Big Ten: Marcus Whitfield

Oddball is coming to the Big Ten in 2014.

After spreading through the NFL and much of college football, odd defenses -- with three down linemen instead of four -- will be more visible in the Big Ten this season. Three Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin, Maryland and Indiana -- will operate mainly with three linemen and four linebackers. Although the Terrapins and Hoosiers prefer the hybrid label for their defenses, all three units will show alignments somewhat foreign to the conference.

In 2012, all 12 Big Ten teams used base defenses featuring four down linemen. Defenses with odd fronts had made cameos at places like Michigan and Indiana in the past -- Northwestern considered moving to a 3-4 early in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure but has since elected to remain in a 4-3 -- but unlike the NFL, where about half of the teams use odd fronts, the Big Ten steered clear of the trend.

[+] EnlargeDave Aranda
AP Photo/David StlukaWisconsin coordinator Dave Aranda installed a 3-4 scheme last season, and the Badgers finished in the top seven nationally in points allowed (16.3 ppg).
Last season, Wisconsin installed the 3-4, which the new coaching staff had used at Utah State. Indiana hopes to upgrade a perennially poor defense as it uses more of a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. Maryland will keep its scheme -- three linemen, four linebackers but not the traditional two-gap approach seen with 3-4 defenses -- as it transitions from the ACC.

"[Big Ten teams] don't see an odd front every week," Knorr told ESPN.com. "Being multiple, giving them different looks, something they haven't seen, hopefully that's an advantage for us."

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda always planned to install a 3-4 at Wisconsin. He just wasn't sure the Badgers had the personnel to do it in Year 1. They needed a nose tackle who could occupy two blockers, and outside linebackers with the speed-size mix to do it all. Fortunately, Beau Allen filled the nose position and Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly occupied the outside spots.

Wisconsin finished in the top seven nationally in points allowed (16.3 ppg), rush yards allowed (102.5 ypg), total yards allowed (305.1 ypg) and third-down conversions against (30.6 percent). Aranda likes having an extra linebacker to defend spread offenses, and the 3-4 also has the flexibility to stop the traditional offenses for which the Big Ten is known.

"The power run fits in well with the 3-4," Aranda said.

Indiana will mix three- and four-man fronts, but like Aranda, Knorr inherits players he thinks can fill the critical roles in the 3-4. Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw, who played defensive end in the previous system, have the ability to blitz from the perimeter or drop back in coverage.

"The offenses are so wide open, and you have to be able to cover the entire field," Knorr said. "Having the ability to drop eight at times, gives you an extra guy in coverage. Having the ability to have five guys in a great position to blitz right away gives you the versatility we're looking for, while being able to keep our disguise."

The disguise, according to Aranda, is what can set 3-4 defenses apart. He wants to keep offenses guessing about the fourth rusher: Will it be the weakside inside linebacker? The strongside outside linebacker? A safety? A cornerback?

As long as the outside linebackers have the ability to both rush and cover, without giving up too much, defensive play-callers can really mix things up.

"I know a lot of teams will be confused and we'll cause a lot of uncertainty and chaos for the offense," Indiana linebacker David Cooper said. "I think we'll do great in the Big Ten."

Maryland typically will use four linebackers, but doesn't feature the massive defensive linemen seen in standard two-gap, 3-4 looks. The Terrapins last season generated pressure both from the linebacker spot (Marcus Whitfield had nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss) and the line (end Andre Monroe had 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss). They return nine defensive starters.

Aranda used to visit Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart when Stewart coached in the NFL under Wade Phillips, a longtime 3-4 defense practitioner. Aranda looks forward to seeing how other odd defenses fare in the Big Ten this season.

"Part of the issue with us last year is we'd go into games not knowing how people would block us," Aranda said. "That works both ways because people don't know how we're going to line up, either, or at least that first year. Now that film's out, but it definitely helps to me when you see someone play Indiana or someone play Maryland, you can see how they're lining up vs. 3-4."

Will the 3-4 keep spreading around the Big Ten? Defensive line has been the league's strongest position in recent years, as players in traditional end or tackle roles have gone on to the NFL in droves.

"There's such a fertile ground for defensive linemen in our area," Aranda admits. "We're trading some of those guys for linebackers and secondary players. Our corners and our safeties are as much our pass-rushers as our D-linemen are.

"There has to be a decision or a philosophy, somewhere along the line, of where you're going with it."

Depending on the results at Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland, more Big Ten teams could choose to be odd.

Maryland Terrapins season preview

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
10:30
AM ET
video
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Maryland Terrapins:

2013 overall record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)

Key losses: De'Onte Arnett, OL; Dave Stinebaugh, TE; Dexter McDougle, DB; Marcus Whitfield, LB

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesC.J. Brown returns to lead Maryland's prolific passing attack.
Key returnees: C.J. Brown, QB; Stefon Diggs, WR; Deon Long, WR; Sal Conaboy, OC; Andre Monroe, DE; Cole Farrand, LB; Sean Davis, S

Instant impact newcomer: OL Damian Prince. It's not often that a freshman offensive lineman enrolls over the summer and is expected to make an immediate impact. But, then again, rookies like Prince -- a 6-foot-3, 300-pound four-star prospect -- don't come around often, either. He will see time this season, and he could start as early as the opener. Newcomer OL Derwin Gray could win out the right tackle job, too.

Projected starters

Offense: QB: C.J. Brown, Sr., 6-3, 218; RB: Brandon Ross, Jr., 5-10, 210; FB: Kenneth Goins Jr., So., 5-9, 230; OT: Michael Dunn, So., 6-5, 300; OG Silvano Altamirano, Sr., 6-2, 290; OC: Sal Conaboy, Sr., 6-3, 295; OG: Andrew Zeller, Jr., 6-4, 310; OT: Ryan Doyle, Jr., 6-4, 300; TE: Andrew Isaacs, So., 6-2, 245; WR: Stefon Diggs, Jr., 6-0, 190; WR: Deon Long, Sr., 6-0, 185; WR: Marcus Leak, Jr., 6-0, 210.

Defense: DE: Quinton Jefferson, Jr., 6-3, 285; NT: Darius Kilgo, Sr., 6-3, 319; DE: Andre Monroe, Sr., 5-11, 282; OLB: Matt Robinson, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: Cole Farrand, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: L.A. Goree, Sr., 6-2, 245; OLB: Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Sr., 6-2, 250; CB: Will Likely, So., 5-7, 175; CB: Alvin Hill, Jr., 5-11, 195; S: Sean Davis, Jr., 6-1, 200; S: Anthony Nixon, Jr., 6-1, 200.

Specialists: K: Brad Craddock, Jr., 6-0, 185; P: Nathan Renfro, Jr., 6-1, 205.

Biggest question mark: Can the running attack take off with this offensive line? The strength of this offense is obviously the passing attack, but the running game also needs to pick up some slack so the offense isn't so one-dimensional. In 2013, Maryland's line allowed an average of 7.08 tackles for loss a game -- only 14 FBS teams fared worse -- and the rushing offense ranked just 83rd nationally. The good news is Maryland boasts several options at running back and most of the line returns. The bad news? Those returnees weren't all that effective last season. If that part of the offense can even come close to matching the ability of that pass attack, the Terps could surprise a lot of people.

Most important game: Nov. 1 at Penn State. Maryland wants to earn respect in the Big Ten, and there would be no better way than upending a regional rival that's 35-1-1 all time versus the Terps. Maryland last beat PSU in 1961, and the Lions have won or tied the past 29 meetings. This is a statement game, and Maryland could show it belongs in the B1G with this.

Upset special: Nov. 1 at Penn State. That's right. It's the most important game -- and it's the upset special. The Nittany Lions still have a lot of question marks, and if Maryland's going to pounce on PSU this would be the year to do it, before the sanctions wane and the Lions return to full strength. Defensive end Andre Monroe could be in for a memorable performance, and if Penn State's secondary doesn't improve dramatically from last season, it could have its hands full against Diggs and Long. If pass-happy Indiana could take advantage last season, there's a chance Maryland could take advantage this season.

Key stat: Over the past two seasons, Diggs has averaged 156 all-purpose yards per game. Among returning players in the FBS, only one player has averaged more.

What they're wearing: With the backing of Under Armour, Maryland's a bit like the Oregon of the East when it comes to uniforms. Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said during Big Ten media days that his team would be debuting one new uniform this season -- but no date has been announced for when that might be unveiled.

In the meantime, here's a look at Maryland's jerseys with the new Big Ten patch:

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Randy Edsall (@RandyEdsall) is a good follow, as long as you don't mind a lot of motivational quotes. Quarterback C.J. Brown (@C_Brown16) is an active Tweeter, and wideout Stefon Diggs (@stefon_diggs) is a must-follow who says what he feels. The Maryland Athletics account (@umterps) and official football account (@MarylandPride) are also worth looking into. As far as covering the team, the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker (@sunjeffbarker) is on top of the news and SB Nation's Testudo Times (@testudotimes) is worth a follow for their commentary.

They said it: “We want to make noise. We want to go out there and win and compete and make Maryland even more relevant than it already is -- and show that we do belong.” -- quarterback C.J. Brown

Stats & Info projections: 6.42 wins

Wise guys over/under: 6.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Six wins. Maryland is a better team than last season, but its Big Ten schedule is absolutely brutal. It faces four of the five best teams in the B1G -- Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa -- so it doesn't exactly have an easy path to a bowl game. Seven or eight wins certainly isn't out of the question, but we'll first see if the Terps can make it through September unscathed.
The unofficial start of summer came this past weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/decided to try out for "America's Got Talent." That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is up next.

[+] EnlargeMatt Robinson
Mark Goldman/Icon SMIMatt Robinson made a very successful move from safety to linebacker for the Terps, posting 10 tackles for loss last season.
Matt Robinson, LB, Sr.

The Terrapins returns plenty of experience at linebacker with three returning starters, but Robinson is the biggest difference-maker with his playmaking ability. As Maryland tries to replace Marcus Whitfield (15.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles last season), Robinson's presence will be critical. He recorded 10 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a forced fumble as a junior, starting 10 games at outside linebacker after moving from safety last spring. Like many of his Maryland teammates, Robinson has battled several injuries in his career but showed last season how he can impact games when healthy. The Terps would miss Robinson's speed and production if he's not on the field this fall.

Sal Conaboy, C, Sr.

Almost any center who makes starts in each of his first three seasons will earn indispensable designation as a senior, and Conaboy is no exception. Maryland has some uncertainty at both the tackle and guard positions as junior-college tackle Larry Mazyck didn't qualify and Moise Larose was suspended by the school for a year. The Terrapins likely will be counting on young players, including blue-chip incoming recruits Damian Prince and Derwin Gray, for significant playing time. They certainly need Conaboy to stay on the field and provide leadership from the middle of the line. Conaboy started all 13 games last season, seven in 2012 and two in 2011, and made the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list. An academic All-ACC selection who serves on Maryland's leadership council, Conaboy provides stability for the line on an offense that boasts plenty of depth at the skill positions.
Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
When Maryland coach Randy Edsall announced the team's 2014 leadership council on Monday, his list included six holdovers from the previous year. Least surprising among the incumbents: linebacker Cole Farrand.

[+] EnlargeCole Farrand
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesCole Farrand will be more vocal in his final season, which marks Maryland's first in the Big Ten.
It's not just that Farrand plays a position of leadership, middle linebacker, or that he produces on the field (162 tackles the past two seasons). He embraces the responsibility that goes along with his role.

"More this year than last year, I'm looking to take a leadership position, especially because I'm a senior," Farrand told ESPN.com last week, before the leadership council was named. "It's my duty to step up."

It was Farrand's duty to speak up in 2013 when Maryland dropped four of five games following a 4-0 start. The Terrapins looked particularly listless in a 20-3 home setback against Syracuse, throwing two interceptions and fumbling five times (losing two). Injuries once again had hit Maryland especially hard.

The leadership council convened to address the team's lack of fire. Farrand told the media that week, "I feel like we're letting a lot of people down. ... I think everybody felt after the Syracuse game that the Maryland football team maybe wasn't that into it. It's a terrible thing to say but we definitely need to pick up the intensity."

Maryland responded the following week with a 27-24 overtime win at Virginia Tech, the Terrapins' first win in Blacksburg since 1949 and their first against the Hokies since 1990. The defense recorded a season-high 11 tackles-for-loss as Maryland became bowl-eligible.

"We came together and said, 'Look, we can't have the team look like this,'" Farrand said. "It was kind of embarrassing going out there and getting beat the way we were. That wasn’t the team we wanted to be. Myself and the other members of the leadership council got up there and talked to everybody. The other players got the picture that we were a better team than we were showing."

Farrand thinks Maryland can have a very good team, the best in his career, as the Terrapins make their Big Ten debut this fall. Nine starters return on defense, including three of the four top linebackers in Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson.

Maryland must replace outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield, who produced nine sacks and 15.5 tackles-for-loss last season. But Farrand likes the depth of the group as young players like Jalen Brooks, Jermaine Carter and Yannick Ngakoue stood out to him this spring.

The Terrapins use a 3-4 alignment, which is catching on around the Big Ten, but remains a unique look.

"I'm sure other teams are watching film, but they haven't seen us yet, so they don't know exactly how Maryland football plays," Farrand said. "It's definitely going to be an advantage going into a new conference."

During his final spring at Maryland, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Farrand worked on refining his game, little things like rip moves against offensive linemen to gain a step or two on a ball-carrier. He also has been more vocal, trying to create a mood of both fun and hard work, which Farrand believes go together.

The Sparta, N.J., native stuck with Maryland even after the school made a coaching change weeks before he was set to sign. He has been through two losing seasons and last season's mini-rebound. A new league awaits Maryland, and in Farrand's view, a potential breakthrough.

"There's a lot of urgency," he said. "It's my last go-round. I'd be happy to go out with a bowl game win, and I'd love to see Maryland in the first Rose Bowl in the first year in the Big Ten.

"We're headed in a great direction."
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).

Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.

Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.

Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.

Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.

Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.

Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.

Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.

Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.

Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.

Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.

Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.

Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.
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, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, Michael Trotter, Max Bullough, Jonathan Brown, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Mylan Hicks, Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, Ryan Russell, Joshua Perry, Derek Landisch, Jimmy Hall, Denicos Allen, Ralph Cooper, Curtis Grant, Darien Harris, Quinton Alston, Marcus Trotter, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael Rose, Joseph Jones, Camren Williams, Vince Biegel, Cole Fisher, Jack Lynn, Nyeem Wartman, Allen Gant, T.J. Neal, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Joe Gilliam, David Cooper, Jon Reschke, Taiwan Jones, Ben Gedeon, Shane Jones, Brandon Bell, Nathan Gerry, Marcus Newby, Forisse Hardin, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, Eric Finney, Trey Johnson, Leon Jacobs, Reggie Spearman, Alec James, De'Vondre Campbell, De'Niro Laster, Damien Wilson, Josh Banderas, T.J. Simmons, Clyde Newton, Marcus Oliver, Ben Kline, Drew Smith, Nick Rallis, Troy Reeder, James Ross III, Joe Schobert, Raekwon McMillan, Gelen Robinson, Gary Wooten, Ed Davis, Travis Perry, Brian Knorr, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Jaylen Prater, B1G spring positions 14, Darron Lee, L.A. Goree, Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Abner Logan, Danny Ezechukwu, Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause, Jamal Merrell, Davon Jacobs, L.J. Liston

Video: B1G shoes to fill, Maryland

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
2:30
PM ET

ESPN.com Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett talks about how Maryland will try to replace linebacker Marcus Whitfield.

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