Big Ten: Justin Kucek

Minnesota spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota Golden Gophers

2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 10; Defense: 8; Special teams: 0

Top returners

QB Adam Weber, WR Eric Decker, WR Ben Kuznia, DT Garrett Brown, LB Simoni Lawrence, CB Traye Simmons, CB Marcus Sherels, LB Lee Campbell

Key losses

TE Jack Simmons, DE Willie VanDeSteeg, LB Deon Hightower, P Justin Kucek

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: DeLeon Eskridge* (678 yds)
Passing: Adam Weber* (2,761 yds)
Receiving: Eric Decker* (1,074 yds)
Tackles: Lee Campbell* (80)
Sacks: Willie VanDeSteeg (10.5)
Interceptions: Traye Simmons* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 at Syracuse
Sept. 12 Air Force
Sept. 19 California
Sept. 26 at Northwestern
Oct. 3 Wisconsin
Oct. 10 Purdue
Oct. 17 at Penn State
Oct. 24 at Ohio State
Oct. 31 Michigan State
Nov. 7 Illinois
Nov. 14 South Dakota State
Nov. 21 at Iowa

Spring answers

1. Gray day -- Heralded recruit MarQueis Gray finally got on the practice field for the Gophers this spring, and he lived up to the hype. Gray won't take the starting quarterback job away from junior Adam Weber, but he'll definitely be a part of the offense this fall. Minnesota likely will have some special packages for Gray, who completed 8 of 10 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

2. Defensive depth -- Minnesota loses only three starters from an improved defense, and new coordinator Kevin Cosgrove should have plenty of options this fall. Cedric McKinley appears ready to step into a primary pass-rushing role with Willie VanDeSteeg departing, and the defensive tackle spot will be a strength with co-captains Eric Small and Garrett Brown. Wisconsin transfer Kim Royston should see time at safety after a strong spring.

3. Troy's time -- After showing impressive speed on kickoff returns last fall, sophomore Troy Stoudermire will be asked to do much more for the Gophers in 2009. Stoudermire saw time as a wide receiver this spring and accounted for 274 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Head coach Tim Brewster is looking for playmakers, and Stoudermire fits the description.

Fall questions

1. Running back -- The Gophers will emphasize the power run in their new-look offense, but who carries the ball remains to be seen. Projected starter Duane Bennett was held out of contact this spring and both DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon missed time with injuries. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley showed some promise in the spring game with 63 rush yards and a touchdown, but the position remains a bit of a mystery.

2. Offensive line -- Not surprisingly, the offensive line endured some growing pains this spring as it adjusted to the new scheme being implemented by line coach Tim Davis and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. The Gophers return four starters up front, but several players have been moved around and two new tackles (Matt Stommes and Jeff Wills) likely will start the season.

3. Maresh musings -- Everyone in Minnesota is pulling for freshman linebacker Sam Maresh, who practiced this spring less than nine months after undergoing open-heart surgery. Maresh played a decent amount in the spring game and showed some potential. If he can avoid any further setbacks, he could be in the mix at linebacker this season.

A few more free agent updates

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
3:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As expected, several more Big Ten players are signing with NFL teams as free agents or earning tryouts.

  • Penn State cornerback Tony Davis signed with the Cardinals
  • Minnesota punter Justin Kucek has a tryout with the Vikings
  • Minnesota tight end Jack Simmons has a tryout with the Jets
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Steve Rehring has a tryout with the Bengals
  • Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol has a tryout with the Redskins
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah has a tryout with the Jaguars
  • Ohio State fullback Brandon Smith has a tryout with the Bears
  • Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has a tryout with the Bears
  • Former Illinois running back Walter Mendenhall signed with the Eagles
  • Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli re-signed with the Cardinals

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.

ILLINOIS (5)

  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker

INDIANA (1)

IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
MICHIGAN (4)
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent

MICHIGAN STATE (3)

  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley

NORTHWESTERN (1)

  • Running back Tyrell Sutton

OHIO STATE (8)

  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^

PENN STATE (8)

  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams

PURDUE (4)

WISCONSIN (7)

  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik

^--Underclassman

Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.

With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.

Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.

Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.

Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.

Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.

Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.

Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.

Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.

Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.

Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.

Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.

Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.

Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.

Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Corey Wootton, Terrelle Pryor, Bradley Fletcher, Kory Sheets, Stefan Demos, Tim Jamison, Mike Newkirk, Kyle Theret, Kevin Kelly, Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Nader Abdallah, Michigan Wolverines, Terrance Taylor, Bryan Bulaga, Navorro Bowman, Michigan State Spartans, Justin Kucek, Garrett Graham, A.J. Trapasso, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Stefen Wisniewski, DeAndre Levy, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, Jack Simmons, Ryan Donahue, Aaron Bates, Josh Gaines, Jeremy Boone, Eric Decker, A.J. Edds, Shonn Greene, Brandon Myers, Traye Simmons, Chris Wells, Matt Mayberry, Aaron Maybin, Charlie Gantt, Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern Wildcats, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Indiana Hoosiers, P.J. Hill, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Amado Villarreal, Xavier Fulton, Rich Ohrnberger, Daryll Clark, Gerald Cadogan, James Laurinaitis, Roland Martin, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Rob Bruggeman, Big Ten Conference, Evan Royster, Jordan Norwood, Seth Olsen, Travis Beckum, Brit Miller, Chris Hagerup, Tramaine Brock, Brad Phillips, Kraig Urbik, Brad Nortman, Andy Kemp, Marcus Freeman, Chris L. Rucker, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Purdue Boilermakers Ryan Kerrigan, Malcolm Jenkins, Zoltan Mesko, Otis Wiley, Adam Weber, Jay Valai, Kurt Coleman, Derek Walker, Brent Greenwood, Greg Orton, Amari Spievey, Penn State Nittany Lions, Philip Welch, Mitch King, David Gilreath, Brett Swenson, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Ryan McDonald, Alex Boone, Allen Langford, John Gill, Minnesota Golden Gophers Willie VanDeSteeg, Trevor Anderson, Javon Ringer

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Andy Lyons/Getty Images
 Indiana's Austin Starr is the Big Ten's best kicker.

After getting a release about Indiana's Austin Starr making the Lou Groza Award preseason watch list, I realized that my position rankings never made it to the kickers and punters. We wouldn't want to forget them, so here are the 10 best all in one list.

1. Austin Starr, PK, Sr., Indiana -- Second-team AP All-America selection last season kicked a school-record 21 field goals on 23 attempts and didn't miss an extra-point try (48-for-48). He also showed his poise under pressure, kicking the game-winning 49-yard field goal with 30 seconds left to beat Purdue and send Indiana to its first bowl game in 14 years.

2. Jeremy Boone, P, Jr., Penn State -- He led the Big Ten and ranked 19th nationally in punting average last season (43 ypp), the third best total in Penn State history. Boone placed 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, and Penn State ranked third nationally in net punting (41.1 ypp).

3. Justin Kucek, P, Sr., Minnesota -- He finished 22nd nationally in punting average last fall with 13 punts traveling 50 yards or longer and 21 punts inside the 20. Kucek's best trait could be longevity. He's responsible for every Minnesota punt during the last three seasons (155).

4. Chris Summers, Jr., PK, Purdue -- As a sophomore, Summers set a school record by converting all 56 of his extra-point attempts and tied Starr for the Big Ten league in kick scoring (8.5 ppg). He has made 97 straight extra-point attempts and last fall produced the second most accurate field-goal kicking season in team history, converting 18 of 22 attempts (.818).

5. Kevin Kelly, PK, Sr., Penn State -- Kelly already owns Penn State's career scoring record and will graduate as one of the program's premier kickers. He has converted 123 of 125 extra-point attempts in his career and rebounded from a shaky sophomore season to make 20 of 26 field-goal attempts in 2007.

6. Ryan Donahue, P, So. Iowa -- Donahue came up huge for a going-nowhere offense, averaging 41.1 yards a kick last season. The figure ranked sixth in the Big Ten, but consider that Donahue had 86 punts, 16 more than any other Big Ten player. And he did it all as a redshirt freshman. Donahue should turn in an all-conference season this fall if Iowa's offense doesn't wear him out.

7. Ryan Pretorius, PK, Sr., Ohio State -- The 29-year-old South African went 48 of 49 on extra-point attempts and technically missed only one field-goal attempt (four were blocked) last season. A former Rugby player, Pretorius has excellent range and was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last season.

8. A.J. Trapasso, P, Sr., Ohio State -- A Ray Guy Award semifinalist last season, Trapasso placed 21 of 53 punts inside the 20-yard line. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting average (41.5 ypp) and earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors against Michigan State, when he had a 43.4-yard average with three punts inside the 20 and a long of 58 yards.

9. Zoltan Mesko, P, Sr., Michigan -- He's built like a linebacker (6-5, 234) but should finish his career as one of Michigan's top punters. Mesko ranked fifth in the Big Ten in punting average last year, but he ranked second in attempts. Unless a new-look offense gets on track quickly this fall, he'll have plenty of work coming his way. Plus, he's got a cool name.

10. Brett Swenson, PK, Jr., Michigan State -- His field-goal numbers dipped a bit last season, but Swenson should be in position to rebound as a junior. He has converted 86 of 87 career extra-point attempts and is 30-for-38 on field goals inside 50 yards.

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