Big Ten: Ken Plue

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
12:00
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Are you ready for some meatballs?
If football is won by the guys inside the trenches doing the dirty work, then the Big Ten should be in fine shape for 2011.

The league placed 13 players on the Outland Trophy preseason watch list, the most by any conference. Offensive guards and centers and tackles on both sides of the ball are eligible for the Outland award. Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi took home the trophy last season.

Here's the list of the big guys from the Big Ten who have been recognized:
  • Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
  • Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
  • Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
  • Joel Foreman, OG, Michigan State
  • Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
  • David Molk, C, Michigan
  • Al Netter, OT, Northwestern
  • Ken Plue, G, Purdue
  • Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
  • Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
  • Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
  • Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
  • Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin

Brewster, Crick, Reiff and Martin should be in contention for major awards this season, and the others on this list could end up there as well.

Also announced today was the watch list for the Bronco Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive player. The Big Ten placed 10 players on that list, including Outland watch listers Crick, Martin, Short, Spence and Worthy. The others on the list are:
  • Vince Browne, DE, Northwestern
  • Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
  • Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  • Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
  • Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
My apologies for posting these a day late -- blame it on Russell Wilson -- but it's time to break down the Big Ten offensive linemen entering the 2011 season.

Rather than list the top 10 across the three position groups, I've decided to go a different route: top five players at each spot. Despite losing standout linemen like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, the Big Ten returns several of the nation's top players at their positions.

Center might be the Big Ten's deepest position, while the league also boasts several standout tackles. The guard spot is a bit thin.

Let's take a look.

CENTER

Michael Brewster
Greg Bartram/US PresswireMichael Brewster may be the best center in the country.
1. Michael Brewster, Ohio State, senior -- Brewster enters the season as the leading candidate for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation's top center. He has started each of the past three seasons and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in 2010. Boasting 36 career starts, Brewster could be the top center selected in next April's NFL draft.

2. David Molk, Michigan, senior -- Molk is right up there with Brewster among the nation's truly elite centers. If not for some injury trouble, he could be at the top of the list. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in 2010 and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. Molk has made 29 career starts and displays top-notch blocking skills and leadership.

3. Peter Konz, Wisconsin, junior -- Konz is a big reason why Wisconsin's line shouldn't take a step back despite losing Carimi, Moffitt and Bill Nagy. He has made 20 starts at center in the past two seasons and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. After missing most of spring practice with an ankle injury, Konz's health this fall is a big key for Wisconsin.

4. Mike Caputo, Nebraska, senior: The Huskers' line has a few question marks entering the season, but center isn't one of them. Caputo is the undisputed leader of the group after starting every game in 2010. The former walk-on earned consensus honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and helped Nebraska eclipse 200 rushing yards in 10 of 14 games.

T-5. James Ferentz, Iowa, junior: Ferentz has emerged as an All-Big Ten caliber lineman and will lead one of the league's better groups this season. He started every game in 2010 and showed impressive durability, playing every offensive down in nine contests. Iowa needs an elite offensive line this season, and Ferentz will be leading the charge.

T-5. Graham Pocic, Illinois, junior: Along with Jeff Allen and others, Pocic leads an Illinois line that punished opponents at times last season. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter. Pocic solidified a line that helped Illinois lead the Big Ten in rushing and rank 11th nationally (246.1 ypg).

TACKLE

1. Riley Reiff, Iowa, junior: Reiff has put himself in position to become the next truly great Hawkeyes offensive lineman. He started every game in 2010 and 11 of 13 contests in 2009, earning consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. Already projected as a potential top-15 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Reiff should be in the mix for the Outland Trophy as he anchors the Iowa line.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State, senior: The Buckeyes will be counting the days until Adams returns from his suspension to open the season. After some ups and downs early in his career, Adams blossomed last season and started to meet the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of high school. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. If not for the five-game suspension, he would be a top contender for the Outland Trophy.

3. Jeff Allen, Illinois, senior: One of the league's best and most experienced offensive linemen, Allen will lead a strong Illini line this fall. He has started 34 games in his first three seasons at Illinois, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media last fall. Allen is a bona fide NFL prospect who should challenge players like Brewster, Molk and Reiff for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors.

4. Al Netter, Northwestern, senior: Besides star quarterback Dan Persa, Netter is the only player coach Pat Fitzgerald considers an undisputed starter entering the fall. Perhaps it's because Netter has started each of the past 39 games. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 and should be primed for a big senior season. Northwestern needs him to help spark its rushing attack.

5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin, junior: We'll get a full read on Wagner after he switches from right tackle to the left side to replace Carimi, but the expectations are high. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after stepping in for the injured Josh Oglesby at right tackle. Wisconsin really likes Wagner's potential, and he'll have a chance to blossom at the more prestigious tackle position.

GUARD

1. Joel Foreman, Michigan State, senior: An easy pick here as Foreman enters the season as one of the nation's top left guards. He has earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons and started 36 games at left guard, including each of the past 22. Offensive line is a huge question mark for the Spartans, so Foreman's play will be huge.

2. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, senior: Zeitler will be a leader this fall for a Wisconsin line looking to continue its tradition of excellence. He has started 22 games at right guard in each of the past two seasons and helped Wisconsin rank among the nation's top rushing offenses. Zeitler earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010.

3. Hugh Thornton, Illinois, junior: Thornton has played a lot of football in his first two seasons and could take another step in his development this fall. He started eight games at weak-side guard in 2010 after starting seven games at tackle in 2009. Illinois expects the offensive line to be its strength, and Thornton is a big part of the group.

4. Ken Plue, Purdue, senior: This pick is a bit risky after Plue worked his way into the coaches' dog house in spring practice. But he has the size, the skills and the experience (28 starts) to become one of the Big Ten's top guards this fall. If the 6-7, 358-pound Plue can work out his issues, look out for him and the Boilers.

5. Patrick Omameh, Michigan, junior: After starting all 13 games for a record-setting offense in 2010, Omameh is a reason why hopes are high for the Wolverines offensive line. He has started 16 consecutive games and has the ability to contend for All-Big honors. Omameh must get a little more consistent this fall, but I like how he projects for 2011.
The preseason position rankings march on with the offensive lines. Team rankings are below, and we'll take a look at the individual rankings for tackles, centers and guards early next week.

Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.

Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWill arm length be an issue for former Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff in the NFL?
2. Iowa: The line is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest strength and should be one of the nation's elite units in 2011. Iowa returns starting experience at all five positions and should have decent depth. Left tackle Riley Reiff, projected as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, will enter the fall as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy. James Ferentz is one of the league's top centers, and Markus Zusevics is poised for a big year at right tackle.

3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.

4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.

5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.

6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.

7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.

8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.

10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.

12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.

Spring superlatives: Purdue

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
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It's time to bring back the spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team in spring ball.

Let's start off with Purdue, the Big Ten squad furthest along in its spring session.

Strongest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: LT Dennis Kelly, RG Ken Plue, C Peters Drey, LT Nick Mondek, G Rick Schmeig
  • Key losses: LG Justin Pierce
  • The skinny: Purdue has a lot of questions to answer at the offensive skill positions this spring, but the line looks solid. How solid? "I believe it's going to be the strength of our offense," coordinator Gary Nord recently told me. Purdue boasts experience at every position, particularly with Kelly and Plue. It won't be hard for this group to develop chemistry before the 2011 season. Although Purdue's offensive numbers dipped in 2010, the Boilers showed they could run the ball at times and should have a much more dynamic unit this coming season. You could make a case for the secondary here as well, but the amount of returning experience along the O-line puts it over the top.
Weakest position: Tight end
  • Key returnees: None (newcomer Sterling Carter is an intriguing prospect)
  • Key losses: Kyle Adams (team-high 36 catches for 244 yards); Jeff Lindsay (nine catches for 72 yards)
  • The skinny: Purdue had a small senior class in 2010 and tight end is one of few positions that took a hit because of graduation. Adams was a reliable target for Purdue's quarterbacks, and his presence will be missed. Nord and coach Danny Hope want to feature the tight end and hope Carter, a junior college transfer, provides an immediate boost. There's a little more uncertainty at receiver after the NCAA denied Keith Smith a sixth year of eligibility, so Purdue will be looking for tight ends to emerge if young receivers like Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross don't continue to make strides. Running back also could fit here if Ralph Bolden doesn't return to form following a torn ACL.
ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper has updated his latest Big Board, as well as his top-5 positions lists for both seniors and non-seniors.

You need to be an ESPN Insider member to view the complete files, but here's where Big Ten players stack up:

Kiper's Big Board
  • Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, the first Big Ten player on the board, dropped to No. 8 from No. 5 last week
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan held steady at No. 13
  • Ohio State DL Cameron Heyward held steady at No. 15
Position Rankings: Seniors
  • Ohio State's Brandon Saine is No. 5 among running backs
  • Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks is No. 1 among tight ends
  • Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi is No. 5 among offensive tackles
  • Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski is No. 2 among centers (Wisniewski has moved back to guard this year)
  • Iowa's Clayborn is No. 1 among defensive ends
  • Purdue's Kerrigan is No. 3 among defensive ends
  • Ohio State's Heyward is No. 4 among defensive ends
  • Michigan State's Greg Jones is No. 1 among inside linebackers
  • Ohio State's Ross Homan is No. 4 among outside linebackers
  • Iowa's Ryan Donahue is No. 1 among punters
Position Rankings: Non-Seniors
  • Penn State's Joe Suhey is No. 4 among fullbacks
  • Northwestern's Al Netter is No. 4 among offensive tackles
  • Purdue's Ken Plue is No. 5 among guards
  • Ohio State's Mike Brewster is No. 1 among centers
  • Michigan's David Molk is No. 5 among guards
  • Wisconsin's J.J. Watt is No. 4 among defensive ends
  • Wisconsin's Philip Welch is No. 3 among kickers
  • Purdue's Carson Wiggs is No. 5 among kickers

Interesting selections here from Kiper. I was a bit surprised not to see Carimi higher on his lists, and the Big Ten's senior guards -- Ohio State's Justin Boren, Wisconsin's John Moffitt and Michigan's Stephen Schilling -- were shut out. Penn State fans might be interested to know that former Nittany Lion Pat Devlin ranks as the No. 3 senior quarterback.

Nuggets from Purdue practice

August, 27, 2010
8/27/10
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I've had the chance to review the Big Ten Network's preview of Purdue, as Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith visited Boilermakers' practice last week.

Here are some quick notes and observations:
  • DiNardo raved about the changes head coach Danny Hope has brought to Purdue, particularly from a recruiting standpoint. Although he called the Boilers a "developmental team" through the first half of the year, he's really excited about the future. And the schedule works in Purdue's favor, as the team opens with a big game at Notre Dame before facing several manageable foes. "This schedule is their best friend," DiNardo said.
  • It was hard not to come away extremely impressed with quarterback Robert Marve. The Miami transfer has a big-time arm, and he showcased it on several throws. He fired a bullet to Antavian Edison in team drills and also threaded a pass to former quarterback Justin Siller. The BTN crew all talked about his good body language, and it's clear that Marve is having a great time so far at Purdue. "I love the spread offense," said Marve, who has cut his hair since Big Ten media days. "I love throwing the ball 40 times a game."
  • Marve ran the offense extremely well during team drills. It was interesting to see Purdue operate exclusively with a silent cadence, but there weren't many penalties. "Danny Hope talks about discipline a lot, and it’s evident that it’s worked," DiNardo said.
  • Now-ineligible quarterback Caleb TerBush was still practicing at the time of the BTN's visit, but DiNardo noted that he might not be the team's No. 2 quarterback. "Rob Henry got a lot of reps today," Griffith said. That's a good sign because Henry is now Marve's backup.
  • Offensive line, running back and defensive back are Purdue's three main areas of concern, and the line clearly stood out in this practice. Mammoth guard Ken Plue seems to be moving better at a svelte 333 pounds, and DiNardo listed tackle Nick Mondek, a converted defensive lineman, as his under-the-radar player this fall. "They’ve closed the gap more than any other position," DiNardo said. "This is the unit that's furthest along out of the three that needed to be rebuilt."
  • The defensive backs had their ups and downs, but the picture is beginning to take shape. Revsine noted that Albert Evans and Logan Link likely will enter the fall as the starting safeties, and freshman cornerback Ricardo Allen has made an immediate impression. Allen defended wideout Gary Bush well in one drill, and drew praise from both Griffith and head coach Danny Hope. Junior college transfer Mike Eargle also should see time at corner, and DiNardo likes Charlton Williams.
  • DiNardo was down on the running backs, and for good reason. Ralph Bolden will miss at least part of the season and possibly all of it, and Al-Terek McBurse practiced with his lower left leg wrapped. True freshman Reggie Pegram impressed the BTN crew, aside from a near fumble in team drills, and has taken advantage of increased opportunities. Pegram has nice size at 5-11, 222. "He would be the starter or [the backup] if McBurse was [healthy]," DiNardo said. It's also worth nothing that Purdue will incorporate the fullback more this year in the offense.
  • As expected, Keith Smith and the other wide receivers looked good. Smith is a superb route runner, Siller seems to be catching on well and Edison looked very impressive, hauling in a tipped pass during one drill and sitting down nicely in the zone in another. Edison should contribute at slot receiver. "No one's going to be able to double-cover anyone," Smith said.
  • DiNardo didn't feel the defensive line or linebackers were overly physical. Star end Ryan Kerrigan beat Mondek on several plays, and freshman tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. made a good impression on the BTN crew. "He’s a big, physical guy," DiNardo said. "He's just once example of how Danny Hope is changing the talent level on defense." Middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford stood out the most among that group.
  • Hope talked about the upgrade in team speed, saying that 18 players have 4.5 speed or better, as opposed to only about six when his staff first arrived. He expects to play quite a few freshmen as well as the juco arrivals. "We could have as many as 10 new faces on the field this year," he said.
The depth chart means a lot everywhere, but especially at Purdue.

Head coach Danny Hope has been known to post a different depth chart at the entrance to Purdue's practice field every day of spring ball or preseason camp. Boilermakers players constantly know where they stand with the coaches, and that they can't let up, even for one practice.

Given the ever-changing nature of Purdue's depth chart, the pre-camp version revealed Tuesday (page 16) should be studied accordingly. Still, it provides some clues about what the coaches are thinking entering preseason practice, which kicks off next month.

We already knew that Robert Marve will enter camp as Purdue's No. 1 quarterback, but here are a few more notes:
  • Ralph Bolden is still listed at Purdue's starting running back despite undergoing ACL surgery in May. From the moment Bolden went down, Hope has remained very optimistic about the junior's status for the season despite the severity of the injury. Al-Terek McBurse is listed as the backup but likely will start the opener Sept. 4 against Notre Dame. Former wide receiver Keith Carlos is the third-string running back.
  • Former quarterback Justin Siller, who rejoined the team this summer after a year-long dismissal from the university, is listed as a starting wide receiver alongside Keith Smith and Cortez Smith.
  • The offensive line figures to feature some competition this summer, and here's how the starting five looks entering camp: left tackle Dennis Kelly, left guard Justin Pierce, center Peters Drey, right guard Ken Plue and right tackle Nick Mondek, who switched to offensive from defensive tackle this spring.
  • The secondary is another group with some question marks. Charlton Williams and Josh Johnson are listed as the starting cornerbacks, while Albert Evans and Logan Link are tabbed as the starting safeties. Evans looks like the guy at strong safety, but the other three spots are fluid.
  • Redshirt freshman Kevin Pamphile is listed as a starting defensive tackle next to Kawann Short. It'll be interesting to see if Pamphile maintains the top spot throughout camp, as there should be some good competition.
  • Carson Wiggs could once again be a busy man this fall. He's listed as Purdue's starting kicker and a co-starter at punter with freshman Cody Webster. Wiggs or freshman Jonathan Linkenheimer will handle kickoffs.
The Football Writers Association of America on Monday announced the preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation's top defender) and the Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman). Not surprisingly, the Big Ten is well represented on both lists.

Here's the rundown:

BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY WATCH LIST
  • Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
  • Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn
  • Ohio State DL Cameron Heyward
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
My take: You've got all of the usual suspects here from the Big Ten, although I was a little surprised to see both Wisconsin players make the list. Borland's phenomenal freshman season obviously got him some attention nationally, and I'm clearly not the only person who thinks Watt will have a big 2010 season. Borland and Watt were honorable mention All-Big Ten selections last year, while all the other watch list candidates made the first or second teams. Clayborn, Heyward and Jones are the Big Ten's top contenders for this award.

OUTLAND TROPHY WATCH LIST
  • Ohio State G Justin Boren
  • Ohio State C Mike Brewster
  • Ohio State G Bryant Browning
  • Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi
  • Iowa DT Karl Klug
  • Wisconsin T Josh Oglesby
  • Purdue G Ken Plue
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling
  • Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski
My take: A few more surprises on this list. I don't know how you leave off John Moffitt. Oglesby boasts a ton of talent but still needs to prove himself on a consistent basis. Browning also was a bit of a surprise, as the FWAA obviously thinks the Ohio State offensive line will be much improved this fall. Michigan's Schilling is a solid choice, and teammate David Molk could be considered if he stays healthy. It's also interesting that Klug is the Big Ten's only defensive tackle on the list. The defensive tackle spot took a hit from graduation, as Penn State's Jared Odrick and others moved on. Players like Watt and Heyward should play more defensive end this fall after playing tackle for chunks of the 2009 season.
Danny Hope wants to give Purdue fans a good show in the Black & Gold Game on Saturday. Whether he has enough healthy players to do so remains to be seen.

Injuries have hit the Boilermakers especially hard this spring, as 20 players and 10 starters have missed part or all of spring practice. Purdue was so banged up a few weeks ago that Hope postponed two practices, which will be made up next week after the spring game.

Aside from starting running back Ralph Bolden, who sustained a torn ACL, all of Purdue's hobbled are expected back for the season, and Hope isn't ruling out Bolden's return, either.

But the immediate focus is the spring game and what Purdue can do at Ross-Ade Stadium. What happens Saturday hinges heavily on another scrimmage Purdue will hold later today.

"It's a big scrimmage for us," Hope said of today's event. "Maybe not the amount of reps, but it's a traditional scrimmage here, and it depends who's standing after that's done. That could affect what type of scrimmage we have in the spring game. Right now, I intend on splitting the team in half and having the two teams go out and play a game and have a lot of fun with it.

"But I won't be sure until after we get done with the scrimmage we're going to have [Wednesday]."

About the only positive from the injuries is they haven't affected the positions where Purdue needed the most evaluation this spring, namely quarterback, offensive line and secondary. All three quarterbacks -- Robert Marve, Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry -- have remained healthy, and the only players out on the line and in the secondary are veterans like guard Ken Plue and safety Albert Evans, who don't need to prove much to the coaches.

"The areas we had the greatest concerns at, we're getting plenty done," Hope said. "We didn't start off fast team-wise. We were a little disjointed, didn't have quite the continuity as you want to have ... but I don't think it really affected the areas we needed to develop the most."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Everything on offense starts with what happens up front, and line play will make or break the season for several Big Ten teams. The league loses a handful of standout linemen, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley, but several teams should reload nicely.

There's a lot to like about the top three, and I don't see any truly bad units in the league.

1. Iowa -- Shonn Greene was the nation's most dominant running back last year, but he had plenty of help. Iowa returns three starters and several key reserves from a line that propelled Greene to 13 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Junior Bryan Bulaga is the league's premier left tackle, while Kyle Calloway provides depth on the other side. The Hawkeyes boast more guard depth than any Big Ten team, a group that includes Dace Richardson, who has resurrected his career after a string of injuries.

2. Ohio State -- A major disappointment in 2008, Ohio State's line should be much improved thanks to experience, the addition of guard Justin Boren and some excellent recruiting. Boren brings a much-needed spark to the line and impressed just about everyone this spring. Center Mike Brewster is a year older, and senior Jim Cordle has shown impressive versatility in shifting to right tackle. The left tackle spot concerns me a bit, but Ohio State has recruited extremely well here.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lose starting guards Andy Kemp and Kraig Urbik, but they always find a way to control the line of scrimmage and return several key pieces. Center John Moffitt and left tackle Gabe Carimi will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Bill Nagy looks solid at one of the guard spots. If right tackle Josh Oglesby takes a step forward and lives up to his potential, Wisconsin will once again have one of the league's top lines.

4. Northwestern -- The team hopes its skill-position losses will be offset by a much better offensive line, which returns four starters. Northwestern did a good job of limiting sacks last year but should be much better at staying on blocks and buying time for athletic quarterback Mike Kafka. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are both All-Big Ten candidates, and the Wildcats boast plenty of depth after recruiting extremely well to this position.

5. Michigan -- No group will make a bigger jump in Year 2 of the spread offense than the line, which returns four starters. Michigan should be very solid up the middle with center David Molk and guards Stephen Schilling and David Moosman. If the Marks (Ortmann and Huyge) hold up at the tackle spots, a run game led by Brandon Minor will surge. Despite several player departures, Michigan has recruited several standout linemen who will provide depth this fall.

6. Michigan State -- I like the Joels (Foreman and Nitchman), and left tackle Rocco Cironi returns from a shoulder injury, but this group still needs to prove itself. Despite Javon Ringer's success last fall, the line was just average and must fill several gaps. Hopes are high for J'Michael Deane and Jared McGaha after spring ball, and if those players make progress Michigan State will move up the list.

7. Penn State -- The line rivals the secondary as Penn State's biggest concern entering the fall. In addition to Shipley, the Lions lose tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger. Only one starter (right tackle Dennis Landolt) returns to the same position he occupied in 2008. Stefen Wisniewski will be fine at center, but Penn State needs tackle DeOn'tae Pannell and others to make a lot of progress during camp.

8. Illinois -- With so much talent at the skill positions, expectations will be high for the Illini line, which drew mixed reviews in 2008. Right guard Jon Asamoah will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Illinois really likes young right tackle Jeff Allen. The team must fill a big hole at left tackle, though veteran Eric Block slides over from guard to center. This could end up being a very respectable group.

9. Minnesota -- Perhaps no offensive line in the Big Ten intrigues me more than Minnesota's, which is going through a major transition in both scheme and technique with assistant Tim Davis. The Gophers are returning to their roots as a power-run offense, but they'll have to adjust quickly to all the changes. Left tackle Matt Stommes could be a pro prospect if things fall right, and the mammoth Jeff Wills lines up on the other side of the line. Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel joins the mix as a starting guard.

10. Purdue -- Injuries decimated the two-deep last year, and Purdue used seven different starting lineups up front. The Boilers are much healthier entering the fall and should be much better. Young players like right guard Ken Plue gained valuable experience last fall, and he rejoins veterans Jared Zwilling, Zach Reckman and Zach Jones. The big question is how quickly the group jells as Purdue wants to stress the run game more this fall.

11. Indiana -- Much like Purdue, injuries hit Indiana's line especially hard last fall. The Hoosiers have two proven veterans in left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon, both of whom have started for three seasons. If those two can lead the way and young players like Justin Pagan and Will Matte continue to develop, Indiana will be much improved here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten's only new head coach isn't new at Purdue. Danny Hope was there for Purdue's rebirth in the late 1990s and returned last year as head coach-in waiting and offensive line coach. Those tags have since been removed, and Hope is going through his first practices as the man in charge. Purdue comes off a 4-8 season and missed a bowl for just the second time since Joe Tiller's arrival in 1997. Hope brought in five new coaches during the offseason, including offensive coordinator Gary Nord and defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.

 
  Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI
  Joey Elliott is a candidate to start at QB for Purdue in 2009.

The Boilers have competition at quarterback, running back and wide receiver as they try to turn things around in Hope's first year. I caught up with Hope earlier this week.

A few practices in, is the team where you thought it would be? Ahead of schedule? Behind schedule?

Danny Hope: We're ahead in some ways. Obviously, when you have a guy like Curtis Painter, who was accomplished as he was at the quarterback spot, you've got a lot of work to do. We are eight receivers short from the roster of 2008. So I didn't really know what to expect when we went out the first day in shorts last Wednesday, but I was very pleased with what we've got done so far. We are able to go out there and execute the offense to some degree, which is a good sign for us this early in spring. The good thing about our quarterback spot, even though we don't have a bona fide returning starter, is our top two quarterbacks played in 2008.

How does the quarterback competition shape up right now?

DH: Joey Elliott was a very good No. 2 quarterback for us, was actually putting pressure on Painter and starting to get in some games, and then he got injured. You're not getting a rookie. He's a football junkie. He loves it. He had shoulder surgery and his health status is much better than I thought it would be at the start of spring. He's throwing the ball better, got a little more zip on it. He's a guy who knows more about the offense than anyone else we have on that side of the ball right now. So him being healthy enough to go out there and throw was a huge shot in the arm for us. And obviously, Justin Siller, even though he wasn't that well prepared because he had not been in the lineup before and was working as a running back, we beat Michigan with Justin Siller and he's a great athlete. He has some game experience. So we don't have two varsity rookies out there. That's a good sign. And I really like what I'm seeing out of our freshman, Caleb TerBush, who was on the scout team all of last year, he's out there getting some great reps. We're further along at the quarterback spot than I thought we were going to be, but when you're comparing it to the likes of Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter, we're nowhere near that.

Do you have a timetable on when you'd like to make a decision on a starter? Will it go well into preseason camp?

DH: Everybody asks that, and the most important thing to me is the development at the quarterback position, not just one particular quarterback. Last year is a classic example of what I'm talking about, where Painter went down and Joey Elliott got hurt and we had to take Justin Siller from running back and move him to quarterback, and he wasn't prepared to do so. I think the development of all of our quarterbacks is key this spring, and certainly the No. 1. We'll play as many players as we can, so I'm not really concerned about saying there has to be a certain deadline or due date as long as each and every one of our quarterbacks are improving and can get themselves in position to help us win. That's more important than naming a guy.

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