Big Ten: Jammie Kirlew

Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory is looking for a few good men this spring. Actually, more than a few.

Mallory isn't necessarily seeking the next standout player (although he wouldn't complain if he found one). The Hoosiers' defense has had productive individuals over the years, from cornerback Tracy Porter to defensive linemen Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, to defensive tackle Adam Replogle. Last fall, Replogle put up huge numbers for an interior lineman (13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, 71 total tackles). Safety Greg Heban (91 tackles, three interceptions, seven tackles for loss) and linebacker David Cooper (86 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks) also had strong statistical seasons.

[+] EnlargeAdam Replogle
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIndiana defensive tackle Adam Replogle had 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season.
But the unit still struggled, finishing 103rd nationally in yards allowed, 101st in points allowed and 116th against the run. The cumulative results were all too typical for a defense that has struggled for more than a decade because of its lack of depth.

"It can't be the same guy out there every single play of the game, every play of the season," Mallory told ESPN.com. "We've got to be able to have some guys come in and contribute, whether it's 10, 20, 30 plays a game, guys who give us a little bit better depth."

The Hoosiers are looking for numbers this spring, at least 22 defenders who Mallory can feel confident about sending onto the field this coming season. IU's offense took a significant step in coach Kevin Wilson's second year and should be one of the Big Ten's most explosive units in 2013.

But for Indiana to take a step as a program -- toward winning records and bowl appearances -- its defensive depth must improve substantially. Although it's not ideal that three projected starters -- Cooper and fellow linebacker Chase Hoobler, and safety Mark Murphy -- are now sidelined this spring, it's more important to get others up to speed.

"We're trying to see more competition, more guys putting themselves in position to compete," Mallory said. "With all these guys coming back, that's great, but we were not very good a year ago, so that could be a positive and it could also be a negative. We've got to make major strides and do a better job as coaches and as players defending the run, stopping the run and being a lot more physical on defense."

Mallory has made it clear to the players that there are "no starters" this spring. Players move between the first-, second- and third-teams from practice to practice, depending on performance, and sometimes even within a single workout.

"The worse you are, the further you fall on that depth chart," Mallory said. "Kids understand that."

Mallory has been impressed by cornerback Kenny Mullen, who started the final five games in 2012. Defensive end Bobby Richardson, a reserve last fall, also has stood out as IU must replace two starters up front.

Help is on the way as Indiana significantly elevated its defensive recruiting efforts for the 2013 class. Six of IU's seven highest-rated recruits, according to RecruitingNation, will play defense, including ESPN 150 defensive back Rashard Fant, and linemen Darius Latham and David Kenney III.

"On paper, it definitely looks like a good class," Mallory said. "We're looking forward to getting those guys here, and they'll get in here and compete. You certainly want to be quality two-deep and hope that your incoming class are guys that can help you get three-deep."

Big Ten chat recap

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
3:45
PM ET
Miss today's Big Ten chat? No worries, I've got you covered.

Here's the complete transcript from the hour-long rundown.

Some highlights:
John from Saginaw: Adam: How do you rate the quality of Big Ten football coaches coming into 2013 versus best historic conference comparisons? Are we at a high period, low period? Seems like the SEC fortunes shifted upward when they started to seriously invest in their coaching staffs relative to other conferences.
Adam Rittenberg: John, you bring up a good point about SEC schools investing more in their coaches (head coaches and assistants), and you're starting to see more of that in the Big Ten, which lagged behind a bit in paying top assistants. Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel obviously are big losses from a success standpoint. Urban Meyer, however, brings in a very impressive track record. The jury is out more on Bill O'Brien and Tim Beckman, but I think Brady Hoke is regarded as a much better coach now after turning around Michigan than he was at this time last year. I think the overall quality remains strong, but the Big Ten must continue to commit resources to coaches to keep pace with the SEC.
Hank from Washington D.C.: How do you see the Wolverines faring in their non-conference schedule (Bama, Air Force, UMass, @ND)?
Adam Rittenberg: I think Michigan will go 3-1 or 2-2, and there's a huge difference between those two marks. A 3-1 record with Alabama, Notre Dame and Air Force on the slate is pretty darn good in my book. Alabama and Notre Dame both pose challenges, and Air Force is a really tricky game. My sense is Michigan emerges 3-1. A 4-0 mark would be outstanding and put Michigan on the radar for the national title.
Greg from Indy: Everyone knows your stance on IU, sometimes good offense, bad defense. But can you breakdown the defense? Are there some areas where they're not as bad, some areas where they're terrible? Or is it all just bad?
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I see a general lack of Big Ten-quality talent with Indiana's defense. That tends to be more exposed in the secondary, but when the front-seven pressure isn't adequate, often the DBs are left exposed. So the answer is the overall depth hasn't been where it needs to be. There have been some very good individual defenders at IU like Tracy Porter and Jammie Kirlew, but as a unit, the talent in all three areas hasn't been good enough. I remember seeing this in a game at Iowa in 2009. Indiana dominated the first three quarters but lost a few players to injury. Iowa then went nuts in the fourth quarter and ended up winning fairly comfortably. It's simply too easy to move the ball and score points on the Hoosiers. That needs to change.

Drew from Cleveland: Just looked at Kipers big board for 2013 and saw that he has Hankins listed but not John Simon. Do you think it's accurate to have him listed as a better pro talent rather than Simon? Is Gholstons bust in the pros going to ultimately hurt simon considering they are similar players?

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, haven't had a chance to look at Mel's list just yet, but I'm not that surprised to see Big Hank listed ahead of Simon. Defensive tackles with tremendous size and quickness are top commodities in the NFL draft, particularly in the first round. Simon, meanwhile, is more a tweener, lacking ideal size for an end but being a bit too small to play inside. That's taking nothing away from Simon's ability, his work ethic, etc. But the NFL draft is largely about measurables, and Hankins is more desirable in that manner.
John from WV: Hey Adam. Considering how badly their backfield has been plagued by problems, how competive will the Hawkeyes be this year?
Adam Rittenberg: John, the good news, as I often tell Iowa fans, is that the team hasn't had trouble developing quality running backs. Keeping them healthy and on the field is another story. But if the trend continues, Iowa will develop a back or two who can handle the rushing load. The offensive line will need to be better in run blocking than it was a year ago, and the offense likely will be more pass-heavy at the start of the season. But it wouldn't shock me if Iowa ends up surviving just fine at RB. The bigger issue, in my mind, is a defense that took a step back in 2011.

Thanks again for all of the questions, and my apologies to those whose questions weren't posted. Let's do it again soon.

Big Ten stock report: Week 7

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
5:00
PM ET
Invest wisely.

STOCK UP

Purdue's coaching staff: Danny Hope and his assistants deserve a ton of credit for their work during the bye week. Purdue's defense looked a lot better against Northwestern and put pressure on Dan Persa with multiple rushers. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord did a great job crafting a game plan that fit redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry in his first career start.

Michigan State's secondary: This unit has taken some heat in the past, but the Spartans are showing much better playmaking ability this fall. Michigan State had six interceptions all of last season; the Spartans already have nine this fall after picking off Denard Robinson three times in Saturday's victory. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker recorded his first interception of the season, and corner Johnny Adams and safety Trenton Robinson both have two picks. Michigan State ranks 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense (110.8 rating) after finishing 101st last season.

Illinois' specialists: The kicking game had been a weak spot for Illinois in past seasons, but punter Anthony Santella and kicker Derek Dimke are off to strong starts this fall. Santella ranks second nationally in punting average (47.9 ypp), and Dimke went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts in the Penn State win to earn Big Ten co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Dimke is 10-for-11 on field goal attempts this season and a perfect 12-for-12 on PATs.

Ohio State DE Nathan Williams: Williams has provided a nice jolt for the Ohio State pass rush the last few weeks. After being slowed by a knee injury sustained in preseason camp, Williams has recorded 22 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in his last three games. Wisconsin had better pay attention to No. 43 on Saturday night.

Wisconsin's team discipline: The Badgers haven't committed a turnover since the third quarter of a Week 2 win against San Jose State, a span of more than four games. Wisconsin is tied for second nationally in fewest turnovers with just four all season. Bret Bielema's crew also is avoiding the dreaded yellow hankie. Wisconsin is tied for the national lead in fewest penalties with just 20 through the first six games. The Badgers rank fourth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (30.8).

Illinois' red zone offense: While keeping Penn State out of the end zone for most of Saturday's win, Illinois continued to capitalize on its opportunities near the goal line. The Illini are 16-for-16 on red zone chances this season with nine touchdowns and seven field goals. They are one of only three FBS teams (East Carolina, Memphis) perfect in the red zone.

STOCK DOWN

Minnesota's starts to halves: The Golden Gophers have held their own in the second quarter (47-47) and the fourth quarter (59-56) this season, but they really struggle to begin both halves. Tim Brewster's crew has been outscored 49-27 in the first quarter and 42-24 in the third quarter this season. Wisconsin outscored the Gophers 14-0 in both quarters on Saturday.

Northwestern's special teams: The kicking game costs Northwestern dearly in at least one loss per season, and it happened again Saturday against Purdue. Northwestern had two fumbled punts (losing one), a blocked field goal attempt and a badly missed field goal in the final minutes. Senior kicker Stefan Demos has struggled this year, going just 8-for-13 on field goal attempts and 15-for-18 on PATs. Coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't see the need for a special-teams coordinator, but the third phase remains an area that must be upgraded.

Penn State's team leadership: This applies to Joe Paterno, his assistants and team captains Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu. After having a players-only meeting last Monday, Penn State played its worst game in recent memory and then had some finger-pointing in the postgame interviews, including this comment from running back Evan Royster: "I wish I could get in there and play every position and play with the desire some people don't have." Royster might want to worry about playing his own position better, and Penn State needs to take a long look in the mirror during a much-needed bye week.

Denard Robinson: Robinson did some good things against Michigan State, but you just can't throw interceptions, and the Michigan quarterback had three of them after throwing just one in his first five games. The sophomore showed some indecision on several passes, including one that Trenton Robinson picked off in the end zone. His desire to make big plays is tremendous, but Shoelace also must learn that it's OK to throw the ball away at times.

Indiana's pass rush: Coach Bill Lynch admitted Tuesday that the Hoosiers used more of a "controlled rush" against Ohio State to keep Terrelle Pryor from breaking contain, which makes sense. Except that Pryor wasn't 100 percent after his quad injury and picked apart a poor Hoosiers secondary with plenty of time to throw. Indiana has only seven sacks through the first five games and really misses Jammie Kirlew up front.
After taking a look Thursday at Big Ten offenses in need of repair, let's switch the focus to the defensive side. I think some of you misunderstood the selections. These are units that struggled in 2009 and need to get better this fall, not good units that lost a few key pieces from last year (i.e. Penn State's defense, Iowa's defense).

Here we go ...

IN NEED OF REPAIR

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

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

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

FASTEST ROAD TO RECOVERY

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

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

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

Indiana spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
10:30
AM ET
Indiana

2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 1-7 (T-10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 4, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Ben Chappell, WR Tandon Doss, WR Damarlo Belcher, RT James Brewer, RB Darius Willis, LB Tyler Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr.

Key losses

LT Rodger Saffold, DE Jammie Kirlew, LB Matt Mayberry, DE Greg Middleton, CB Ray Fisher, SS Austin Thomas, FS Nick Polk, LB Will Patterson

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Darius Willis* (607 yards)

Passing: Ben Chappell* (2,941 yards)

Receiving: Tandon Doss* (962 yards)

Tackles: Matt Mayberry (108)

Sacks: Jammie Kirlew (6.5)

Interceptions: Austin Thomas (4)

Spring answers

1. End game: Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton formed one of the Big Ten's most productive defensive end tandems during the last three seasons, and their departures raise a red flag about the defensive end position. So why isn't co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic concerned? He has tons of faith in Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush, the favorites to start at the two end spots. Bush, a 24-year-old redshirt sophomore, spent three plus seasons in the military before joining the Hoosiers. "I'm telling you, they're both going to end up being better than Jammie Kirlew," Palcic said.

2. Hoosiers switch to 3-4: Despite losing two veteran linebackers, Indiana employed more of the 3-4 alignment on defense this spring in an effort to capitalize on its athleticism. The switch allows the Hoosiers to rotate more players up front. Among the players to be featured in the 3-4 are Johnson, Bush, Damon Sims, Fred Jones and Adam Replogle, a big, athletic defender who moved from tackle to end this spring.

3. Receiving orders: Indiana entered the spring loaded at wide receiver, and the Hoosiers added more depth on the perimeter. First-team All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss turned in a stellar spring, and redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson worked his way into a rotation that also includes Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner. Junior Dre Muhammad also stepped up, as he and Wilson combined for 10 catches in the spring game.

Fall questions

1. The secondary: There were some bright spots this spring, like the play of redshirt freshman cornerback Lawrence Barnett, but the secondary is far from settled heading into the summer. Indiana loses two multi-year starters at safety as well as Ray Fisher, its top cover corner. Junior college transfer Lenyatta Kiles went through spring ball, and another juco corner, Andre Kates, arrives for preseason camp. It will be interesting to see where those two fit in and whether Jerimy Finch finally blossoms at safety.

2. Run game: The pistol formation was supposed to ignite Indiana's rushing attack, but it hasn't happened yet. And while there's little doubt the Hoosiers can light up defenses through the air, their running game is a major question mark. Darius Willis shows flashes but struggles to stay on the field because of ankle problems. Indiana needs a strong camp from Willis and continued production from other backs like Antonio Banks, who had a nice spring.

3. Offensive line: Indiana must replace arguably the Big Ten's most underrated player in left tackle Rodger Saffold, who nearly worked his way into the first round of April's NFL draft (he was the first pick of the second round). Junior Andrew McDonald is Saffold's projected successor, but other players are in the mix, including starting guard Justin Pagan. The Hoosiers also must replace veteran guard Pete Saxon, so building chemistry will be key in preseason camp.
Spring practice is in the books around the Big Ten, and before we take an in-depth look at the last seven weeks, it's time for a new installment of the power rankings. I know you missed them.

There's still clear separation at the top of the Big Ten with Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Same goes for the bottom of the league with Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, although those three are about even. The middle of the conference, not surprisingly, is a bit muddled. There's not much movement from the last rundown, but a few things I saw this spring prompted changes.

Enjoy!

1. Ohio State: It was business as usual this spring for the Buckeyes, who are used to lofty expectations and boast experience on both sides of the ball. The offense rebounded nicely in the spring game after setting off alarm bells in the jersey scrimmage. Cameron Heyward leads a talented defense that found some answers along the line and at linebacker.

2. Iowa: Aside from a bunch of banged-up running backs, Iowa had a very solid spring. A very good defensive line got better, players stepped up at linebacker, quarterback Ricky Stanzi worked on his interceptions and the offensive line saw some separation occur. Like Ohio State, Iowa has veterans who can handle the high expectations this fall.

3. Wisconsin: Not surprisingly, spring ball seemed quiet in Madison, as Wisconsin returned plenty of starters on both sides of the ball. A knee injury to backup quarterback Curt Phillips was the big negative, while the defensive line made strides and the secondary finished strong. Injuries prevented the offensive line from truly coming together.

T-4 Michigan State: The Spartans move into a tie with Penn State after a very solid spring. Quarterback Kirk Cousins made strides and should have a ton of weapons at his disposal this fall. A greater emphasis on the 3-4 defense seems to suit Greg Jones and his teammates. Offensive line, secondary and kicker are the big question marks entering the fall.

T-4 Penn State: The Blue-White Game set off alarm bells for many folks, as quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin struggled behind a shuffled offensive line. But I still give Penn State the benefit of the doubt. The Lions always will be very good on defense, and if they can move the ball with running back Evan Royster, they'll buy some time for a young quarterback to get settled.

6. Northwestern: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald called this the healthiest spring his team has gone through, a good sign after a rough season on the injury front in 2009. Quarterback Dan Persa embraced a leadership role, and the defensive front seven turned in a solid spring. Running back and the secondary are the big unknowns.

7. Michigan: A pivotal season for the Maize and Blue could come down to Denard Robinson and an improved offensive line. If Robinson builds off a strong spring, wins the starting quarterback job and gets some room to roam, Michigan should score plenty of points this fall. There's still a lot of work to do on defense and especially in the kicking game.

8. Purdue: The injury bug hit Purdue very hard this spring, as the Boilers practiced without 20 players and 10 starters during one stretch and had to postpone two practices because of all the health issues. Running back Ralph Bolden's torn ACL was the Big Ten's most significant spring setback, though Purdue is holding out hope that he can return this fall. Quarterback Robert Marve was a big bright spot for the Boilers this spring.

9. Minnesota: Quarterback Adam Weber answered the challenge this spring and likely will retain his job as the starter. Minnesota also saw growth from the offensive line, and new coordinator Jeff Horton and his simplified scheme clicked well with the players. The Gophers had some setbacks on defense, including safety Kim Royston's broken leg, and still have to replace replace a whopping nine starters.

10. Illinois: The Illini still have a long way to go, but players responded well to new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning this spring. Illinois has enough talent at the skill positions, and it built some depth along the defensive line during spring ball. The young quarterbacks had their ups and downs, but Nathan Scheelhaase looked impressive for most of the session.

11. Indiana: This isn't so much a knock against the Hoosiers as it is a wait-and-see approach, especially regarding the defense. Indiana will pass the football very well this fall, but two things still concern me about this team: its struggles with the run game, and whether a chronically poor defense can replace key contributors like Jammie Kirlew and Matt Mayberry. If the Hoosiers can meet those two challenges, they should surprise a lot of folks this fall.
Few position groups in the Big Ten, if not the country, lose more production than Indiana does at defensive end.

The Hoosiers say goodbye to Jammie Kirlew, an All-Big Ten selection in each of the past two seasons who finished his IU career with 52.5 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 220 tackles. Also moving on is Greg Middleton, the 2007 national sacks leader who recorded 23 career sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss.

I'm no math whiz, but 46 sacks and 83 tackles for loss seems awfully tough to replace.

Which is why Joe Palcic's next statement comes as such a big surprise.

"There are a couple of defensive ends that haven't played much ball that are going to make a lot of people forget about Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton," said Palcic, the Hoosiers' co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. "In a matter of minutes."

That's some pretty high praise, but who are these future stars for IU?

Darius Johnson steps into a featured role after playing just three games last fall because of a shoulder injury. The 6-foot, 255-pound Johnson, a converted linebacker, appeared in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2008. He's a redshirt junior but could earn a sixth year of eligibility because of the injury.

Indiana also will turn to Kevin Bush, a 24-year-old redshirt sophomore walk-on who spent a season at Toledo before serving three-and-a-half years in the U.S. military. Bush sat out the 2009 season, in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, but earned scout team player of the week honors five times and will be in the mix for a starting job this fall.

Both Johnson and Bush are linebacker-end hybrid types with above average speed.

"They're exciting players," Palcic said. "They have great athleticism, they have great toughness. They're a little bit undersized, like Kirlew was, but they both have three more years to play.

"I'm telling you, they're both going to end up being better than Jammie Kirlew."

Pressure's on.
If Indiana's defense finally turns the corner this season, the Replogle family figures to play a key role.

Hoosiers senior Tyler Replogle is the defense's undisputed leader, not to mention the only returning starter at linebacker. His younger brother Adam was IU's only true freshman to see the field last season and will be a factor on a new-look defensive line.

More help is on the way, as linebacker Mike Replogle already has given Indiana a verbal commitment for 2011. And there's an even younger Replogle who plays defense, Jake, a freshman linebacker at Centerville (Ohio) High School.

"I'm sure he'd love to come here, too," Tyler Replogle said of Jake. "It worked out really well, pretty much a dream come true, growing up, playing together in high school, and then getting another chance to play together in college. It's just been a real dream."

Tyler started nine games at strong-side linebacker last fall and finished second on the team with 80 tackles (61 solo), including 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. As Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson depart, he steps into the featured role at linebacker this fall.

"There's no question he's the leader of our defense," head coach Bill Lynch said. "He's everything you're looking for in a Big Ten football player. He's tough, he's aggressive, he's a great leader, a great student, has a passion for the game. He's played a lot of football for us, so the guys kind of rally around him."

Co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic calls Replogle "one of the toughest kids we've ever been around."

"He's not flashy," Palcic said. "You look at him on the field, he looks sort of average, but he has great smarts and great toughness."

Indiana has transitioned to a 3-4 defensive alignment this spring, a change Tyler Replogle welcomes. He said the alignment helps the line better disguise blitzes and frees up himself and the other linebackers to make more plays.

Although Replogle still plays on the strong side, he lines up inside when the defense goes to the 3-4.

"It gives us a lot more flexibility," he said. "We're blitzing a lot more, obviously, since we're sometimes sending one, maybe two linebackers. It allows us to get pressure on the quarterback, drop back in coverage, and frees up the other linebackers [to stop] the run."

Adam Replogle started the final 11 games last fall at defensive tackle and recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss. He also showed his versatility by playing fullback in Indiana's final three games.

Replogle has continued to make progress this spring and recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss in Saturday's scrimmage. Despite his size (6-3, 290) and experience at tackle, Replogle moved to defensive end this week and could fill in there as IU loses two multiyear starters (Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton).

Palcic said Adam is the superior athlete between the brothers, but both will play big roles if Indiana plans to end its defensive struggles, which have lasted for more than a decade.

"We're very fortunate to have both of them," Lynch said.
Anyone who watched Indiana in 2009 could see the obvious improvement that took place in Bloomington. The Hoosiers had a more dynamic offense and good speed on both sides of the ball. But once again, progress didn't translate into a better record, as IU couldn't finish off potential victories against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State. Fourth-year head coach Bill Lynch will be on the hot seat entering 2010, and he'll need to see his team make more strides on the field, particularly on defense, and most important, in the win column this fall.

[+] EnlargeBill Lynch
AJ Mast/Icon SMIAfter losing seven starters on defense, Bill Lynch's staff has it's work cut out on that side of the ball.
Indiana kicks off spring ball a week from today, and I recently caught up with Lynch to preview the spring.

You were so close in so many games last year. Is there any way to build off that as you hit the field again?

Bill Lynch: I certainly think so. I've seen it throughout the winter program. We're building off what we did in the fall, and I've certainly seen good leadership, good gains in the weight room. We've got a great attitude going into the spring. Obviously, we've got two different kinds of teams. We've got great experience on offense. Certainly our skill position guys are back and healthier than they were a year ago. Offensive line, we lost a couple guys, but we've got some good young guys that have been waiting their turn. Defense is a bunch of young guys that are really anxious to go, some kids who have redshirted and we feel are very talented, guys that haven't played but who we think are going to be really good football players for us. So it will be fun to watch them get out and go. It's going to be a fun spring that way. I like what we're doing from an X's and O's standpoint. We just have to get better at it right now.

You mention the defense and I know you lose a lot [seven starters] on that side. As a head coach, I know you're an overseer, but will you spend more time with the defense this spring?

BL: I don't think my personal time will be spent any more [with the defense]. We'll certainly do a great job of evaluating the kids. We've got to do more of it this spring than we've done in the last couple [of years], in terms of being very accurate in our grading and what we do in the spring with personnel, particularly on the defensive side. When you get out of the spring, you want to have a pretty good idea of your two-deep going into the fall. Now things can change and other kids can have great summers, but you have to have a starting point. In the spring, you give a lot of guys opportunities and see where it shakes itself out. But going into the fall, you have to have a pretty good idea.

So, would you like to know your depth chart on defense coming out of the spring?

BL: Yeah, I think so. I've always felt like you'd like to come out of the spring knowing who your top 50 football players are. That's not to say you're not going to tweak some things over the summer before they get here in August, but it's important, not only offense and defense, but it gives you a great idea of how you'd like to start out with your special teams.

You mentioned the anxiousness of young players on defense to get out there. Who are some of the guys you're looking forward to seeing this spring?

BL: I'll start at defensive end, because [Jammie] Kirlew and [Greg] Middleton played so much. Darius Johnson and Javon Cornley. We've got a guy named Kevin Bush, an older guy, really, but he's had a great fall and winter. He was a walk-on who was in the military and came back to school. And then Fred Jones, Eric Thomas are guys who have been in our program that are good football players. They've been waiting their turn to really go in and compete. At linebacker, it's more of a young group, but Damon Sims and D.J. Carr-Watson and Griffen Dahlstrom and Chad Sherer are all kids that are looking forward to showing what they can do because [Matt] Mayberry and [Will] Patterson and [Justin] Carrington and some of those guys that played so much [are gone]. We've got a JC kid in Jeff Thomas from Northern California; we like what we've seen from him in the winter, so I'm anxious to see him on the field. He's an inside [linebacker]. And then in the secondary, it's wide open. [Austin] Thomas and [Nick] Polk played so much, and then [Ray] Fisher played last year. There are some guys there that have had good winters because they know it's going to be very competitive, and this is their opportunity.

I'm sure you have a good idea of your leaders on offense, but who steps into those roles on defense?

Lynch: There are a couple guys who are great leaders on that side. Tyler Replogle is as good as you're going to find, and Mitchell Evans is the same way, and we're moving Mitchell from offense to defense. So it starts there with those two guys. But all our [defensive] tackles played a lot of football for us last year, so we have good experience there. Evans certainly will give us some stability in the back end there because he's played so much football, even though it hasn't all been on defense.
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

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, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Anderson Russell, Ian Thomas, Riley Reiff, Mitchell Evans, Arby Fields, Joe Palcic, Randy Walker, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Navorro Bowman, Clay Nurse, Paul Jones, David Gilbert, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Louis Nzegwu, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Martez Wilson, Nate Stupar, Tim Brewster, Robert Marve, Darius Johnson, Evan Watkins, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Rich Rodriguez, Albert Evans, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, Michael Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Jeff Horton, Kyle Jefferson, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Jacob Charest, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Dan Herron, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Tyler Nielsen, Brandon Graham, Jeff Tarpinian, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Mike Trumpy, Niles Brinkley, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Shaun Prater, Nathan Scheelhaase, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Bani Gbadyu, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Kurt Coleman, Scott Concannon, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Mike Kafka, Greg Jones, Julian Vandervelde, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, O\'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Jordan Hall, Terrance Thomas, Paul Petrino, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, Gary Emanuel, 2010 spring what to watch

The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 20

Jammie Kirlew, DE, Indiana, Sr., 6-3, 259

Preseason rank: 19

Why he's here: Kirlew might be the most anonymous back-to-back all-conference selection in the country. Sure, he plays for Indiana, which isn't known for its defense, but few defensive linemen in the country have been more productive since the start of the 2008 season. Kirlew finished seventh in the Big Ten in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (15.5) after ranking second and third in the league in 2008. He also finished second in the league in both forced fumbles (5) and fumbles recovered (3) this season. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection after earning first-team all-league honors from the media in 2008.

After appearing in 48 career games and starting 41, Kirlew wound up with 220 career tackles, including 52.5 for loss and 23 sacks, to go along with nine forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. The productive linemen should have a future in the NFL and most likely will be drafted in the later rounds in April.

The rundown
Despite another disappointing record (4-8) in 2009, Indiana finished the season with several reasons to believe things will get better soon.

Those reasons could be found in Indiana's offensive meeting room.

[+] EnlargeMitchell Evans
AJ Mast/Icon SMIMitchell Evans is one of several players who lined up on offense last season but could be on defense in 2010.
From quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to running back Darius Willis, Indiana boasted plenty of weapons to attack its opponents. And for the most part, they're all coming back in 2010, as the Hoosiers lose only three offensive starters, two of whom played on the line.

But offensive firepower rarely is the problem at Indiana. Defensive struggles have doomed the Hoosiers for the last decade, as they finished no better than 71st nationally since 2000. Despite a veteran-laden unit in 2009, Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.5 points per game), ninth against the pass (241.9 yards per game), ninth against the run (159.1 ypg) and 10th in total yards allowed (401 ypg).

The Hoosiers also lose seven starters on defense, including All-Big Ten end Jammie Kirlew, former national sacks leader Greg Middleton, standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry and three-fourths of the secondary. Even if IU lights up the scoreboard in 2010, it could have major problems stopping anyone on defense.

That's why head coach Bill Lynch plans to move several offensive players to defense, including versatile wide receiver Mitchell Evans.

Recruited as a quarterback and a safety, Evans began his college career at safety, moved to quarterback for preseason camp in 2008 and eventually switched to wide receiver. He ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, but he was perhaps best known for being the trigger man on the Wildcat offense, or, as Indiana folks called it, the Wild-Mitch. Evans took 69 snaps in the Wild-Mitch and rushed for 131 yards on 32 attempts.

This fall, Evans will be patrolling the secondary as a safety.

"He played safety for us as a true freshman," Lynch told me last week. "We're looking at some other guys that we may move to compete at corner and see how they do, knowing that they could go back to offense if it didn't work out."

Last year, wide receiver Ray Fisher moved to cornerback and became Indiana's top cover man. Fisher still contributed on kick returns, recording two runbacks for touchdowns. Evans also could maintain a role on offense, even though he'd be primarily a defensive player.

"He's the kind of kid that could [play both ways]," Lynch said. "It takes a mature guy that's a quick learner and doesn't need a lot of reps, and he's one of those kinds of guys. He's very unique that way."

Wide receiver Matt Ernest, who played safety in high school, also will switch over to defense for 2010. Indiana expects two junior college players, Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles, to fill in at cornerback.

"We don't want to count on freshmen coming in and doing it," Lynch said. "Kates and Kiles will compete right away, and then the next step is some of the guys we're going to move this spring."
College football all-star season is nearly upon us, as ESPN's Scouts Inc. is covering all of the preparations for Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in Orlando.

Don't forget about the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge, to be played Feb. 6 at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas. As its title suggests, the game pits all-stars hailing from Texas against those from around the country.

Eight Big Ten players are scheduled to participate in the game, all for the Nation squad.

They are:

  • Penn State CB A.J. Wallace (also listed as a return man)
  • Ohio State K Aaron Pettrey
  • Indiana S Nick Polk
  • Minnesota LB Simoni Lawrence
  • Minnesota LB Nate Triplett
  • Penn State LB Josh Hull
  • Indiana DE Jammie Kirlew
  • Penn State OL Dennis Landolt

The full game rosters can be found here.

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
11:43
AM ET
National Signing Day is right around the corner, and Big Ten teams will look to add depth and identify a few immediate contributors in the upcoming recruiting classes. What do these squads need the most?

Here's a look:

ILLINOIS

Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.

Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.

INDIANA

Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.

Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.

Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.

IOWA

Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.

Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.

Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.

Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.

MICHIGAN STATE

Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.

Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.

Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.

MINNESOTA

Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.

Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.

Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.

NORTHWESTERN

Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.

Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.

OHIO STATE

Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.

Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.

PENN STATE

Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.

Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.

Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.

PURDUE

Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.

Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.

Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.

WISCONSIN

Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.

Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine should be available soon, but Sporting News has compiled a preliminary roster, which includes 33 players from the Big Ten. This list DOES NOT include juniors who have declared for the draft and will be updated with underclassmen and other seniors.

The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield

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