Big Ten: Jerome Hayes

My basketball responsibilities caused me to fall behind on monitoring pro days at Big Ten schools, but I'm back in football mode now. Four Big Ten schools -- Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Northwestern -- all held their annual pro days on Wednesday, and here are some highlights.

ILLINOIS

  • Wide receiver Arrelious Benn certainly helped himself by clocking a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, more than a tenth of a second faster than his time (4.48) at the NFL combine.
  • Wide receiver/tight end Jeff Cumberland clocked a 4.46 in the 40. Cumberland boasts excellent size, but his pass-catching ability has been questioned.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui ran a 4.83 in the 40.
  • Quarterback Juice Williams had his first chance to work out before NFL scouts, while guard Jon Asamoah sat out pro day with a shoulder injury that has limited him since Senior Bowl practice.
MICHIGAN STATE

  • Wide receiver Blair White continued a strong pre-draft performance by running the 40 in 4.46 seconds, improving on his time from the combine (4.5). He also recorded a 33.5-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet.
  • Defensive end Trevor Anderson ran a 4.66 in the 40, had a 37-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 7.5 inches.
  • According to The Detroit News, cornerback Jeremy Ware ran an unofficial time of 4.37 in the 40, while safety Danny Fortener, running back A.J. Jimmerson and cornerback Ross Weaver all ran better than a 4.5.
PENN STATE

  • Quarterback Daryll Clark said he clocked a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash after not running at the combine because of a hamstring injury.
  • Linebacker Navorro Bowman said his 40 time improved to 4.61 seconds (he had a 4.72 in Indy).
  • Linebacker Josh Hull improved substantially on his poor 40 time at the combine (4.91 seconds) by clocking a 4.71 on Wednesday.
  • Linebacker Sean Lee improved his 40 time from 4.74 seconds in Indianapolis to unofficially 4.55 Wednesday.
  • Defensive tackle Jared Odrick said he improved on his 40 time, recording several attempts below five seconds after clocking a 5.03 at the combine. He also improved on his broad jump.
  • Tight end Andrew Quarless said he ran the 40 in the 4.5 range Wednesday after recording a 4.69 in Indianapolis.
  • Tackle Dennis Landolt and defensive end/linebacker Jerome Hayes both said they had 24 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
  • Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli worked out for scouts Wednesday as he tries to revive his pro career.
NORTHWESTERN

  • Quarterback Mike Kafka continued a strong pre-draft performance on pro day, reportedly hitting on almost every throw.
  • Wide receiver Andrew Brewer recorded a 4.60 in the 40, a 39-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot broad jump and a short shuttle run of 4.08 seconds.
Two quick items before calling it a day.
  • My apologies for posting this a bit late, but Penn State defensive end Jerome Hayes, who battled injuries for much of his career, won't petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. Hayes will look toward the NFL after recording 18 tackles and a sack this season. The highly recruited Hayes suffered injuries to a foot and both knees at Penn State, though the Nittany Lions coaches were hoping he'd give it one more go-round.
  • Ohio State wide receiver Lamaar Thomas has confirmed he will seek a transfer. Thomas, used on returns but sparingly as a receiver, wants to play both running back and wideout at another school, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
12:00
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You don't know any stories? OK, I'll tell you a story.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier has an uncanny ability to keep plays alive with his feet, but Penn State's defensive front is doing a nice job keeping him grounded.

After a slow start, the Lions have turned up the heat on Forcier. Linebackers Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull both recorded sacks, and linemen Jared Odrick and Jerome Hayes are getting good penetration. Michigan's David Moosman has taken over at center for the injured David Molk.

The Lions lead 10-7 and have moved the ball well on Michigan, racking up 128 yards in the first quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Greetings from Columbus, my home for the next two days. I got an early start on my Big Ten chatter during the flight down, as I sat next to Scott Chipman, the league's assistant commissioner for communications.

The weather is beautiful and should remain that way through the game.

I'll be heading down to USC's walk-through at Ohio Stadium later this afternoon, so check back for updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Two days away.
Someone has to be the grownup for a team that undermined its skills last season with junior-high behavior that embarrassed a proud school, and if that someone cannot be Bielema, [Barry] Alvarez must look elsewhere for leadership to uphold UW standards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's Week 1 depth chart is out, and most of the familiar names are where they're supposed to be: quarterback Daryll Clark, running back Evan Royster, linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee and defensive tackle Jared Odrick.

There were a few notable items on the two-deep for Saturday's opener against Akron:
  • Juniors Graham Zug and Brett Brackett and sophomore Derek Moye are listed as the starters at the three wide receiver spots. Backups are Chaz Powell (Brackett), A.J. Price (Moye) and Patrick Mauti (Zug). Also, it was a bit surprising to see Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless listed as co-starters at tight end. Quarless is on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award.
  • Center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Dennis Landolt are no-surprise starters, but here's the rest of the revamped line: right tackle DeOn'tae Pannell, right guard Lou Eliades and left guard Matt Stankiewitch.
  • A lot of people will be rooting for fifth-year senior Jerome Hayes, who's listed as a starting defensive end opposite promising sophomore Jack Crawford. Hayes has had some terrible luck with knee injuries and gets one final chance to shine this fall.
  • Penn State's new-look secondary features Knowledge Timmons and D'Anton Lynn as the cornerbacks and Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay as the safeties. Timmons is listed ahead of senior A.J. Wallace, who likely will be suspended for the first game or two because of cutting class this summer.
  • Backup running back Stephfon Green and Powell will handle kickoff returns, while Astorino serves as the punt returner. Former star wide receiver Derrick Williams was a difference maker at both spots last year.
  • Junior Collin Wagner is listed as the starting place-kicker ahead of true freshman Anthony Fera.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

They're baaaaack. Many of you who checked out colleague Heather Dinich's ACC position rankings asked when I'd be doing the same for the Big Ten. Well, Big Ten media days are done and we have a bit of a break before the first preseason practice begins Aug. 6 at Illinois. This seems like the perfect time to rank the positions heading into the season.

Defensive line is up first. There's only one elite group on paper, but no truly bad units, either. Really not much difference between Nos. 4-11.  

1. Ohio State -- The group has drawn comparisons to the 2002 line that helped Ohio State win a national title. Ohio State looks loaded at defensive end with Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Lawrence Wilson, a one-time starter who comes off of two major leg injuries. Gibson should have a big year after coming on strong late last fall. The tackles have been a bit iffy in recent years, but Doug Worthington boasts a ton of experience and should shore up the middle with Todd Denlinger, Dexter Larimore and Garrett Goebel.

2. Penn State -- Larry Johnson's body of work is simply too powerful to overlook, even though Penn State loses a lot from a group that led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally against the run (93.2 ypg). Jared Odrick is the Big Ten's most dominant interior defensive lineman, and he'll lead a group of promising young players. Hopes are extremely high for sophomore end Jack Crawford, and juniors Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore hold down the other end spot. Depth is a bit of a question, but Penn State should get a boost from a healthy Jerome Hayes. 

3. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are another team dealing with major personnel losses as four-year starting tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. But what Iowa loses inside, it makes up for on the edges with ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Clayborn recorded eight tackles for loss last year and should contend for All-Big Ten honors. It'll be interesting to see how Karl Klug and Mike Daniels adjust to playing more on the inside.

4. Northwestern -- A lot depends on Corey Wootton's durability after the senior defensive end tore his ACL in December. Wootton is probably the Big Ten's most versatile lineman, applying pressure to quarterbacks and also clogging pass lanes with his 6-foot-7 frame. Sophomore Vince Browne is primed for a big season at the other end spot. Replacing standout tackle John Gill won't be easy, but the Wildcats have veterans in Corbin Bryant, Marshall Thomas and Adam Hahn.

5. Wisconsin -- I'm taking a bit of a chance here, seeing how the Badgers lose three multiyear starters up front. But the line dominated Wisconsin's offseason program and boasts several exciting pieces, including Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt, who can play either end or tackle. O'Brien Schofield is a solid leader at defensive end, and young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu should blossom.     

6. Illinois -- The Illini lose their top four sacks leaders from last year, but they should be much better against the run, an area that really hurt the defense in 2008. With Josh Brent back in the fold, Illinois boasts arguably more depth at defensive tackle than any Big Ten team. Corey Liguet showed a lot of potential as a true freshman, and senior Sirod Williams returns from a torn ACL.  There are some questions at end aside from Doug Pilcher.

7. Michigan -- Senior end Brandon Graham should be the Big Ten's most dominant pass-rusher this fall, and if he gets some help from his teammates, he'll be even better. Michigan is very young elsewhere on the line but boasts a good deal of talent. Sophomores Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin showed promising signs in the spring, and it'll be interesting to see how much true freshman William Campbell gets on the field. 

8. Michigan State -- This is the only area of Michigan State's defense that doesn't wow me, but senior end Trevor Anderson leads a decent group. Anderson should build off of a nice junior season (8 sacks, 10.5 TFLs), but the Spartans need a second pass-rusher to emerge. Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw will be missed, and it'll be up to Colin Neely, Oren Wilson and others to fill the void. 

9. Minnesota -- The Gophers tied for the league lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose standout end Willie VanDeSteeg, who accounted for 10.5 of those sacks. Minnesota's strength is inside with senior tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small. If Cedric McKinley or someone else develops into a reliable pass-rusher, Minnesota should finish the year higher on the list.

10. Purdue -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finished the year much higher on the list, but there are quite a few questions entering the fall. The Boilers know what they have in end Ryan Kerrigan and tackle Mike Neal, but the other two spots are mysteries. There are high hopes for Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden, but I need to see more evidence in games before bumping up the Boilers.     

11. Indiana -- We all know the Hoosiers can rush the passer with standout ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. But can Indiana stop the run? There are some major question marks at defensive tackle entering preseason camp, and Bill Lynch needs a bona fide run-stopper to emerge. Junior tackle Deonte Mack needs to step up after missing spring ball with a hip injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's success with the Spread HD offense got most of the attention last season, but it was the Nittany Lions defense that secured the team's second Big Ten championship in four years. Led by a dominant front four, Penn State finished the season ranked eighth nationally in total defense (280.1 ypg), scoring defense (14.4 ppg) and rushing defense (93.2 ypg). It held Ohio State to its lowest points total at home since 1982 and allowed 14 points or fewer in eight games. But things ended on a sour note, as USC and quarterback Mark Sanchez carved up Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

The Lions bring back several standouts from last year's unit as well as linebacker Sean Lee, who returns from a torn ACL that cost him the 2008 season. But there are several holes to fill, especially in the secondary. I recently caught up with longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to discuss the issues facing the Penn State defense heading into the fall. 

 
  Matthew O'Haren/Icon SMI
  Penn State defense coordinator Tom Bradley has several holes to fill this season.
Generally, how did you feel about the defense coming out of spring practice?

Tom Bradley: Holy smokes, we're playing like UFO coverages back there. We don't know what we're playing, they don't know what we're playing (laughs). I thought we came out OK. We stuck pretty much to the fundamentals. We didn't get carried away with the scheme. Coach [Joe Paterno] likes to have spring practice be basic fundamentals, so we kept it pretty basic. 

When you have a lot of new guys in the secondary and up front, is the scheme something you build in later this summer, as you get closer to the season, or do you have to shape it around the different personnel? 

TB: We've never been married to a scheme. We're married to people. So we're going to adjust our scheme to the people we have. We hate to ask them to do things that look good on paper but they can't do well. We're trying to figure out our best 11 guys, and then we'll tailor the scheme from there. We didn't have Sean [Lee] for any contact during the spring, Jerome Hayes is coming back off an injury. They're key for us. Once we see how they are, we can kind of move the scheme from there. 

Did you get a sense about some of the young guys, where they could fit in or how you can use them?

TB: Our basic stuff that we've been doing and worked on in the spring, they understood it. They got better at it. The younger guys, getting exposed in the fall is going to be key. Obviously, we've got some young kids in the secondary coming in that we're going to have to count on for depth. It's going to be an interesting preseason, especially on defense. We were aware that [defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans] would go [to the NFL], but we never felt that both of them would go. We're going to be patchy at a couple positions. 

A lot of Penn State fans tell me not to worry about the D-line, that you always find someone. As a coach, do you feel OK overall about that group with both Aaron and Maurice gone?

TB: We'll have some question marks until some of them get some experience. We just don't have a lot of guys with game experience. You'd like to have a little bit of depth there, but we just don't have it at a couple positions. So it's going to have to develop quickly. And we may have to have some guys move positions. We've done that in the past. 

I know Aaron was a smaller defensive end. Are you comfortable having another guy his size maybe move down there, given how successful he was?

TB: We really don't say, 'This guy has to be this tall and this big.' We don't worry about that. We're going to take a guy who can play. We had Timmy Shaw, who was a linebacker, playing there one year. We moved him around. Once we try to figure out who our best guys are, we'll kind of get going from there. 

Jack Crawford is a guy a lot of people are very excited about. Are you surprised at how quick he has picked up the game since he didn't grow up playing it? 

TB: One of the impressive things about him, after the Blue-White Game, I had a bunch of people up and they wanted to go down to see the locker room. They had their kids and everything. I went in there. I'll bet you it was nine o'clock after the Blue-White Game, and I opened up the team room to show them the team room and [Crawford] was in there looking at the Blue-White Game. So you see that and you start to say, 'Geez, that's a good start right there. A kid that really cares.' Most guys, after the Blue-White Game, they're out having fun or with their family or whatever, but he was down there looking at the film. He's a dedicated guy. He's a good-looking, physical-type football player. He's got a lot of good tools. And the other thing I really like about Jack is he's got a motor. He wants to play. He's got those intangibles.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If and when Jerome Hayes gets on the field for Penn State this fall, one thing will be certain. 

"He won't be on any punt teams," Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.  "He's not covering punts."

Hayes has had some lousy luck in his career, suffering season-ending torn ACLs on punt coverage in each of the last two seasons. In 2007, he appeared in seven games for Penn State and recorded 2.5 sacks before tearing his right ACL against Wisconsin. His 2008 season lasted barely one game, as he tore his left ACL after being chop-blocked in the fourth quarter against Oregon State in Week 2. 

Two major knee injuries doesn't inspire much confidence in Hayes for the coming season, but Bradley is seeing good signs from the senior defensive end/linebacker. 

"I think he'll be OK," Bradley said. "He's a resilient type of kid. He doesn't complain much about it. What little I've seen him do some things on the treadmill, he looks OK."

Hayes could play a crucial role on Penn State's defensive line, which boasts loads of young talent, but not much experience on the edges.

Bradley and the other coaches knew that defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans were considering leaving early for the NFL draft, but they "never felt that both of them would go. We probably would have recruited another guy there at defensive end had we had known."

There's a lot of excitement about sophomore Jack Crawford, and sophomores Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore also should see time at end. But with Pete Massaro's season-ending knee injury in the spring game, Penn State could use a veteran presence like Hayes. 

"It's not only Jerome on the field," Bradley said. "He's just a strong presence in our locker room, too. He's a kid from Bayonne (N.J.), he's graduated, nothing was handed to him, works his tail off. He's a very strong presence in our locker room as far as being a leader and a guy that the players rally around."

Penn State spring game recap

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno sounded a bit more optimistic about his team's spring progress before the annual Blue-White Game, and the Nittany Lions turned in a solid effort before a record crowd of 76,500 at Beaver Stadium. The White team edged the Blue squad 21-16.

There weren't many revelations in the spring game, though Penn State can feel a bit better about its quarterback depth heading into 2009.

First-team All-Big Ten performer Daryll Clark was terrific in limited action, completing 10 of 13 passes for 123 yards. Freshman Kevin Newsome, an early enrollee who had looked shaky earlier in spring ball, completed 9 of 13 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. And redshirt freshman Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes and added a 28-yard run for the White team. Clark might still be the most indispensible player in the Big Ten, but the performances by both Newsome and McGloin were encouraging.

The day's biggest news involved a player who didn't take the field, first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Navorro Bowman. Paterno said the junior failed two team-issued drug tests. Earlier in the week, Bowman admitted in court to marijuana use and received an additional year of probation.

"It's a very difficult situation these days with kids," Paterno said of Bowman. "You hope that they can overcome some of the environmental problems and things that they have. You know, he's lost his father [Hillard, in 2008] and some other things. I'm just going to let it all settle down and I'll decide sometime next week."

Bowman will face further punishment from Penn State, but it doesn't sound like Paterno will do anything too drastic, especially after the player admitted to his mistake. Though Bowman has erred more than once at Penn State, I'd be surprised if he gets more than a three- or four-game suspension.

Other items from the Blue-White Game:

  • Without Bowman and Sean Lee on the field, linebacker Michael Mauti finished a strong spring with four tackles in the game. Mauti was named the team's most improved defender during spring ball, and Paterno called him a "big-time player." The sophomore will be in the mix for a starting outside linebacker spot this summer. Redshirt freshman Jon Ditto also looked promising during the spring game with four tackles and a fumble recovery.
  • Penn State's top three wide receivers appeared to be Derek Moye, Graham Zug and Chaz Powell, with Brett Brackett as a close fourth. Moye hauled in a 28-yard reception from Clark, while both Zug and Brackett caught touchdowns. Zug had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards. After losing three multiyear starters at wide receiver, Penn State could come out of the spring feeling good about this group.
  • Talented tight end Andrew Quarless might finally be on the right track after recording four receptions for 52 yards.
  • Defensive line coach Larry Johnson appears to have another budding star in defensive end Jack Crawford, who batted down a pass and showed impressive pass-rushing ability in the spring game. Defensive tackle Devon Still also recorded a tackle for loss.
  • An injury-plagued spring for Penn State ended on a down note, as defensive end Pete Massaro, Brackett and tackle Ako Poti all got hurt in the Blue-White Game. Powell and cornerback A.J. Wallace returned from ailments, but Penn State's sick bay this spring included running backs Stephfon Green and Brent Carter and defensive end Jerome Hayes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Listening to Joe Paterno, you'd think Penn State would be lucky to go .500 this season.

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose a sizable senior class, including the entire starting secondary and entire starting wide receiving corps. Penn State brings back national award candidates such as linebacker Navorro Bowman, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and running back Evan Royster, but all the turnover has taken a toll this spring.

"I don't think we've had a very great spring," Paterno said Wednesday. "We had a great winter program. The kids started out well. We've had a problem with the weather. ... And we've got some areas that we're not even adequate. That's the offensive line right now, the secondary has got a long way to go, and we've got to improve.

"Some of the good things are we've got kids that are working hard."

Paterno is feeling 100 percent physically following hip-replacement surgery in November, but his team's health hasn't been as promising. The Lions have had "more injuries this spring than I can remember in a long time," Paterno said, and they've been spread across the board.

The injured include linebacker/defensive end Jerome Hayes (knee), cornerback A.J. Wallace (hamstring), center Doug Klopacz (knee) and tackle Nerraw McCormack (knee).

There have been several bright spots, namely the play of Royster, quarterback Daryll Clark, a new-look wide receiving corps and the defensive line, led by Odrick. But for a team that still lists national titles and Big Ten championships as its goals, there's a ton to do in the final six spring workouts and the summer.

"Our running back situation's good, our tight end situation's good, our quarterback situation's good, we've got a chance to have a couple pretty good wideouts," Paterno said. "We're very, very shallow at the offensive line, not even close to being good enough. Same way with our secondary. The linebacker's are good, I think our kicking game will be good.

"That should cover everything."

Almost.

I didn't sit down with Paterno in person today -- some obligations kept him at home until practice, which was closed -- but we discussed several other topics over the phone.

Here are a few notes:

  • Clark has thrown the ball extremely well this spring, and a new-look group of receivers are making plays. Paterno likes the fact that Penn State has some bigger wideouts -- Brett Brackett (6-foot-6), Derek Moye (6-5), A.J. Price (6-4) and Graham Zug (6-2) are bigger targets -- who allow for some different things in the offensive scheme.
The only concern for Paterno is that the wideouts aren't facing the best competition this spring.
"People are going to bang 'em around, and they're going to need some experienced game time," Paterno said. "We're trying to give them as tough situations as we can, but the secondary is not as aggressive as I would like. So I'm not so sure just how good the receivers are. They've worked hard, they catch the ball well and they have ability, but they haven't really been challenged yet."
  • Night games at Beaver Stadium are a Penn State trademark, but the Lions will kick off only one contest under the lights this fall -- the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Last year, Penn State played three prime-time games. In 2007, Penn State had night games at home against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
"It doesn't make a difference, we've got to show up," Paterno said. "But the fans have a lot of fun at night. I don't know why we don't have one more. I guess it's all television."
  • Paterno is a bit worried about the depth on the defensive line, but for the most part, he shares the same opinion as most of his fans -- that assistant Larry Johnson will find a way to succeed with the front four. Odrick anchors the middle of the line, and Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham are emerging at defensive end.
"We've got some talent there," Paterno said. "They're all right."
  • Paterno also sees talent along the offensive line, though that group typically takes longer to develop. Stefen Wisniewski has shifted from right guard to center, and right tackle Dennis Landolt is the only other returning starter up front.
"We've just got to get a couple more kids to come forward," Paterno said. "There's some talent there. They're not comfortable, they're not confident, they're not aggressive, they're not sure of themselves. And obviously, that's why you practice. But I think they'll come along."
  • The 82-year-old coach joked that maybe Penn State was better off when his assistants ran most of the practice, but he's clearly feeling a lot better than he did last fall, when he coached the final eight games from the press box and could barely walk. When the Lions take the field Sept. 5 against Akron, Paterno expects to be running out of the tunnel.
"Right now, I'm concerned about this football team," he said. "We're not very good right now, we've got a lot of work ahead of us and we're running out of time. But I'm sure when it's a day or two before [the game], and I start thinking about going back out on the field, I'll be excited."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One of the fun parts about this job is discovering the hot-button issues for each Big Ten fan base. 

Fans occasionally will admit weaknesses about their team, but they get extremely defensive about certain things.

For Penn State fans, it's the defensive line. Go ahead and rip on the secondary or question the wide receivers, but stay away from Larry Johnson's group. 

Several times in recent weeks, I've highlighted the defensive end spot as a potential weakness for the Nittany Lions in 2009. After all, Penn State loses starters Aaron Maybin and Josh Gaines, as well as Maurice Evans, who recorded 12.5 sacks in 2007. And every time, I've received several e-mails from fans expressing outrage that I'd question Penn State's defensive line and explaining that the Nittany Lions always find a way to produce solid pass rushers.

Recent history certainly supports those claims, as Penn State molded standout ends like Tamba Hali, Evans and Maybin. There's no doubt Penn State has recruited extremely well to that position. 

So, Nittany Lion Nation, I'm going to take your word for it.

Johnson will find a way this fall to keep Penn State among the Big Ten sacks leaders. Though I have serious doubts about Jerome Hayes coming off two serious knee injuries, perhaps he stays healthy and contributes. England-native Jack Crawford didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but he has "shown a lot of natural ability," according to coach Joe Paterno. Eric Latimore appeared in seven games last fall and recorded a sack.

It's hard to give this group a ringing endorsement, but I'll do my best. I'm a believer.

Just be prepared for an "I told you so" if things don't pan out this fall.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Dave from Brooklyn writes: Actually, i just read Toni Moeki was a junior last year so i think he'll be back. Now, am I the only one who thinks he could be darn good if he stays healthy?

Adam Rittenberg: An Iowa official confirmed that Moeaki will be back for 2009, which could give the Hawkeyes another weapon in an improved receiving corps. Health obviously is the major concern with Moeaki, who just can't catch a break (no pun intended) on that front. I remember seeing him in the 2007 opener against Northern Illinois in Chicago and thinking he could be really good. But then the injuries started to crop up. Moeaki is one of those top recruits from 2005 who hasn't really panned out. If Iowa wants to make a run at the league title, it needs to finally tap the potential from the fifth-year seniors in that heralded class.


Greg from Washington D.C. writes: Hey Adam, I was wondering if you think Darryl Clark or Evan Royster will get any love in the Heisman race this year or anyone else from Penn State in the years to come. I can't believe Penn State has only one Heisman winner...I think they are due for another one ;) Also with losses at DE do you think PSU will run a 3-4 defense this year? If I'm not mistaken...in the past I saw that PSU liked to put Jerome Hayes on the line in a stand up position...? Keep up the good work!

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State is certainly due, and you have to wonder how a powerhouse program with so much national exposure has produced only one Heisman winner (John Cappelletti). I'm not big on gimmicks, but maybe the program doesn't do enough to promote its star players. It seems very un-Paterno-like. ... OK, onto your question. Daryll Clark could get a sniff for the Heisman if he continues to upgrade his game with a new receiving corps. I love Royster, but Heisman candidates need to get the ball more than 14.7 times a game (as Royster did last fall).

Penn State has some flexibility with Hayes, and Jared Odrick is good enough to play nose tackle, if need be. I would think they'll stick with a 4-3 most of the time, but the strength of the defense is definitely at linebacker and not defensive end.


Brian from Parts Unknown writes: Do we know why the paraphernalia charge against Mike Adams was dropped, but not against Shugarts?

Adam Rittenberg: Cases get continued all the time for various reasons, but I wouldn't read too much into it, Brian. Garth Cox, the attorney representing both players, said J.B. Shugarts passed a drug test. Cox fully expects the charge to be dropped at Monday's hearing, and given that no trace of drugs was found on the players' pipe, I'd be surprised if the charge wasn't dismissed.

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