Big Ten: Lenyatta Kiles

The Big Ten preseason position rankings have reached the home stretch as we take a look at the defensive secondaries. Although individual positions like center and defensive tackle could boast more star power, the Big Ten's overall strength in the secondary jumps out.

There's a lot to like about the Big Ten cornerbacks as nearly every team boasts experience and/or exciting young players. The Big Ten loses All-Conference safeties Tyler Sash and Jermale Hines but brings back quite a few solid contributors.

There's definite separation after the top four groups, while Nos. 5-9 are extremely close.

Here's the rundown (coming soon: cornerbacks and safeties rankings) ...

1. Penn State: The Lions' linebackers seem to be generating more preseason buzz, but I really like what Penn State brings back in the defensive backfield. There's plenty of experience with safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris. Penn State needs Sukay to regain the form he showed in the first half of 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Lynn is a bona fide All-Big Ten candidate. If Malcolm Willis, Chaz Powell and others solidify depth here, Penn State should have an elite secondary.

2. Ohio State: This is a group the Buckeyes rarely have to worry about, even after losing three starters. The good news is several key players return from injuries, including safeties Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. Moeller should provide a major boost at the "star" position. The cornerback spots should be fun to watch as Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke fend off some challengers for the starting jobs.

3. Nebraska: Like Ohio State, Nebraska can rely on having an elite pass defense under the Pelini brothers, even after losing several standout players. All-American corner Prince Amukamara will be missed, but Alfonzo Dennard is ready for a starring role. Nebraska needs Ciante Evans to follow what Dennard did in 2010. The Huskers likely will use more linebackers this year, but they'll need to fill holes at safety as Austin Cassidy, Courtney Osborne and others are in the mix.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers' secondary took a major step forward in Chris Ash's first season on the staff. The key is continued progress, continued playmaking and becoming a truly elite group like Ohio State and Nebraska. Wisconsin seems to have the pieces in place with veteran Aaron Henry at safety, as well as All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith at cornerback. The Badgers must fill the other safety spot, and speedster Shelton Johnson could fill in there.

5. Michigan State: The secondary triggered Michigan State's 2010 turnaround, improving from 112th nationally in pass defense in 2009 to 60th last season. After recording 17 interceptions last year, the Spartans must stick to their MAP motto -- Make A Play -- as they aim for a repeat championship this fall. Safety Trenton Robinson is among the league's most experienced defensive backs, and hopes are high for cornerback Johnny Adams, who had an excellent spring. The unit could hinge on young players like Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis and Tony Lippett.

6. Iowa: The bad news is Iowa loses veteran safeties Sash and Brett Greenwood from a defense that slipped to 84th nationally against the pass in 2010. The good news is All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater returns along with playmaking junior Micah Hyde. Prater could be a shut-down corner this fall, and Hyde, whose pick-six won the Insight Bowl, could play either corner or safety. Iowa must build depth around them with Jordan Bernstine, Greg Castillo, Tanner Miller and others.

7. Purdue: One of the Boilers' big question marks entering 2010 turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and the secondary could be a big strength this fall. Here's a group that could make a move up these rankings by November. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is a budding superstar who recorded two pick-sixes last year. Safety Logan Link is always around the football, and Josh Johnson could take a significant step as he complements Allen.

8. Illinois: I'm tempted to rank Illinois a few notches higher, and if the Illini address several questions in the secondary, I'll gladly do so after the season. If safety Supo Sanni returns to form and both he and cornerback Terry Hawthorne stay healthy, this could be an excellent group. Tavon Wilson returns to his preferred position of cornerback and could have a big year, while Trulon Henry brings experience to the safety spot.

9. Northwestern: Given the question marks in the front seven, Northwestern needs its veteran secondary to step up. Players like cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters should answer the bell this fall. Both multiyear starters can make plays on the football and change games. There's good competition between David Arnold and Ibraheim Campbell at the other safety spot, while Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring to win the starting corner job opposite Mabin.

10. Michigan: I'll probably take some heat from Wolverines fans, who will point to the return of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, the emergence of young players like Carvin Johnson and a defensive makeover under Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison. All of that could lead to better results, but Michigan still has fewer certainties in the secondary than do most teams on this list. This unit has been a disaster the past few years, and it'll take a lot of things to go right to get things back on track.

11. Minnesota: Linebacker looks like a strength for the Gophers' defense, but there are questions both up front and in the secondary. The secondary will need more help from a line that generated no pass rush in 2010, but the defensive backs must help themselves, too. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire had a good spring and adds a big hitter to the group. Minnesota really needs big things from safety Kim Royston, who wants to lead the way after receiving a sixth year of eligibility. Building depth around Stoudermire and Royston will be vital in preseason camp.

12. Indiana: Fixing this group is arguably the biggest challenge for new coach Kevin Wilson and co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. Indiana simply hasn't had enough Big Ten-caliber defensive backs in recent years, and the results have been ugly. The Hoosiers surrendered a league-worst 27 touchdown passes in 2010 and finished 114th nationally in pass defense efficiency. Sophomore safety Greg Heban is a nice piece, but Indiana will need a boost from Lawrence Barnett, Lenyatta Kiles and others.

Indiana injury report

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
7:20
PM ET
Indiana has issued its official injury report for Saturday's game at Illinois.

OUT
  • RB Darius Willis, knee (out for season)
  • OL Josh Hager, knee (out for season)
  • S Chris Adkins, ankle
  • OT James Brewer, ankle
  • CB Richard Council, knee
  • K Nick Freeland, hip
  • S Lenyatta Kiles, groin
  • RB Nick Turner, concussion

The two areas of concern are the secondary and the offensive line. Indiana's injuries in the secondary aren't new, but the Hoosiers have to find ways to limit big pass plays without Adkins, Council and Kiles on the field. An arguably bigger issue is offensive line depth, as protecting star quarterback Ben Chappell will be paramount in the final six games. Brewer's continued absence hurts, and Hager's season-ending injury means sophomore Marc Damisch gets the nod as the starting right tackle against a good Illinois defensive line. Turner's absence places a bigger burden on Trea Burgess as Indiana's featured running back.

Indiana injury report

October, 15, 2010
10/15/10
11:17
AM ET
You already know the bad news regarding Indiana sophomore running back Darius Willis, but here's the rest of the Hoosiers' injury report heading into Saturday's game against Arkansas State.

OUT
  • RB Darius Willis, knee (out for season)
  • S Chris Adkins, ankle
  • RT James Brewer, ankle
  • CB Richard Council, knee
  • K Nick Freeland, hip
  • S Lenyatta Kiles, groin
QUESTIONABLE

A struggling secondary continues to struggle with injuries, as Kiles, who recently moved into the starting lineup, is the latest name added to the list. Indiana's depth in the defensive backfield continues to be put to the test. The Hoosiers also will miss Brewer up front as they continue to shuffle personnel along the offensive line. Mitch Ewald is 3-for-4 on field-goal attempts during Freeland's absence and will continue to handle the kicking duties.
Tonight, it begins.

The wait is over and we finally get to see Big Ten teams play games that count. As opening weekend begins a little early with three games tonight, here are 10 things to watch around the league.

1. Quarterback questions at Michigan, Penn State: Two of the league's traditional powers likely will be evaluating multiple quarterbacks in their openers. True freshman Robert Bolden was named a surprise starter for the Nittany Lions, but sophomores Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome also are likely to get some work. Denard Robinson could be poised to take control at Michigan, but head coach Rich Rodriguez expects to play more than one signal caller, so sophomore Tate Forcier and true freshman Devin Gardner likely will take some snaps in the spotlight. Penn State has to see what it has under center before a Week 2 trip to defending national champ Alabama.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesFormer Miami quarterback Robert Marve and his new team have a tough test in South Bend.
2. Opportunity knocks for Marve, Boilers: No team in the Big Ten has a better opportunity to make a national statement than Purdue. All eyes will be on South Bend -- really, when aren't they? -- as Notre Dame kicks off the Brian Kelly era, but Purdue can ruin the fun by upsetting the Fighting Irish. Quarterback Robert Marve has done all the right things in West Lafayette since transferring from Miami, and he boasts a big arm and plenty of weapons to attack a suspect Notre Dame secondary. Marve should flourish in the spread offense, so expect a strong debut. It might not matter, though, if Purdue can't upgrade its run defense and protect a new-look secondary from Dayne Crist and Michael Floyd.

3. Heisman push begins for Pryor, Clay: When we last saw Terrelle Pryor in a game, the Ohio State quarterback was at his best, winning Offensive MVP honors at the Rose Bowl. By all accounts, Pryor made strides during the offseason and said he has a greater grasp of the offense and what it takes to be a leader on the big stage. His accolades heading into the season -- Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Heisman Trophy candidate -- are based largely on hype and potential, but Pryor finally gets a chance to produce some hard evidence against Marshall. Wisconsin running back John Clay has been largely overlooked in the preseason, but he also could help his Heisman candidacy with a strong debut at UNLV, which ranked 112th nationally in rush defense a year ago.

4. Mystery team makes debut in St. Louis: Who's the Big Ten's mystery team this season? Illinois. The Illini have new offensive and defensive schemes, a new starting quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and plenty of unknowns on both sides of the ball. Missouri typically brings out the worst in Ron Zook's squad, and Illinois will need to show some resiliency in the Edward Jones Dome. Scheelhaase is young but skilled and athletic, and it'll be interesting to see how he handles the spotlight in an NFL stadium. Illinois' secondary faces Blaine Gabbert and Missouri's high-powered passing attack without two starters (safety Supo Sanni, cornerback Terry Hawthorne), so linebacker Martez Wilson and others need to step up.

5. Iowa's new-look offensive line: The Hawkeyes shouldn't have much trouble beating Eastern Illinois, although after last year's roller-coaster ride, you never know. The opener should give a new-look offensive line time to get comfortable and create holes for running back Adam Robinson. Iowa will start three new players up front -- right tackle Markus Zusevics, right guard Adam Gettis and center James Ferentz -- and needs to get comfortable before bigger tests the next two weeks against Iowa State and Arizona. Running back Jewel Hampton sits out because of a suspension, but Iowa really needs to get the run game going with Robinson and adequately protect quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

6. Spartans' secondary in spotlight: Most point to the secondary as Michigan State's biggest weakness in 2009, and for good reason. The Spartans ranked last in the Big Ten in pass yards allowed (267.6 ypg), allowed 11 more passing touchdowns (32 total) than any other Big Ten squad and recorded only six interceptions, the second-lowest total in the league. Several underperforming players are gone, and Michigan State hopes to be younger but better in the back four this fall. Cornerback Johnny Adams returns to the mix, and hopes are high for Trenton Robinson, Chris L. Rucker and others. The secondary needs to step up Saturday against Western Michigan, which loses standout quarterback Tim Hiller but returns top wideouts Robert Arnheim and Jordan White.

7. Line dance in the Volunteer State for Gophers, Wildcats: Both Minnesota and Northwestern boast veteran offensive lines that need to upgrade their run-blocking ability this fall. Minnesota ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing for the second straight year in 2009, while Northwestern finished eighth and had no big plays in the ground game. It'll be very interesting to see how both lines perform in what likely will be balmy weather in Tennessee. Minnesota opens Thursday night at Middle Tennessee, while Northwestern visits Vanderbilt in Nashville 48 hours later. Both squads have multiple backs competing for carries, but the performance of the two lines will go a long way toward showing what the upcoming season will hold.

8. Brock Mealer leads Michigan out of the tunnel: Doctors told Brock Mealer he'd never walk again after being paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident that killed his father and the girlfriend of his brother, Elliott, an offensive lineman for Michigan. But Brock never gave up hope and worked with Michigan strength and conditioning coaches Mike Barwis and Parker Whiteman to work his way out of a wheelchair. Saturday, he'll be walking out of the tunnel at Michigan Stadium as he leads the Wolverines onto the field for their opener against Connecticut. "He's that one percent," Wolverines defensive tackle Mike Martin told me. "People said he'd never walk again, and he's proving people wrong right there. We’ve got to come out right behind him and show what we've got."

9. Indiana's new-look defense: The Hoosiers' season likely hinges on whether a historically porous defense can improve. IU will use the 3-4 alignment more this season, but the coaches also are excited about defensive ends Darius Johnson and Fred Jones. Tyler Replogle provides excellent leadership at linebacker, but Indiana needs three junior college transfers -- linebacker Jeff Thomas and defensive backs Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles -- to make an immediate impact. A strong debut against Towson is key.

10. Quarterback-turned-receivers: There was a time when Michigan State's Keith Nichol, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray and Purdue's Justin Siller looked like the potential answers for their teams at quarterback. All three players now will play prominent roles at wide receivers on opening weekend. All three received strong reviews in training camp as receivers, and all three could start on Saturday. Gray is the likeliest to be called upon as a quarterback, as he remains Adam Weber's backup for the Gophers. Siller makes his first appearance since 2008 after being suspended from school for the 2009-10 academic year.
I won't be making it out to many preseason practices this year. Fortunately, the Big Ten Network is giving all of us a peek at every Big Ten squad during its Football Preview Tour. My pal Dave Revsine and analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith are more than halfway through the tour, but the first two episodes aired earlier this week: Indiana and Ohio State.

I'll be watching all 11 preview shows and posting my thoughts right here.

Up first, Indiana and Ohio State.

INDIANA
  • The Hoosiers practiced in shoulder pads and shorts, and head coach Bill Lynch is intentionally reducing the amount of hitting in this preseason (to keep his team fresher for the season), so the workout wasn't as revealing as most of the others should be.
  • Wide receiver Damarlo Belcher is a huge target and made several routine catches in space. Indiana also seemed to be swinging the ball a lot to the running backs, including Trea Burgess and Zach Davis-Walker. "Against the nonconference opponents, they can win those games with this pass game," DiNardo said. Starting quarterback Ben Chappell was a bit shaky on some throws, but I'm not worried about him.
  • The running backs didn't seem to have much room on the inside throughout the practice. A few backs did a nice job of bouncing to the outside. Freshman Matt Perez had a very nice run in team drills.
  • Defensive tackle Tony Carter did a nice job of crowding the middle on one play, and linebacker Tyler Replogle had a nice hit against Darius Willis.
  • I liked what I saw from Indiana's three junior college transfers on defense: linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerbacks Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles. Kates has extremely fast feet, and Thomas brings good size to the table.
  • Despite the losses of left tackle Rodger Saffold and veteran guard Pete Saxon, Griffith said Indiana's offensive line looked the best it has in years.
  • Quarterback Edward Wright-Baker reportedly has fallen behind Dusty Kiel on the depth chart, but he looked good passing the ball in this practice.
OHIO STATE
  • DiNardo brought up a good point about the need for Ohio State to have a dominant running back again, and how it will keep defenses guessing against quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
  • Pryor definitely seemed different to me, both in his interview with the BTN crew and in the practice. He showed patience and footwork under pressure and fired a good pass to Dane Sanzenbacher in team drills. I also liked the way he yanked defensive lineman Garrett Goebel off the pile to help running back Dan Herron get out. Pryor seemed to be running hard during conditioning and talked about his new attitude toward meetings as he hopes to increase his leadership.
  • Pryor had one big mistake, though, as safety Jermale Hines stepped in front of a pass to Jake Stoneburner and made the interception. Just a perfect read by Hines.
  • Cameron Heyward just looks bigger than everyone else on the field (probably because he is). I particularly enjoyed watching Heyward go against All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren. Two All-America candidates right there. Everyone keeps calling Heyward a defensive end, but I saw him lining up inside several times during the practice. I'll keep going with the very vague "defensive lineman."
  • The running backs and linebackers went against each other during a goal-line drill, and both sides had their moments. Herron absolutely trucked Dan Bain on one play, living up to his "Boom" nickname. Jaamal Berry scooted by his man, while Scott McVey made a nice stop against Carlos Hyde, who boasts good size and had mixed results in the drill.
  • Running back Jordan Hall had some nice moments, including a burst up the middle in team drills.
  • Some of the reserve wide receivers stood out. Sophomore James Jackson made a nice catch along the sideline, and senior Grant Schwartz showed the ability to create vertical separation.
  • Defensive end Nathan Williams, currently sidelined with a knee injury, was in a stand-up position on one play, while the other three first-team linemen -- Heyward, John Simon and Dexter Larimore -- were down in a stance. You figure Ohio State will use Williams like it did Thaddeus Gibson in 2009.
  • Berry had a good blitz pickup on one play, nearly leading to a big completion from Joe Bauserman to Taurian Washington.
  • Linebackers Andrew Sweat and Dorian Bell showed good hitting and tackling skills.
Up next: Penn State
Indiana has spent most of the training camp practicing in oppressive heat, but Andre Kates doesn't mind.

When the Hoosiers' strength and conditioning staff demands one more rep in the weight room, Kates willingly obliges.

And when Kates' new teammates whine about the size of their uniforms, the cornerback just shakes his head and smiles.

"They're like, 'Man, it's too tight,'" Kates said. "In junior college, we had to put tape around our uniforms to try to make it tight."

Kates has no complaints about the rigors of preseason camp at a Big Ten school. After what he has been through the last few years, this is the easy part.

Kates' road to Indiana started near Washington D.C., made a U-turn in Gainesville, Fla., nearly stretched to California and eventually reached junior colleges in upstate New York and Brooklyn. He faced academic hurdles and, for a time, questioned whether he still wanted to play, but he's finally ready for the spotlight.

"I have big plans," Kates said.

Kates also had big plans at Surrattsville High School outside Washington D.C., where he thrived in a number of positions, including quarterback, wide receiver, return specialist and even long snapper. Recruited as an athlete, Kates verbally committed to play for national powerhouse Florida.

But he failed to qualify academically, putting his plans on hold.

"I thought I was going to get away with it," he said. "Since I was a big-time football player in high school, I thought, ‘Aw, man, I’m alright. They’ll let me through, they’ll let me through.’ But it didn’t happen. It was real tough, thinking you’re about to go in and play at a big-time program like that, and then you turn around and realize you’re not eligible.

"After the Florida thing, I was done. I didn’t want to play any more."

Kates considered "life as a regular teenager" but was steered back by several people, including his uncle, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, and his best friend, Joe Haden, who went on to star for Florida at cornerback.

"They were saying, ‘Dre, you’ve got to stick in there. Go to a junior college, get your mind right," Kates said.

The original plan called for Kates to attend Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., but financial issues forced him to stay home and help support his family. He eventually enrolled at Erie Community College, which has campuses both in and near Buffalo, N.Y.

Kates recorded three interceptions in his first season as a defensive player, earning all-conference honors. He also became Indiana's first commit for the 2010 class, pledging in May 2009, but his academics remained an issue.

"When he first committed to us, I traveled to Erie and his first transcript wasn't great," Hoosiers co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic recalled. "I told him, 'Hey, you need to get this many hours and a C or better in all your classes to transfer. He told me, 'Coach, I can do it.'"

Kates needed 61 transferable credits to enroll at Indiana and no grades below a C. After a year at Erie, he transferred to ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., which could offer him scholarship money. The problem: ASA only accepted six of the 24 credits Kates had earned at Erie.

Kates began taking a full course load at ASA and also enrolled in online courses elsewhere to make up ground. He finished junior college with a 3.4 GPA and earned his associate's degree.

"I was taking 18 credits during the school year and six credits on the side, just to get here," he said. "So I had the will to want to do it."

On the field, Kates continued to excel, earning junior college All-America honors for ASA with 64 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups, four blocked field goals and two blocked punts. Named Junior College Player of the Year by Triumphant Sports, he received 18 offers from FBS programs, including Miami and Clemson, but stuck with Indiana.

Having the chance to face the Hoosiers' talented wide receivers in practice lured Kates, but Palcic was the biggest reason why he came to Bloomington.

"He was one coach I always respected," Kates said. "Every contact period he had, he gave me a call and let me know they really need me, and now I’m here."

Although Kates was Indiana's first verbal, he took visits elsewhere and raised anxiety among Hoosiers fans, not to mention Palcic.

"I wasn’t 100 percent confident," Palcic said. "He kept telling me, ‘Indiana's it, Indiana's it,’ but until that final week, I wasn’t sure."

Kates now finds himself in a six-man cluster for two starting cornerback spots that Palcic calls the most competitive position race on the team. Indiana returns two veterans in Richard Council and Adrian Burks, and brought in another juco corner, Lenyatta Kiles, who went through spring drills.

Kiles and Kates have bonded, reviewing video of every practice together after the regular review with the team. Both players should see plenty of field time this fall.

"He came in surprisingly polished," Palcic said of Kates. "He has great backpedal, quick feet, he's explosive coming out of his breaks. I'm impressed with his ability to pick up the defense."

Kates credits his support system for helping him to this point: Portis, Haden, his parents and his sister. He also continues to play football as a tribute to his brother, Cameron, who died of a brain tumor in 1996.

"He's been a big-time motivation," Kates said.

It has been a long road, but Kates has no regrets.

"I've started a new chapter," he said.

Opening camp: Indiana

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
3:34
PM ET
Schedule: Coach Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers open practice today at 4 p.m. ET.

What's new: The defense has a new look in terms of both personnel and alignment. Indiana is switching to the 3-4 set this year as it tries to spark a unit that has struggled for most of the last decade. The Hoosiers lose seven starters on defense, including linebacker Matt Mayberry, defensive end Jammie Kirlew and safety Austin Thomas. Mo Moriarity returns to Indiana as offensive line coach after a successful run in the state's high school circuit.

Sidelined: Indiana enters camp very healthy, although linebacker linebacker Ryan Phillis is out with a foot injury. Safety Mitchell Evans returns after missing spring ball with a hip injury, and wideout Damarlo Belcher is fine after battling a hamstring issue this spring.

Key battle: The Hoosiers lose a lot at linebacker and defensive back, and besides senior Tyler Replogle, there are few guarantees at those spots. Evans and converted receiver Matt Ernest are projected to start at strong safety and cornerback, but expect plenty of competition. Thomas and Leon Beckum will compete for time at inside linebacker. Indiana also must replace left tackle Rodger Saffold, a second-round draft pick in April. Andrew McDonald is the projected starter, with Josh Hager behind him.

New on the scene: The Hoosiers hope three junior college transfers can help their long-suffering defense. Cornerback Lenyatta Kiles and linebacker Jeff Thomas went through spring ball and should contribute right away at their positions. The most heralded of the three arrivals, Andre Kates, a one-time Florida commit, gets on the practice field today.

Time to shine: Running back Darius Willis has shown he can be a difference maker for Indiana, but he has got to stay healthy. After dealing with various injuries his first three seasons, Willis looks to spark the Hoosiers' rushing attack and add balance to what should be an excellent passing game.

Quotable: "What we've talked to our guys about is learning how to finish. When you go back and look at it, I really mean that. We were about 12 plays away from playing in a really good bowl game." -- head coach Bill Lynch

Indiana spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
10:30
AM ET
Indiana

2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 1-7 (T-10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 4, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Ben Chappell, WR Tandon Doss, WR Damarlo Belcher, RT James Brewer, RB Darius Willis, LB Tyler Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr.

Key losses

LT Rodger Saffold, DE Jammie Kirlew, LB Matt Mayberry, DE Greg Middleton, CB Ray Fisher, SS Austin Thomas, FS Nick Polk, LB Will Patterson

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Darius Willis* (607 yards)

Passing: Ben Chappell* (2,941 yards)

Receiving: Tandon Doss* (962 yards)

Tackles: Matt Mayberry (108)

Sacks: Jammie Kirlew (6.5)

Interceptions: Austin Thomas (4)

Spring answers

1. End game: Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton formed one of the Big Ten's most productive defensive end tandems during the last three seasons, and their departures raise a red flag about the defensive end position. So why isn't co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic concerned? He has tons of faith in Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush, the favorites to start at the two end spots. Bush, a 24-year-old redshirt sophomore, spent three plus seasons in the military before joining the Hoosiers. "I'm telling you, they're both going to end up being better than Jammie Kirlew," Palcic said.

2. Hoosiers switch to 3-4: Despite losing two veteran linebackers, Indiana employed more of the 3-4 alignment on defense this spring in an effort to capitalize on its athleticism. The switch allows the Hoosiers to rotate more players up front. Among the players to be featured in the 3-4 are Johnson, Bush, Damon Sims, Fred Jones and Adam Replogle, a big, athletic defender who moved from tackle to end this spring.

3. Receiving orders: Indiana entered the spring loaded at wide receiver, and the Hoosiers added more depth on the perimeter. First-team All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss turned in a stellar spring, and redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson worked his way into a rotation that also includes Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner. Junior Dre Muhammad also stepped up, as he and Wilson combined for 10 catches in the spring game.

Fall questions

1. The secondary: There were some bright spots this spring, like the play of redshirt freshman cornerback Lawrence Barnett, but the secondary is far from settled heading into the summer. Indiana loses two multi-year starters at safety as well as Ray Fisher, its top cover corner. Junior college transfer Lenyatta Kiles went through spring ball, and another juco corner, Andre Kates, arrives for preseason camp. It will be interesting to see where those two fit in and whether Jerimy Finch finally blossoms at safety.

2. Run game: The pistol formation was supposed to ignite Indiana's rushing attack, but it hasn't happened yet. And while there's little doubt the Hoosiers can light up defenses through the air, their running game is a major question mark. Darius Willis shows flashes but struggles to stay on the field because of ankle problems. Indiana needs a strong camp from Willis and continued production from other backs like Antonio Banks, who had a nice spring.

3. Offensive line: Indiana must replace arguably the Big Ten's most underrated player in left tackle Rodger Saffold, who nearly worked his way into the first round of April's NFL draft (he was the first pick of the second round). Junior Andrew McDonald is Saffold's projected successor, but other players are in the mix, including starting guard Justin Pagan. The Hoosiers also must replace veteran guard Pete Saxon, so building chemistry will be key in preseason camp.
Indiana wrapped up spring practice Saturday night with the Cream & Crimson game at Memorial Stadium. Before getting to the game itself, some of the more interesting news from Bloomington took place outside the lines.

The Hoosiers unveiled their new uniforms for the 2010 season. The new jerseys still will have "Hoosiers" on the front, but the stripes move from the pants to the shoulders of the jersey. The numbers will be in block narrow font, originating from Indiana's 1967 unis, worn when the team made its only Rose Bowl appearance.

The atmosphere at the spring game also appeared to be significantly upgraded, as new athletics director Fred Glass continues to enhance the experience of going to Memorial Stadium. The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens has a good account of the event, which featured contests, prizes and music.

Back to the game, which the Crimson squad won 17-10 following Ben Chappell's 21-yard touchdown pass to Charles Love III. The Crimson defense stepped up with two interceptions, a forced fumble, six sacks and only 116 yards allowed. Neither team scored an offensive touchdown until Trea Burgess reached the end zone on a 6-yard run midway through the third quarter.

The defensive surge had to be encouraging for a team that has struggled to stop its opponents for more than a decade. Cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, a junior college transfer, recorded two interceptions, while safety John Connelly and safety Aaron Burks both recorded one pick. Defensive end Fred Jones had four tackles for loss and three sacks. Other defensive standouts included defensive end Adam Replogle (2 sacks), linebacker Jamie Lukaszewski (11 tackles, 1 TFL) and linebacker Chad Sherer (10 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack).

On the flip side, Indiana's run game continued to struggle. Starting running back Darius Willis sat out the game with an ankle injury, and the teams combined for minus-38 rushing yards in the opening half. There's little doubt that Indiana will have one of the Big Ten's top passing attacks in 2010, led by quarterback Ben Chappell and wide receiver Tandon Doss, but the Hoosiers need more balance in their offense.

Other nuggets:

  • The game's first touchdown came on special teams, as redshirt freshman Jamonne Chester picked up a dropped snap on a punt and raced 38 yards to the end zone.
  • Freshman Antonio Banks provided the only spark in the run game with a 30-yard burst. Banks, an early enrollee who had an impressive spring, finished with 49 rushing yards on 11 carries.
  • Several players left the game with injuries, including right tackle James Brewer, wide receiver Duwyce Wilson and safety/return man Jerimy Finch.
  • The competition at kicker should be interesting to watch this fall. Returning starter Nick Freeland went 1-for-2 on attempts Saturday, connecting from 45 yards out but missing a 32-yarder. Mitch Ewald converted his only attempt, from 44 yards out.
Five Big Ten teams will hold their annual spring games Saturday, so let's take a quick look at each event.

INDIANA

The vitals: The Cream & Crimson game kicks off at 6 p.m. ET at Memorial Stadium. Fans can choose to cheer for the Cream or Crimson squads and will be able to sit on opposite sides of the stadium. Admission is free and gates open at 5 p.m. ET. Everything you need to know can be found here.

What to watch:
  • The defense is Indiana's top priority this spring, and there's plenty of competition in the secondary as three starters depart. Although safety Mitchell Evans and cornerback Matt Ernest are limited and cornerback Lawrence Barnett is out with an injury, it'll be interesting to see which defensive backs step up on Saturday. I'll keep an eye on junior college transfer Lenyatta Kiles and safety Jerimy Finch, who I'm told is having a solid spring.
  • The Hoosiers' defensive front seven also should be intriguing. IU knows what it has in linebacker Tyler Replogle, but junior college transfer Jeff Thomas and others are competing for the other two starting linebacker spots. Co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic had some very high praise this week for defensive ends Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush, two players worth watching.
  • Indiana should have one of the Big Ten's top passing offenses in 2010, but there are big questions with the run game. Can Darius Willis stay healthy and become a star? Is freshman Antonio Banks the real deal? We'll find out a little bit more on Saturday night.
IOWA

The vitals: Iowa will hold a two-hour practice capped by a controlled scrimmage at 1 p.m. CT at Kinnick Stadium. Fans can sit in the west and south grandstands, and gates open at 11:30 a.m. ET. Check out all the information here.

What to watch:
  • Fans get a glimpse of the new-look Iowa offensive line, which is replacing four players who started at least part of the 2009 season. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said six players have separated themselves from the pack, but keep an eye on right tackle Markus Zusevics and centers Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The line goes up against one of the nation's best defensive fronts Saturday, so it should be a good test.
  • You won't see much from Iowa's top running backs, but the scrimmage should provide some clues about the cornerback spot, as the Hawkeyes try to replace All-Big Ten selection Amari Spievey. Micah Hyde has the edge on Jordan Bernstine for the starting job opposite Shaun Prater.
  • Iowa knows what to expect from Ricky Stanzi in crunch time, but the quarterback wants to trim his interceptions total in 2010. The Hawkeyes could be very dynamic in the passing game this fall, so it'll be interesting to see how Stanzi looks in a game simulation.
MICHIGAN

The vitals: Michigan's spring game kicks off at 1 p.m. at Michigan Stadium and will be streamed live on bigtennetwork.com. Fans can tour the locker room Friday from 6:30-8 p.m. and Saturday from 7-9:30 a.m. Michigan's alumni football game takes place at 11 a.m. You can find all the information here.

What to watch:
  • You might have heard, but there's a legit quarterback competition going on in Ann Arbor this spring. Fans can get a look at Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, while Tate Forcier might sit out with a sprained foot. A decision on a starter won't be made until the fall, but the spring game provides an important platform for the candidates.
  • There has been a lot of buzz about the 3-3-5 defensive alignment, but I'm more interested in Michigan's personnel, especially in the secondary. Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, has garnered a lot of praise this spring. Fans can check out Gordon, cornerbacks J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfolk and others in the scrimmage.
  • Brandon Graham's departure leaves a huge void in the pass-rush department. Sophomore linebacker hybrid Craig Roh could help in that area, and it'll be interesting to see how he's used in the spring game. Mike Martin's injury this spring has freed up reps for other defensive linemen.
PURDUE

The vitals: The Black & Gold Game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET at Ross-Ade Stadium, with the gates opening at noon ET. Among the day's events is the family fun fest (11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET), where kids can participate in six stations run by the football team. All your info can be found here.

What to watch:
  • Fans get their first look at Miami transfer Robert Marve, the projected starter at quarterback for 2010. Marve and fellow quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry will be on display Saturday, and they'll get plenty of work in the passing game as Purdue's top running backs are all injured.
  • The offensive line is one of few groups that has avoided the injury bug, which is good because Purdue has a lot to replace. It'll be interesting to see who gets the most playing time up front and the line's rotation in the scrimmage.
  • Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary from 2009, and safety Albert Evans, one of few reserves with experience, is out this spring. Who's competing for starting jobs at safety and cornerback? We'll find out more on Saturday.
WISCONSIN

The vitals: Wisconsin's spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. CT at Camp Randall Stadium. The game will be streamed live on bigtennetwork.com. A Kids Fair will be held from noon-2 p.m., and football players will be on hand for the first hour. For more, click here.

What to watch:
  • Wisconsin's quarterback depth is a question mark, and backup Jon Budmayr should get plenty of work Saturday. Budmayr struggled a bit in last week's scrimmage, but Wisconsin needs him to be capable of stepping into a game if anything happens to Scott Tolzien.
  • The competition along the defensive line should be interesting to track, as Wisconsin loses three starters up front. The Badgers have a future star in J.J. Watt but need to see good signs from the defensive tackle spot as well as ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.
  • Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay won't be out there, but Wisconsin's pass-catching threats will be in action. Can Lance Kendricks be an All-Big Ten tight end? Who will join Nick Toon as a go-to wide receiver? We should find out more Saturday.

Spring superlatives: Indiana

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
9:00
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The spring superlatives series, which takes a look at the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team, marches on with Indiana.

The Hoosiers begin spring practice stocked at the offensive skill positions, as quarterback Ben Chappell, All-Big Ten wide receiver Tandon Doss and others are back. Indiana's major concerns once again rest with a defense that loses seven starters.

Strongest position: Wide receiver/tight end

  • Key returnees: Tandon Doss (77 receptions, 962 yards, 5 TDs); Damarlo Belcher (61 receptions, 770 yards, 5 TDs); Terrance Turner (46 receptions, 443 yards, 1 TD); Max Dedmond (18 receptions 141 yards, 1 TD).
  • Key losses: Wideout Mitchell Evans (33 receptions, 366 yards, 3 TDs) moves to safety.
  • The skinny: How loaded are the Hoosiers at receiver? Head coach Bill Lynch is moving two players, Evans and Matt Ernest, to the defensive side to help a beleaguered secondary. Doss earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media (second-team from the coaches) as a sophomore and has great potential to play at the next level. Belcher boasts great size and the ability to stretch the field, while Turner brings good experience to the group. Quarterback Ben Chappell will have no shortage of targets in 2010.
Weakest position: Defensive back
  • Key returnees: Cornerback Donnell Jones (30 tackles, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups); cornerback Richard Council (22 tackles, 2 pass breakups); safety Chris Adkins (14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception).
  • Key losses: Austin Thomas (67 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 pass breakups); Nick Polk (53 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups); Ray Fisher (40 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 635 kickoff return yards and 2 TDs).
  • The skinny: Indiana has concerns at other positions, namely linebacker and defensive end, but the secondary will be the coaches' top priority this spring. The Hoosiers lose three starters, including both safeties, and are rushing to fill the gaps. Bill Lynch signed two junior college cornerbacks (Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles) and moved both Evans and Ernest over from the offense. Evans, who played safety as a freshman in 2007, is expected to step into a leadership role in the secondary. I saw a decimated Indiana secondary face Iowa last year, and the Hawkeyes hit on several huge pass plays in the fourth quarter. IU must build depth in the back four to be able to survive injuries in 2010.
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, J.J. Watt, Jerel Worthy, Anderson Russell, Ian Thomas, Riley Reiff, Mitchell Evans, Arby Fields, Joe Palcic, Randy Walker, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Navorro Bowman, Clay Nurse, Paul Jones, David Gilbert, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Louis Nzegwu, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Sean Lee, Stefen Wisniewski, Martez Wilson, Nate Stupar, Tim Brewster, Robert Marve, Darius Johnson, Evan Watkins, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Rich Rodriguez, Albert Evans, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Jeff Horton, Kyle Jefferson, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Jacob Charest, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Dan Herron, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Tyler Nielsen, Brandon Graham, Jeff Tarpinian, Juice Williams, Josh Hull, Daryll Clark, Mike Trumpy, Niles Brinkley, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Nick Toon, Devin Gardner, Shaun Prater, Nathan Scheelhaase, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Bani Gbadyu, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Jay Valai, Dan Persa, Kurt Coleman, Scott Concannon, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Julian Vandervelde, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O\'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Jordan Hall, Terrance Thomas, Paul Petrino, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, Charlton, Gary Emanuel, 2010 spring what to watch

Despite another disappointing record (4-8) in 2009, Indiana finished the season with several reasons to believe things will get better soon.

Those reasons could be found in Indiana's offensive meeting room.

[+] EnlargeMitchell Evans
AJ Mast/Icon SMIMitchell Evans is one of several players who lined up on offense last season but could be on defense in 2010.
From quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to running back Darius Willis, Indiana boasted plenty of weapons to attack its opponents. And for the most part, they're all coming back in 2010, as the Hoosiers lose only three offensive starters, two of whom played on the line.

But offensive firepower rarely is the problem at Indiana. Defensive struggles have doomed the Hoosiers for the last decade, as they finished no better than 71st nationally since 2000. Despite a veteran-laden unit in 2009, Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.5 points per game), ninth against the pass (241.9 yards per game), ninth against the run (159.1 ypg) and 10th in total yards allowed (401 ypg).

The Hoosiers also lose seven starters on defense, including All-Big Ten end Jammie Kirlew, former national sacks leader Greg Middleton, standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry and three-fourths of the secondary. Even if IU lights up the scoreboard in 2010, it could have major problems stopping anyone on defense.

That's why head coach Bill Lynch plans to move several offensive players to defense, including versatile wide receiver Mitchell Evans.

Recruited as a quarterback and a safety, Evans began his college career at safety, moved to quarterback for preseason camp in 2008 and eventually switched to wide receiver. He ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, but he was perhaps best known for being the trigger man on the Wildcat offense, or, as Indiana folks called it, the Wild-Mitch. Evans took 69 snaps in the Wild-Mitch and rushed for 131 yards on 32 attempts.

This fall, Evans will be patrolling the secondary as a safety.

"He played safety for us as a true freshman," Lynch told me last week. "We're looking at some other guys that we may move to compete at corner and see how they do, knowing that they could go back to offense if it didn't work out."

Last year, wide receiver Ray Fisher moved to cornerback and became Indiana's top cover man. Fisher still contributed on kick returns, recording two runbacks for touchdowns. Evans also could maintain a role on offense, even though he'd be primarily a defensive player.

"He's the kind of kid that could [play both ways]," Lynch said. "It takes a mature guy that's a quick learner and doesn't need a lot of reps, and he's one of those kinds of guys. He's very unique that way."

Wide receiver Matt Ernest, who played safety in high school, also will switch over to defense for 2010. Indiana expects two junior college players, Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles, to fill in at cornerback.

"We don't want to count on freshmen coming in and doing it," Lynch said. "Kates and Kiles will compete right away, and then the next step is some of the guys we're going to move this spring."

Indiana recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
1:30
PM ET
Indiana Hoosiers

The class

Recruits: 25 (22 high school seniors, three junior college players, four players already enrolled)

Top prospects: Among the high school seniors, linebacker Ishmael Thomas stands out as a guy who can help a position of need. Indiana's three junior college signings -- linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerbacks Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles -- all will contribute immediately this fall as the Hoosiers lose five of seven starters in the back half.

Sleepers: Athlete Kofi Hughes is an interesting prospect who could be a playmaker at quarterback or another spot. Indiana has recruited the wide receiver spot very well in recent years, and Logan Young should help there. Running back Matt Perez could be a factor if Darius Willis struggles or gets banged up again.

Needs met: The secondary was an obvious need as Indiana loses three starters, and the staff found immediate help with three juco players. Indiana also addressed the defensive end spot, where it loses both starters, though Jibreel Black would have been a nice get for Bill Lynch.

Analysis: Indiana started very fast in recruiting, securing 20 of its 22 commitments from high school seniors before the 2009 season. The class lacks many superstars, but the three junior college defenders address pressing needs at both linebacker and cornerback. Lynch's staff has done a nice job of recruiting offensive skill players, and this class should produce a few more. But if the defenders in this group don't produce, Indiana will have a rough time winning games this fall.

Scouts Inc grade: C-minus

What Bill Lynch said:

  • "Our staff did a great job last winter and spring identifying kids. We work really hard to get them here in the summertime. Of the 22 high school kids we signed, 21 of them were here last summer on unofficial visits. Selfishly, Bloomington and Indiana University is quite a place in the summertime. They get here and they see the campus and get to meet us in a relaxed atmosphere, and that went a long way toward getting those commitments."
  • (On Andre Kates) "When you get a commitment like that, a quality player who has a great chance to compete right away, you certainly don't want to lose him. Because you count on him all through the recruiting process. We've got two JC corners, [Lenyatta Kiles] is in school now and then Andre will come in the summer. That was a real priority of ours because we did lose guys in the secondary."
  • "Kofi Hughes is an outstanding football player. He's a quarterback, real athletic kid. Like we told them, 'If you're going to play and be a starter-type player, we're going to play you. If not, we're going to redshirt you.'"
The Big Ten's two members in the state of Indiana have completed their recruiting classes for 2010.

Purdue signed 20 players on Wednesday to go along with four mid-year enrollees, bringing the total to 24 players. Once again, head coach Danny Hope did well in his home state of Florida, signing eight players from the Sunshine State. The Boilermakers went very heavy on the defensive side, signing five defensive backs, five defensive linemen and three linebackers. The class also includes three tight ends, two of whom (De'Ron Flood and Gabe Holmes) are already enrolled.

Indiana finalized a 25-man class, most of whom committed very early in the recruiting process. The Hoosiers wisely addressed their defense with 15 players, including junior college arrivals Andre Kates, Jeff Thomas and Lenyatta Kiles. The class features six linebackers and six defensive backs, two areas where IU must recharge in 2010. One of the more intriguing prospects is quarterback/athlete Kofi Hughes, who should provide a spark on offense.

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