Big Ten: KJ Maye

Quarterback competitions dominated the Big Ten landscape this spring, but one race we expected to continue after the 2013 season never really got started. Philip Nelson's surprising decision to transfer from Minnesota put Mitch Leidner in the spotlight this spring as the Golden Gophers' top signal-caller. Leidner, who split time with Nelson last season, received the coaches' blessing before spring ball and solidified his position atop the depth chart.

Minnesota has churned out strong defenses under coach Jerry Kill, and the run game should be a major strength this season. But can the Gophers throw the ball after finishing 115th nationally in passing last year? That question falls mainly on Leidner, whose athleticism is obvious, but he must grow into a complete quarterback.

ESPN.com checked in with Leidner earlier this week.

How did the spring go for you personally?

Mitch Leidner: I thought it went really well. The spring game didn't end the way I wanted it to, but looking back at all the practices and going over some of the new stuff, I really like what we're doing. It gets me excited for next season. What we've been doing now with workouts and some throwing, it's a good start for the summer.

[+] EnlargeNebraska vs Minnesota
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMitch Leidner took the reins as Minnesota's unquestioned first-string quarterback this spring and ran with it.
How was this spring different for you than the last one?

ML: It was more of a leadership role. I felt like an older guy on the team, which is what we were looking for. It was good to help out some of the younger quarterbacks and trying to help them caught up, and building chemistry with that [first-team] huddle, being in there all the time. I bring a lot of juice and passion to the game, and I think the guys love that. I've always been like that. I always wanted to play college football and worked extremely hard at it.

How do you see the offense evolving this season?

ML: In terms of our running backs, all those guys are playing well. And our O-line, most of those guys are coming back. In terms of receivers, I'm really excited because they played well throughout the spring and we have a couple of young guys coming in here in the summertime. At running back, David Cobb and Berkley Edwards and Rodrick Williams all stood out. [Donnell] Kirkwood's playing well, too. He had a little bit of a hernia, so he got all fixed up. There's some competition now. Berkley's a really explosive player. He's fun to watch.

I know fans were hoping to see Edwards last year. What was it like being around him this spring?

ML: It was good. You like having him in your huddle because every time you give him the ball, I know there's a chance he's going to bust one.

What did you and the receivers work on to improve the passing game?

ML: The biggest thing is throwing it out of their breaks. Every ball that we're throwing is thrown before they're even breaking on it. We can get a really good feel of our timing. The talent's there. We just have to get on the same page a little bit more.

Was there anything mechanically you worked on?

ML: I've been working on a lot of different hip things, getting my hips into my throws more. I've seen a lot of changes in the way I throw a ball from last season until now. Continuing to work on that has helped me get more juice behind my throws. I've been an over-the-top thrower. Now it's more bringing my hips through like a punch. Some of the workouts I've been doing with bands have helped me develop into it easily.

What stood out to you about the wide receivers this spring?

ML: It was good for a couple of the younger guys. Donovahn Jones hadn't had a spring ball and even during fall camp last year, he was playing quarterback most of the time. He eventually got moved to receiver and really had never played receiver before. A couple other younger guys like Eric Carter stepped up, and KJ [Maye] played well, too.

What are the main goals for the offense?

ML: We want to put up a lot of points every game. We want to be explosive, make big plays. It's really exciting to be part of the Gopher offense right now.

Lastly, any chance we see the return of the 'stache this year?

ML: I don't know, we'll see what happens. Maybe I'll mix it up a little bit.
Michigan's defense controlled play throughout the spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium, echoing a theme throughout most of the league that day.

Several Big Ten squads held scrimmages or open practices, and the defenses had the edge in most of them. The offenses stepped up in a few, and several quarterbacks appear to be separating themselves.

Let's recap the weekend scrimmages. (Note: Scrimmages that were closed to the media and had no available statistics.)

WISCONSIN

Despite a new-look front seven and several position changes, Wisconsin's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both had good days against an undermanned receiving corps, and coach Gary Andersen called the quarterback play very average. "We have a long way to go in the throw game, and that's disappointing," Andersen said. "If we want to be a good team, we have to figure that out." The defense also shined against the run, even against top backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

PURDUE

Technically, the Boilers' offense won Saturday's jersey scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium. But the defense looked stronger for much of the day, recording seven sacks and two takeaways. Unofficially, five Boilers recorded sacks, including two from tackle Michael Rouse III, who finished with three tackles for loss. Coach Darrell Hazell said of the defensive line, "They played in the [offensive] backfield."

Top quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled, combining to complete 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown (Etling) and an interception (Appleby). Running back Raheem Mostert highlighted the offense with 134 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Mostert is making a strong push this spring to be Purdue's No. 1 running back.

MINNESOTA

The Gophers' defense loses top performers Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen from last fall's unit, but it controlled play on Saturday. Minnesota's D held the offense without a point on its first seven possessions in the scrimmage. Safety Cedric Thompson had an excellent interception off a deflection on the first drive. The offense picked it up later in the scrimmage, as quarterback Mitch Leidner found KJ Maye for a 50-yard touchdown strike, and both Leidner and Berkley Edwards had long touchdown runs.

NEBRASKA

Here's one offense that flexed its muscles on Saturday after being subdued earlier in the week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had an "efficient" performance, according to coach Bo Pelini, as he continues to look like the team's top signal-caller. Armstrong ran for two touchdowns. Sophomore Terrell Newby received a lot of work at running back as Ameer Abdullah sat out, and receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned a short pass into a long gain. Defensive tackle Aaron Curry left the field with a neck injury, but Pelini thinks he'll be fine.

MICHIGAN STATE

The offense recorded a 27-25 win against the defense in MSU's first spring jersey scrimmage, as quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who has been relatively quiet since transferring from Tennessee, had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyler O'Connor, competing for the backup quarterback job, had a good day (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD).

After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, the defense forced four consecutive stops. Standouts included safety Kurtis Drummond (six tackles, 1 TFL, interception), end Shilique Calhoun (two sacks) and linebacker Chris Frey, an early enrollee, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss.

ILLINOIS

The Illini had their second off-site practice of the spring, traveling to Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield for a controlled scrimmage on Friday night. Quarterback Wes Lunt continues to look like Illinois' starter. According to Rivals.com's Doug Buchson, Lunt completed his first 14 pass attempts against the second-string defense for about 250 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek continues his strong spring, and receiver Geronimo Allison had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Lunt.

Defensive linemen Kenny Nelson and DeJazz Woods stood out against the second-team offensive line, consistently penetrating the backfield. Cornerback Caleb Day also looked good.

RUTGERS

The most important thing coming out of Rutgers' first spring scrimmage was some clarity at quarterback, as Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano all worked with the first-team offense. Although a rash of injuries made it tough to get a true gauge, Bimonte had the best day, leading two touchdown drives. Coach Kyle Flood said all three signal-callers will continue to work with the top offense. Flood singled out defensive linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay for their play during the scrimmage.

NORTHWESTERN

Like several other Big Ten teams, Northwestern can't have full-blown scrimmages because of its injury situation. But the Wildcats had their top units match up for stretches of Saturday's practice on the lakefront. Trevor Siemian entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback and appears to be ending it the same way. Siemian looked sharp on his first series, completing all three of his attempts. Dropped passes were a problem for much of the day, but wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who has battled injuries for much of his career, had a one-handed grab on a pass from Zack Oliver. Cornerback Matt Harris and safety Kyle Queiro both made plays for the defense.

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes invited students inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Saturday's practice, creating some cool scenes. Several young players stood out, namely cornerback Eli Apple, who had two interceptions and a big hit. Running back Curtis Samuel, an early enrollee, also sparked the crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run. Linebacker has been an area of concern for Ohio State, but Darron Lee and Chris Worley both made some plays on the outside. Ezekiel Elliott is looking more like Ohio State's top running back, as he showed his size and versatility during the practice.

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