Big Ten: Forisse Hardin

We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).

Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.

Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.

Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.

Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.

Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.

Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.

Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.

Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.

Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.

Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.

Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.

Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.
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Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, Michael Trotter, Max Bullough, Jonathan Brown, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Mylan Hicks, Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, Ryan Russell, Joshua Perry, Derek Landisch, Jimmy Hall, Denicos Allen, Ralph Cooper, Curtis Grant, Darien Harris, Quinton Alston, Marcus Trotter, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael Rose, Joseph Jones, Camren Williams, Vince Biegel, Cole Fisher, Jack Lynn, Nyeem Wartman, Allen Gant, T.J. Neal, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Joe Gilliam, David Cooper, Jon Reschke, Taiwan Jones, Ben Gedeon, Shane Jones, Brandon Bell, Nathan Gerry, Marcus Newby, Forisse Hardin, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, Eric Finney, Trey Johnson, Leon Jacobs, Reggie Spearman, Alec James, De'Vondre Campbell, De'Niro Laster, Damien Wilson, Josh Banderas, T.J. Simmons, Clyde Newton, Marcus Oliver, Ben Kline, Drew Smith, Nick Rallis, Troy Reeder, James Ross III, Joe Schobert, Raekwon McMillan, Gelen Robinson, Gary Wooten, Ed Davis, Travis Perry, Brian Knorr, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Jaylen Prater, B1G spring positions 14, Darron Lee, L.A. Goree, Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Abner Logan, Danny Ezechukwu, Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause, Jamal Merrell, Davon Jacobs, L.J. Liston

Here's the latest check of personnel nuggets from around the Big Ten:

NEBRASKA

Nebraska senior running back Rex Burkhead is day-to-day for the Michigan game after aggravating his left knee injury for the second time in three weeks Saturday at Northwestern. Coach Bo Pelini is taking a cautious approach with Burkhead and mentioned he's inclined to have the senior rest a week even though the latest aggravation isn't as bad as what happened at Ohio State on Oct. 6. "He felt really good going into the [Northwestern] game, didn't have any issues in practice," Pelini said. "He's frustrated and obviously disappointed he's had to deal with it. It's been too bad." Ameer Abdullah, who leads Nebraska with 514 rush yards and seven touchdowns, will fill in for Burkhead if the senior can't play against the Wolverines. Huskers defensive tackle Chase Rome (concussion) remains out for Michigan, while cornerback Josh Mitchell (ankle) could play and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (shoulder) will play.

MICHIGAN

Cornerback Ramon Taylor, who suffered an undisclosed injury last week against Michigan State, is listed as a starter on the depth chart for this week's game at Nebraska. Head coach Brady Hoke said Taylor had "a little boo-boo" and that he would "probably be OK, most likely."

WISCONSIN

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said he's unsure if left tackle Ricky Wagner will be available for this week's game against Michigan State. Wagner injured his right knee two weeks ago against Purdue. Ryan Groy filled in at left tackle in the second half against the Boilers and in last week's win over Minnesota.

NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats secondary could be very thin against Iowa this week. Cornerbacks Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans are doubtful because of injuries, head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Daniel Jones has been starting ahead of Evans, but VanHoose, who suffered a shoulder injury against Nebraska and was missed down the stretch, is clearly the team's top cover man. In better news, star running back Venric Mark -- who left the second half of the Nebraska game with an undisclosed injury -- is expected to play Saturday, Fitzgerald said.

IOWA

As expected, Nolan MacMillan is listed as the starter at left tackle in place of the injured Brandon Scherff (leg). Right guard Andrew Donnal (knee) isn't listed on the depth chart for the Northwestern game, as redshirt freshman Austin Blythe is listed as the starter. Mark Weisman and Greg Garmon are listed as co-starters at running back.

OHIO STATE

Linebacker Joshua Perry and wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown both are expected to be fine for the Penn State game after getting nicked up against Purdue. The news isn't so good for freshman special teams ace Devan Bogard, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. "He's one of my favorite guys on the team, top five guy on the team, Devan Bogard," coach Urban Meyer said. "... If we could go out and recruit a hundred Bogards, life would be pretty good around here."

INDIANA

Linebacker Chase Hoobler, who has been battling back issues, is listed on the depth chart for Illinois at backup middle linebacker. Forisse Hardin is listed at starting strong-side linebacker, as Jacarri Alexander had a stinger last week and missed the Navy game.
Indiana opened preseason camp Thursday morning, and the team announced several roster updates, including one-game suspensions for two starters.

Top wide receiver Kofi Hughes and cornerback Lawrence Barnett, along with reserve safety Forisse Hardin, will miss one game because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Indiana hasn't specified which game they'll sit out.

Hughes and Barnett are both significant pieces. Hughes led the Hoosiers with 35 catches for 536 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. Barnett made nine starts last season and recorded 46 tackles, six pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovered and returned for a touchdown.

Hardin started two games last season and had 17 tackles and an interception.

It'll be interesting to see which game they miss. The opener with Indiana State seems like a decent bet.

Some other Hoosiers' roster notes:
  • Running back Matt Perez (back), tight end Paul Phillips (ankle), linebacker Ishmael Thomas (shoulder) and tight end Jordan Jackson (knee) will miss preseason camp because of injuries. Perez, who has battled injuries for much of his career, had 58 carries for 195 yards and four touchdowns last season. "We look forward to getting these men back on the field as soon as possible," coach Kevin Wilson said in a news release.
  • Incoming defensive line recruit Adam Kranda didn't report to camp because of a personal issue. "It is our intention to work with him to have him here in the near future," Wilson said. "Adam has a bright future and will be a valuable piece on our defensive line."
  • Wide receiver Jay McCants has been dismissed from the team for an unspecified rules violation, while safety Shaquille Jefferson and wide receiver Logan Young have left the program and will seek transfers. McCants had six receptions for 54 yards last season, while Jefferson played in five games last season, mostly on special teams.
  • Indiana added 18 walk-ons to the program Thursday.

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