyled, but really the changes aren't as dramatic as they could be. Football aside, I'm really disappointed that the basketball jerseys say "Spartans" and not "State." MSU basketball owns that tittle. New fonts, new colors aside, the basketball team deserves to be known nationwide as "State."

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Ian. Things certainly could have been worse, and some of the changes provide a better look. I definitely agree with Michigan State's mission to get uniformity with its brand for athletics. The school can't please everyone with the changes, but overall, it did a good job. But I'm with you about the basketball jerseys. The "State" on the front was so recognizable and brought prestige with it.

Joe from Toledo writes: Hey Adam, what do you think of Donovan Warren not getting drafted? And now he signed with the Jets who have Revis Island, picked up Cromartie, and just drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round, will he make the team or even see the field??

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I was surprised that Warren went undrafted, and I feel bad for him. He got some poor advice along the way, but on the other hand, he seemed ready to move on. Of the six Big Ten underclassmen in the draft -- Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Arrelious Benn, Navorro Bowman and Thaddeus Gibson -- only Warren didn't hear his name called in New York. The five others went in the fourth round or higher. There was talk Warren could be a second-round selection at one stage, but his stock clearly dropped as the draft approached. It's never easy for undrafted free agents to make a team, particularly one stacked at cornerback like the Jets, but Warren has some ability and got plenty of good experience at Michigan going against top wideouts from the Big Ten.

Greg from Austin, Texas, writes: Does the absence of any Buckeyes drafted in the first three rounds finally put to rest any idea that Tressell wins the Big Ten mainly because he has more talent? Are some voters finally going to wake up and give him a richly deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year award? After all, both Iowa and PSU had more players drafted and I believe eight different Big Ten teams had a player drafted before the Buckeyes, yet the Buckeyes won another Big Ten title. Sounds like good coaching to me.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have to agree with you that Ohio State's poor draft showing definitely strengthens the case that Jim Tressel should have been 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year rather than Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. The problem for Tressel is he should have plenty of first-team, All-Big Ten players as well as first-round draft picks on the 2010 team, which will be the Big Ten preseason favorite. Could he finally win COY as a lifetime achievement award this fall? He deserves to, but I'd bet if a team like Michigan State or Purdue or even Penn State challenges for the Big Ten title, the award will go elsewhere again.

Bit Guru from Washington D.C. writes: One way to solve all the expansion problems and get the BTN into several lucrative TV markets is to simply merge the Big Ten and the Pac Ten. (Could even ruthlessly eject Northwestern, Stanford, and say Minnesota to yield two 9-team divisions for round-robin football perfection.) Sure it will never happen, but hypothetically what do you think?Seriously, one of the stories you linked to a while back made a good case for Colorado. Good enough that I was pretty much convinced. But is Colorado now off the expansion radar?

Adam Rittenberg: Uh, no. Not happening. The Pac-10 has much bigger problems than the Big Ten as far as marketing its teams on a national level and raising its overall profile. USC is a big deal, but how many folks who live East of the Rockies see Oregon, Cal, Oregon State or Arizona play much? I grew up a Pac-10/Cal fan, and I have to stay up until 2 a.m. to see the Bears finish night games. The Big Ten has no need to share its success with the Pac-10, which brings on more risks than potential rewards. And the idea of ejecting teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Minnesota is silly for both leagues. Colorado would be a good addition for the Pac-10, but I highly doubt the Big Ten would look to the Buffs for expansion.

Bill from Marshall: where's all the spring game coverage? Stop slacking off!!There were a bunch of spring games. You should have a TON of material ready. Get off your nerdy backside and do something

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, should I fire on Bill or let you guys handle him for me in the comments section ... tough decision. Bill, you can criticize me for a lot of things, and you'd be correct on some of them. But saying I don't work hard enough, seriously, dude? I've got a little assignment for you. Go back and read this blog. Then go and try to find another one out there with more content year-round. You won't. I'll recap all the spring games eventually, but I don't place nearly as much of an importance on them as the fans do. They're glorified scrimmages that rarely mean anything when the season rolls around.

John from Dominica, West Indies, writes: Love the blog! Nearly as good as the Caribbean weather...until I read your recent post! Does Michigan State have a REAL quarterback?! I just read that Cousins said "Football is not my life" and it irked me, especially since Keith Nichol was quoted as saying he would "rather be on the field than play quarterback" If neither one of them cares THAT much about it, how vulnerable are we at QB?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I think the island air is getting to you. Just kidding. But I do think you're misinterpreting comments from two very upstanding guys in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins meant that football isn't the only thing in his life. He has his faith, his education, his family, etc. The guy gives maximum effort in every area of his life, but he's not going to be a football robot or delusional about life after he's done playing. As for Nichol, he wants to help the team in any way he can, and right now that's at wide receiver. Trust me, he'd play quarterback in a heartbeat and give it everything he had if that's where the coaches wanted him, but he can best serve the team as a wideout. He could complain about it, but instead, he's taking it in stride. Lastly, can you send some of that Caribbean weather my way?

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

  • No Big Ten players selected

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
There's a different mentality to playing cornerback versus safety, and Troy Woolfolk knows this better than most.

Woolfolk split his time evenly between cornerback and safety in 2009, starting six games at each position. The Michigan senior began the season as a safety, switched to cornerback in Week 6 against Iowa and stayed there until the season finale against Ohio State, when he moved back to safety.

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
Eric Bronson/Icon SMITroy Woolfolk says he became more of a student of the game while sitting out last season because of an injury.
Hopefully, there will be no such shuffling in 2010, as Woolfolk expects to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback this fall. This spring, he's embracing the swagger cornerbacks need to succeed.

"It's more confidence versus being physical," Woolfolk said of the difference between cornerback and safety. "For corner, you need to be very confident because when you're out there alone on an island, it's just you and [the wide receiver]. If you have any doubt in your mind that he will beat you, then most likely he will. You have to win before the play starts.

"I feel like I can stop anybody, and hopefully it shows in my play."

The 6-foot, 186-pound Woolfolk gained confidence from his first career start at cornerback, during a nationally televised night game at Iowa on Oct. 10. The Hawkeyes immediately tested Woolfolk, throwing the ball his way, but he responded with a pass breakup and four tackles.

Although Woolfolk and the other Michigan defensive backs endured their struggles last season, he has carried over the boost from the Iowa game into spring practice.

"He's been very good, but that doesn't surprise me," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "He's an experienced football player now, and he looks like it. With Troy, we don't have to worry much about him out there. That's a nice thing."

After being burned multiple times last season, Michigan's secondary will be in the spotlight until the season opener in September. First-team All-Big Ten cornerback Donovan Warren declared early for the NFL draft, and the competition at safety is wide open, as converted wide receiver Cameron Gordon and others are in the mix there.

Michigan coaches expect to play several true freshmen defenders from a talented recruiting class, and the secondary likely will be an area where the newcomers contribute right away. Much of the buzz has centered on defensive back Demar Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit for 2010, according to ESPN recruiting.

Woolfolk welcomes competition and said "nobody really has a [starting] spot," but he clearly isn't too concerned about Dorsey's arrival this summer.

"What's his name again?" Woolfolk deadpanned when asked about Dorsey.

"I'm just joking," he continued, smiling. "To live up to the hype, you've got to show me something. Until he gets here, I won't be excited."

Woolfolk also doesn't back down from his teammates, particularly quarterback Denard Robinson, whose speed and moves frustrate defenders in both practice and games.

"He knows not to come my way," Woolfolk said. "We always talk trash to each other. It creates a rivalry and makes you want to go out there and perform."

Woolfolk attributed the secondary's problems in 2009 to missed assignments, not a lack of speed or physical toughness. This spring, the coaches and players have stressed the need to improve communication, a topic they also pointed to last summer but didn't translate to the field.

Michigan is working more with the 3-3-5 defensive alignment this spring, but Woolfolk downplayed the change, noting that the team still uses four-man fronts in practice.

"We haven't changed that much stuff," he said. "It's not too much to adjust to. Adjusting from safety to corner is what I worry about."

Woolfolk has seen improved competition in the secondary, recognizing players like Gordon and cornerback J.T. Floyd for their play this spring.

As someone who has been around Michigan's program his whole life -- Woolfolk's father, Butch, was an All-American running back for the Wolverines in 1981 -- Woolfolk understands the expectations for the defense and the team in 2010.

"Our fans are pretty smart," he said. "They know we made big progress [from 2008 to 2009]. They're on board, even though they might not say it. They will be able to back us up. And as for the players, I know for a fact we think we're going to be good. We should have won half the games last year.

"This is the year we're going to come back."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan players know the deal. The reminders are everywhere.

The Wolverines haven't played a bowl game for 832 days. They haven't beaten archrival Ohio State for 2,333 days. They've endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63. They're 1-6 in November under head coach Rich Rodriguez. In the last two seasons, they've put up some of the worst defensive numbers in team history. And the program is facing five allegations of rules violations from the NCAA and could be hit with major violations for the first time.

D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMIThere's a lot of change around the Michigan football program in coach Rich Rodriguez's third season.
The outside world won't let the Wolverines forget all of this, and it shouldn't. Michigan has the most wins (877) in college football history. Stretches like this simply aren't the norm, especially when you throw in the NCAA allegations and the upcoming hearing before the Committee on Infractions this summer.

Rodriguez, who carries an 8-16 record at Michigan, is undoubtedly on the hot seat in Year 3. So are the players.

"The excuses for it being a new coach are gone completely," senior guard Stephen Schilling said.

"We have no more time," senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk said.

"It's definitely a huge year," linebacker Craig Roh said. "We know what's at stake. We do have that sense of urgency."

The past can't be fixed, and the expectations for the immediate future are as clear as they can possibly be. But the disappointment of what has happened and the pressure what lies ahead isn't creating a toxic environment at Schembechler Hall this spring.

Players aren't walking on eggshells. Coaches aren't updating their résumés. And when the Wolverines head out to the practice field, a dark cloud doesn't follow them.

"When you go out there, your focus is on the next drill or the next drill or the next teaching moment," Rodriguez said. "Everything else outside, at that point, doesn't really matter. So there's no question for all of us, it's a time when it's just us out there, doing what we love doing."

Spring practice at Michigan has been productive, therapeutic, even fun at times.

"Something I'm seeing coach Rod focus on more is just having fun while playing football," Roh said. "The first couple years he was here, he was focused more on developing toughness. Now, rather than hate for our opponents, it's love for each other and having fun while doing that."

Rodriguez hasn't done a complete 180 -- "He's always going to yell; I just think he likes to yell," Woolfolk said -- but players say he and the assistants have seemed different this spring.

"Coach Rod is still coach Rod, but he's just opened up more to us now," wide receiver Roy Roundtree said. "He's still on us hard, but we love him. I feel more comfortable, more relaxed coming to practice every day. [Rodriguez] said, 'Have fun in practice,' and now he's really letting us have fun."

Michigan has a ton its plate this spring, from a legit competition at quarterback to identifying several capable running backs to repairing a defense that loses two All-Big Ten players: Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren. Only a handful of starting positions are locked up, and while Michigan should have better competition in many spots, it once again will play quite a few freshmen and redshirt freshmen this fall.

The offense is focused on better ball security (28 turnovers in 2009) and more consistency, while the defense is stressing better communication to avoid the major breakdowns that cropped up throughout the 2009 season.

"We've got to deserve to be good, not expect to be good," Rodriguez said. "And I think we're getting closer to that end."

Rodriguez senses the pressure on his shoulders for 2010, but it's nothing he hasn't dealt with before.

"When you're on the so-called top of the heap," he said, "maybe like West Virginia there at the end, you're preseason top 10 and all that, you feel a great sense of pressure not to let anybody down. When you coach at a place like Michigan, that's the standard every year, and that's OK. It's something that's part of the deal.

"You don't want to dismiss it. It's there. Embrace it. Have it motivate you."

Rodriguez isn't much of a daydreamer, but he does visualize the future, especially in spring practice. And despite a very rough two years, he sees better things ahead.

"If you came over the Schembechler Hall and watched our guys," he said, "whether it's at practice or lifting weights or interacting with each other, there are smiles on their faces. They're enjoying being part of the program. It makes you think, 'Boy, when we've got it cranked up and got it rolling, how much more fun that's going to be.'

"We just need to hope the fruits of our labor show up pretty soon. And it's coming. I know it's coming."

Spring superlatives: Michigan

March, 22, 2010
The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team, marches on with Michigan.

Arguably no team in the Big Ten needs a strong spring more than the Wolverines, who must answer questions on defense after dropping their final seven Big Ten games last fall. It doesn't help that Michigan loses its top two defenders: Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham at defensive end and All-Big Ten selection Donovan Warren at cornerback. The Wolverines lose a few contributors on offense but still should be dangerous on that side this fall.

Strongest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: G Stephen Schilling, C David Molk, T Perry Dorrestein, T Mark Huyge, G Patrick Omaneh, G John Ferrara
  • Key losses: LT Mark Ortmann, G/C David Moosman
  • The skinny: The Wolverines look solid at all of the offensive skill positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez is a bit concerned about his outside receivers, and Michigan loses its top two running backs (Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown) from 2009. The offensive line, meanwhile, returns three starters as well as promising redshirt freshmen (Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, Michael Schofield). Molk could contend for All-Big Ten honors if he stays healthy, and Michigan should have much more depth this season. Rodriguez is pleased with the physical gains the linemen made during the offseason, and it should translate well to the field this fall.
Weakest position: Secondary

  • Key returnees: CB/S Troy Woolfolk (46 tackles, 1 pass breakup); S Jordan Kovacs (75 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 INT); S Mike Williams (56 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup)
  • Key losses: Warren (66 tackles, 4 INTs, 7 pass breakups)
  • The skinny: Michigan loses more at other positions, and the kicking game is a major concern, but the combination of Warren's departure and so many major breakdowns puts the secondary in the spotlight going forward. Woolfolk looks like a good option at one cornerback spot, but the other will be up for grabs, as J.T. Turner, J.T. Floyd and heralded recruit Demar Dorsey all will compete. The competition at the safety spots should be intriguing, as Kovacs, a walk-on, tries to hold off Vladimir Elimien and others. Michigan has enough bodies in the secondary, but the coaches need to identify a combination that works.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 12, 2010
Spring ball in the Big Ten is less than 24 hours away. Check your pulse.