Big Ten: Greg Hudson

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August, 1, 2014
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Smell that? Camp is in the air.
  • Michigan believed it had a future star during training camp last August, but then wide receiver Amara Darboh was lost to injury. The Wolverines are counting on him to get back to the level he was at a year ago.
  • A detailed look at reasons Penn State can rise to contention in the East Division.
  • Not surprisingly, Oregon and a "statement game" aren't far from the minds of Michigan State as it reports for practice.
  • Drug charges were dismissed as former Ohio State defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle pleaded no contest to an amended charge of attempted failure to comply with a police order. His status with the Buckeyes hasn't been reevaluated by Urban Meyer.
  • Steered by sports, Nebraska safety Corey Cooper stays on the right path to success.
  • Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson is motivated heading into camp and "sick and tired of being 1-11."
  • Converted linebacker Alec James provides a perfect example of what Wisconsin is trying to build on the defensive line.
  • Gary Nova isn't officially the starting quarterback at Rutgers yet, but he's likely to be the pick and his relationship with offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen could be crucial if the program is going to surprise in the Big Ten.
  • Iowa was left out of the preseason top 25 by the coaches. Might that be a good thing for the Hawkeyes?
  • There's little doubt Minnesota can run the football. Will the passing attack move up from last in the Big Ten this fall?

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July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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The Big Ten season unofficially begins Monday with media days. So enjoy the weekend, and then let's get after it.
Welcome to June. The 2014 college football season is just a little bit closer. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

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

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Today, we examine Purdue.

[+] EnlargeRobert Kugler
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesRobert Kugler was Purdue's offensive MVP in 2013.
Robert Kugler, C

OK. We know what you're going to say the second you see the headline of this post. How can anyone be indispensable for a team that went 1-11 last season and was historically bad on both sides of the ball? A fair point, and it's not like Darrell Hazell's team is oozing with irreplaceable superstars in Year 2. Still, losing some players would hurt much more than others. Case in point: Kugler. He may not be one of the more recognizable names in the Big Ten, but he was named Purdue's offensive MVP for the 2013 season. The Boilermakers also lost four seniors off last season's offensive line and are replacing both starting tackles. They will be counting on juco transfers David Hedelin and Corey Clements to contribute right away. Even if that goes smoothly, they will need veteran leadership on the unit, and Kugler is just the man to provide it.

Ryan Russell, DE

The Purdue defense had a serious lack of playmakers last season, and it lost two of its best ones in cornerback Ricardo Allen and tackle Bruce Gaston. So there are major question marks for Greg Hudson's defense at several positions going into 2014. Russell has looked like a star-in-the-making for quite some time, with his ideal blend of size and quickness at the end position. But he hasn't yet put it all together, disappearing for long stretches. Still, the senior is one of the most experienced players in the program, and the potential remains there for a breakout season. Purdue needs him to lead the way for younger players on the line like Ra'Zahn Howard, Evan Panfil, Gelen Robinson and Kentucky transfer Langston Newton.
Purdue's oldest defenders have endured only one complete coaching change since they arrived on campus. So why does it feel like more?

Former Boilermakers coach Danny Hope made changes to the defensive coordinator position after the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. After Hope's ouster, another new defensive play-caller, Greg Hudson, arrived with Darrell Hazell last season.

The changes don't excuse a defense that last fall finished 111th in points allowed, 104th in yards allowed, 114th against the run, 101st in pass efficiency and 120th in red zone defense. Purdue's offense might have been historically bad, but the defense wasn't far off.

[+] EnlargeRyan Russell
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaIt's now or never for Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell, who has been up and down in his career.
The good news: the Boilers get a chance to push the reset button with the same coordinator and scheme.

"It's the first spring these older guys have gone into where they're speaking the same language," Hudson told ESPN.com. "Now you're able to have football conversations with them. They're starting to retain it."

Hudson sees it in the increased numbers of players at Mollenkopf Center on their own time. He sees it in their willingness to learn and in the questions that they ask.

"It's very, very important that the players build equity in the defense," he said. "The more equity, the more ownership."

Purdue's seniors, in particular, have to take ownership of the defense. Hudson has applied the necessary pressure -- "If they don't play well, we're not going to be very good," he said -- while also making it clear that the coaches will go with younger players if they're deserving. Seniors such as end Ryan Russell, safety Landon Feichter and linebacker Sean Robinson all have plenty of snaps under their belts.

None are guaranteed to start when Purdue kicks off the season Aug. 30 against Western Michigan. Russell looked like Purdue's next elite pass rusher after the 2011 season, but his production the past two years has been spotty.

"It's do or die for him," Hudson said. "He's running out of reps. The ability's there. He's got to be at 100 miles an hour instead of 75. I just told him it's like driving. You need to break the speed limit every time the ball's snapped."

Hudson needs his seniors to elevate their play, but he's also optimistic about several younger players, including ends Evan Panfil and Jake Replogle, both of whom saw the field as true freshmen last fall. Replogle is working with the first-team defense in spring, while Panfil is backing up Russell.

Last spring, Purdue coaches stressed the need for players to become "Big Ten strong." It didn't show up in the fall, as the Boilers dropped all but one of their Big Ten games by 14 points or more and six league contests by 20 points or more.

Is Purdue any closer?

"We've taken another step," Hudson said. "There's another level out there that we need to get to. There's a fine line between building athletes and building football players. We have to find that fine line. They still have to play the game in this league at a very powerful level. I don't want to recruit a bunch of guys at Gold's Gym, but we've moved forward."

Hudson's two main goals for the spring are comprehension of the scheme and relentless play. The first is helped by greater familiarity for players; the second by constant competition.

"There's not very many guys that can separate themselves from the guy behind them," he said. "Their names are written in pencil."

Big Ten lunch links

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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How 'bout Nebrasketball? Impressed with what's happening in Lincoln.
Darrell Hazell and Greg Hudson have every right to reserve judgment and hide the hyperbole when it comes to Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.

They have yet to coach Gaston in a game for the Boilers. The only full-pads, full-go assessment opportunity they've had with the senior took place in the last two weeks of spring practice, when he Gaston returned after his rehab from thumb surgery.

[+] EnlargePurdue Boilermakers Bruce Gaston
AP Photo/David DurochikPurdue Boilermakers defensive tackle Bruce Gaston is impressing his coaches.
It didn't take Gaston long to dazzle his new coaches. Now they can't help but gush about him.

"We were a different football team," Hazell, the Boilers' first-year head coach, told ESPN.com. "Different football team, not defense. I didn't realize how good he was. When he came back, we had to scheme him on offense. That's how good he was."

Hudson, Purdue's defensive coordinator, is still figuring out the pieces as he constructs his first defense in West Lafayette. But he knows where to start, thanks to Gaston.

"The man in the middle, no doubt about it," Hudson said. "He is The Guy. He's our Derek Jeter. In baseball, you better be good up the middle. When I grew up [in Cincinnati], it was [Pete] Rose and Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench up the middle. They were tough.

"We've got to be strong up the middle in our defense, and he's the closest one to the ball, so it starts with him."

Gaston relishes the responsibility. He spent the past three seasons understudying Kawann Short, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and a second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in April's NFL draft. The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Gaston also has been around long enough to share a line with Ryan Kerrigan, the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.

He has been around elite players. After recording two forced fumbles and 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior, Gaston wants to be one in his final season at Purdue.

"I’m a senior now, I know a lot," said Gaston, who has 17 career tackles for loss, four sacks, three fumbles recovered and a blocked kick. "The young guys, they really don't know much what to do against some of the guys who have been here. They expect for me to be a leader. The way I am, I present those qualities, and they expect me to follow those qualities, be a leader, be a dominant player on defense and help us get to the next level.

"It’s my obligation to pay back. My tribute to the university, really."

Gaston brings personality to a Boilers defense that surrendered 31.2 points per game last season and more than 500 yards in five contests. Like Short, who continues to motivate his teammates with encouraging text messages, Gaston makes communication a priority in practices and meetings.

Yelling is easy, according to Hudson, who adds that most who do it don't know what they're talking about. Gaston, meanwhile, is more of a "conversationalist."

"He'll talk to anybody," Hudson said. "He’ll try to reach out to the young guys and give them advice, but he also is involved in the development of the older guys. I like that he's bought into everything that Coach Hazell has laid out for us on this road to where we're going.

"He'll be a big voice in how we move forward and develop."

Gaston understands the value of the defensive tackle position -- "What we do affects the rest of the play," he said -- and has a long list of areas to improve, from keeping his pad level lower to creating a better burst off of the snap to taking a quicker step and a more agile step to reach the second level.

Hudson sees parallels between Gaston and Jay Ross, a Buffalo Bills defensive tackle who Hudson coached at East Carolina. The two are similar in size, and Gaston boasts a strong speed-to-power ratio.

"Anybody that's over 300 pounds and can bend and wiggle like him, and then has very good strength, it's a good combination of things," Hudson said. "Is he going to be like a five-tool guy in baseball? Maybe. Now he’s got to develop 'em and become an exceptional player."

Gaston still has his left hand in a cast, and while he doesn't know when it will be removed, the injury is healing at "an exceptional rate." He doesn't expect to be limited from a technique standpoint.

The bigger question with Gaston, like many larger defensive tackles, is durability. How many plays can he remain on the field this season? Purdue needs him out there more than in past years, especially because of the attention he'll command without Short flanking the other side.

Hazell hopes new defensive line coach Rubin Carter, a former All-American nose tackle at Miami who went on to play 12 seasons for the Denver Broncos' celebrated "Orange Crush" defense, can keep Gaston in the game.

"[Carter] played nose guard for the Broncos for all those years when there were no rules," Hazell said. "They were high-lowing him. So he understands, 'Get back in.' That's what Bruce needs right now, a little bit of get-back-in-the-game mentality when you feel a little nicked up.

"That's a good match."

Gaston's chief goal as a senior is crystal clear: to dominate. He won't spend time overanalyzing it. He knows it will take greater consistency and durability to achieve.

And he'll know when it's happening.

"It's almost a feeling of euphoria," he said. "It's like when you’re lifting, the endorphins, the relief, it just feels good. You're truly in the moment, you're helping a team, all of it.

"All good things."
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or forced to listen to William Hung songs until their ears exploded. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Purdue is our penultimate team in the series.

Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Sr.

The Boilers already will be without a standout defensive tackle in Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft (first Big Ten player selected). They can ill afford to lose another space-eater in the interior defensive line. Gaston is a three-year starter who recorded two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2012. Although Gaston hasn't put up All-Big Ten-type numbers, he has been consistently productive in his career and could take things to the next level as a senior leader. Gaston missed most of spring practice following thumb surgery but made an impact after returning for the final few workouts. "There’s weight classes in boxing for a reason," Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said, referring to Gaston. "When big guys move around, things happen. They create space and they alter the line of scrimmage." Hudson thinks Gaston, with a strong summer, could flourish at the 3-technique for Purdue this fall. He's critical to improving Purdue's run defense and overall consistency and would be missed if he goes down.

Akeem Hunt, RB, Jr.

There are several other possibilities here -- Ryan Russell, Dolapo Macarthy, Robert Kugler -- but it's hard to ignore what Hunt did this spring at a position where Purdue currently has very little depth. Hunt capitalized on the chance to establish himself as the Boilers' No. 1 back and more than just a speed guy. Although Purdue likely needs another back or two to emerge and could rely on incoming freshmen like Keyante Green, the coaches can enter camp knowing they have a good option with some experience and knowledge of John Shoop's offense. The passing game is a significant question mark as Purdue remains unsettled at quarterback and needs several receivers to step up. The Boilers can help their unproven signal-caller with a threat in the run game, and Hunt provides it. His contributions on special teams as arguably the Big Ten's fastest player also can't be overlooked.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Illinois
Ohio State already had started paying more competitive salaries for assistant coaches before Urban Meyer arrived in November 2011.

But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.

"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
"Everyone's always focused on head coaches' salaries," Smith continued. "That's always the thing. But really when you look at the changes, it's really been assistants' salaries across the country -- not just in the SEC, but the Big 12, Pac-12, all across the country."

The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).

The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.

The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.

Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.

Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).

The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.


Some notes:

  • Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
  • All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
  • Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
  • Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
  • The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
  • Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
  • Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.

The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.

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May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
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Is it late August yet?
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's reputation for producing great quarterbacks is recognized throughout college football, as names like Brees, Griese, Herrmann, Dawson and Everett are linked to the program.

But there's another position where Purdue has put together a similar track record of excellence: defensive end. The Boilers' D-end tradition isn't as well-known as its quarterback heritage, but consider the names who have come through the program in the past two decades: Roosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips, Ray Edwards, Rob Ninkovich, Cliff Avril, Anthony Spencer and Ryan Kerrigan, the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American.

All nine players went on to the NFL, and several like Kerrigan and Spencer are in starring roles. Purdue has called itself the Cradle of Quarterbacks for years. It now also uses the label Den of Defensive Ends.

Boilers junior defensive end Ryan Russell needs no education on the subject.

[+] EnlargeRyan Russell
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaRyan Russell hopes to be next in the long line of disruptive defensive linemen developed at Purdue.
"Very aware," Russell told ESPN.com. "A lot of those guys come back, Roosevelt Colvin, I had a chance to talk to Cliff Avril when we went to the Little Caesars [Pizza] Bowl in Detroit. I knew Ryan Kerrigan and he came back and talked to us.

"It's a big tradition, and I'm hoping definitely to uphold it."

After losing defensive tackle Kawann Short, a second-round pick in last month's NFL draft, Purdue is looking for the next star to emerge along a line that underperformed in 2012. The Boilers finished 78th nationally in both rush yards allowed (182.3 YPG) and sacks recorded (1.69 per game).

Along with veteran defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Russell is viewed as a potential major contributor up front this fall. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior will enter his third season as a starter and his first under Purdue's new coaching staff. After recording 33 tackles and making 11 starts as a redshirt freshman in 2011, Russell had 37 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and four sacks, last season.

"He’s got a power-to-speed ratio that's good for him to be a factor," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. "He can play the run, but he's got that end build and speed where he can also affect the passer.

"He's got that prototype look and ability."

Russell might look the part, but like many of his teammates, he needs to get stronger. His speed and lower-body strength are in good shape, and he has fully recovered from knee and ankle injuries, but his upper body "isn’t really where I would like it to be."

After practicing alongside Kerrigan as a true freshman in 2010, Russell understands the gains he needs to make.

"Ryan Kerrigan was one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said, "so when that's the standard with the Big Ten, Purdue defensive linemen and defensive ends, we definitely and myself personally have a long way to go."

Kerrigan led the country in tackles for loss (26) in 2010, finished third in sacks (12.5) and tied for second in forced fumbles (5). Russell observed firsthand the relentless motor that drove the Boilers' star.

When one pass-rush move didn't work, Kerrigan would simply move to the next and the next until the whistle blew.

"Pass-rushing a lot of the time is a mentality, going 110 percent, outworking somebody all the time, every play," Russell said. "[Defensive line coach Rubin Carter] always says, 'If you're not going to make the play, they will.' So just always having that mentality that you’re going to get there is a big thing.

"Your get-off and your motor is the engine that runs the train."

Russell is taking well to the new staff, the faster practice pace and the new defensive scheme under Hudson. He has worked extensively with Carter, a former longtime NFL assistant, on using his hands more effectively to fend off offensive linemen.

Hudson, who last season had a front-row seat for one of the nation's best defensive lines as a Florida State defensive assistant, shapes his system around Russell and the other down linemen.

"We will do things to turn him loose," Hudson said. "We cater to the D-line. We're going to make sure they know what’s going on, there's no confusion and they're happy. And when the ball's snapped, we say, 'Take off, break off.'

"That's what we want them to do."

Russell continues to follow Kerrigan with the Washington Redskins, and he also studies the other Purdue greats he has met like Avril (Seattle Seahawks), Ninkovich (New England Patriots) and Spencer (Dallas Cowboys).

"You have a common ground," Russell said. "They started the same place you started, and what they're doing is the goal, so you’re trying to see what they're doing to get to the goal you all share."
2012 record: 6-7
2012 conference record: 3-5 (fourth in Leaders division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

DT Bruce Gaston Jr., DE Ryan Russell, S Landon Feichter, CB Ricardo Allen, RB Akeem Hunt, C Robert Kugler, TE Gabe Holmes

Key losses

DT Kawann Short, CB Josh Johnson, QB Robert Marve, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, C Rick Schmeig

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Akeem Shavers (871 yards)
Passing: Robert Marve (1,734 yards)
Receiving: Antavian Edison (652 yards)
Tackles: Landon Feichter* (80)
Sacks: Kawann Short (7)
Interceptions: Landon Feichter* (4)

Spring answers

1. On the Hunt: The quarterback competition is far from over, but Purdue settled one piece of its offensive backfield this spring. Senior Akeem Hunt capitalized on his opportunity to be the starting running back with a very strong spring session. Hunt took the majority of reps with the first-team offense and rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. He added some weight and worked hard on his pass-blocking ability in an effort to show the coaches he can be an every-down back. "I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it," first-year coach Darrell Hazell said.

2. Pillars up front: Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a big loss for Purdue, but the Boilers should be able to lean on linemen Bruce Gaston Jr. and Ryan Russell this season. Gaston missed a chunk of the spring while recovering from thumb surgery but made an impact when he returned to the field. "There's weight classes in boxing for a reason," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. "When big guys move around, things happen." Russell is finally healthy and hopes to bulk up to supplement his speed-rushing ability. "He's got a good power-to-speed ratio," Hudson said.

3. The kid can play: Early enrollee Danny Etling put himself right in the thick of Purdue's quarterback competition with a strong spring. Etling entered spring ball at No. 3 or No. 4 on the depth chart but finished at No. 2, bypassing Austin Appleby. Hazell is calling it a three-man race entering the summer -- Etling, Appleby and senior Rob Henry -- but Etling certainly is one to watch, if not for this season than for the near future.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity: Hazell wants to settle on a starter about two weeks before the season opener against Cincinnati. Henry provides veteran leadership and can win over the locker room, but do his skills truly fit the pro-style system coordinator John Shoop wants to run? Etling clearly has tremendous upside, but he's a true freshman, which always brings added risk. Appleby seemed to slip behind Etling late in the spring, but Hazell includes him in the race and he'll have an opportunity to impress this summer.

2. Linebackers in limbo: Purdue returns some experience with Will Lucas, Joe Gilliam and Sean Robinson, but the coaches are looking for some definitive answers at linebacker when camp begins. Hazell said Robinson, a converted quarterback, has stepped up as a leader, and Hudson sees potential with Gilliam in the middle. "We have a lot of participants," Hudson said, "but not answers yet as far as a 1-2 deep. We need more guys who can lead by example."

3. Perimeter playmakers: The Boilers aren't where they need to be size-wise, but they could be good at the perimeter positions this season. The secondary has a chance to be very good as veteran cornerback Ricardo Allen returns along with safety Landon Feichter, the team's leader in tackles and interceptions, who missed a chunk of the spring after suffering a broken hand. Frankie Williams stood out this spring after a solid freshman season and earned the Hammer award as the team's hardest hitter. There are more questions at wide receiver, but Purdue has two potentially dynamic options on the outside with Dolapo Macarthy and Charles Torwudzo. It's a big summer for both.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's Darrell Hazell is a first-year head coach in the Big Ten, but he and most of his assistants need no introduction to the league.

Hazell served as an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. His staff includes defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who held the same post at Minnesota under Glen Mason from 2000-04, and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, an Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08.

Ask any to name the first objective for Purdue's program, and the word "physical" comes out of their mouths. The conference Purdue plays in is a big reason why.

"We've got to continually get Big Ten strong," Hazell told ESPN.com. "This conference is different. There's teams in this conference that are very strong and very physical, and we need to continue to work toward that."

Purdue players started the process during 6 a.m. winter workouts. They've continued it through 11 practices this spring.

The progress report?

"That's one of our main challenges," Hudson said. "We're not ready to label a guy Big Ten strong. That's a different strength now."

The previous coaching staff made no secret about their desire to bring more speed to Purdue. It showed up in how they recruited and where they invested their time on the trail.

The Boilers boast enough speed to compete in the Big Ten, especially in areas like the secondary. But they lacked size at certain spots and got pushed around by teams like Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2012.

Junior defensive end Ryan Russell is spending the offseason developing his upper-body strength. When Russell first arrived at Purdue, he played behind Ryan Kerrigan -- the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and "one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said. Kerrigan, a unanimous first-team All-American and a first-round draft pick, showed Russell what a Big Ten lineman should look like.

Russell's goal this summer is to do 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

"Being Big Ten strong is a big thing," Russell said. "We're a fast team, but we're not necessarily always the strongest team. You want to be able to have everything in line to win a championship, so being strong is definitely a priority right now."

It also will be a priority in the new staff's recruiting efforts. There's only so much they can do with the current roster, and they need more size and power at certain positions, particularly on defense.

"I need linebackers I can look up to," Hudson said. "You should know the difference between your front, your linebackers and your secondary just by looking at them. ... Not only is it Big Ten strong, but it's Big Ten big. There's a reason it's called the Big Ten. We have big players, big buildings, big stadiums, big budgets.

"We need to blossom in all areas."

No one mistakes Bruce Gaston Jr. for a linebacker or a defensive back. At 6-2 and 303 pounds, he's a space-eating defensive tackle with huge arms and plenty of power.

But even Gaston, who recently returned to live practice action after recovering from thumb surgery, has taken steps to improve his explosiveness.

"Big Ten strong is being able to compete on a Big Ten level without feeling noticing the strength difference [with an opponent]," Gatson said. "I think it's more of a mentality, too. Everyone has physical capabilities and different physical limits, but to me, it's a mind-set, too.

"You've got to be Big Ten strong to play this game."

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March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
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The Big Ten hoops tournament is under way. If you need a break from roundball, check out the links.

The penultimate weekend before signing day is in the books, and not surprisingly, there was plenty of news on the Big Ten recruiting trail. As a reminder, you should bookmark ESPN Recruiting and particularly the Midwest blog Insider for all your Big Ten recruiting news leading up to the big day.

Michigan made the biggest splash of the weekend -- although not a surprising one -- as it secured a commitment from running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., who picked Michigan ahead of Tennessee and Auburn. Rated as the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 38 overall player by ESPN Recruiting, Green immediately becomes Michigan's highest-rated commit in an already solid 2013 class. Although Michigan had 14 commits in the ESPN 300 -- second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State -- Green is ranked 50 spots higher than the next Michigan pledge (cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

But Green isn't merely a decorated prospect. He fills a significant need for Michigan, which has significant question marks at running back. The Wolverines couldn't generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson in 2012, as Fitz Toussaint struggled to build off of a solid 2011 season before suffering a major leg injury Nov. 17 and undergoing surgery. How Toussaint responds from the setback remains to be seen, and Michigan's other backs -- Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes -- are unproven.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Green is the type of back who could contribute right away, Insider and he'll at least give Michigan another option in the backfield. Michigan now has three running backs in its 2013 class.

Other recent Big Ten recruiting notes (2013 class):
  • Purdue is making a push as signing day nears, picking up four commitments during the weekend. The Boilers added linemen on both sides of the ball in Johnny Daniels (defense) and Jason Tretter (offense), as well as wide receiver Deangelo Yancey, an Atlanta native who originally had committed to Kentucky. Insider Yancey chose Purdue ahead of Missouri. The recent coaching staff hires already have paid off in recruiting. Tight end Garrett Hudson, the son of new Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, committed to the Boilers after visiting the school this weekend.
  • Indiana's recruiting upgrade on defense has become a major story line as signing day nears, and the Hoosiers added another piece Friday in cornerback Nigel Tribune, who switched his pledge from Iowa State after visiting IU's campus. The Hoosiers are quietly putting together one of the league's top classes, and their highest-rated prospects -- Rashard Fant, Darius Latham, David Kenney III, Antonio Allen -- are set to contribute on defense. There was a bit of bad news as one-time commit Jacobi Hunter, a defensive tackle, tweeted that Indiana pulled his scholarship offer. Hunter is looking at Cal.
  • Nebraska didn't add any recruits during the weekend and will learn today whether offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson becomes a Husker, but the program was in the news. Wide receiver recruit Dominic Walker, who recently switched his pledge from Nebraska to Auburn, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Nebraska coaches were "very mad" when he told them of his decision. According to Walker, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told him, "Best of luck. You're going to need it." It's important to note that this is all coming from Walker's side, as college coaches can't publicly discuss specific recruits. Nebraska lost another recruit during the weekend as safety Marcus McWilson tweeted that he's no longer committed to the school. McWilson could be headed to Kentucky.
  • Iowa bolstered its defensive backfield Insider with a commitment from cornerback Desmond King, who had originally pledged to Ball State. King, a Detroit native, already knows several Hawkeye players from the area such as receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
  • There are several loyal blog readers -- one in particular -- who send me frequent notes asking why the University of Toronto isn't a Big Ten expansion candidate. My answer hasn't changed -- don't see it happening -- but there was a connection between the school and the Big Ten during the weekend. Defensive tackle James Bodanis reportedly is transferring from Toronto to Michigan State, where he'll have two years of eligibility left. Bodanis recorded four sacks in eight games for Toronto last season.
  • New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has done a good job retaining the recruits who committed to the previous staff. He's also adding to the mix, Insider securing a pledge Saturday from linebacker Leon Jacobs from Santa Clarita, Calif. Jacobs originally committed to Fresno State before opening up his recruitment. Wisconsin currently has only two California natives on its roster, so it'll be interesting to see if Andersen's West Coast ties and those of his assistants bring in more recruits from the Golden State.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 23, 2013
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It's national pie day! Like I need an excuse to eat pie.

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