Big Ten: Kory Sheets

Before Purdue cemented itself as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks," the Boilers produced several superstar running backs, and Otis Armstrong might have been the best of the bunch.

Armstrong succeeded another Boilers' ball-carrying standout, Leroy Keyes, and starred for Purdue from 1970-72. Unlike Keyes, Armstrong played on mostly weak teams under Bob DeMoss, which made his accomplishments fly under the national radar. But Armstrong got his due Tuesday as the Big Ten's only member of the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame class.

A Chicago native, Armstrong arrived at Purdue in 1969 and, like all freshmen, sat out the season. He announced himself the following fall with 1,009 rush yards on 213 carries, becoming just the second Purdue back (Keyes being the other) to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground. After a solid junior campaign, Armstrong sizzled as a senior, racking up 1,361 rush yards and nine touchdowns en route to earning consensus All-America honors. He finished his career with a flourish, piling up 276 yards against archrival Indiana, a single-game team record that stands to this day.

Armstrong still holds Purdue's record for career rushing attempts (671), and his career rush yards mark (3,315) is third behind two players (Mike Alstott and Kory Sheets) who played four seasons. He twice recorded five 100-yard rush games in a season (1970, 1970) and trails only Alstott for most career 100-yard rush performances at Purdue (13 in 31 career games).

Armstrong also stood out as a kick returner, averaging 30.1 yards per runback with two touchdowns in 1972. He added five receiving touchdowns on 36 career receptions.

Although Purdue went just 13-17 during Armstrong's career, his accomplishments didn't go unnoticed and he was selected No. 9 overall by Denver in the 1973 NFL draft. Armstrong played eight seasons with the Broncos, earning two Pro Bowl selections and rushing for 4,453 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The message Purdue's coaches had for Keith Smith before the season is the type every player wants to hear.

 
  Andrew Weber/US Presswire
 Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Keith Smith is benefiting from a slimmer figure.

Purdue had lost its top two wide receivers from 2008, Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who ranked second and third in the Big Ten in receptions, combining for 136 catches, 1,596 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The Boilers also lost running back Kory Sheets, a very good pass receiver, as well as wideouts Brandon Whittington and Joe Whitest.

When it came to proven players at the wide receiver position, the discussion started and ended with Smith.

"They didn’t really give the specifics with it," Smith recalled. "They just told me they were going to work me. They were going to use me as a workhorse."

Purdue has had a workhorse receiver ever since Joe Tiller brought the spread offense to West Lafayette in 1997. In fact, Boilermakers wideout has recorded at least 63 receptions in each of the last 12 seasons. First, it was Brian Alford. Then Isaac Jones. Then Chris Daniels. Then Vinny Sutherland. Then Taylor Stubblefield and John Standeford. Then Dorien Bryant. Then Orton and Tardy.

Now it's Smith's turn, and he has made the most of it. He leads the Big Ten in both receptions (59) and receiving yards (771) for a confident Purdue team that has won back-to-back games after a string of heartbreaking losses.

Smith and the Boilers aim for three straight Saturday against Wisconsin (ESPN2, noon ET).

"I’m not surprised to see him having the type of year that he’s having," Purdue first-year head coach Danny Hope said. "He saw the opportunity and really seized that. He’s an exceptional worker, and he’s very talented. He knew he was going to be the go-to guy at the beginning of the season and cashed in."

Smith was thrilled to be labeled a workhorse wideout before the season, but he also knew what it meant. He had dislocated his shoulder in a Week 2 matchup last year against Oregon and couldn't do much conditioning during practice, so he ballooned to more than 240 pounds.

With the shoulder fully healed, Smith shed about 20 pounds during the offseason and now checks in at a solid 226.

"It’s been great," Smith said. "I've been able to beat a lot of teams deep and get behind their coverages. I feel like I have a quicker step now, so it’s helped me tremendously on the field, to be able to widen my array of routes."

Hope made speed and quickness major priorities for the Boilers, who had players slim down at every position. Smith's weight loss has translated into obvious gains on Saturdays.

"It made him a faster player," Hope said. "It made him a better player in space. It allows him to stay in the game and get most of the reps. He gets stronger as the game goes on. That’s not always true at the receiver position, especially a big receiver.

"He’s scaled down significantly size wise and it’s really impacted the quality of his play."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The students are back on campus here at Purdue, and they have questions for Boilermakers junior wide receiver Keith Smith.

"Everyone's coming up, saying, 'How's [quarterback] Joey [Elliott] looking? How's the defense looking? How's the offense?" Smith said. "Everyone's always asking because they don't know anyone right now. They've gotten so used to seeing Curtis Painter and Greg Orton and those guys.

"Just for it to be a change-up, people are going to doubt it and they're not going to know what's going on."

No team in the Big Ten seems harder to decipher than Purdue, which went through a wave of changes in personnel and on the coaching staff during the offseason. Longtime head coach Joe Tiller departed along with both coordinators, and new coach Danny Hope hired three new assistants for running backs, the offensive line and special teams.

The Boilers lose Painter, their record-setting quarterback, along with their top two receivers (Orton and Desmond Tardy), their starting running back (Kory Sheets) and several veteran defenders, including linebacker Anthony Heygood.

Hope's first recruiting class also had a mysterious quality about it, with 14 mostly unheralded players from the state of Florida.

"On paper, it's easy for people to make their assessments, when you look at people coming back, who's left," linebacker Jason Werner said. "But you can't judge talent if you haven't seen it yet."

And Werner is convinced Purdue boasts enough talent to compete in the Big Ten.

The freshmen are expected to contribute immediately and several have stood out in camp, including wide receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush and linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs. Purdue gets Werner and running back Jaycen Taylor back from injuries that kept them out all of last season, and junior college players like wideouts Keith Carlos join the mix.

"We know what we're capable of and what we can do," Smith said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions that will be answered real soon."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The view Jaycen Taylor wanted last year consisted of several large, angry men chasing after him, or better yet, a patch of open grass leading toward two big posts.

Instead, Taylor watched it all from the sideline after tearing the ACL in his right knee during preseason camp at Purdue.

But Taylor's view wasn't all bad.

"I understand coaches try to see it how we see things and players usually don't see it as coaches see it," Taylor said, "but since I sat out and saw what they saw, it'll help me more this year."

Taylor is back on the field for Purdue's preseason camp and competing for carries with a deep group of talented running backs. The Boilers lose leading rusher Kory Sheets, but no position group looked more impressive in the spring than the backs, particularly Ralph Bolden and Dan Dierking. Heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse is also on the field this month in West Lafayette.

After sharing carries with Sheets in 2006 and 2007, Taylor boasts by far the most experience of the backs. He has 1,237 rush yards on 220 career carries and ranks fourth on the school's all-time list with 5.62 yards per carry.

But after a year away from the field, Taylor knows his numbers don't mean a whole lot.

"Whether I have the most experience or the least experience," he said, "I need to be out there and prove myself to the coaches."

Taylor was limited during spring ball but has been fully cleared for camp. He trusts the knee on cuts and plants but knows the true test comes with the pads on.

"I just have to get tackled and see how that feels," he said.

It surely will beat sitting out.

As he rehabbed his knee, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Taylor spent the year working on his upper-body strength. But his biggest gains came between the ears.

"I was watching and being able to read things before they even happen," he said. "I hope to be able to see things faster and sooner, so I can make my decisions off that."

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The preseason position rankings march on with the wide receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten wasn't known for its air show last year, as only Illinois ranked among the top 25 nationally in pass offense. But most would agree the league boasts two of the nation's elite wide receivers in Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Minnesota's Eric Decker, as well as a good crop of tight ends led by Wisconsin's Garrett Graham. The overall landscape at wideout/tight end should improve this fall.

1. Illinois -- An easy choice for the top spot as Illinois boasts by far the league's best crop of wide receivers. Benn aims for a second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and hopes to increase his touchdowns total. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson enters the mix and should make a major impact along with Jeff Cumberland. Senior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is one of the league's more underrated players.

2. Minnesota -- Decker certainly headlines the group and will finish his career as arguably the most decorated wide receiver in team history. But he's not alone. Junior college stud Hayo Carpenter arrives and will play alongside Brandon Green, Ben Kuznia, Da'Jon McKnight and Troy Stoudermire, who should play a much bigger role in the passing game after working more at receiver this spring.

3. Michigan State -- The Spartans return virtually everyone from a receiving corps that had some decent moments last fall. Blair White and Mark Dell both have All-Big Ten potential, and the team will look for more production from Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham. The real story here is the depth at tight end. No Big Ten team boasts more as Charlie Gantt and Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum lead the way.

4. Wisconsin -- Much like Michigan State, Wisconsin brings back the core from a group that endured ups and downs in 2008. Graham enters the fall as the Big Ten's premier tight end and has Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner behind him. The improvement at wide receiver should be the biggest difference for Wisconsin. Nick Toon could be a star this fall, and Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath all return. 

5.  Ohio State -- The Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) are gone, but Ohio State could be more explosive at wide receiver this season. Though Ray Small's academic situation creates some uneasiness, DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher form a nice 1-2 punch. Ohio State should be better at the tight end position with the Jakes (Ballard and Stoneburner).

6. Michigan -- This group didn't have much of a chance to shine last fall, but things should be different in 2009. The big-play potential is there with Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews and Darryl Stonum, and redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree had a solid spring. Tight end Kevin Koger could be a very effective weapon if Michigan throws to him more. 

7. Iowa -- There are some question marks here, namely Tony Moeaki's health and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' practice performance, but it wouldn't surprise me if Iowa climbed the list. Moeaki could bring a huge spark at tight end after the loss of Brandon Myers. Johnson-Koulianos will be motivated after his depth-chart demotion, and converted quarterback Marvin McNutt has impressed the coaches.  

8. Penn State -- I'm sure I'll hear it from Nittany Nation (as I usually do), but the loss of three multiyear starters takes a pretty big toll. It wouldn't shock me one bit if Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and Chaz Powell don't miss a beat, but I need to see them excel in more featured roles. Tight end Andrew Quarless has tons of talent but needs to put it all together this fall.

9. Purdue -- The Boilers usually find a way to succeed at wide receiver, but they lose a lot in Greg Orton, Desmond Tardy and running back Kory Sheets, an excellent pass-catcher. Keith Smith steps into the No. 1 spot after recording 49 receptions last fall, but he'll need help from Aaron Valentin, converted cornerback Royce Adams and junior college import Keith Carlos. Purdue should be much better at tight end as Kyle Adams returns. 

10. Northwestern -- The program needs to prove it can reload after losing three multiyear starters (Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, Rasheed Ward). Northwestern has had high hopes for converted quarterback Andrew Brewer, but he's struggled to stay healthy. The Wildcats will lean on Brewer, junior Sidney Stewart and sophomore Jeremy Ebert, who performed well last fall. The superback position might finally be featured as Drake Dunsmore returns from a knee injury.

11. Indiana -- Last year's leading receiver (Ray Fisher) likely will start at cornerback, while the man expected to be the No. 1 (Kellen Lewis) was dismissed after spring ball. There are some major questions here, but you've got to like Indiana's young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss. Sophomore tight end Max Dedmond could be a player to watch this fall.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

College football is a next-man-in type of sport, and we tend to forget injured players soon after they leave the field. But many Big Ten teams will get key pieces back in the mix this fall.

Here are players who could make a major impact in 2009 after missing major chunks or all of last season with injuries.

Sean Lee, LB, Penn State -- An obvious choice to lead off the group, Lee gives Penn State an All-America candidate at linebacker, a tackling machine and a tremendous team leader. He'll serve as a co-captain with quarterback Daryll Clark after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Lawrence Wilson DE, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes don't need to rely on Wilson, not with Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward in the fold, but the former starter could bolster an already strong front four. Leg injuries have ended Wilson's past two seasons, but he has shown some potential when healthy.

Jaycen Taylor, RB, Purdue -- Despite a promising spring from Purdue's running backs, Taylor brings by far the most experience to the position, even though he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He shared time with Kory Sheets in 2006 and 2007, averaging more than 5 yards a carry each season.

Drake Dunsmore, TE, Northwestern -- Offensive coordinator Mick McCall really likes Dunsmore's skills, and the redshirt sophomore could bolster the little-used superback position this fall. After missing last season with a knee injury, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Dunsmore is a big, athletic target for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.

Aaron Henry, CB, Wisconsin -- Henry tried to return from a knee injury last year but couldn't get back on the field. The playmaking sophomore should be fine for the fall and hopes to fill the void left by All-Big Ten corner Allen Langford.

Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan -- Hemingway came down with mono and sustained shoulder and ankle injuries that ended his 2008 season. He should play a big role at outside receiver after receiving a medical redshirt.

Austin Thomas, S, Indiana -- Thomas seemed to finally be hitting his stride when an ACL injury against Northwestern ended his 2008 season. He missed half of Indiana's games but still led the team with two interceptions. Though he sat out spring practice, Thomas should be fine for the fall and is expected to lead an improved Hoosiers secondary.

Big Ten special-teams snapshot

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
10:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Thanks to several of you for reminding me about special teams, a subject I had planned to tackle during spring ball but got bogged down with too many other things.

Here's a quick look at where each Big Ten team stands on special teams heading into the summer. A more comprehensive position-by-position ranking will come your way a little closer to the season.

GOOD SHAPE

Michigan State -- The Spartans return Lou Groza Award candidate Brett Swenson along with punter Aaron Bates, who averaged 42 yards per boot last season. Punt return man Otis Wiley is gone, but Mark Dell should step in nicely and the Spartans boast some exciting, young talent in Keshawn Martin, Jairus Jones and others.

Ohio State -- The Buckeyes don't have as many special teams certainties as most years, but history doesn't lie. Ohio State will always be strong on special teams under head coach Jim Tressel. Punter is a question mark, but Aaron Pettrey should be fine on field goals. Ray Small is one of the nation's best punt return men, and the kickoff return unit should be much more dynamic than it was last year.

Illinois -- The Illini return both of their starting specialists, and kicker Matt Eller looks like a keeper after connecting on 8 of 10 field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards last year. Illinois' return game also should be much improved as Florida transfer Jarred Fayson enters a mix that includes Arrelious Benn.

SO-SO

Penn State -- Jeremy Boone is one of the league's best punters, and odds are Penn State will be fine on special teams by the end of the season. But Kevin Kelly is a big loss at kicker, and the Nittany Lions will miss the dynamic Derrick Williams on punt and kickoff returns. Penn State will look to Chaz Powell to provide a spark on returns.

Iowa -- Ryan Donahue has established himself as a solid Big Ten punter, and the Hawkeyes have two options at kicker in Daniel Murray, the hero of the Penn State victory, and Trent Mossbrucker. The big loss comes at punt returner, as Andy Brodell was one of the best around. Iowa also might need a primary kick returner if Jewel Hampton moves into a starting spot at running back.

Minnesota -- The Gophers have the Big Ten's most dangerous return man in Troy Stoudermire, who averaged 25.8 yards on kickoff returns and racked up more than 1,000 return yards last year. Marcus Sherels is a very solid punt return man, but the Gophers must replace both of their starting specialists. Hopes are high for heralded freshman punter Dan Orseske.

Michigan -- Bad seasons usually equal a lot of work for the punter, and Zoltan Mesko came through in a big way for Michigan last fall. The Big Ten's best punter is back, and Michigan also boasts return men Martavious Odoms and Boubacar Cissoko. The situation at kicker looks a bit messy, and Rich Rodriguez will need some of his incoming freshmen to contribute right away.

Wisconsin -- Kicker Phillip Welch comes off a stellar freshman season in which he connected on 17 of 20 field goal attempts. Punter Brad Nortman also comes back, and David Gilreath remains a dangerous man on punt and kickoff returns.

A LITTLE SHAKY

Purdue -- From field goals to punt coverage, Purdue had its adventures on special teams last fall. But if Carson Wiggs continues to perform well on makeable kicks, the Boilers should be fine. Purdue loses Desmond Tardy, who led the Big Ten in kickoff returns (28.8 yards per return), as well as Kory Sheets. Hopes are high for Aaron Valentin on kickoff returns after the wideout averaged 25.7 yards per runback in 2008.

Indiana -- Austin Starr didn't have the senior season he envisioned, but the All-Big Ten kicker most certainly will be missed in Bloomington. Indiana also loses Marcus Thigpen, who made his mark as a kickoff returner. Punter Chris Hagerup looks like a keeper but comes off knee surgery, and the Hoosiers are looking for help on returns.

Northwestern -- The Wildcats need to reach a point where special teams no longer costs them games. It happened again in the Alamo Bowl, a game Northwestern should have won. Punter Stefan Demos did a lot of nice things last season but can't afford critical mistakes like the one he made in the bowl (kicking to Jeremy Maclin). The Wildcats bring in a scholarship kicker in Jeff Budzien, and they need some help on returns.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Check out these three newcomers this fall at Purdue.

OFFENSE -- Ralph Bolden, RB, So.

Bolden played sparingly last fall, but his breakout performance didn't come until spring practice. In four spring scrimmages he rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns, putting himself right in the mix for the starting running back spot. Bolden was a standout high school back who sustained a major knee injury his senior year. Though Jaycen Taylor returns from a torn ACL, several young backs will have opportunities this fall, and Bolden leads the way.

DEFENSE -- Kawann Short, DE, Fr.

The departures of Alex Magee and Ryan Baker create some openings on the defensive line, and Short looks ready to step up. After redshirting in 2008, he received the team's newcomer award on defense during spring practice. Short boasts excellent size at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, but he's also a good athlete, having played basketball with Purdue standout E'Twaun Moore in high school.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Antavian Edison, WR, Fr.

Purdue loses primary punt return man Desmond Tardy and Kory Sheets, who shared kickoff return duties with Aaron Valentin last year. Edison brings impressive credentials as a return man in high school, averaging 27.2 yards on punt returns and 35.8 yards on kickoff returns during his senior year. He also scored four return touchdowns (two punt, two kickoff). You have to think he'll get a chance in the return game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Cornell Jackson started spring practice with just a basic working knowledge of the Purdue running backs he was hired to coach.

He wouldn't have wanted things any other way.

Everything Jackson knew about the Boilers backs came from his job interview with head coach Danny Hope, who briefed him on each of the players. After being hired, Jackson chose not to watch any film on the backs, giving them a blank canvas to display their skills.

"As a position coach, you want to see your guys perform live," Jackson said. "In morning workouts, I watched them run around. And then once we started spring ball, that was my deal, to watch them run, to watch them block, to watch them catch, all those things."

Needless to say, he liked what he saw.

Although Purdue didn't have its most experienced back (Jaycen Taylor) or quite possibly its most promising runner (freshman Al-Terek McBurse) on the field this spring, Jackson and Hope came out of the 15 practices feeling optimistic about the running back position.

Arguably no player in the Big Ten had a more eye-popping spring performance than Boilers sophomore Ralph Bolden, who rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries in four scrimmages. Junior Dan Dierking added 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including 95 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold game.

The emergence of both Bolden and Dierking bodes well for Purdue, which loses almost all of its starting skill players from last season, including quarterback Curtis Painter and running back Kory Sheets. Both backfield positions looked shaky entering spring ball, but running back could end up being a surprising source of depth for the Boilers this fall.

"I was pleased that those kids did exactly what we asked them to do and how we asked them to do it," Jackson said. "Those kids proved to me that they want to contribute to this football team. From the standpoint of depth, I feel good."

Bolden, Dierking and burly senior Frank Halliburton all impressed Jackson during the practice, and the group will get even stronger this fall.

Taylor, who split carries with Sheets in 2006 and 2007, is on schedule to return from a torn ACL sustained in training camp last summer. He was held out of contact this spring but brings plenty of experience and leadership to the field.

McBurse, the team's top incoming recruit, gained clearance from the NCAA in late April after eligibility issues prevented him from participating in spring ball.

"He was here in the spring, he was involved in meetings, he saw guys at practice," Jackson said of McBurse, a heralded back from Winter Springs, Fla. "In his mind, he's thinking, 'Hey, I can do this, too.' When we start camp, the young man is going to want to get in the mix and we're going to get him in there."

Bolden was a virtual unknown before spring practice. He tore his ACL toward the end of his senior year in high school and was still somewhat limited last season at Purdue, where he had 16 carries in eight games as a reserve.

"Ralph's got the quick feet," Jackson said. "He's a small back (5-9, 194), so sometimes he can hide behind those offensive linemen, find that seam and break through. Here's a guy that has got a low center of gravity, got great vision and got tremendous speed."

Halliburton brings power to the backfield at 6-2, 251 pounds, while Dierking is closer to Bolden's size but boasts a thick frame and good blocking skills.

Purdue has been primarily a pass-first team during the spread offense era, but the run game could play a bigger role in new coordinator Gary Nord's scheme.

"The thing I want to accomplish out of all these guys," Jackson said, "I don't care who's in the ballgame, I don't care what situation it might be. I just don't want the offense to change because you've got to put a different guy in there. I want the offense to stay the same. I think we accomplished that this spring."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Prognostication guru Phil Steele released his preseason All-Big Ten teams Tuesday, and fans of Penn State and Ohio State undoubtedly will be pleased.

Although both teams lost sizable and decorated senior classes, Penn State put six players on Steele's first team, while Ohio State has four. The big surprise is that Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, widely considered the league's best signal-caller, slipped to the third team behind Illinois' Juice Williams and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.

Steele also released his preseason All-America teams, and here's the breakdown for the Big Ten:

First team -- Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, Michigan P Zoltan Mesko

Second team -- Penn State RB Evan Royster, Iowa LT Bryan Bulaga, Minnesota WR Eric Decker, Penn State LB Sean Lee

Third team -- Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Ohio State PR Ray Small

Fourth team -- Ohio State LG Justin Boren, Northwestern DE Corey Wootton, Illinois LB Martez Wilson, Michigan State LB Greg Jones

Getting back to the Big Ten list, which was generally pretty solid but had some interesting notes and surprises:

  • There are clearly two elite wide receivers in the Big Ten in Benn and Decker. After that, it's a crapshoot. Purdue's Keith Smith was the third wideout named to Steele's first team. Unproven players like Minnesota's Hayo Carpenter (second team), Ohio State's DeVier Posey (third team) and Northwestern's Andrew Brewer (fourth team) also earned recognition.
  • I was a little surprised to see Purdue's Jaycen Taylor listed as a second-team running back ahead of Iowa's Jewel Hampton. Taylor comes off an ACL injury and never beat out Kory Sheets for the starting job when he was healthy. Hampton filled in very well behind Shonn Greene last year.
  • Michigan State running back Edwin Baker was the only incoming freshman to make Steele's list as a fourth-teamer.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for spring ball after receiving a DUI in February, is listed on the first team next to Odrick. Brent is a talented player, but Purdue's Mike Neal might have been the safer pick here.
  • The offensive line selections were interesting. Experience beat out potential as Wisconsin's John Moffitt earned the second-team nod over Ohio State's Mike Brewster. I was very surprised not to see Northwestern linemen Al Netter or Ben Burkett on the list. Indiana had two linemen selected (Cody Faulkner and Rodger Saffold) despite really struggling in that area a year ago, and Iowa surprisingly only had tackles Bryan Bulaga (first team) and Kyle Calloway (second team) on the rundown.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:05
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue Boilermakers
2008 overall record: 4-8

2008 conference record:2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 4; Defense: 7; Special teams: 2

Top returners

WR Keith Smith, TE Kyle Adams, LT Zach Reckman, RB Jaycen Taylor, DE Ryan Kerrigan, DT Mike Neal, S Torri Williams, CB Brandon King, LB Joe Holland

Key losses

QB Curtis Painter, QB Justin Siller, RB Kory Sheets, WR Greg Orton, WR Desmond Tardy, DT Alex Magee, LB Anthony Heygood, S Frank Duong

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Kory Sheets (1,185 yds)
Passing
: Curtis Painter (2,400 yds)
Receiving: Desmond Tardy (876 yds)
Tackles
: Anthony Heygood (114)
Sacks
: Ryan Kerrigan* (7)
Interceptions
: Torri Williams and Dwight Mclean (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Toledo
Sept. 12 at Oregon
Sept. 19 Northern Illinois
Sept. 26 Notre Dame
Oct. 3 Northwestern
Oct. 10 at Minnesota
Oct. 17 Ohio State
Oct. 24 Illinois
Oct. 31 at Wisconsin
Nov. 7 at Michigan
Nov. 14 Michigan State
Nov. 21 at Indiana
Spring answers

1. Backs stacked -- Running back was a major question entering the spring, especially with Jaycen Taylor still rehabbing from a torn ACL. But sophomore Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to spark the Boilers' rushing attack. Bolden capped an excellent spring with 153 rush yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. He finished with 420 rush yards in four spring scrimmages. Dan Dierking also performed well, and the running back spot should be deep once Taylor gets healthy and heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse enters the mix. 

2. Tight ends surge -- First-year head coach Danny Hope raved about his tight ends this spring, and the group will be featured more in the offense after a one-year hiatus. Projected starter Kyle Adams showed what he can do when healthy this spring, making 10 receptions in the spring scrimmages. He'll be pushed by both Jeff Lindsay and Jeff Panfil.

3. Defensive line solid -- Line play could be a strength on both sides of the ball, and the defensive front looked promising this spring. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan appears ready to take another step after recording a team-high seven sacks last fall. He should get help from talented young players like Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden. Defensive tackle Mike Neal is very underrated inside and should have a big year.

Fall questions

1. Joey's time -- Senior quarterback Joey Elliott has waited his turn to start at quarterback, and barring a dramatic shift, he'll get it this fall. Still, Purdue would feel much more comfortable if Justin Siller was pushing Elliott for the top job. Siller might have been the team's No. 1 quarterback before his dismissal from school for violating academic policy. Elliott needs to elevate his game after three years as a backup, and Purdue must further develop backup Caleb TerBush.

2. Linebacker play -- There were some encouraging signs this spring, especially the re-emergence of oft-injured senior Jason Werner. But the rushing totals allowed in the spring scrimmages are troubling, and Purdue needs to identify three or four reliable linebackers after losing mainstay Anthony Heygood. The line and the secondary look solid, but linebacker is a bit iffy.

3. Wide receiver -- Purdue loses a ton of production at wide receiver, and Hope is still working to find capable targets for Elliott this fall. Keith Smith had a very solid spring and Aaron Valentin should take on a greater role this fall, but the Boilers need more bodies at receiver. They're hoping for more development this summer from converted cornerback Royce Adams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

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.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue opened spring practice Wednesday, but heralded freshman running back Al-Terek McBurse remained off the field because of an issue with the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse.

A team spokesman said McBurse, who graduated high school early and enrolled at Purdue in January, is taking classes and doing well academically. But he's prohibited from practicing until getting the go-ahead from the NCAA.

"The administration is dealing with that and hopefully we'll get it resolved and get him back practicing," head coach Danny Hope told The Journal and Courier. "He's a guy we need to have out here with us. We think he can help us right away."

Purdue is looking to replace Kory Sheets, who rushed for 1,131 yards and 16 touchdowns and had 37 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown last fall. Senior Jaycen Taylor, who split time with Sheets in 2006 and 2007 before tearing his ACL in preseason camp in August, should see greater involvement toward the end of spring ball, but likely will be held out of contact drills.

McBurse, a 6-foot, 204-pound back, was one of the highest rated recruits in Hope's first class and among the team's 14 signees from Florida (Winter Springs).

Position superlatives: Purdue

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
10:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's no shortage of questions for Danny Hope as he oversees his first set of spring drills as Purdue's head coach. The Boilermakers bring in new coordinators (Gary Nord, Donn Landholm) on both sides of the ball and lose many of their starting skill players on offense.

There's a little more stability on defense, despite the loss of leading tackler Anthony Heygood. Here's the good news and bad news for Purdue entering the spring.

Strongest position -- Defensive back

Key returnees: Senior cornerback Torri Williams, senior cornerback/safety Brandon King, senior safety Dwight Mclean, senior cornerback David Pender

Key departures: Safety Frank Duong (41 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)

The skinny: Purdue returns all four starters from a group that led the Big Ten in pass defense (183.2 ypg) last season. Williams, who received a sixth year of eligibility, can be a playmaker at either cornerback or safety when healthy, and King proved to be valuable at the opposite corner spot. The Boilers likely will lean on their defense early in the season, so expect the back four to play a vital role. The offensive line also could be a strength.

Weakest position -- Wide receiver

Key returnees: Junior Keith Smith, senior Aaron Valentin

Key departures: Greg Orton (69 receptions, 720 yards, 5 touchdowns), Desmond Tardy (67 receptions, 876 yards, 5 touchdowns), running back Kory Sheets (37 receptions, 253 yards, 1 touchdown), Brandon Whittington (25 receptions, 182 yards, 1 touchdown).

The skinny: It seems weird to type this, given Purdue's recent history of producing standout wide receivers, but there aren't many proven targets left for quarterbacks Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. There's a reason why Hope signed four wide receivers and a tight end in his first recruiting class. Purdue needs a playmaker to emerge at wideout, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to upgrade at tight end, a spot that really fell off last year after superstar Dustin Keller departed in 2007. Other potential trouble spots include quarterback, running back and linebacker.

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