Big Ten: Jay Cutler
Six Big Ten players heard their names called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, the league's largest first-round contingent since 2007, when it also had six selections. All six players played line in the Big Ten, including five on the defensive front.
New Big Ten member Nebraska also had a first-round pick in cornerback Prince Amukamara, who went No. 19 overall to the New York Giants, whose fans actually seemed pleased to land one of the nation's top defensive backs. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has now coached a defender drafted in the top-20 in each of the past five seasons.
Let's take a quick look at the Big Ten's first-round picks.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin, 6-5, 290
Pick: No. 11 overall
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I know Mario Williams is a great defensive end. I can't wait to play on the same defensive line as him because he makes everyone around him look good. Hopefully I am there to take some blocks off him, as well. Wade Phillips has a great defense. I am ready to get to work." -- J.J. Watt
My quick take: As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Watt, whose evolution from MAC tight end to Wisconsin All-American to first-round pick is extraordinary. He can play either line position and benefits from entering a group that already has a star in Williams. He should flourish in a 3-4 defense, and while he might not record ridiculous sack totals, he helps a team in so many ways.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue, 6-4, 267
Pick: No. 16
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "He's big enough, he’s strong enough, he’s played in the three-point stance before. He can go inside, outside. He’s used to playing with his hand down, so it’s a big plus for us." -- Redskins coach Mike Shanahan
My quick take: Like Watt, Kerrigan should fit in nicely with a 3-4 defense with the Redskins. He brings a tireless work ethic and no drama to a team that has been very dysfunctional in recent years. A Big Ten coach told me Kerrigan and Watt were the league's only two players who required double teams throughout games, so while some knock Kerrigan's speed and athleticism, this guy will make plays for the Redskins.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois, 6-2, 298
Pick: No. 18
Team: San Diego Quotable: "We were looking for a guy who has an edge. He plays with a lot of passion. He's physical. He's one of those guys we thought could knock people back off the ball. We wanted to get a little more physical up front. We want to bring a little more presence to our front at the end position." -- Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye
My quick take: The Chargers had to be thrilled that Liuget was still available at No. 18. Some forecasted him as a top 10 pick and almost everyone, including Illinois teammate Jeff Allen, thought he wouldn't slip below St. Louis at No. 14. Liuget was the Big Ten's most disruptive interior lineman and fills a need for the Chargers on the interior line. San Diego gets a player who is blossoming and reaching his potential. A very nice pick.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, 6-2, 281
Pick: No. 20
Team: Tampa Bay
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: “He said he’s going to guide me the right way through this whole thing. It’s nice to have someone helping you that way." -- Clayborn on new teammate Gerald McCoy
My quick take: If Clayborn had entered the draft a year ago, there's no way he would have fallen to No. 20. And if he can reclaim the form he displayed in 2009, Tampa Bay will be thrilled with its newest addition. Clayborn can be a beast on the edge and should feed off McCoy on the inside. There are some concerns about Clayborn's Erb's Palsy, which limits his right arm, but the Iowa star showed impressive strength throughout his college career.
Gabe Carimi, LT, Wisconsin, 6-7, 314
Pick: No. 29
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I converted about 100 Packers fans to Bears fans. I cannot wait to play for [Bears offensive line coach] Mike Tice." -- Carimi, a native of Cottage Grove, Wis.
My quick take: I'm not just writing this because I'm a Bears fan, but this is a huge get for a team that desperately needs new blood along the offensive line. The Bears surrendered a league-high 56 sacks in 2010, and while it will take more than Carimi to ensure Jay Cutler's long-term safety, the Wisconsin star is an excellent start. Few thought Carimi would be available at No. 29, including the Bears, who tried to trade up to get him. Carimi proved himself against several of the nation's top defensive linemen, including both Kerrigan and Clayborn (and Watt in practice). Some viewed his Combine comments as cocky, but he's well prepared for what to expect in the NFL.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 294
Pick: No. 31
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I know he's watching. I'm going to try to do everything to make him proud of me and live his legacy on." -- Cameron Heyward, on his late father, Craig, who starred for the University of Pittsburgh before moving on to the NFL
My quick take: Heyward is a big-game performer who joins a team that plays quite a few big games. He starred as a junior against both USC and Penn State and saved his best for his last game, the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. Heyward won't be under a ton of pressure to be a star right away as Pittsburgh boasts a solid defensive front. He's extremely strong and gives the Steelers a big body who can play both outside or inside if needed.
OK, moving on to less depressing topics, like the Big Ten and Super Bowl XLIV.
Once again, the Big Ten has plenty of connections to the game, including 20 former players on the two teams, more than any other conference.
All 11 member schools will be represented by a player and/or coach participating in the game. Michigan has the highest number of former players (four), followed by Ohio State (three) and then six teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin -- each with two former players. Penn State and Minnesota will have former coaches on the sideline Sunday.
Both head coaches have Big Ten roots, as the Colts' Jim Caldwell played at Iowa and served as an assistant at Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. The Saints' Sean Payton had a one-year stint as an Illinois assistant in 1996.
Here's the full lineup of Big Ten links to Super Bowl XLIV, courtesy of the league office:
Kelvin Hayden, DB, Illinois
Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
Bob Sanders*, DB, Iowa
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Marlin Jackson*, DB, Michigan
Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
John Gill, DL, Northwestern
Anthony Gonzalez*, WR, Ohio State
Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Jim Sorgi*, QB, Wisconsin
Jim Caldwell, Head Coach (Played at Iowa from 1973-76; Assistant at Iowa in 1977, Northwestern in 1981 and Penn State from 1986-92)
Larry Coyer, Defensive Coordinator (Assistant at Iowa from 1974-77 and Ohio State from 1991-92)
Gene Huey, Running Backs (Assistant at Ohio State from 1988-91)
Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator (Played at Iowa from 1957-60; Assistant at Iowa from 1961-62 and Minnesota from 1972-73 and 1975-76)
Ray Rychleski, Special Teams (Assistant at Penn State in 1991)
Bill Teerlinck, Defensive Assistant (Assistant at Indiana from 2003-04)
John Teerlinck, Defensive Line (Assistant at Illinois from 1980-82)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Pierre Thomas, RB, Illinois
Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Courtney Roby, WR, Indiana
Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Zach Strief, OT, Northwestern
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Wisconsin
Sean Payton, Head Coach (Assistant at Illinois in 1996)
Greg McMahon, Special Teams (Assistant at Minnesota from 1983-84 and Illinois from 1992-2004)
Bret Ingalls, Running Backs (Assistant at Northwestern from 2006-08)
Aaron Kromer, Offensive Line/Running Game (Assistant at Northwestern from 1999-2000)
Mike Mallory, Assistant Special Teams (Played at Michigan from 1982-85; Assistant at Indiana from 1986-87 and Illinois from 2001-05)
Terry Malone, Tight Ends (Assistant at Michigan from 1997-2005)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin went through a full-pads practice Thursday afternoon at the McClain Center, and I was there for almost the entire workout (had to step out to interview Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman, and a friend called informing me the Bears had traded for Jay Cutler, woo hoo!).
All four candidates for the Badgers' starting quarterback spot got plenty of work, as did an improved wide receiver corps led by Kyle Jefferson and Nick Toon, the son of former NFL star and Badgers great Al Toon. The younger Toon has been one of Wisconsin's spring standouts, and he didn't disappoint today, hauling in several receptions. He also nearly made a circus catch, only to cough up the ball to safety Aubrey Pleasant for a turnover.
"It's growing pains," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "Nick has a big-time play and then puts the ball on the ground. Is that a good thing? Yeah, he got there, made it, got big, but bad that he didn't finish. So shoot, that's spring ball."
Here are some other observations from the Badgers' workout:
- Everyone wants to hear about the quarterbacks, so here goes. All four are receiving about equal reps, but I'd give a slight edge to fifth-year senior Dustin Sherer, who looks more comfortable with his throws and moving in the pocket. Sherer has shortened his throwing motion and found Toon for several completions. He also threaded the needle to tight end Garrett Graham midway through team drills.
- From talking with several Wisconsin beat writers, Scott Tolzien had arguably his best practice of the spring, hitting several different receivers, including David Gilreath on a deep ball. Tolzien also found Toon for a leaping grab toward the end of practice.
- Curt Phillips, who wore No. 19 instead of his usual No. 10 because his jersey was reportedly "too tight," has an unorthodox throwing motion but gets the job done most of the time. He seems to shot-put the ball, but he connected on several nice throws, including a deep fade route to Isaac Anderson. Phillips also is clearly the most athletic of the four candidates, and his scrambling ability should help his cause.
- Freshman Jon Budmayr didn't have his best practice, from what I was told, but he still showed why people are buzzing about him this spring. Budmayr isn't very big -- generously listed at 6-foot-1 -- but he's got a very live arm. Not surprisingly, the Illinois native is a Rex Grossman fan but seemed excited about the Bears acquiring Cutler. Budmayr might not win the starting job this year, but he'll be on the field soon. There were some growing pains for Budmayr, including an interception to linebacker Tony Megna.
- Chryst and head coach Bret Bielema want to narrow the quarterback pool to two by the end of the spring. I'd be stunned if Sherer isn't one of them, but the other spot is unclear.
- The Badgers wide receivers are much, much better, which isn't saying much after last year. They caught the first six passes during team drills, an excellent sign after been plagued by drops in 2008. Toon and Jefferson look like the top two wideouts, though Anderson and Gilreath also had their moments. The wideouts caught several deep balls and more important, the intermediate routes over the middle. Tight end Graham looked to be in All-Big Ten form Thursday, but this team needs the wideouts to step up.
- The first-team defensive line consisted of senior O'Brien Schofield and Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt at the ends and seniors Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore at tackles. Moore, a converted end, looks undersized at the tackle spot, but Wisconsin might need to go that route after losing three starters.
- Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren came over to chat briefly during the water break. Doeren is working with a pretty green linebacker corps but likes the development of junior Culmer St. Jean. He seemed most excited about Watt, whom he called "a beast" and a future star along the defensive line.
- Why is weight always an issue with Wisconsin running backs? P.J. Hill isn't around any longer, but John Clay will need to manage his size as the season nears. Clay apparently eclipsed 250 pounds last season and is listed this spring at 247 pounds but looks bigger. The sophomore can be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten next fall, but he'll be at his best closer to 235-240 pounds.
- Former Badgers coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez stopped by the practice for a few minutes to chat with Bielema. Alvarez showed off his speed as Toon nearly took him out after catching an out route near the sideline.
- Hard-hitting safety Jay Valai, who underwent sports hernia surgery during the offseason, was held out of most contact drills. You can see it's killing him not being able to crush somebody.
- Defensive end Louis Nzegwu was on crutches Thursday after tearing his MCL at the end of Tuesday's workout. Bielema said Nzegwu, who had been coming along nicely this spring, will miss 6-8 weeks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota's extensive search for an offensive coordinator ended today as head coach Tim Brewster hired Jedd Fisch.
Fisch spent the last eight seasons in the NFL, most recently as wide receivers coach with the Denver Broncos. He interviewed Monday for the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator vacancy and likely would have been on other teams' radar if he didn't accept Brewster's offer to join the Golden Gophers.
"Jedd possesses a vast understanding of offensive football and has worked alongside three outstanding football coaches in the National Football League, as well as working with Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida," Brewster said in a statement. "In addition to his background, Jedd has tremendous people skills and will be an excellent recruiter. He is a young, rising star in the profession who is committed to helping us build a winner here at Minnesota. I could not be more excited that he has agreed to join our staff."
Fisch, who replaces Mike Dunbar as Gophers' offensive coordinator, said in a statement that he has known Brewster, a former NFL assistant, for seven years and expects to help Minnesota win its first Big Ten title since 1967. The 32-year-old Fisch last coached in college as a graduate assistant at Florida from 1999-2000.
The Gophers started 7-1 this season before dropping their final five games. They finished last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg), prompting Brewster to hire offensive line coach/run game coordinator Tim Davis to restore Minnesota's reputation as a power run team.