Big Ten: Jalyn Powell

Spring practice in the Big Ten has sadly come to an end, and we're both back home after some trips around the conference. Wednesday, we shared out thoughts on the Big Ten's West Division, and now it's time to turn our focus to the beast known as the East.

Brian dropped in on Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and Adam stopped by Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's begin with your trip to the Mitten State. You made your first stop in Ann Arbor, where Michigan was wrapping up its first spring with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Michigan's top priority is the offense and fixing the line. What did you gather about the unit, and how are the changes on the defense -- player positions and coaching roles -- working out?

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
AP Photo/Tony DingNew OC Doug Nussmeier's top priority is fixing Michigan's offensive line.
Brian Bennett: Things definitely seem a lot smoother on defense. Jake Ryan adopted quickly to playing middle linebacker, and James Ross III is talented enough to play anywhere. Mark Smith picked a good time to take over the defensive line, as he'll have a pair of senior ends in Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and some nice young talent to work with in Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, etc. Throw Jabrill Peppers into the mix in the back end this summer, and this has a chance to be a very solid defense.

It's just a matter of whether the offense can keep up. The Wolverines are very young on that side of the ball, and the line is full of redshirt freshmen and sophomores right now. Mason Cole enrolled in January and was starting at left tackle in spring ball, which said a lot about the state of the position. Michigan's season likely depends on whether that O-line can come together and raise its collective level of play. There are some good-looking athletes at receiver and running back, but not many of them are proven. Many big questions remain in Ann Arbor.

AR: There are fewer questions at Michigan State. How did the defending Big Ten/Rose Bowl champs seem to be handling their success? And how are they replacing defensive standouts such as cornerback Darqueze Dennard?

BB: Several players told me they were sick of talking about the Rose Bowl, which is a good sign. I saw a team that could definitely repeat as Big Ten champions. The offense brings back most of its major pieces and will add new weapons suchas tight end Jamal Lyles and quarterback/athlete Damion Terry. The early-season scoring droughts of years past should not happen again this fall.

No doubt Pat Narduzzi's crew lost a lot -- four All-Big Ten defenders, plus both starting defensive tackles. Michigan State has a big experience gap to make up, especially at linebacker. But this is a program that just seems to reload on defense now and has recruited so well to its system. Guys like defensive tackle Joel Heath, defensive end Demetrius Cooper and safety Jalyn Powell all came on strong this spring. Three of the corners vying to replace Dennard had interceptions in the spring game. I have supreme confidence that Narduzzi will have this defense dominating again in 2014.

AR: Ohio State's defense has many more question marks after a rough 2013 campaign. The line should be terrific but how did the back seven look during your trip to Columbus? And how are new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson fitting into the mix? What else stood out about the Buckeyes?

BB: In my eyes, this is one of the most intriguing teams anywhere. The Buckeyes are almost frightfully young on offense outside of Braxton Miller and are breaking in lots of new players at linebacker and in the secondary. Yet they also have some impressive looking athletes and more overall explosiveness than the previous two seasons under Urban Meyer. Ash is installing a quarters coverage look, but maybe even more important is the fact that the safeties can really run and cover now. The revamped offensive line is a big question mark, as is the inexperience at receiver and the linebacker spot. But when you see young guys like linebacker Raekwon McMillan and tailback Curtis Samuel running around, you realize there aren't a lot of Big Ten teams that look like the Buckeyes.

Adam, you made it up to State College to check in on Penn State and new coach James Franklin. What's the vibe like up there?

AR: Electric. The charismatic staff has quickly formed bonds with the players, some of whom knew Franklin from the recruiting process. The defense should be better under Bob Shoop's leadership, as long as the starters stay healthy. There's decent depth up front and safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Jordan Lucas anchor the secondary. Linebacker Mike Hull is embracing his role as the unit's leader. Christian Hackenberg can really spin the ball -- very impressive. But can PSU protect him? No Big Ten team, including Ohio State, has bigger issues along the offensive line. Running back Bill Belton looked great, and I like the depth at tight end. Franklin is realistic about the depth issues and knows his team can't afford many more injuries.

You also visited Indiana this spring. How did the Hoosiers look, especially on defense with new coordinator Brian Knorr?

BB: You know the drill. Indiana could make some real noise if it could actually, you know, stop anybody. Knorr has them playing a 3-4, and hey have some major beef inside with the defensive tackles in 325-pounders Darius Latham and Ralph Green III. Ten starters are back and some promising recruits are on the way, so there's more depth on defense than before. But it's still a major construction project, and the offense might lose a little of its big-play ability as it tries to replace three of its top four receivers from a season ago.

OK, lightning-round finish. I still see Michigan State and Ohio State as the heavy favorites here, with Penn State a dark horse if its O-line issues can be solved. What about you?

AR: MSU is the team to beat because of the quarterback and the track record on defense. Ohio State definitely is in that mix, too. Michigan remains young at spots but could contend with a serviceable run game. Offensive line is a huge issue in this division. Sleeper-wise, I wouldn't count out Penn State, Indiana or Maryland, which could be dynamic on offense if it finally stays healthy.
The spring football odyssey in the Big Ten wraps up this weekend, as the final three spring games will take place Saturday. As we've done with the previous 11, we're going to preview each event. Let's take a look at the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans' spring fling:

When: 2 p.m. ET Saturday

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Admission: Free. Fans may also purchase press box seats for $75 (deadline is noon today). Stadium gates A, B, C, D and G open at 12:30 p.m. The first 30,000 fans will receive a commemorative 2013 championship team poster, and the team will be honored at halftime. Fans are invited to take photos with the 2013 Legends Division, Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl championship trophies from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the southwest ramp of Spartan Stadium, adjacent to Gate C.

TV: Big Ten Network (live).

Weather forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 56 degrees.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichigan State's spring game festivities allow Mark Dantonio's Spartans to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.
What to watch for: This is a spring game but also -- as you can tell by the festivities -- a celebration of the Spartans' 2013 championship run. Head coach Mark Dantonio has said he wants 50,000 fans to show up because "that's where this program needs to go." That would be more than double the estimated turnout from a year ago, but the weather looks much better for Saturday than it did for the '13 spring game.

The team held its annual player draft on Wednesday afternoon, and the White team ended up with starting quarterback Connor Cook. Redshirt freshman Damion Terry, whom fans were clamoring for early last season, will see time at quarterback for both teams. It will be fascinating to see how the Spartans incorporate him this fall.

Other things to watch for include a new-look defense that is replacing six starters, including four All-Big Ten performers. Linebacker will be a particular area of curiosity, with Max Bullough and Denicos Allen gone and younger players such as Jon Reschke, Riley Bullough and Shane Jones pushing for playing time. Redshirt freshman safety Jalyn Powell was the surprise first draft pick among the safeties, ahead of veterans RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox, so he obviously has the respect of his teammates.

Offensively, Michigan State returns the nucleus from last season's squad, although there will be some new faces on the offensive line. Tight end Jamal Lyles has turned a lot of heads this spring and could be unleashed on Saturday.

Regardless of how the spring game goes, Spartans fans should have plenty of reasons to smile this weekend.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:00
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I missed all the spring games this weekend because I was busy attending Joffrey's wedding.

Recruiting Q&A: MSU's Mark Dantonio

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
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Michigan State signed a relatively small class this year, with just 18 new players. And the Spartans were overshadowed a bit by the recruiting successes of Michigan. But Mark Dantonio and his staff have shown a knack for identifying their type of player on the recruiting trail and then developing them into All-Big Ten type performers. So you'd be wise not to sleep on this latest batch of recruits who are heading to East Lansing.

I caught up with Dantonio for a few minutes to discuss this year's class.

What were your main objectives with this class?

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio has five state champions and 11 all-state selections in his 18-player recruiting class.
Mark Dantonio: We didn't have a lot of seniors, and then we had a few guys go out early, so we had to adjust some thinking and needs. But I thought the needs we addressed were we needed to find a kicker to compete for the No. 1 position, and I thought we did that. Michael Geiger is ranked the No 1 kicker by Rivals, so that's exciting for us. You don't need a kicker until you need one. The two linebackers we signed were big-time recruits, four-star players, but more importantly state champions from excellent programs. Team leaders and very active, explosive players in Jon Reshcke and Shane Jones.

The tailback situation, with Le'Veon Bell going out, we added a lot of depth to that position by signing Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams, who's really an athlete who can play a lot of positions. But he'll start at tailback. He reminds me a lot of Bell when he came in here. So three talented players there, and an excellent offensive lineman, a tight end and defensive linemen. Then I think in our secondary, Darian Hicks is an outstanding player and an extremely good athlete, and Justin Williams and Jalyn Powell are the same. Wide receivers are talented as well. I think we've got five state champions and 11 all-state players.

Damion Terry has gotten a lot of attention. He's a dual-threat quarterback, which we haven't seen much of lately at Michigan State. What were your thoughts on his recruitment?

MD: Damion is a guy we started the recruiting process on last spring. He came to camp and did a tremendous job throwing the football. Great mechanics and very poised and composed. And then he has the ability to run around. He's 6-foot-3, probably 6-4, and 220 pounds. He has run the football on designated runs but also created in high school. He was a state champion player. He was the AAA player of the year in the state of Pennsylvania. Damion has thrown for 50 touchdowns and run for 12 more in one year. He's got tremendous upside. One of the biggest things is he seems like a great leader. Very calm. And extremely talented.

You haven't had to play many freshmen right away on defense the past couple of years. Do you see that continuing with this group?

MD: Redshirting and playing, as a young freshman, is really determined by opportunity, timing and a lot with injuries. Can you stay healthy, can you pick up the defense the first two weeks of summer camp? The players in front of them, do they get injured and provide a window? But I think they're capable, from a physical standpoint, of running, of playing the deep ball, of explosiveness at the linebacker spot like we talked about. Those guys have the upside to be able to play early. It's just, can they stay healthy and will people in front of them stay healthy, and how do they pick up things? That remains to be seen.

With Bell gone, you don't have a lot of veterans at tailback. Do you see some of these young guys contributing there early?

MD: Yeah, I do, just because of the nature of the position. We really only have three other tailbacks, and couple of guys are smaller in stature -- powerful, but smaller. I think these guys will all be 200-pound-plus guys, and they all have great skill. Their skill should allow them to be in a competitive situation. Now can they stay healthy and the things I just talked about? That remains true.

You've had a strong run at linebacker recently. Are these new guys in that same mold?

MD: Yeah, I think they're very, very similar. They're guys that are explosive. Good blitzers who play downhill and can run very, very well. Both have great football IQs and come from great programs. They're used to playing on great stages. There is no bigger stage than the Cincinnati-area Catholic league, and there's no bigger stage in the state of Michigan than Brother Rice. They're state champions, both of them, and very, very successful players.

You also signed a defensive tackle transfer from the University of Toronto in James Bodanis. How do you see him contributing?

MD: He's a young man who played college competition up there. It's similar to probably junior college football down here. He's got the skills, he's quick, he's explosive, he's big, he's very powerful. But it's going to be an adjustment to the game down here. And there has to be a window of opportunity. Can he adjust?

Did you have to be more selective this year because of the small scholarship numbers?

MD: We're always going to be very selective. We try to take quality over quantity. We only took one offensive lineman, but he's an outstanding player in Dennis Finley. He's a big, long guy. I think he could be one of the best players maybe in the class. So it will be exciting to watch him grow and mature. We're excited about it. It's like New Year's Day for us. I think everything at this point starts fresh, and it's a new life and a new stage for these guys.
The fax machines are collecting dust again around the Big Ten as national signing day is in the books and all 12 classes are signed. Earlier Wednesday, Brian Bennett took a look at the Leaders Division and how teams did in filling their most pressing recruiting needs. Now it's time to take a look at the Legends Division.

IOWA

Needs filled: Iowa's passing game needs a jolt after ranking 99th nationally last season, and the team signed five wide receivers. The Hawkeyes also were mindful that they'll lose all three starting linebackers after 2013 and flipped Reggie Spearman, an Illinois commit. Cornerback Desmond King should provide immediate help in the secondary.

Holes remaining: Offensive line could soon be an issue as Iowa missed out on several targets in this year's class. The Hawkeyes also need some difference-makers along the defensive line and signed only two linemen in this class.

MICHIGAN

Needs filled: The Wolverines got the running back they wanted and needed, Derrick Green, who could contribute immediately. They also continued to address the depth issues coach Brady Hoke inherited on both lines, adding five offensive linemen ranked in the ESPN 300. Although Devin Gardner solidified the quarterback spot late last season, Michigan needed to plan for the future and signed a solid signal-caller, Shane Morris.

Holes remaining: There aren't many obvious weak spots, although Michigan could use a bit more help on the perimeter, especially at wide receiver. Top wideouts Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo depart after the 2013 season, and the depth in the secondary isn't quite where it needs to be.

MICHIGAN STATE

Needs filled: The Spartans signed three running backs -- Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams -- who could compete for immediate playing time at a position with very little depth. They also brought in a likely quarterback of the future in Damion Terry and bolstered the linebacking corps with ESPN 300 selection Shane Jones and Jon Reschke.

Holes remaining: Michigan State's offensive line depth still isn't where it needs to be, and the Spartans signed only one offensive lineman (Dennis Finley) this year. MSU signed only two defensive backs, although the coaches really like what Darian Hicks and Jalyn Powell bring to the field.

MINNESOTA

Needs filled: The Gophers lose a lot at linebacker and filled the gaps with junior college players Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell. They need more playmakers on offense and added some at receiver to go along with an intriguing dual-threat quarterback in Chris Streveler.

Holes remaining: Minnesota loses some key defensive backs and will lose more after the 2013 season. The Gophers signed only two cornerbacks and no safeties in this class, so they could have some depth issues if current sophomores and juniors don't pan out.

NEBRASKA

Needs filled: The Huskers continued to address their depth issues at linebacker with prospects such as Marcus Newby and added more depth to the offensive line with five players. They added a potential quarterback of the future in Johnny Stanton and continued to recruit well at all the offensive skill positions.

Holes remaining: After missing out on several elite defensive linemen, Nebraska is still looking for disruptive players up front. Perhaps junior college arrival Randy Gregory fills the void. The Huskers could have used another elite secondary prospect.

NORTHWESTERN

Needs filled: The Wildcats will need a quarterback after the 2014 season and found an absolutely perfect fit in Matt Alviti. They also addressed the running back spot for the second straight year. Offensive line recruiting continues to be a strength for Northwestern.

Holes remaining: The class lacks an obvious difference-maker on defense, a unit where Northwestern improved in 2012 but still has a long way to go. Northwestern could have picked up another linebacker and another pass-rushing defensive end. Perhaps four-star prospect Godwin Igwebuike, listed as a running back, will contribute on the defensive side.

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