Big Ten: Dwight Mclean
After winning four of its final six games, Purdue has high hopes for 2010. The Boilermakers return a lot of skill players on offense, and Miami transfer Robert Marve looks like the front-runner to take over at quarterback. The defense needs to fill all four starting spots in the secondary, but end Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Jason Werner lead the front seven.
Strongest position: Wide receiver/tight end
- Key returnees: Keith Smith (91 receptions, 1,100 receiving yards, 6 TDs); Kyle Adams (29 receptions, 249 receiving yards); Keith Carlos (21 receptions, 242 receiving yards, 1 TD); running back Ralph Bolden (20 receptions, 261 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Cortez Smith (17 receptions, 177 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Jeff Lindsay (16 receptions 162 receiving yards).
- Key losses: Aaron Valentin (54 receptions, 621 receiving yards, 7 TDs).
- The skinny: A year ago, the Boilers had huge questions here as Smith was the lone returnee with any significant experience. Purdue now boasts one of the Big Ten's deepest group of pass-catchers, led by Smith, who topped the league in receiving yards last fall and earned first-team all-conference honors from the media. Purdue needs a new No. 2 wideout, but hopes are high for Cortez Smith and Carlos. The coaches are also high on young wideouts Antavian Edison and Gary Bush. The tight end position should be very solid with both Adams and Lindsay in the fold.
- Key returnees: Albert Evans (30 tackles, 2 pass breakups)
- Key losses: Torri Williams (84 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defended); Dwight Mclean (62 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 4 passes defended); David Pender (40 tackles, 1 INT, 14 passes defended, 1 blocked kick, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Brandon King (30 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defended).
- The skinny: Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, including tackles leader Williams and second-team All-Big Ten selections in Pender and King. Evans is the lone returnee with significant experience, and he'll miss spring practice with an injury. Players like junior college transfer Mike Eargle, Charlton Williams, Gavin Roberts and Chris Quinn need to step up this spring. "We have a lot of depth issues in the secondary," head coach Danny Hope said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After a long weekend off, it's time to dive back into the Big Ten position rankings. The secondary units are up next.
The top two look absolutely stacked, and the top four or five all will be solid. Quarterback play should be much better in the Big Ten this fall, and the secondaries will need to elevate their play.
1. Iowa -- Three starters return from a unit that helped Iowa lead the Big Ten in takeaways (32) and allow the fewest passing touchdowns (9) in 2008. Junior Amari Spievey is the league's best cover corner, and he'll be joined by safety Tyler Sash, who shared the league lead in interceptions with teammate Pat Angerer last fall. Bradley Fletcher will be missed and depth is a mini concern, but the back four will anchor Iowa's D.
2. Northwestern -- The Wildcats boast the Big Ten's deepest secondary and possibly the league's best. I covered a string of woeful Northwestern secondaries earlier this decade, and it's a major testament to assistants Mike Hankwitz and Jerry Brown that the unit has come this far. All four starters return, led by safety Brad Phillips and corner Sherrick McManis. Northwestern can go at least nine deep and boasts capable reserves like Brian Peters.
3. Ohio State -- It's a bit of a mixed bag for the Buckeyes, who return the Big Ten's top safety tandem but look thin at cornerback. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell both will contend for All-Big Ten honors after solid junior seasons. Ohio State loses Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins and hopes Chimdi Chekwa can fill the void. Several young players will get a chance to shine this fall, including Travis Howard and Ohrian Johnson.
4. Michigan State -- All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley departs, but there's a lot to like about the Spartans secondary. Perhaps only Northwestern boasts more depth than Michigan State, which can go at least eight deep in the secondary. Corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver should have big seasons, and safety Trenton Robinson was the story of the spring and will earn major playing time.
5. Purdue -- Pop quiz: Which team led the Big Ten in pass defense last fall? It might surprise some to know Purdue topped the chart (183.2 ypg). A poor run defense contributed to the numbers, but the Boilers still look very strong in the back four entering 2009. Safety Torri Williams received a sixth year of eligibility during the offseason, and he'll join returning starters David Pender, Brandon King and Dwight Mclean.
6. Minnesota -- Minnesota led the Big Ten in takeaways for much of last season, and the secondary was the biggest reason why. Playmaking cornerback Traye Simmons leads a unit that returns three starters and could be deeper than it was in 2008. Senior corner Marcus Sherels and junior safety Kyle Theret have loads of experience, and Simmons is thrilled about the arrival of Wisconsin transfer Kim Royston at safety.
7. Wisconsin -- Easily the toughest unit to rank. The Badgers have the playmakers to be a top 4 secondary this fall. Cornerback Niles Brinkley recorded four interceptions last season, backup safety Shane Carter had a league-leading seven picks in 2007 and safety Jay Valai might be the Big Ten's hardest hitter. But consistency and depth are major concerns for Wisconsin. A lot depends on how cornerback Aaron Henry returns from knee problems.
8. Michigan -- Junior cornerback Donovan Warren could have a huge year or a really quiet one. See, Warren is easily the team's most experienced defensive back, and for that reason, opponents might try to avoid him and attack the Wolverines' unproven players. Michigan boasts a lot of young talent in the secondary -- corner Boubacar Cissoko, safety Troy Woolfolk, safety Vladimir Emilien -- and those players need to grow up fast.
9. Penn State -- This is easily the weakest unit on a team with Big Ten title aspirations. Penn State loses all four starters from a secondary that got exposed late in a loss to Iowa and early in a Rose Bowl beating against USC. The Lions need cornerback A.J. Wallace to straighten out his academic situation before Sept. 5. Safety Drew Astorino is ready to lead, but Penn State must identify capable pieces around him.
10. Illinois -- As expected, Vontae Davis bolted to the NFL a year early, leaving Illinois without a lock-down cornerback. The safeties also struggled at times last year, which creates plenty of questions heading into the fall. Illinois would certainly benefit from having a healthy Donsay Hardeman at safety, while cornerback Tavon Wilson showed some promising signs during spring ball.
11. Indiana -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Indiana finished much higher in my end-of-year rankings, but there are too many uncertainties entering camp. How will safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk respond from serious knee injuries? Has Ray Fisher successfully transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback? Will Florida transfer Jerimy Finch finally emerge as an impact player? The answers could determine whether Indiana survives on defense this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten's only new head coach isn't new at Purdue. Danny Hope was there for Purdue's rebirth in the late 1990s and returned last year as head coach-in waiting and offensive line coach. Those tags have since been removed, and Hope is going through his first practices as the man in charge. Purdue comes off a 4-8 season and missed a bowl for just the second time since Joe Tiller's arrival in 1997. Hope brought in five new coaches during the offseason, including offensive coordinator Gary Nord and defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
|Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI|
|Joey Elliott is a candidate to start at QB for Purdue in 2009.|
The Boilers have competition at quarterback, running back and wide receiver as they try to turn things around in Hope's first year. I caught up with Hope earlier this week.
A few practices in, is the team where you thought it would be? Ahead of schedule? Behind schedule?
Danny Hope: We're ahead in some ways. Obviously, when you have a guy like Curtis Painter, who was accomplished as he was at the quarterback spot, you've got a lot of work to do. We are eight receivers short from the roster of 2008. So I didn't really know what to expect when we went out the first day in shorts last Wednesday, but I was very pleased with what we've got done so far. We are able to go out there and execute the offense to some degree, which is a good sign for us this early in spring. The good thing about our quarterback spot, even though we don't have a bona fide returning starter, is our top two quarterbacks played in 2008.
How does the quarterback competition shape up right now?
DH: Joey Elliott was a very good No. 2 quarterback for us, was actually putting pressure on Painter and starting to get in some games, and then he got injured. You're not getting a rookie. He's a football junkie. He loves it. He had shoulder surgery and his health status is much better than I thought it would be at the start of spring. He's throwing the ball better, got a little more zip on it. He's a guy who knows more about the offense than anyone else we have on that side of the ball right now. So him being healthy enough to go out there and throw was a huge shot in the arm for us. And obviously, Justin Siller, even though he wasn't that well prepared because he had not been in the lineup before and was working as a running back, we beat Michigan with Justin Siller and he's a great athlete. He has some game experience. So we don't have two varsity rookies out there. That's a good sign. And I really like what I'm seeing out of our freshman, Caleb TerBush, who was on the scout team all of last year, he's out there getting some great reps. We're further along at the quarterback spot than I thought we were going to be, but when you're comparing it to the likes of Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter, we're nowhere near that.
Do you have a timetable on when you'd like to make a decision on a starter? Will it go well into preseason camp?
DH: Everybody asks that, and the most important thing to me is the development at the quarterback position, not just one particular quarterback. Last year is a classic example of what I'm talking about, where Painter went down and Joey Elliott got hurt and we had to take Justin Siller from running back and move him to quarterback, and he wasn't prepared to do so. I think the development of all of our quarterbacks is key this spring, and certainly the No. 1. We'll play as many players as we can, so I'm not really concerned about saying there has to be a certain deadline or due date as long as each and every one of our quarterbacks are improving and can get themselves in position to help us win. That's more important than naming a guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There's no shortage of questions for Danny Hope as he oversees his first set of spring drills as Purdue's head coach. The Boilermakers bring in new coordinators (Gary Nord, Donn Landholm) on both sides of the ball and lose many of their starting skill players on offense.
There's a little more stability on defense, despite the loss of leading tackler Anthony Heygood. Here's the good news and bad news for Purdue entering the spring.
Strongest position -- Defensive back
Key returnees: Senior cornerback Torri Williams, senior cornerback/safety Brandon King, senior safety Dwight Mclean, senior cornerback David Pender
Key departures: Safety Frank Duong (41 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
The skinny: Purdue returns all four starters from a group that led the Big Ten in pass defense (183.2 ypg) last season. Williams, who received a sixth year of eligibility, can be a playmaker at either cornerback or safety when healthy, and King proved to be valuable at the opposite corner spot. The Boilers likely will lean on their defense early in the season, so expect the back four to play a vital role. The offensive line also could be a strength.
Weakest position -- Wide receiver
Key departures: Greg Orton (69 receptions, 720 yards, 5 touchdowns), Desmond Tardy (67 receptions, 876 yards, 5 touchdowns), running back Kory Sheets (37 receptions, 253 yards, 1 touchdown), Brandon Whittington (25 receptions, 182 yards, 1 touchdown).
The skinny: It seems weird to type this, given Purdue's recent history of producing standout wide receivers, but there aren't many proven targets left for quarterbacks Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. There's a reason why Hope signed four wide receivers and a tight end in his first recruiting class. Purdue needs a playmaker to emerge at wideout, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to upgrade at tight end, a spot that really fell off last year after superstar Dustin Keller departed in 2007. Other potential trouble spots include quarterback, running back and linebacker.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
More to come on these personnel issues after the Big Ten coaches' call later today, but a few interesting items on the depth charts released Monday.
- Free safety Nick Polk is not listed on Indiana's depth chart for Minnesota, possibly indicating he'll miss another game with a knee injury. Polk has an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this season. Strong safety Austin Thomas is listed as the starter after missing the last two games with a leg injury. Brandon Mosley started in place of Thomas against Michigan State, but Jerimy Finch played a lot.
- Ohio State true freshman Mike Brewster has made a good impression so far and remains the co-starter at center even though Steve Rehring could be back from a foot injury. Brewster and junior Jim Cordle are listed as co-starters at center, while Cordle and Rehring are co-starters at left guard. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises thinks Ohio State might move Cordle to right guard to keep him on the field. The Buckeyes also have co-starters at one cornerback spot (Chimdi Chekwa and Donald Washington) and defensive tackle (Doug Worthington and Nader Abdallah).
- Penn State wide receiver Jordan Norwood is listed as probable for the Purdue game after sitting out against Illinois with a hamstring injury. Quarterback Daryll Clark said Norwood did some light jogging at Monday's practice. "It's a day-to-day thing if he's going to play or not," Clark said. "He tweaked a hamstring really good."
- Sophomore Ricky Stanzi remains the definitive starter at quarterback on Iowa's depth chart. Brandon Myers and the oft-injured Tony Moeaki are co-starters at tight end for the Michigan State game.
- Physically gifted junior tight end Carson Butler has dropped to third string on Michigan's depth chart. Butler, who was ejected from a Sept. 13 game at Notre Dame for throwing a punch, dressed for last Saturday's game against Wisconsin but didn't play. Fifth-year senior Mike Massey and true freshman Kevin Koger, who caught a touchdown pass against the Badgers, are ahead of Butler. Head coach Rich Rodriguez called the move a coach's decision.
- Linebacker Jason Werner, who recently underwent minor back surgery, isn't listed on Purdue's depth chart for Penn State. Frank Duong and Dwight Mclean are listed as co-starters at strong safety.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I've never played this much attention to another man's foot, much less his toes. But Beanie Wells' right foot dominated the Big Ten headlines on Labor Day. No matter how this turns out, Buckeyes fans have to be a bit concerned about Wells' growing injury history. For a guy who is 237 pounds and freaking huge up close, Wells seems to have a lot of ailments.
Here's a quick look around the league this afternoon as several teams released their Week 2 depth charts.
- Columbus Dispatch beat writers Ken Gordon and Tim May weigh in on the Beanie brouhaha, agreeing that the Buckeyes have no business playing Wells against Ohio. It might even force the coaches to think more creatively before the USC game.
- Wells remains as the starting running back on the Week 2 depth chart (page 11) ahead of redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron. Defensive tackle Nader Abdallah is still listed before Doug Worthington, who sat out the first three quarters against Youngstown State, presumably as a punishment for his DUI.
- Purdue's depth chart for Saturday's opener against Northern Colorado shows Greg Orton, Keith Smith and Brandon Whittington as the starting wide receivers. Junior college transfer Aaron Valentin is listed behind Whittington, while fellow JUCO transfer Arsenio Curry isn't on the two-deep, but plenty of wideouts will play, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier. Keep an eye on strong safety Dwight Mclean, who won a starting safety spot opposite Torri Williams and could provide a big boost for the Boilers secondary.
- Standout defensive tackle John Gill is listed as a starter on Northwestern's Week 2 depth chart (page 8) after being suspended for the opener against Syracuse. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's message clearly got through to Gill, who last week was named defensive practice player of the week, a distinction that usually goes to younger players still proving themselves. Gill's replacement against Syracuse, sophomore Corbin Bryant, turned in an impressive performance and is now pushing incumbent Adam Hahn for the other starting spot. Offensive lineman Desmond Taylor continues to make strides and is listed as a potential starter at both right guard and right tackle.
- Michigan's depth chart (page 11) didn't change much at the key positions, as both Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet are listed as possible starters at quarterback and freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw are the same at running back. Linebacker Marell Evans is making a push for a starting outside linebacker spot, and freshman wideout Darryl Stonum finds himself in the mix at two receiver positions (X and Z). The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg is convinced Threet should start against Miami (Ohio).
- Starting fullback Chris Pressley will be back for Wisconsin this week against Marshall, and tight end Travis Beckum practiced Sunday and could return. But defenders Jonathan Casillas and Aaron Henry still are a bit away from seeing the field, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
- Penn State's matchup against Oregon State is by far the best Big Ten game this weekend, and it might not even be that great if the Beavers don't upgrade their run defense, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The first Big Ten teleconference is complete. Here are some notes from the call:
- Defensive tackle Doug Worthington will play Saturday against Youngstown State but will not start the game, coach Jim Tressel said. Worthington was arrested last month for DUI and had a pretrial hearing continued on Monday. Worthington started 11 games last fall but will play behind senior Nader Abdallah. "Exactly how much he'll be playing, I don't know," Tressel said, "but he'll be suited up and ready to go."
- Terrelle Pryor might be listed as Ohio State's third-team quarterback, but the gap between the heralded freshman and backup Joe Bauserman is negligible. "I wouldn't go so far as to say one is the third guy and one is the second guy," Tressel said. Expect Pryor to make his collegiate debut Saturday, and not only in mop-up time. "What we've done at the beginning of nearly every season is we've had multiple quarterbacks play in the first half," Tressel said. "I don't think we're looking at waiting till the end of games."
- The Spartans' Week 1 depth chart is out and there are some surprises at defensive end, where four potential starters are listed. Senior Brandon Long and Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati, had been projected to start but could share time with fifth-year senior Dwayne Holmes and sophomore Colin Neely. I can't see any way Anderson doesn't become the full-time starter, but it's interesting that he hasn't been given the job yet.
- Senior Kendell Davis-Clark will start at free safety as the Spartans are still without projected starter Roderick Jenrette, who recently was asked to leave the team to address personal matters. Davis-Clark moves over from cornerback, where he started 14 games during the last two seasons. Talented sophomore Chris L. Rucker will start in Davis-Clark's old spot, and players like Ashton Henderson provide depth. "We could play six corners right now," coach Mark Dantonio said, "so we felt like we could make that change and not suffer any problems."
- Fifth-year senior Mike Bacon beat out redshirt freshman Joel Foreman for the starting spot at left guard.
- Sophomore Mark Dell and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham are listed as the starting wide receivers ahead of Blair White and Deon Curry. True freshman Keshawn Martin is listed as the third-stringer behind Cunningham, while classmate Fred Smith is fourth string behind Dell.
- Safety Otis Wiley will handle punt returns. Backup running back A.J. Jimmerson and Davis-Clark are on kickoff returns as Michigan State tries to replace superstar Devin Thomas.
- Star tight end Travis Beckum will dress for Saturday's game against Akron, but it's unclear whether he'll play because of a lingering hamstring injury.
- Coach Bret Bielema said decision-making was never Allan Evridge's problem, but the quarterback had to learn to be more patient with his reads and progressions in the pocket. Evridge has made those adjustments to earn the Badgers' starting quarterback job. "Here's a guy who was so anxious to be The Guy, who put a lot on himself," Bielema said of Evridge, who started seven games for Kansas State in 2005. "We've calmed him down."
- Bielema also is spearheading a proposal made by Big Ten coaches to implement an early signing day on the recruiting calendar. The date would be the first Wednesday after the last active recruiting weekend in December.
- Jaycen Taylor's season-ending knee injury has put Purdue on notice to find a second option at running back to complement starter Kory Sheets. Four players are in the mix, but sophomore Dan Dierking could have the inside track after playing in all 13 games (starting one) last fall and racking up 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. "We really felt like Sheets and Taylor would split playing time there," coach Joe Tiller said. "What we have to do from a management point of view is make sure we don't use Kory Sheets so much that he wears down."
- Tiller said having a Week 1 bye might actually help Purdue given all the injuries it had in the spring and the uncertainty at running back and other spots. The Boilermakers' Big Ten bye fell in Week 4, but they had to play Notre Dame that week. Tiller said Purdue also won't have a normal bye week next season before getting one in 2010.
- A secondary that has added Dwight Mclean and a healthy Torri Williams has impressed Tiller thus far in camp. "It might be the best-looking secondary that we've had since maybe 2001, something like that," he said. "I look for us to be much improved."
- Coach Rich Rodriguez has been pleased with the progress of the wide receivers, who along with the running backs can pick up his offense a bit quicker than quarterbacks or linemen can. In addition to older players like Greg Mathews and LaTerryal Savoy, freshmen Martavious Odoms and Roy Roundtree have been impressive in practice. "We hope to have six or seven guys ready to play on Saturday," Rodriguez said.
- Michigan can't afford any added confusion on offense, but Rodriguez isn't concerned about adjusting to the new clock rules this season. "We usually go at a pretty good tempo anyway," he said. "Conditioning is a bigger factor than it's ever been."
- The Hawkeyes' streak of 30 consecutive home sellouts is in jeopardy, which coach Kirk Ferentz attributes partly to economic impact of the floods that ravaged the state earlier this summer. "The challenges of our state are paramount to our challenges on Saturday," Ferentz said.
- The coach added that he expects to announce
Iowa's new player development coach in the next month. The position was added in response to a wave of off-field problems involving first-year Hawkeyes players.
- Coach Pat Fitzgerald praised wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, the only true freshman on Northwestern's Week 1 depth chart. Ebert, a quarterback in high school, quickly stood out in preseason camp because he arrived in peak conditioning level, not usually seen among true freshmen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- I'm covering Purdue's media day festivities throughout the morning. Check back later for plenty of Boiler updates (I always wanted to write that).
For now, here are three questions facing Purdue this fall:
How will the team navigate its challenging schedule?
The Boilermakers didn't make it easy on Tiller in his final season. A normally manageable nonconference schedule turns treacherous this fall, as Purdue plays Oregon, Central Michigan and annual rival Notre Dame. Purdue also has road games against Ohio State and Michigan State. The good news is both the Oregon and Central Michigan games are at home, where Purdue went 5-2 last season. Having a senior quarterback like Curtis Painter usually helps, but the schedule provides both Painter and Tiller several chances for validation. Big games have recently been the knock on Purdue, and the slate is filled with them.
Greg Orton was often overshadowed by Bryant, but the senior has been consistent and should fit in nicely as a featured receiver. Purdue will ask for more from Desmond Tardy and continued contributions from running back Kory Sheets, who caught 30 passes last season. The spotlight also will be on junior-college transfers Aaron Valentin and Arsenio Curry, who weren't brought in to watch. Valentin joined the team this spring and got adjusted to the system, while Curry must play catchup in camp. Keller was a unique talent and can't be duplicated, but junior Kyle Adams brings some experience to the tight end spot.
Who will fill the playmaking gaps on defense?
The Boilermakers lost their best pass rusher in end Cliff Avril and their best overall defender in cornerback Terrell Vinson. Of the two units, the line looks to be in better shape to fill the void, especially with Alex Magee and Ryan Baker occupying the interior. The secondary is a different story, but Brandon King's move from safety to corner could be a good solution, especially if safety Torri Williams can finally stay healthy. Junior-college transfer Dwight Mclean should provide depth at safety, but Purdue will look for more from cornerbacks David Pender and Royce Adams.