Big Ten: Kerry Coombs

Top Big Ten recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
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Want to dominate on the recruiting trail in Big Ten territory? You better be long in experience because the conference’s best have lengthy track records that often stretch for more than a decade. These rankings are dominated by three Ohio State assistants, which might explain why the Buckeyes always manage to reel in plenty of ESPN 300 prospects.

True tests coming for OSU pass defense

November, 15, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A visit to the defensive meeting room by the head man at Ohio State typically isn’t a friendly encounter.

The Buckeyes had one coming their way last month after a couple shaky outings.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer has seen his pass defense improve in the past two weeks.
Wisconsin had picked apart the secondary. At times, the following week, Northwestern was able to do whatever it wanted with the football. And even after a bye week, Iowa controlled the line and exploited the coverage with easy completions to its tight ends.

That was enough to bring coach Urban Meyer in for the second time (in as many seasons) to personally deliver a message to the defense that it wasn’t living up to his expectations, particularly when opponents put the ball in the air.

Based on the response since then, Meyer’s well-timed, fired-up challenge to the side of the ball he’s not heavily involved with appears to have accomplished exactly what it was intended to do for No. 3 Ohio State.

“Coach Meyer [was] just telling us that our passing defense is not where it’s supposed to be,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “We’re supposed to be one of the top defenses in the nation, and we weren’t playing like it. We got down to it -- all those coaches came to talk to us and told us we’re not playing to the level we need to be playing.

“We all had to step up. We all came to Ohio State to be the best and we weren’t playing like it.”

A secondary that was widely expected to live up to the best-in-the-nation standard was certainly under the most scrutiny, but the mandate for improvement touched on all levels of the Ohio State defense.

The pass rush wasn’t supplying enough pressure, forcing the cornerbacks and safeties to hold up longer while opposing receivers were given plenty of time to allow routes to develop. The linebackers were guilty of blowing a few assignments in coverage and weren’t getting to the quarterback often enough when the Buckeyes dialed up blitzes.

There was a ready-made excuse for struggles in the backend, as senior safety Christian Bryant lost for the season with a fractured ankle. However, there had been previous concerns about communication in the secondary that yielded explosive plays even star cornerback Bradley Roby had been a part of giving up early in the season.

But over the past two games, the Buckeyes have surrendered a combined 326 yards through the air and intercepted three passes. That moved them up 33 spots in the national rankings in passing yardage allowed to a tie at No. 47. It balanced out an already stout rush defense in the process.

Big tests for the pass defense will arrive on Saturday at Illinois and next week at home against Indiana, two teams with the most prolific aerial attacks in the Big Ten. But the Buckeyes have been preparing for games like that for nearly a month now.

“For us, we found ourselves in a situation where it was obvious -- we’ve got to get better at this,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “It was a huge area of emphasis on the part of everybody, and I think you change a little bit of your practice habits, change a little bit of your scheme, change a little bit about how you do your business and you get better.

“The staff and the commitment to that over the last three or four weeks has been consistent, and I think we’re going to continue to improve that. ... Over the last couple weeks, it has been dramatic. I think our kids have taken that personally, and they should.”

If the Buckeyes don’t take it to heart, they’re liable to get another visit from the head of the program, and they aren’t likely to enjoy it.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The announcement was still fresh in mind, barely more than 24 hours old as Urban Meyer reported for the first meeting of the day.

Saturday night’s win over Wisconsin was creeping into Sunday morning when the Ohio State coach walked to a podium he would soon smack after revealing star safety Christian Bryant had been lost for the season with a broken ankle, and it was still early on Monday when his staff met at 7 a.m. to talk about replacing him.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCorey Pittsburgh Brown (No. 3) will likely get the first shot at replacing Christian Bryant for the Buckeyes.
The emotions might still have been raw given Bryant’s importance as more than just a tenacious tackler thanks to the vocal leadership and veteran leadership he provided the Buckeyes in the secondary. But there was nothing Meyer could do to change the fact that Bryant was no longer a part of the plan for trying to stop No. 16 Northwestern on the road this week, and finding somebody to fill that void will stay at the top of the agenda until No. 4 Ohio State finds its best option.

“This is not an easy one,” Meyer said. “Last year, I would have put my hands all over that, because I didn't really know [safeties coach] Everett Withers very well. But he's an excellent football coach, and when we met this morning, I wanted opinions [from the entire staff], and I'm going to give mine.

“And we are going to meet again at 2 o'clock and I want to hear what they are going to do.”

After all that brainstorming, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily need to have identified a permanent solution, but they will need to settle on somebody to line up in Bryant’s spot at safety when they hit the practice field on Tuesday afternoon.

The list has already been whittled to three defensive backs, with Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown the most likely candidate given his experience and some consistent production already this season from his role in the dime package. But nickel safety Tyvis Powell is also a potential target for a starting role in the base formation, and talented true freshman Vonn Bell also gave the Buckeyes something to consider during those conversations on Monday.

But whoever ultimately emerges and takes over Bryant’s job moving forward, the shoes are going to be extremely difficult to fill -- and there isn’t going to be much time to get used to wearing them either.

“This is a very complicated offense,” Meyer said. “It’s one that's going to require [good communication], and one of the disappointing things we had last Saturday was not just a couple guys got beat, but we had some errors in checks and communication.

“We can't have that, and with that position open now, that's a big part of it.”

Brown’s familiarity with the system alongside fellow veteran defensive backs Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett might give him the edge to claim that spot, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs indicated the senior would likely be getting the first crack at it.

Brown had actually been nipping at Bryant’s heels statistically so far this season, with Bryant only leading Brown by one tackle through five games. And Brown had also chipped in a tackle for a loss and broken up a pass, showing signs of the type of versatility the Buckeyes crave in the secondary.

Bryant, though, has set a high standard for stuffing the box score in a variety of different ways, and at least from an on-field perspective, Coombs and the rest of the defensive staff will be watching closely early in the week to make sure they find somebody capable of providing some similar production across the board.

“I think as we sit here this afternoon that Pitt Brown will go in there and play,” Coombs said. “I don’t know exactly the configuration of how all those guys are going to fit going into the week, and some of that will be developed and discussed during practice.

“But our guys, those are versatile players back there and I think that gets understated somewhat.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of Bryant has been overstated. But all the coaches can do now is show up for their early meetings and work on a new plan.

Q&A: Ohio State's Tyvis Powell

September, 6, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tyvis Powell doesn't have to look hard for an example of a guy who has thrived under similar circumstances.

Last season, in fact, his big brother on the team had already walked the path of redshirting as a freshman defensive back and then made his way into the starting lineup in his first game on the active Ohio State roster.

[+] EnlargeTyvis Powell
Jason Mowry/Icon SMIThe play of the safeties has been a recent problem for the Buckeyes, so Tyvis Powell will move over from cornerback to safety to help shore up that area.
Certainly there are some differences in the skill sets of Powell, a tall nickelback, and Bradley Roby, a physical freak who ranks among the best cornerbacks in the nation. But the last player to sit out a year and then become an instant starter like Powell on Saturday against Buffalo was Roby in 2011. That kind of company can bode well for a player who debuted with five tackles and has room to grow.

There were a few people surprised to see you out there starting on the first day of spring practice. Were you expecting to be thrown into the lineup coming off a redshirt year?

Tyvis Powell: Honestly I wasn’t, I’m not going to lie to you. But in January, coach [Urban] Meyer handed out self-evaluation forms to everybody, and after reading some of the questions that were on it, basically what are you doing to help the team and rating yourself, when I rated myself honestly, I felt like I wasn’t really doing anything to help the team. I felt like I was just here, and I didn’t want to be like that. When I recap my life later on, I don’t want to say I was just here. I want to do something to basically make a statement, make a name for myself. What I did was take the winter offseason and just basically work hard, get extra reps, make sure I constantly drilled and got with the older people who were still here, asked them questions about the game. They all helped me out, and then when it came to spring, the strength coaches were telling them, ‘Yeah, Tyvis is coming along.’ I went to meet with [defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell, and he said they wanted to see me at the Star position [in nickel]. So I just went out there Day 1 and tried it, and I’m still here.

You get the evaluation in January, but obviously you’d been feeling some of this stuff while sitting out the year. Was it a frustrating experience to be on the shelf? How did you handle it?

TP: I’m not going to lie to you, at first it was difficult for me to really handle it. Coming out of high school, I was known as a top player. Then to get here and you’re not really doing anything to contribute to the team, it really broke my heart, honestly. Back in the day, I used to write these blogs for the fans and tell them how I wanted to work hard for them, and I kind of felt like I was letting the fans down. When they told me I was redshirting, at first I was depressed about it. Now when I look back on it, I don’t think I was ready to play last year. [Former Ohio State safety] Orhian [Johnson] asked me, ‘Do you really think you’re ready to play?’ I thought about it, and it was like, no, I don’t think I am. Then I talked to Roby, he was my big brother, and he told me every day, you’ve only got one chance to live this life, you should make the best out of every opportunity you get. What I would do is, I was on scout team, so I approached it like, ‘OK, this is my chance.’ I was going against the starters every day, Devin Smith and Philly Brown, and I’m trying to work on my technique and those guys really helped me out. They would point out that I should watch their hips or tell me to pay attention to certain things, help me out to make me a better player. And then, obviously, [cornerbacks coach Kerry] Coombs was staying on me every day. By the end of the year, I started making plays on scout team and the offensive coaches were referencing me to Coach Coombs and telling him I was out there making plays.

Coombs has made it well known how hard he was on you last year. What is your relationship with him like, and was there any adjustment period with that aggressive style?

TP: Not really, because I would say my high school coach, Sean Williams [at Bedford High School in Ohio] used to talk to me just like that. He was on me, anything I did wrong he’d let me know. He’d tell me, ‘Tyvis, this is how they’re going to talk to you on the next level.’ He basically prepared me for it, so when Coach Coombs did it, I kind of liked it. I need that energy. I’d rather him get on me and try to correct me like that than not say anything at all, that would be like giving up on me. That energy, I appreciate it now, I think it made me better. I got it, the way he talked to me, he brought this inner me out of me, got me mad and [I] started making plays better.

After all that happened in the last year, you get on the field on Saturday as a starter in the win over Buffalo. Take me through the emotions out there.

TP: Oh man, first I had to get up and thank God about it. Basically, for the first time playing in the Shoe and knowing you’re going to play, I couldn’t sleep that night. I was in the hotel tossing and turning. I only caught a little bit of sleep, but when it was game time, I was hype, ready to go. Once the ball is kicked off, and you’re with your friends, it’s just fun. At first it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s fast, it’s unbelievable out here.’ But as the game went on, I kind of realized to myself it was the same game I’ve been playing since I was 9 years old -- just a little bit faster. I was able to adjust and be able to make some plays.

Were you happy with the debut and how you played?

TP: I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied. I’m never satisfied. [I'm] very hard on myself and trying to figure out what things I can do better. So, for my first game in the Shoe, I would say I did decent. I made a couple errors, and they weren’t big, but I’d rather eliminate all errors and play a perfect game. But stuff happens, and I’ve got to get better every week.

Returning Roby gives OSU new look

September, 5, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The man-to-man plan wasn’t scrapped just because the top cover guy was missing.

Reflecting on the assignments and the play-calling, the players that were available to cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs were in one-on-one matchups over half the time in Ohio State’s first game of the season.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOhio State cornerback Bradley Roby, who was suspended for the Buckeyes' season opener, led the nation in passes defended in 2012.
The ability to dial up pressure and attack the quarterback wasn’t entirely compromised, either, with Coombs quick to defend the Buckeyes as more aggressive than perhaps they appeared last weekend.

But while Ohio State has consistently stressed its next-guy-up approach and insisted its schemes don’t center around one player and his respective talents, taking arguably the best cornerback in the country out of the equation due to Bradley Roby’s suspension definitely seemed to force a little tweaking in the secondary.

“I think we were probably a little more aggressive than people think,” Coombs said. “At the same time, we weren’t all up in their face and pressing all day and trying to make sure we had enough energy to play four quarters of a football game in that heat without a whole lot of depth.”

The Buckeyes were also short a body at safety with senior C.J. Barnett a late scratch due to an ankle injury, and the absence of two starters with so much experience could understandably limit the playbook.

But it’s Roby’s ability to lockdown half of the field that truly frees up the Buckeyes to pin back their ears up front and dial up blitzes without the fear of getting beat in man coverage down the field. And while he was serving his punishment from coach Urban Meyer for an off-the-field incident at a bar in July, the shorthanded Buckeyes weren’t pushing the limit quite as often in the win over Buffalo as they figure to on Saturday against San Diego State.

“I think so, I think we all want to be a little more aggressive,” Meyer said. “We didn’t play as much bump-and-run coverage, however, we did pressure quite a bit.

“Roby coming back now frees up Armani [Reeves], who was a tremendous special teams player for us a year ago, and we had to be very cautious. He played a lot of football for us in that heat. That helps with our depth.”

The Buckeyes have seemingly gone out of their way to focus on the importance of simply having another cornerback in the fold again, regardless of Roby’s credentials or the fact that there surely isn’t a backup in the country who could block him from the starting lineup. Meyer drove his point home early in the week by bracketing Roby with Reeves in the latest depth chart and indicating he wouldn’t rush a decision about who would ultimately get the nod against the Aztecs, a team that threw the ball 64 times in their opener.

Having a healthy Barnett return to the field is critical as well for a unit that has planned all along to rely heavily on its veteran defensive backs to set the tone for the Buckeyes.

But Barnett wasn’t the guy who led the nation in passes defended last year, wasn’t the one selected as an ESPN.com first-team All-American and wasn’t the defensive back who was flirting with leaving early for the NFL draft last spring. That, of course, was Roby -- and having him back in pads can quickly change the entire complexion of the Ohio State defense.

“Last week, all week, he was in the office watching San Diego State film to prepare himself for this week,” Coombs said. “I think that football players at all levels, but certainly the great ones, they live to play the game. It’s been a long time since he’s been on the field.

“He’s excited about Saturday, I’m excited about Saturday, it’s time to go.”
Is it safe? Is Big Ten coach poaching season over? For the sake of this post, let's hope so.

Although this year's Big Ten coaching carousel didn't include as many riders as last year's, which featured an unprecedented 40 changes in the league, there was a flurry of activity at the end. We saw two coaches -- Jim Bollman and Jim Bridge -- make jumps from one Big Ten school to another (in Bridge's case, he left Illinois the day the Illini opened spring ball for Purdue, where he replaced, you guessed it, Bollman as offensive line coach).

Purdue saw a complete staff overhaul in the transition from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell, while Wisconsin brought in seven new assistants under new boss Gary Andersen. Illinois coach Tim Beckman survived a disastrous first season in Champaign, but he lost six assistants during the winter months, five of whom left voluntarily. Iowa's stretch of staff stability is over, as Kirk Ferentz hired three new assistants for the second straight year, and Michigan State restructured its staff after losing offensive coordinator Dan Roushar to the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Michigan made its first staff change of the Brady Hoke era after losing defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma.

Despite the movement around much of the Big Ten, the league also had complete staff continuity at four schools: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State. Nebraska flipped responsibilities for Barney Cotton and John Garrison, making Cotton the tight ends coach and Garrison the sole offensive line coach. Ohio State added special teams coordinator to the title of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.

Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams without a staff change for the past three seasons.

It seems like the carousel has finally stopped, so let's take a look at the staff changes throughout the league. These changes only include head coaches and full-time assistants.

Here's the rundown (number of new coaches in parentheses):

ILLINOIS (5)

Who's gone?

Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers
Luke Butkus, offensive line
Keith Gilmore, defensive line
Steve Clinkscale, cornerbacks

Who's in?

Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Bellamy, wide receivers
A.J. Ricker, offensive line
Greg Colby, defensive line
Al Seamonson, outside linebackers

Other moves

Hired Ricker after Bridge left for same post at Purdue
Made defensive coordinator Tim Banks secondary coach (had previously coached only safeties)
Split linebacker duties between holdover Mike Ward and new assistant Seamonson
Promoted Bellamy from assistant director of player personnel

INDIANA (2)

Who's gone?

Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Mark Hagen, defensive tackles/special teams and recruiting coordinator

Who's in?

William Inge, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
James Patton, special teams and recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line

IOWA (3)

Who's gone?

Erik Campbell, wide receivers
Lester Erb, running backs/special teams
Darrell Wilson, defensive backs/special teams

Who's in?

Bobby Kennedy, wide receivers
Chris White, running backs/special teams
Jim Reid, assistant linebackers

Other moves

Reid and holdover LeVar Woods will share linebacker duties
D.J. Hernandez, an offensive graduate assistant hired this winter, will work with the tight ends

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Jerry Montgomery, defensive line

Who's in?

Roy Manning, outside linebackers

Other moves

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach defensive line (head coach Brady Hoke also has responsibilities there)
Manning and Mark Smith will share linebacker duties, as Smith now will handle the inside linebackers

MICHIGAN STATE (2)

Who's gone?

Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ted Gill, defensive line

Who's in?

Jim Bollman, co-offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ron Burton, defensive line

Other moves

Promoted quarterbacks coach Dave Warner to co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach. Warner will call plays this fall
Moved running backs coach Brad Salem to quarterbacks
Promoted defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to assistant head coach

PENN STATE (1)

Who's gone?

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator

Who's in?

Anthony Midget, safeties

Other moves

Promoted secondary coach John Butler to defensive coordinator. Butler will continue to coach cornerbacks
Running backs coach Charles London and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will oversee special teams, an area Butler previously handled

PURDUE (10)

Who's gone?

Danny Hope, head coach
Gary Nord, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Greg Burns, defensive backs
Shawn Clark, offensive line
J.B. Gibboney, special teams coordinator
Patrick Higgins, wide receivers
Cornell Jackson, running backs
Donn Landholm, outside linebackers
Kevin Wolthausen, defensive line

Who's in?

Darrell Hazell, head coach
John Shoop, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Greg Hudson, defensive coordinator
Jon Heacock, defensive backs
Jim Bridge, offensive line
Kevin Sherman, wide receivers
Jafar Williams, running backs
Marcus Freeman, linebackers
Rubin Carter, defensive line
Gerad Parker, tight ends/recruiting coordinator

Other moves

Replaced Jim Bollman with Bridge after Bollman left for Michigan State

WISCONSIN (8)

Who's gone?

Bret Bielema, head coach
Matt Canada, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator/defensive backs
Zach Azzanni, wide receivers
Andy Buh, linebackers
Eddie Faulkner, tight ends
Bart Miller, offensive line
Charlie Partridge, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line

Who's in?

Gary Andersen, head coach
Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Chris Beatty, wide receivers
Bill Busch, secondary
Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams coordinator
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
T.J. Woods, offensive line

Retained from previous staff

Thomas Hammock, assistant head coach/running backs/recruiting coordinator
Ben Strickland, assistant secondary coach

Other moves

Hired Genyk to replace tight ends/special teams Jay Boulware, who left earlier this month for a post at Oklahoma
The Big Ten postseason position/unit rankings wrap up with the specialists. This list considers kickers, punters and returners, as well as coverage teams.

Here's how the Big Ten stacked up before the season. If you missed any of our postseason position/unit rankings, check 'em out.

Let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeJeff Budzien
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJeff Bundzien made 95 percent of his field goals and converted all 50 of his extra point attempts in 2012.
1. Northwestern (preseason ranking: 10): Northwestern fans never thought they'd see this day, but the program has improved markedly in the kicking game in recent years. Jeff Budzien was the Big Ten's most consistent kicker in 2012, connecting on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts (lone miss was a 53-yarder) and all 50 of his extra-point tries. Northwestern also led the league in punt return average (16.5) thanks to All-American returner Venric Mark, who had two runbacks for touchdowns. Northwestern ranked 19th nationally in punt coverage.

2. Nebraska (preseason ranking: 1): Brett Maher had a few hiccups but still made 20 of 27 field-goal tries and all 59 of his PATs, and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. He and Budzien shared the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year honors in the Big Ten. Ameer Abdullah had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Nebraska had three solid options on kick returns (Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner).

3. Michigan (preseason ranking: 7): Here's another team that has made major strides in the kicking game in recent years. Kicker Brendan Gibbons was Captain Clutch, converting 16 of 18 field-goal attempts, including the game-winner against Michigan State, as well as all 45 PATs. Dennis Norfleet provided a boost on kick returns, and Will Hagerup led the league in punting average (45 ypp) despite limited attempts (33).

4. Michigan State (preseason ranking: 4): The Spartans' sputtering offense gave Mike Sadler plenty of work and he delivered, averaging 43.3 yards on 79 punts. MSU finished second in the league in net punting. Dan Conroy led the Big Ten in both field goals made (23) and field goals missed (9), but he hit the game-winner against TCU in the bowl game. Michigan State struggled on kick returns, but both Nick Hill and Andre Sims averaged more than eight yards on punt returns.

5. Iowa (preseason ranking: 9): Mike Meyer improved on his 2012 performance, connecting on 17 of 21 field-goal tries and all 25 of his extra-point attempts. Iowa also performed well on returns, as Jordan Cotton led the league in kick returns (28.2 ypr) and Micah Hyde averaged 7.4 yards on 16 punt returns. Punting was a weak spot as Connor Kornbrath averaged only 37.9 yards per boot.

6. Purdue (preseason ranking: 2): The Boilers definitely missed Carson Wiggs, as their kickers connected on only 9 of 14 field-goal tries this season and missed five extra-point attempts. But there were bright spots elsewhere like punter Cody Webster, who averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff returns, thanks to Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert.

7. Ohio State (preseason ranking: 3): It was a mixed bag of big plays and big breakdowns for Ohio State on special teams in 2013. The Buckeyes had a league-high three punt returns for touchdowns but also had three punts blocked and surrendered a kick return for a touchdown against Purdue. Kicker Drew Basil was used sparingly (8 of 11 on field-goal attempts), while Ben Buchanan averaged 41 yards per punt. New special teams chief Kerry Coombs has some things to sort out.

8. Wisconsin (preseason ranking: 5): The kicking game continues to be a little inconsistent for the Badgers. Punter Drew Meyer had a solid season, averaging 41.5 yards on a league-high 80 punts. But Wisconsin kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to convert only 10 of 18 field-goal attempts. Kenzel Doe led Wisconsin's multi-pronged kick return attack, which ranked third in the Big Ten, while Jared Abbrederis was decent on punt returns.

9. Indiana (preseason ranking: 11): The Hoosiers had a so-so season in the kicking game. Kicker Mitch Ewald connected on 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and missed only 1 of 43 PAT tries. Tevin Coleman tied for second in the league in kick returns, while Shane Wynn provided another option there. IU's punters didn't wow with their numbers, but the Hoosiers finished fifth in net punting.

10. Illinois (preseason ranking: 12): You know it's a rough season when you hang your hat on net punting, a statistic where Illinois led the Big Ten (39.2-yard net average). Sophomore Justin DuVernois had a heavy workload and still finished fourth in the league in punting average (41.9 ypp). Illini kickers connected on 8 of 12 field-goal tries, but the return game once again struggled mightily (118th nationally in punt returns, 107th in kick returns).

11. Minnesota (preseason ranking: 6): Troy Stoudermire became the NCAA's all-time kick return yards king and Jordan Wettstein connected for the game-winning field goal in the opener against UNLV, but the Gophers had few other special teams highlights. Wettstein finished the year just 14 of 22 on field goals, and Minnesota ranked last in the league in net punting (34.4 ypp). The return game was mediocre but Minnesota fared OK in kickoff and punt coverage.

12. Penn State (preseason ranking: 8) Sam Ficken's finish nearly kept Penn State out of the basement. Ficken connected on his final 10 field-goal tries, including the game-winner in overtime against Wisconsin. The Virginia game still stings, though, as he finished 14-for-21 for the season. Penn State struggled with its punting (11th in league in net average) and finished last in the league in kick returns (18.1 ypr). There were coverage breakdowns and muffed punts. The lack of depth following the NCAA sanctions seemed to hurt Penn State the most in the kicking game, especially early in the season.


One thing Urban Meyer has definitely brought to the Big Ten is some serious signing day drama.

Meyer flipped several recruits Ohio State's way last year, and on Wednesday the Buckeyes were one of the big stories on signing day again. They won battles for two key blue-chippers in ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell and four-star receiver James Clark, while also keeping ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott in the fold after he took a late visit to Missouri.

"It was a very eventful day," Meyer said. "We went to bed last night with three guys very on edge. I thought, 'If we hit one out of three, it would be all right. Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three is going to be, knock it out of the park.'"

It turned into another home run day for the Buckeyes, who currently rank No. 3 nationally in ESPN.com's class rankings Insider (and No. 1 in Scout.com's rankings). How good was it? Here's what assistant coach Kerry Coombs tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
"You know that Christmas when you got exactly everything you wanted plus a few extra special bonuses? That's what today was! #bestclassever."

Ohio State did lose previously committed receiver Taivon Jacobs to Maryland, but it was more than happy to trade him for Clark. Landing Bell, a Georgian who was hotly pursued by Tennessee and Alabama, was the sweetest victory. Meyer called it a "street fight." In making his announcement on ESPN, Bell said Meyer was on a mission to beat Alabama and win national championships.

Meyer didn't take the bait when later asked about gunning for 'Bama, saying Michigan would always be Ohio State's rival. But he did acknowledge that there's "a little bit of a chase gong on with the SEC. ... We want to increase the speed on our team little bit."

The Buckeyes definitely did that, while Meyer once again proved he's one of the great closers in college football.

Though Ohio State hogged most of the headlines, the other Big Ten teams also celebrated their 2013 classes while making a little news as well:
  • Nebraska rode the roller coaster with ESPN 300 athlete Tre'vell Dixon, who had already committed, decommited and recommitted to the Huskers during the process before word leaked out this week he would be going to Arizona State. In the end, Dixon signed with Nebraska, which put together a Top 25 class.
  • Minnesota scored a late coup with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, a one-time Tennessee commit who was expected to sign with Kansas State. Campbell, who was also courted by Texas, has three years of eligibility left.
  • Wisconsin lost committed safety Marcus Ball -- whose older brother, Ray, is a Badgers offensive lineman -- to Arizona State. But new coach Gary Andersen managed to hold most of the class together while adding a few key signees.
  • There was a little intraconference intrigue on signing day as Iowa nabbed linebacker Reggie Spearman, who had been committed to Illinois.
  • Indiana quietly put together one of its best classes ever, and avoided any last-minute poaching.
  • No news was good news at Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions, despite severe scholarship limits, still brought home a strong collection of talent that included the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) and top tight end (Adam Breneman). The bulk of Michigan's class had been assembled for months, and the Wolverines withstood some late drama with defensive tackle Henry Poggi, who stayed on board despite a late push from Alabama.

Michigan didn't get as much attention on signing day as Ohio State, but Brady Hoke still put together a class currently ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN.com. And unlike Meyer, who got so tired of sweating out Bell's decision that he had to go get on the treadmill, Hoke had a drama-free day. The Wolverines announced their entire class by noon ET.

One thing that appears likely after the latest signing day: Michigan and Ohio State are headed for plenty of dramatic collisions on the field in the coming years.

You can see every Big Ten team's signees by going here.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Bradley Roby came to Ohio State with a specific plan mapped out.

Redshirt the first year, in part because the Buckeyes had two senior starters returning at cornerback (Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence). Check.

Earn a starting job as a redshirt freshman and keep it throughout Year 2 in the program. Check.

Cover the Big Ten's best wide receivers -- including four selected in last month's NFL draft -- both in games and in Buckeyes practices. Check.

"That's what I put all my efforts into," Roby told ESPN.com, "and I'm glad it came to fruition."

One item not included on Roby's plan was upset a future first-round pick with both skills and trash talk. But he succeeded in doing so during Ohio State's victory at Illinois in October. Roby held Illini star receiver A.J. Jenkins to 80 yards and no touchdowns -- Jenkins came in averaging 135.8 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Roby also set up Ohio State's first touchdown with a 36-yard interception return.

Roby had sparked some fireworks earlier in the week when he described Jenkins as "decent, but he's nothing special, really." Jenkins had proclaimed himself the Big Ten's top receiver earlier in the season, and he had been backing it up. Roby now says the media spun his comments "out of control" but admits his words added excitement to the game.

The Buckeyes cornerback doesn't hide the fact he likes to talk trash during games, but most of his targets don't return fire. Jenkins did.

"I guess that's because I got in his head," Roby said. "Because if they're not responding to you, most likely they’re trying to ignore you. But if they're yelling back at you, it means you're getting to them. So keep doing it."

Roby will keep yapping, and he'll continue seeking out the best competition. Last fall, he lined up across from standouts like Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham and Wisconsin's Nick Toon. He already has watched some tape of California standout Keenan Allen, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2011 who will visit Ohio State in Week 3.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Roby also challenged himself in practice by seeking out DeVier Posey, Ohio State's top receiver. Posey played in just three games last season because of suspension, but was drafted in the third round in April.

"I always would want to go against DeVier last year to make sure I'm getting better," Roby said. "You only get better when you go against better people. If you can hang with DeVier, you can hang with any receiver in the Big Ten."

Ohio State's lack of depth at receiver entering 2012 is well documented, and asked who he sought out this spring, Roby replied, "Nobody, really." Still, he has a good eye for talent. When we talked two days before Ohio State's spring game, Roby spotted freshman Michael Thomas walking by and told me to look out for him. Thomas ended up recording 12 catches for 131 yards in the spring game.

Roby spent much of the spring working on off-man coverage, a focal point for new secondary coaches Everett Withers and Kerry Coombs. Ohio State played mostly press coverage in 2011 and will continue to do so, but off-man will be a bigger part of the scheme going forward. Roby welcomes the change.

"If you're a good athlete, anybody can play press," he said. "Coach Withers told me that's one thing in the [NFL] a lot of corners don't know how to do when they come from college. They just press, and they can't play off-man. Some teams need their corners to play off-man, so if you can't do that, you can't play. So me being able to learn this at this age, having three years left eligibility-wise, it will definitely help me by the time I get to that next level."

The next level is certainly part of Roby's plan, and broadening his coverage skills is crucial in taking that step.

"Technique, eyes in the right place, making sure you stay low," he said. "You've got to be disciplined to play off-man, because one false move, it's a touchdown."

Roby made some false moves during his first season in the fire, but he also showed he's a playmaker, tying for the team lead in interceptions (3), leading the team in pass breakups (6) and adding a forced fumble and 3.5 tackles for loss. The rapid rise didn't surprise Roby, who, in case it's not obvious, oozes confidence.

"To be a DB, you've got to have that," Buckeyes safety C.J. Barnett said. "You've got to think you're the best out there, because you don't have confidence, you're going to get beat. Roby, he exerts that. I really wasn’t surprised by what he did last year. We all knew that he was good. He just needed his time and he stepped up."

Big Ten lunch links

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
12:00
PM ET
Here's your Thursday linkage.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
12:00
PM ET
The final three Big Ten squads hit the practice field this week. Got spring fever yet?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 2, 2012
3/02/12
1:30
PM ET
Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Matt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: In hiring Coombs, that now puts two previous head coaches and an "associate head coach" on the staff. I'm not sure what the latter exactly entails, but it seems like a good move. Generally, the only concern people cite with Meyer is the possibility of him burning himself out again. But, in hiring guys like Coombs, Withers, and Fickell, it seems Urban has guys that he won't think need to be micromanaged and that can pick up some slack here and there if he feels overwhelmed at certain points. Generally, I think this is very important, and being a bit overlooked. Your thoughts? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, that's a really good point. Meyer has surrounded himself with people to whom he can delegate, people who know what it's like to be a head coach and can be comfortable with a lot of responsibility. This is a very good staff with a mix of mostly experienced coaches and some younger guys like Zach Smith. Now will Meyer actually delegate and not burn himself out? It's tough to tell until the grind of the season begins. There's no doubt Meyer is refreshed, but the season and the pressure can take a lot out of you, especially if you're as competitive as he is. But you're absolutely right in saying the framework is there with this staff so he doesn't have to micromanage the team.


Thomas from Chicago writes: First of all, I think both you and Brian do a great job covering the B1G and manage to stay pretty fair in your reporting. However, in regards to the grading of coordinator hires you and Brian both mention that Phil Parker has no previous coordinating experience. I'm sure you are both aware that he served as the co defensive coordinator in 2010 when the Godfather was out due to health reasons. So does that bump him up a half grade in both of your eyes? And a better question is why do I care so much?

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, love the self-awareness, Thomas. But you're right and we should have pointed that out. While it was a collective effort for Iowa's defensive staff during Norm's absence, Phil seemed to take a lead role. Still, it's a bit different when you're the permanent coordinator and the guy leading the defensive meetings. It's still hard to grade Phil Parker, because we don't really know what type of imprint he'll put on the defense. Will he just keep Norm's system? Will there be some actual tweaking? I know he has a different personality, but how he'll impact the unit remains to be seen.


Lee from Dundee, Mich., writes: Adam, Need some big time help here. I'm a huge MSU fan, and regardless of the four wins in a row my friend (big time U of M fan) says that MSU's reign is over due to Michigan getting the better rated recruits. However, I look at so many of the better MSU players in the past few years that weren't rated high at all and I believe that MSU has some great coaches up there that mold them into great players. I just don't see MSU going away and this rivalry will remain competitive. Who's argument holds more water?

Adam Rittenberg: Lee, I think yours does. Will Michigan State keep beating Michigan every year? No. But the programs are both part of the Big Ten's upper crust entering the 2012 season. Michigan's staff is recruiting extremely well, and Michigan State also has done a good job on the trail, even if the most recent classes haven't been rated as high. As you note, Michigan State's staff develops talent well, as does Michigan's. Michigan State also has made a greater commitment to football with the Skandalaris Center, higher salaries for assistants like Pat Narduzzi, and other ventures. So I see this rivalry remaining competitive for the foreseeable future.


Craig from Bordentown, N.J., writes: "As a reminder, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's IMPACT ON HIS TEAM,"I don't think you hate DRob, but let's focus for a minute on that highlighted portion above. You wanted to suggest that MORE than 16 players in the B1G had a BIGGER impact on their team? The "defense" bailed him out, as you replied. That's an entire half the team. As DRob went, so went all of Michigan's offense. Monte was good, but he couldn't single carry his offense, they were great because of the line and the QB and RB. Fitz was good, and critical to keeping Robinson in the season, but didn't shoulder the team. Cousins was impressive, and did shoulder a great deal of that offense -- I'd still question whether he was the barometer. This _individual_ had a greater impact on his team, for better or worse than anyone else in the league (and his #'s show for the better MOST of the time). less than 16th? Do you really need to wonder why fans are mad? You're a professional Rittenberg, and while we already know your judgment is questionable based on your stand for the SEC, do try to put a little reason into your responses.

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, if the rankings were solely based on impact, Robinson would be hired. But there's a second element to the sentence you quoted: performance during the 2011 season. This is where other players shined above Robinson, whose 2011 performance wasn't bad, but wasn't as strong as the other players on the list. We looked for players who were good to great every time they took the field. Montee Ball's overall 2011 performance? Much better than Robinson's. Kirk Cousins overall 2011 performance? Better than Robinson's. Why do you think they were All-Big Ten and he wasn't? It's easy to get lost in the dynamic plays, the brilliant runs, etc. We do, too! But we also can't overlook the mistakes made in some of the same games (Notre Dame, Northwestern). Robinson impacted games, both positively and negatively. You're absolutely right about that. But the total picture, his overall performance, puts him lower on the list.


Blaise from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I have never been motivated to write to you before; I genuinely enjoy the blog and your (impartial) work, and I have never had a need to write an angry letter before. Well, that time has come, as I am angry. I am appalled at your recent story highlighting the lack of minority coaches in the B1G. Your piece was wholly meritless. Whatever happened to hiring the right guy to coach the kids (as I believe all B1G schools all have) and then moving on? Why should any B1G school feel as if they have to hire a ?second rate? person just to promote a mythical and destructive force called diversity? If any minority candidate was the best person for a job, I have absolutely no qualms in saying that they would be a head coach right now. By highlighting the lack of minority coaches, YOU are continuing to harm them by suggesting they are a class of people that need extra assistance to get hired. How insulting to minorities! By continuing to imply, as you have, that race is a factor in hiring, then you are continuing to perpetuate the myth that there are two types of people, minority and white. I reject that assumption. We should all be ?color blind?, hiring based on performance, integrity, and competence, not skin color and ancestry.

Adam Rittenberg: Blaise, my hope is that your last sentence proves true in all of college football. But I can't see how I'm harming minority coaches by pointing out facts that underscore the uphill climb they have faced to land these jobs. Do they need extra assistance to be hired? Absolutely not. You and many others completely missed the point of the story, which points out that there are enough African-American candidates to get these jobs based on their own merits and nothing else. The pool of these candidates is larger than ever. Events like the minority coaches forum and organizations like the BCA have helped increase this pool. And we're seeing the numbers increase everywhere -- big conferences, small conferences. It's noteworthy to point out the Big Ten hasn't seen any African-American coaches since Bobby Williams, and only one in the past 20+ years. Does that mean Big Ten programs are racist? No. But it's important that these programs give strong consideration to African-American candidates for every opening going forward -- as some Big Ten schools have -- because the message nationally is that there are enough qualified candidates to be getting more jobs.


Rob from New York writes: Adam I understand that a big part of your job is to critique and criticize the B1G, but I know I'm not alone in thinking you take it too far. Maybe it's how ESPN divvies up the columns, but your columns consistently portray the B1G in a negative light in recruiting, bowl games and even in expansion (which is something the B1G arguably did best). Hell, you even had a tweet a few weeks ago about B1G *hoops* hurting 'national perception.' Who cares?! People go here to read about B1G teams, not other conferences and least of all the SEC. I have enough pro-SEC propaganda in my life, I don't need the one place for the Big Ten to be infected with it as well. And when it comes down to what these colleges are supposed to be doing, educating, the B1G is doing a pretty stellar job of it. So back off, for God's sake, or else leave the criticism columns to Bennett who at least acknowledges we're tired of hearing about every conference but our own.

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, I've repeatedly praised the Big Ten for its expansion with Nebraska, so you're pulling that comment out of you know where. In regard to bowl games, what do you want me to say? I've been one of the few national media members who consistently point out the inherent disadvantages Big Ten teams face in bowls. Would I revamp the Big Ten's bowl lineup? Absolutely. Wouldn't think twice about it. But the records are what they are, and it's hard to spin it any other way when the Big Ten consistently finishes under .500 in bowls. The Big Ten's academic reputation speaks for itself and has been praised on this blog repeatedly. If you are coming here to feel warm and fuzzy about your team and your conference, you're in the wrong place. There are other outlets that can give you what you want. If you want to read about the positive and negative elements of the league and its teams, this is the place for you.


Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, wanted to thank you for answering some of my prior questions, I believe you have a really good handle on the pulse of B1G Football. I do want to point out however that I believe you are making a very strong and bothersome comment in your Weekly "chat" when answering a question about Kirk Ferentz ("He's the most powerful person at that university by far, and he has the administration under his thumb despite some weaker seasons.") I am certain you weren't aware when you answered this way on the fly during chat, but as a Penn State alum, we have ALL learned that this kind of "power" can lead to disastrous consequences. I am not insinuating that there are scandals brewing at the University of Iowa, but simply stating that we should learn from what happened at Penn State to say that the head football coach should NOT have the kind of power that you were alluding to. My question however is, as much as I enjoy reading the B1G Football blog, it IS college basketball season, when is ESPN going to have full time conference bloggers like you? Or do they and I am not aware? Who wins a B1G Championship first, Penn State Men's Basketball or Indiana Football?

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, while I wasn't thinking about the Penn State situation when making the comment about Ferentz and Iowa, I still think he has a ton of power on that campus. Too much? I know some folks think so. You're right that the Penn State situation should be a lesson, and while Iowa has had some off-field issues, including the rhabdo outbreak last winter, it's not the same. As to your question, we don't cover college basketball the same way as college football, but we do have an excellent college basketball nation blog that contains a ton of Big Ten coverage from my buddy Eamonn Brennan and others. You should definitely check it out if you haven't already. I like what Pat Chambers is building in State College.
Urban Meyer twice thought he had his cornerbacks coach locked up. The new Ohio State boss originally planned to retain Taver Johnson, but Johnson left for Arkansas. Then Meyer hired coaching veteran Bill Sheridan, a move that lasted only a couple of weeks before Sheridan decided to take an NFL job instead.

Meyer hopes the third time is a charm, and he looked within his own state for his latest choice to round out his staff. Cincinnati assistant Kerry Coombs is moving to Columbus, and assuming this one sticks, it's a really good move.

Coombs has coached defensive backs for the Bearcats since 2007, and has worked with some good players there, including eventual NFL draft picks Haruki Nakamura, Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, and Buckeyes transfer Brandon Underwood. The 2008 secondary was a big reason why Cincinnati won its first Big East title. While it's true that Meyer's Florida team led by Tim Tebow tore apart the Bearcats' pass defense in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, Coombs has done solid work during his tenure at Cincinnati.

Here's another reason why hiring Coombs is smart: Before Brian Kelly gave him his first college job in 2007, Coombs was an extremely successful high school coach at Cincinnati's Colerain High School. His connections to the high schools in that city have made him a strong recruiter in that talent-rich area. Cincinnati should be a major pipeline for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have had more success in the northern part of the state. Coombs should give them even more recruiting inroads.

I covered Coombs during my time as the Big East blogger and can tell you he is a fiery guy who was often the loudest voice at practice. It was impossible not to hear his raspy voice screaming both encouragement and criticism at his defensive backs after virtually every play. The Bearcats seemed to respond well to that style, and Kelly liked Coombs so much that he promoted him to associate head coach.

In other Ohio State news, linebacker Jordan Whiting announced via Twitter that he is transferring to Louisville. The redshirt junior was best known for incurring a one-game suspension for his role in the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal, and had not made much of an impact on the field. He'll try to restart his career in his hometown.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
12:00
PM ET
It happened. Satan's trifecta. The day I most dreaded had fallen on the day I most loved.

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