Big Ten: Jared Crank

Several Big Ten players who didn't hear their names called in New York during the weekend still received some good news about their football futures. As soon as the NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent scramble began.

Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.

ILLINOIS
IOWA
MICHIGAN
MICHIGAN STATE
MINNESOTA
NEBRASKA
NORTHWESTERN
OHIO STATE
PENN STATE
PURDUE
WISCONSIN

Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.

Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).
Here's a look at three keys for Purdue during Tuesday's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl matchup against Western Michigan in Detroit.

1. Establish the run without Bolden: Boilers leading rusher Ralph Bolden is out (torn ACL), but the team has other backs capable of attacking a Western Michigan defense ranked 107th nationally against the run. Akeem Shavers will be Purdue's primary ball carrier, and Jared Crank and Reggie Pegram also should get some touches. Purdue needs to take the pressure off of its quarterbacks and consistently move the chains against the Broncos. One potential problem area is the red zone, where Western Michigan plays its best defense (sixth nationally at 70 percent scoring conversions). Purdue has scored touchdowns on 30 of its 47 red zone opportunities, so the Bolden-less backfield must cash in when opportunities arise.

2. Contain Jordan White: The Western Michigan senior receiver leads the nation in both receptions per game (10.58) and receiving yards per game (137.2). White will be a factor, and quarterback Alex Carder will get him the ball, but Purdue must prevent the Broncos star from taking over the game. Boilers sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen has covered several other standout receivers this season -- Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Illinois' A.J. Jenkins among them -- and will be assigned to White for most of the game. Allen's aggressive style could result in big plays for Purdue or for Western Michigan, but he's the type of corner you want against a talent like White.

3. Gain the edge on special teams: Purdue's season has been largely defined by special-teams plays, both the good and the bad. A blocked kick has both cost Purdue a chance at victory (against Rice) and preserved a chance for an eventual win (against Ohio State). The Boilers need strong performances from specialists Carson Wiggs and Cody Webster in kicker-friendly Ford Field, and they must avoid breakdowns against Western Michigan, which has been solid on both punt returns and kick returns this season. If Wiggs converts some lengthy field goals, Webster puts Western Michigan in tough field-position situations and Raheem Mostert breaks off a long return or two, Purdue will be in good shape in what should be a close game.

Purdue offense must adjust again

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
1:00
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Gary Nord's Christmas wish list is pretty short.

It contains one item: A season without major injuries to Purdue's key offensive players.

"I'd love to have that," Nord, the Boilers' third-year offensive coordinator, told ESPN.com this week. "I'm beginning to think that may never happen. I'm beginning to get a bit paranoid."

Paranoid but not panicky.

Nord and the Boilers have received zero luck on the injury front the past two seasons. Nada. Zilch.

[+] EnlargePurdue's Akeem Shavers
Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIREAkeem Shavers will see an increased role in Purdue's bowl game as the Boilermakers play without Ralph Bolden.
In 2010, Purdue played most or all of the season without its top quarterback, top running back and top wide receiver. Weeks before this season's opener against Middle Tennessee, projected starting quarterback Rob Henry tore his ACL during a noncontact play in practice. Quarterback Robert Marve, who has suffered two ACL tears since arriving at Purdue, wasn't ready for the opener because of lingering knee soreness. So Caleb TerBush, academically ineligible for the 2010 campaign, moved into the starting role.

While the injury bug didn't strike as hard during the season, two starting offensive linemen (Justin Kitchens and Peters Drey) went down. Then, in the regular-season finale, top running back Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL, his second at Purdue and his third since his senior year of high school.

Bolden's injury puts Nord and the Boilers in an all-too familiar position heading into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan on Dec. 27.

The silver lining: Nord and his staff know how to make adjustments.

"He was probably our fastest guy, so we've lost tremendous speed," Nord said of Bolden. "He was also our best blocking back and he caught the ball out of the backfield very well. When you lose your leading rusher, it's never a good thing. The only bright side is if we had to lose anyone, we have more depth at the running back position than any position on our football team."

While Bolden leads Purdue in both carries (148) and rush yards (674), several other backs have contributed. Akeem Shavers is tied with Bolden for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (6), and seven players have recorded 17 or more carries.

Nord said Shavers will move into Bolden's role. Reggie Pegram and Jared Crank both should see their carries load increase in the bowl game.

Like Bolden, the 5-11, 203-pound Shavers boasts good speed, can catch the ball out of the backfield and has improved his blocking.

"I never really called the game any different when one was in versus the other one," Nord said. "A lot of times I didn’t know which one was in there because they'd roll in and out. If we didn't have Shavers, we would be a little more concerned."

Western Michigan struggles to defend the run (107th nationally), but has been stout in the red zone, tying for sixth nationally (70 percent scoring chances allowed). Bigger backs like Crank and Pegram could be key for Purdue in goal-line situations.

Nord plans to play both TerBush and Marve at quarterback, as he did for most of Big Ten play. While TerBush's ability to stay healthy has provided Purdue some much-needed continuity at quarterback, the offense, like the team, has been up and down.

"This is my third season here, and I've not had a guy started for us in spring that started for us in the fall," Nord said. "To give the offense a legit chance to be as productive as we would like to be, you need to have some continuity from the spring to the fall at quarterback spot.

"Hopefully, we can have that next spring."
You've asked for it and you've been very patient, so here it is. The Big Ten All-Name team.

Who doesn't love a good name? And there are some very strong candidates around the Big Ten this season.

The only criteria, besides having an awesome name, is a player must be on a Big Ten roster entering the 2011 season. Incoming freshmen are eligible. Names that could have a football connotation help your cause.

Let's do this ...

Coach: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

OFFENSE

QB: Moses Alipate, Minnesota
RB: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
RB: Mika'il McCall, Iowa
FB: Jared Crank, Purdue
OL: Fou Fonoti, Michigan State
OL: Jack De Boef, Purdue
OL: Rocko Khoury, Michigan
OL: Seung Hoon Choi, Nebraska
OL: Riki Kodanko, Wisconsin
WR: Fritz Rock, Illinois
WR: Xzavian Brandon, Minnesota
WR: Tariq Tongue, Penn State
WR: Nick Toon, Wisconsin
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State

DEFENSE

DL: DeJazz Woods, Illlinois
DL:
Kyle Baublitz, Penn State
DL: Wisdom Onyegbule, Illinois
DL:
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
LB: Storm Klein, Ohio State
LB: Coddye Ring-Noonan, Wisconsin
LB:
Kaulana Judd, Purdue
DB: Miami Thomas, Illinois
DB: John Lowdermilk, Iowa
DB: Peniel Jean, Wisconsin
DB: Shady Salamon, Minnesota

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Alex Butterworth, Penn State
K: Carson Wiggs, Purdue

PRACTICE SQUAD
  • Zepheniah Grimes, LB, Illinois
  • Griffen Dahlstrom, LB, Indiana
  • Curenski Gilleylen, WR, Nebraska
  • Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
  • Caleb TerBush, QB, Purdue
  • Takudzwa Kubvoruno, WR, Michigan State
  • Dakota Getz, LB, Iowa
  • Darius Millines, WR, Illinois
  • Dusty Kiel, QB, Indiana
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • DeOn'tae Pannell, OL, Penn State
  • Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State
  • Sahr Ngekia, TE, Minnesota
  • Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
  • Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
  • Nick Stoner, DB, Indiana (nod to Adam's hometown of Berkeley, Calif.)
  • Marlandez Harris, DL, Indiana
  • Logan Link, DB, Purdue
  • Stone Pinckney, LB, Northwestern

Notes from Purdue's scrimmage

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
8:19
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- I picked a good day to make the drive south to Purdue, which held its Steak and Beans spring scrimmage Friday inside the Mollenkopf Center. The defense prevailed, winning the right to dine on steak, while the offense was stuck with the beans.

Some notes and observations:
  • A lot of big plays on both sides of the ball, so it's fitting that one clinched the scrimmage victory for the defense. After Rob Henry and the first-team offense scored several touchdowns, safety Albert Evans put a huge hit on running back Akeem Shavers, forcing a fumble that linebacker Joe Holland recovered. The sideline went nuts after Evans' hit, and for good reason.
  • Although Purdue's offense lost a scrimmage for the first time this spring, Henry had a strong day at quarterback. He had a 53-yard touchdown run early in the scrimmage and threw three touchdown passes to Antavian Edison. The sophomore finished the scrimmage 11-for-15 for 129 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
  • Henry's performance continued a very strong spring. Coach Danny Hope told me Henry is the team's most improved player and the clear No. 1 quarterback right now. Robert Marve still should be a factor in the race -- Marve, recovering from knee surgery, didn't participate in Friday's scrimmage -- but Henry is creating some distance in the competition right now. He threw the ball well Friday, especially on post routes to Edison, who could be one of the Big Ten's more versatile offensive players. Purdue also can do more on offense with Henry, who runs the zone read and the option well.
  • Caleb TerBush had some good moments, too, and showed good leadership skills after Gary Bush dropped a perfectly thrown deep pass that should have been a touchdown. TerBush immediately went over to Bush with some encouraging words. On the next series, Bush out-jumped a defender for an underthrown TerBush pass and made the grab. TerBush had a few underthrown passes, one of which should have been intercepted.
  • Robert Maci and Ryan Russell worked as the first-team defensive ends for most of the scrimmage. Defensive end is a shaky spot for Purdue after Ryan Kerrigan's departure, and the Boilers need Gerald Gooden (sports hernia) to get healthy. The good news: Purdue should be very good at defensive tackle with Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston. Short and Gaston both penetrated the backfield several times Friday, and sophomore Ryan Isaac also had a nice day.
  • Cornerback Ricardo Allen is a lot of fun to watch. He's fast, aggressive and fearless, a good blend of traits for a young defensive back. He did a nice job snuffing out a reverse to Justin Siller. Allen should be one of the Big Ten's top corners in 2011 along with Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard, Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus, Iowa's Shaun Prater and Penn State's D'Anton Lynn.
  • Purdue's secondary should be a strength this fall as all four starters return. Starting cornerback Josh Johnson intercepted a Henry pass Friday, and reserve Jarrett Dieudonne had a pick-six against TerBush.
  • Top running back Ralph Bolden didn't participate in the scrimmage, although he could have as he's about a year removed from his torn ACL. Shavers ran hard and should add depth at running back, and Edison also should see time in the backfield. Jared Crank is a formidable fullback at 6-2, 232.

I'll have more on Hope and the Boilers next week, so stay tuned.
Purdue rushed for 203 yards in Saturday's win against Ball State, marking the first time the Boilers have recorded back-to-back 200-yard rushing games since the first two contests in 2005.

But that's not the amazing part.

Only 16 of those rushing yards came from a guy (Dan Dierking) who actually plays running back, although he's listed as a fullback on the team roster. The others came from two quarterbacks (Rob Henry and Robert Marve), a fullback (Jared Crank) and three receivers -- Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross and Justin Siller -- one of whom, Siller, used to play both quarterback and running back.

Such is life for the Big Ten's most banged-up program.

Purdue entered the season without its leading rusher from 2009, Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL this spring and underwent surgery in May. Backup Al-Terek McBurse had a toe injury that kept him out against Ball State. Dierking has been battling sore ribs and, according to coach Danny Hope, didn't take a single practice rep last week. Keith Carlos, a receiver converted to running back, is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot.

Hope said after the game that Edison, Ross and Siller ran the ball "strictly out of necessity." And Purdue still moved the ball on the ground, as Henry led the way with 65 rushing yards on 10 carries, followed by Edison (8 carries, 55 yards).

Dierking is getting healthier, but McBurse and Carlos likely will be held out of practice again this week. There's an outside chance they could play Saturday against Toledo, but Purdue likely needs to get creative again.

"There's still no telling who we're going to have available at the running back spot," Hope said Tuesday. "To reach [200 yards] with a new offensive line and a bunch of guys, most of them weren't running backs on our roster, is real credit to our offensive coaches. It was a real testament to our recruiting efforts paying off."

Purdue did get some good news on the injury front as Marve will be fine after sustaining a bruised knee in the first half against Ball State. He returned to the field after halftime but left again as the swelling and soreness increased.

"He'll be a little bit limited early in practice this week," Hope said, "but we feel like he's going to be OK for the game."
Purdue wrapped up spring practice Wednesday, and today the Boilermakers announced their awards for the spring session. It's interesting that both of Purdue's top quarterbacks, Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush, made the list. Perhaps the QB competition will go on longer than we think.

Each award lists one offensive player and one defensive player.

Without further ado ...

Most Improved Award: Quarterback Caleb TerBush and linebacker Dwayne Beckford

Newcomer Award (most progress in first spring practice at Purdue): Quarterback Robert Marve and linebacker Will Lucas

Pit Bull Award (player who exemplifies and sustains tenacity and intense play): Tight end Kyle Adams and defensive end Gerald Gooden

Hammer Award (top hitters): Fullback Jared Crank and safety Logan Link

Purdue players are scheduled to report for fall camp Aug. 6 and begin practicing Aug. 7.
Saturday was scrimmage day around the Big Ten, as teams from State College to Minneapolis engaged in several forms of game-like simulations. Though no Big Ten team has officially held a spring game -- five are on tap Saturday -- these scrimmages are often just as important, if not more so.

Nine of the 11 Big Ten teams provided media access and/or statistics from Saturday's scrimmages. Michigan's official Web site has some video and tidbits from Saturday's 115-play closed scrimmage, and Mgoblog has a few reports as well. Iowa's official site also has some video and interviews from Saturday's scrimmage.

Here are some tidbits from the other nine scrimmages, from reports around the league:

ILLINOIS

Illinois let its quarterbacks get hit Saturday, but the offense delivered most of the damage. Nathan Scheelhaase continued to make a strong case for the starting job with a 40-yard run, a 30-yard touchdown pass to Zach Becker and a 22-yard pass to A.J. Jenkins. Jacob Charest also remains very much alive in the QB race and connected on several long passes, including a 50-yarder to Jenkins. The running game also looked good as Mikel Leshoure had a 65-yard run. Cornerback Tavon Wilson provided a defensive highlight by picking off a Scheelhaase pass. It's encouraging to see this type of progress from Illinois' offense, which lost several key pieces from 2009 and returns virtually no experience at quarterback.

INDIANA

Defense is the primary focus for IU this spring, and the unit stepped up in Saturday's scrimmage, holding the offense to only one touchdown. Defensive tackle Adam Replogle recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss, and linebacker Jeff Thomas, a junior college transfer, forced a fumble. Safety Kyle Dietrick recorded the lone interception of the scrimmage. The Hoosiers continue to see good things from freshman running back Antonio Banks, who had 42 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday. The backup quarterback competition continued as Dusty Kiel recorded a touchdown pass and a 35-yard completion, while Edward Wright-Baker completed 8 of 10 pass attempts. Nick Zachery, who moved from safety to wide receiver just last week, had four catches for 46 yards.

MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans' defense rallied to win the jersey scrimmage as a secondary that struggled mightily last fall saw two players, Marcus Hyde and Mitchell White, return interceptions for touchdowns. Hyde picked off starter Kirk Cousins, while White intercepted an Andrew Maxwell pass and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker also had a big day with an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss. Michigan State's defense got a big lift from end Denzel Drone, who stuffed Edwin Baker on fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line to seal the win. Cousins completed 19 of 30 passes for 188 yards with two touchdowns, including a 30-yarder to Keith Nichol, and two interceptions. Maxwell, who played some with the first-team offense, threw for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wide receivers Keshawn Martin (12 catches, 109 yards), Bennie Fowler (nine catches, 84 yards, 48-yard rush) and Nichol (four catches, 70 yards) stood out.

(Read full post)

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