Big Ten: Kellen Davis
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The rise of the spread offense in college football has put many of the nation's tight ends on notice.
As more coaches look for quickness before brute strength, tight ends are being forced to reinvent themselves.
"You see a lot of colleges phasing out the tight ends, but we've got to phase out of that, too," Michigan State junior Charlie Gantt said. "We've got to be faster, stronger. We've still got to be big, but we each have to adapt to it."
|Dave Stephenson/Icon SMI|
|Charlie Gantt is hoping for more opportunities to catch the ball this season.|
The Spartans' tight ends are making the adjustments. It's why Gantt can make statements like this and get taken seriously: "I envision a lot more pass-catching opportunities, a lot more different kinds of routes and plays that we can do. Two-, maybe three-tight end sets, that's what I'm hoping for, to get as many tight ends in the game [as possible]."
Michigan State boasts the depth and talent at tight end to make Gantt's wish come true this fall. Gantt returns for his second year as a starter after hauling in 19 receptions and four touchdowns in 2008.
He'll once again be spelled by Garrett Celek, a sophomore who appeared in 12 games last fall, recording six receptions and a touchdown. Talented Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum joins the mix, and heralded recruit Dion Sims also could see the field this fall.
"Especially with Dion coming in, we'll have four solid tight ends, at least two or three used every game, goal-line packages, different formations just to get more out of the offense," Linthicum said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Brian Linthicum's ears betrayed him, even though his eyes could see the truth.
The statistics showed that Clemson's tight ends typically caught between 10-20 passes a year in a spread offense catered more to smaller, quicker receivers and backs. Thomas Hunter led Tigers tight ends with 16 receptions in 2006 and 13 in 2005. Ben Hall topped the list with nine catches in 2004, and Bobby Williamson had 12 in 2003.
Linthicum seemed likely to continue the trend, but he was told something different.
"I basically got wrapped up in the recruiting deal," Linthicum said. "I was purely going off of what I was being told and not what was happening in previous years. They told me they were looking for my type of athlete to come in and play a tight end-split out position, 40 passes a year and stuff like that."
Linthicum got on the field as a true freshman in 2007. The predictable result: 11 receptions for 76 yards and three touchdowns.
He decided to transfer from Clemson and found a team -- and a head coach -- that held the tight end position in higher esteem. Michigan State had a history of producing solid tight ends -- Duane Young, Mitch Lyons, Josh Keur, Chris Baker, to name a few -- most recently with Kellen Davis in 2007.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio also coached Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek at Cincinnati.
"I looked at schools that would feature the position," Linthicum said. "I went through it once, so going through it again I knew exactly what I was looking for. It was definitely appealing to come here."
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Linthicum had a solid spring and put himself in the mix at tight end, one of Michigan State's deepest positions. Charlie Gantt and Garrett Celek return, and heralded recruit Dion Sims joins the group.
Though Linthicum has closed the book on his Clemson experience, one aspect of his time at Death Valley could prove valuable this fall. The tight end position is changing with the popularity of the spread offense, and even though Michigan State runs a more traditional scheme, the Spartans want their tight ends to have above-average speed and versatility.
After playing in the spread at Clemson, Linthicum feels he fits the mold.
"I definitely gained something out of that," he said. "At Clemson, I was used a lot in the backfield as more of an H-back, motioning a lot. Since I got here, that's what Michigan State wanted to do and incorporate that into their offense. I guess I help add a little bit more experience in that area."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
One week away. 'Nuff said.
- First, a breakdown of the voting in the Coaches' Poll from Pollspeak.com. Rich Rodriguez retained his vote even though he moved from West Virginia to Michigan, giving the Big Ten seven voters and the Big East only four. The Big Ten has the highest percentage of teams with a coach voting.
- Sophomore Bo Flowers leapfrogged Donsay Hardeman at safety on Bob Asmussen's projected depth chart for Illinois.
- Indiana freshman wideout DaMarlo Belcher wants to be the next James Hardy, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Belcher, a Fort Wayne native like Hardy, certainly looked the part in Wednesday's practice. Hutchens also breaks down a good few days for Indiana, which faces decisions at quarterback, cornerback and safety.
- A comprehensive Iowa preview from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, starting with the team's need to get beyond the last three seasons. There are also items on the Hawkeyes' young defensive ends, highly touted offensive lineman Dan Doering and reporters' picks for the season. Quarterback Jake Christensen, fighting to reclaim his starting job, takes the blame for last season, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
- No official announcement yet, but a deal between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom looks imminent, Randy Peterson writes in the Des Moines Register. Iowans rejoice.
- Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, the sole holdover from Lloyd Carr's staff, adapts to a new regime, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. The Michigan schools will be featured on the Big Ten Network this weekend, reaching an audience that largely didn't have the channel last season, Michael Zuidema writes in The Grand Rapids Press.
- Michigan State tight end Charlie Gantt won't try to be the next Kellen Davis, but he should be a factor in the passing game following a good preseason, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Minnesota wideout Eric Decker is probably the team's best player, even though he might end up playing baseball down the line, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Coach Tim Brewster's eternal optimism might not be going over well with every Gopher fan, Patrick Reusse writes in the Star Tribune.
- Ohio State has its own version of the Four Horsemen in the backfield this fall. In not-so dramatic lore, their names are "Wells and Mo Wells, Boom and Zoom," Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Linebacker James Laurinaitis joins a select crowd of two-time captains at Ohio State. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises has a good synopsis of the Big Ten Network-Time Warner Cable-Ohio State mess.
- Whenever Joe Paterno chooses to step down, he wants to leave his successor with something to work with at Penn State, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times. Penn State's offensive line is stacked with experience, but hopes are highest for underclassman Stefen Wisniewski.
- Purdue's defense had the edge in Friday's scrimmage, as freshmen Derek Jackson and Tommie Thomas recorded interceptions. But the best sign was wideout Aaron Valentin, a junior college transfer who racked up 100 receiving yards, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk is back at his natural position of defensive tackle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.
As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:
|AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack|
|Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.|
1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.
2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.
3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.
4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).
5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.
6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.
7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.
9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.
10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.
1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.
2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.
3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.
4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.
5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.
6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.
7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.
8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.
9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.
10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.
11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's the second half of my chat with Michigan State running back Javon Ringer.
After the team lost so many close games, is it easy to look at the next year and say, 'We can make that jump?'
Javon Ringer: It's easier to watch a game where you're like, 'Aw, man, if we just had that play. That would have made the big difference that we needed.' Instead of watching games where, 'We made that mistake. Yeah, we made that one, too. And that one. And that one. And we got blown out.' It's a lot different to look at the games where you were close to see the mistakes that you made instead of getting blown out.
Let's talk about the opener at Cal. You guys haven't started off with a game like that for a while. How big of a challenge will that be?
JR: We just need to keep doing everything we've been doing since we started winter conditioning. I don't see us really getting too overwhelmed. We're all looking at it as it's real exciting for us. It's more exciting to look forward to a team where it's like, 'Man, this is going to be a big game,' instead of a team you know you're probably going to beat. It's a whole different mind-set that we have knowing that we're playing against Cal. That's going to be a fight. It's something we're all looking forward to. As long as we're excited, our motivation is just going to come.
You talked last year about how different it is to be in this offense, how it features the running game more. How do you view your career, going from the previous system to this one?
JR: My freshman year and sophomore year, we really weren't much of a running offense. Now when Coach D came, that's something we want to emphasize first, the running game. My freshman and sophomore year when we had Drew [Stanton] and the whole spread, a lot of times it was pass first and run second. It's a different chapter.
|Harry How/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for 20 touchdowns last season.|
JR: He's really excited, too. He knows it's his senior year. He knows we still have a lot more to prove. Us as seniors, this is our last shot. We don't have another year after this. So this is basically our last go-round, and Hoyer is looking forward to leading our offense to hopefully a big bowl game.
How do you guys replace Devin Thomas at wide receiver? What have you seen from that group?
JR: A lot of people don't understand the talent we have with the seniors because a lot of times last year, Devin was mostly getting the passes, either him or Kellen (Davis). But we have so many good receivers like Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham and Blair White. We have good receivers all around instead of that one big-time playmaker like Devin. It's going to be an overall thing. A lot of times last year, people could just have keyed on Devin and from what the stats showed, that was pretty much our passing game, comparing the catches he had to what everybody else had. Hoyer's going to do a lot more spreading the ball around. We have a lot of playmakers and a lot of talent at receiver. Everybody's going to be able to see that against Cal.
I know you're focused on Cal, but in talking about respect, how excited will you be for the Michigan game? What will that mean for you as a senior?JR: I have not beaten Michigan yet and I really, really, really don't want to go through my whole college career without beating my rival school. That would just really put a damper on my whole college career if I went through all four years and couldn't beat this one school. That's something I really would hate. And I'm really looking forward to playing at the Big House because really, I haven't played there yet. I'm really excited for it.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State