Big Ten: Matt Shaughnessy

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the forecast for Wisconsin in 2009.

1. Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips both start games at quarterback this fall -- Sherer figures to get the first shot and could stay there throughout the fall, but Phillips' athleticism and youth will tempt the coaching staff. Wisconsin needs some continuity under center, and Phillips might be able to provide it if he continues to make progress after a late-spring push. The quarterback position will once again frustrate Badgers fans at times, but with three solid tight ends and an improved group of wide receivers, the passing game should be better.

2. The front four will be the strength of the Badgers' defense -- Sure, three multiyear starters are gone (Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman and Matt Shaughnessy), but the line had an excellent offseason and boasts a nice mix of youth and experience. Senior end O'Brien Schofield is ready to lead, and Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt will be one of the Big Ten's most valuable additions this fall. Young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu also provide reasons for optimism up front.

3. Wisconsin capitalizes on a very favorable schedule -- This could easily be a six-win team that ends up 8-4, thanks to a beneficial slate. The Badgers open with four consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium, where they remain extremely tough to beat. Their two toughest home games (Michigan State and Iowa) are both winnable, and aside from a trip to Ohio State, the road slate doesn't look too daunting. Head coach Bret Bielema will stop the slide after seeing his wins total drop in each of the past two seasons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Biggest reason for hope -- John Clay and the run game

Wisconsin can always fall back on its offensive line and power run game, and the 2009 season should be no different. P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL clears the way for Clay, who was very impressive in spurts last season as a backup. Clay finished seventh in the league in rushing (68 ypg) and had a sparking 5.7 yards-per-carry average as a redshirt freshman. If he can maintain a decent weight (235-240 pounds) and avoid further ankle problems, he should have a breakout season this fall. Wisconsin loses a few key pieces up front, but always seems to reload on the O-line.

Biggest reason for concern -- Holes on defense

Most would list the quarterback position as Wisconsin's biggest concern, but the passing game shouldn't be as big of a problem this fall with improved play from the wide receivers. The defense, meanwhile, loses its top two linebackers (DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas), its top pass defender (corner Allen Langford) and three multiyear starters on the line (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman). It could signal problems for a unit that struggled in the red zone and in the fourth quarter of games in 2008. Wisconsin should be pretty solid up front this fall, but there are questions elsewhere.

Recapping the hope and concern series:

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
Passing
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
Tackles
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
Sacks
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
Interceptions
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

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

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

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

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

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

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

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

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

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

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

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

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

A few final thoughts from the draft.

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

J.J. Watt's long, strange journey back to Wisconsin was almost complete, as head coach Bret Bielema offered him a chance to walk onto the Badgers' team. 

Watt just had one final item to address. 

"I had to look at his contract to make sure everything was OK," Watt said, laughing. 

You couldn't blame him for checking. Watt didn't exactly have the best luck with coaches early in his college career. 

The Pewaukee, Wis., native originally committed to Central Michigan, but reopened his recruitment after head coach Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati. Watt then committed to Minnesota in mid-December, only to see the axe fall on Gophers head coach Glen Mason two weeks later. 

He wound up back at Central Michigan and played in all 14 games as a true freshman tight end in 2007, catching eight passes for 77 yards. But with the tight end position not the focal point of Butch Jones' offense, Watt decided to return to familiar surroundings and a familiar position -- defensive end.

"It was definitely a crazy process I went through," Watt said, "but in the end it worked out for me, so I can't complain. Now I'm in a great position."

His arrival also has worked out well for Wisconsin, which loses three multiyear starters on the defensive line (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman).

Watt stood out during spring ball and all but locked up a starting position on the defensive line for 2009. Named the Badgers' defensive scout team player of the year last fall, Watt continued to impress the coaches and was rewarded with a scholarship Friday night, hours before the spring game.

"He's a beast, man," said senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield, echoing the term defensive coordinator Dave Doeren used to describe Watt. "You see all the potential. He does all the right things that the coaches teach."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the superlatives rundown. Quarterback certainly hurt the Badgers more than any other spot last season, but the team should be better stocked under center this year.

Here's the good news and bad news for Wisconsin entering spring ball.

Strongest position -- Safety

Key returnees: Junior Jay Valai, senior Chris Maragos, senior Shane Carter, senior Aubrey Pleasant

Key departures: None

The skinny: The secondary as a whole should be stronger despite the loss of top cover corner Allen Langford, and the safeties are all back for 2009. Valai has established himself as one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters, and Maragos is a solid tackler with experience at free safety. If Carter improves his tackling to complement his ball-hawking skills, he'll be an asset this fall. The running backs would have earned this distinction if P.J. Hill had stayed, though the group still remains solid. Other strong positions include tight end and cornerback.

Weakest position -- Defensive line

Key returnees: Senior end O'Brien Schofield, senior end Dan Moore

Key departures: Tackle Mike Newkirk (59 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (8 TFLs, 4 sacks, 10 QB hurries), tackle Jason Chapman (5 TFLs, 2 sacks)

The skinny: Several offensive position groups could fit in this category, especially quarterbacks and wide receivers. The linebackers also will be restocking after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. But enough players are back at all of those spots, and the production hit along the defensive line might be a bigger problem for the Badgers. Newkirk was terrific last season, recording nine tackles for loss and four sacks, and Shaughnessy brought a pass-rushing presence to the edge. Schofield could be a star this fall after a productive junior year, but he'll need some help.

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.

ILLINOIS (5)

  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker

INDIANA (1)

IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
MICHIGAN (4)
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent

MICHIGAN STATE (3)

  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley

NORTHWESTERN (1)

  • Running back Tyrell Sutton

OHIO STATE (8)

  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^

PENN STATE (8)

  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams

PURDUE (4)

WISCONSIN (7)

  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik

^--Underclassman

Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likely will return to his roots with his 2009 recruiting haul.

A former defensive lineman at Iowa, Bielema needs to replenish a Badgers' defensive front that loses three multiyear starters (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman). Wisconsin needs to start generating pressure again, and Bielema will be looking for contributors at both line positions.

The Badgers also lose plenty of experience at linebacker, as mainstays DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas graduate. Though Jaevery McFadden developed nicely this fall, there's not too much experience behind him.

For the second straight season, the Badgers will lose their best cover man as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford graduates. The secondary isn't a pressing need, but the Badgers would be well served by adding a defensive back or two.

On the offensive side, a mammoth line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in rushing loses three starters, including standout guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. Wisconsin likely won't need a true freshman to start but should try to build depth up front.

Wisconsin's wide receivers were a major disappointment this season, and while the team remains young at that position, a sure-hands target or two in the 2009 class wouldn't be a bad move. Standout tight end Travis Beckum graduates and Garrett Graham enters his senior season, so tight end also is somewhat of a need with this class.

The Badgers' struggles on return and coverage teams also provide paths for several freshmen to see the field this fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rosters are complete for the East-West Shrine Game, and 14 Big Ten players have been selected for the East squad. The game takes place Jan. 17 in Houston (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET).

I made a mistake in an earlier post and listed Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik as a Shrine Game participant. It's actually Badgers guard Andy Kemp. Urbik will play in the Senior Bowl.

Here's the full rundown of Big Ten players.

  • Greg Orton, wide receiver, Purdue
  • Deon Butler, wide receiver Penn State
  • Brian Hoyer, quarterback, Michigan State
  • DeAndre Levy, linebacker, Wisconsin
  • Tyrell Sutton, running back, Northwestern
  • Otis Wiley, safety, Michigan State
  • Morgan Trent, cornerback, Michigan
  • Kory Sheets, running back, Purdue
  • A.Q. Shipley, center, Penn State
  • Terrance Taylor, defensive tackle, Michigan
  • Alex Boone, offensive tackle, Ohio State
  • Seth Olsen, guard, Iowa
  • Andy Kemp, guard, Wisconsin
  • Matt Shaughnessy, defensive end, Wisconsin
 
  Jamie Sabau/Getty Images and Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 With Chris Wells, left, and Terrelle Pryor in the same backfield, the Buckeyes can utilize the power running game or the spread offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When Ohio State guard Jim Cordle discusses the team's new-look offense, he finds himself posing several rhetorical questions.

Cordle is happy he's not the one who needs to find the answers.

One of the questions came to Cordle in the second quarter of last Saturday's game against Minnesota. He had sealed off his man and caught a glimpse of Buckeyes running back Chris "Beanie" Wells hurdling Gophers safety Kyle Theret.

"He obviously can push off that foot now," Cordle said of Wells. "And what are [defenders] going to do? Are they going to go high and he'll run 'em over or go low and he'll hurdle 'em? We obviously think he's the best running back in college football."

Ohio State's offensive linemen also think highly of their new leader, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who leads the team in rushing (292 yards) and averages 6.2 yards a carry. The backfield of Wells and Pryor allows the Buckeyes to go traditional with the power run game or look to the future with the spread and the read option.

With both players on the field at the same time, opposing defenses have to prepare for either scheme.

"Beanie in there is the key because we can do so many different things," Cordle said. "A defense can't key on the spread necessarily, especially with the zone read now. Who are you going to key on, the quarterback or the running back? And then you still have to be prepared for a downhill running attack from Beanie Wells."

(Read full post)

Off to Ann Arbor

September, 27, 2008
9/27/08
8:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

My flight to Detroit takes off in just a few minutes. I'll be checking in from Michigan Stadium later on this morning, so check back for some updates on Wisconsin-Michigan and the noon ET kickoffs. 

In the interim, brush up on your pregame reading:

Checking in with ... Dave Doeren

August, 21, 2008
8/21/08
3:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When you call Dave Doeren's cell phone, you don't hear any tones before the Wisconsin defensive coordinator picks up. Instead, the unmistakable sound of House of Pain's "Jump Around" screeches through the receiver. Anyone who has ever been in Camp Randall Stadium between the third and fourth quarters of Badgers games knows why.

"The recruits like that," Doeren said.

Doeren doesn't come off as much of a rap fan, but he wants his defenders to follow Everlast's words after they spent too much of 2007 in their seats.

After the Outback Bowl, coach Bret Bielema dismissed veteran coordinator Mike Hankwitz and promoted the energetic, intense Doeren to get the defense back to its 2006 form, when Wisconsin ranked second nationally in points allowed. The Badgers boast experience along the defensive line and at linebacker, and they return the Big Ten's interceptions leader in safety Shane Carter. But health has been a concern throughout the offseason, with linebacker Jonathan Casillas the latest to go down (ankle). Defending the spread offense also will be a focus for the Badgers after struggling against athletic quarterbacks like Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber.

After writing about Doeren this spring, I caught up with him earlier this week and discussed his outlook for the Badgers defense in 2008.

You had the chance to get acclimated with the guys in the spring as the coordinator. How have they responded to you in preseason camp?

Dave Doeren: It's coming together. The guys are really working hard. You're starting to see that chemistry, stuff we missed in the spring due to all those injuries, so it's fun to start seeing those guys bonding and being out there together and working together and having the progress where some of our better players are actually out there and making plays again.

Do they have a better awareness of the expectations you have?

DD: They definitely understand. There's always a learning curve when you're trying to figure out what a guy wants from you, so they're on the same page as me from that standpoint most of the time, not always, but a lot better than where we were.

I've heard you don't hide your emotions too much. You're pretty easy to read.

DD: That's a big thing. I want those guys to feel like they can tell me what's going on, and by the same token, I'm always going to be up front and honest with them so that we're always on the same page with everything.

The guys have been pretty honest about not meeting expectations last season as a defense. Is that easier for you to come in and coach when they've already acknowledged that they want to do better?

DD: Two years ago, we were very, very good here on defense and a lot of guys took for granted that it would happen again. And it was a tough lesson to learn, so I'm walking into a situation obviously where the guys are hungry because they went through a tough stretch early on before we started getting better defensively as the year went on last year.

Would you say the leadership is in a better place now? Jonathan [Casillas], it seemed like he was a little bit ahead of his time last year as a captain.

DD: I think so, and those guys understand that the lack of it last year hurt 'em. There's a lot of experience. Last year, we had one returning starter on the defensive line, and there was only one senior in there. And then you've got Chappy [Jason Chapman], you're looking at [Mike] Newkirk, you're looking at [Matt] Shaughnessy, [Kirk] DeCremer's got experience, [O'Brien] Schofield's got experience. And then at linebacker, there's five guys with starting experience. So there's a lot more comfort within those guys as far as saying stuff to their teammates now that they've proven they can play.

Have you seen any examples of that leadership that have stood out in camp?

DD: At practice, you'll see guys coaching other guys all the time. Last year, I don't know if we were unsure of it or just not working the same way or what. You'll see a kid make a mistake, and half the time, before you can correct him as a coach, those older players are jumping on him and talking to him and helping him. That's great when those guys are doing that kind of stuff.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One of Bret Bielema's most treasured football mementos is a photo snapped on the field at Ohio Stadium in the wake of a 1991 game.

Flanked by his Iowa defensive linemates, Mike Wells and Ron Geater, a smiling Bielema sat on a bench, celebrating an emotional Hawkeyes win as three downtrodden Ohio State fans walked behind them. The day before, a graduate student killed five people and wounded another on Iowa's campus before turning his gun on himself.

"We had taken the decals off our helmets and played with only black helmets," Bielema said. "It was something that was very unique in my playing career. And that's a special picture just because it was my d-line group."

Bielema hasn't shown the photo to Wisconsin's defensive linemen but admits it might be a good idea to do so.

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
 Matt Shaughnessy has earned All-Big Ten honors in each of his first three seasons.
The Badgers coach hopes that the team's defensive linemen will forge their own memories by the end of the season.

"Not only do they have respect for what each other goes through on the field," Bielema said, "but a lot of times those guys have huge weight gains once they get here, so they're going through that together. Every team, every university I've been to, the d-line is a special group."

Despite a subpar performance in 2007, Wisconsin's front four could be one of the team's strengths this fall.

The Badgers lost only one starter (Nick Hayden) and return three seniors -- standout end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk -- who have started in multiple seasons. Sophomore end Kirk DeCremer led the team in sacks last season (5.5), and he's penciled in as a backup. Shaughnessy has earned All-Big Ten honors in each of his first three seasons, racking up 33.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

"Just having each other's back is a big issue," said Chapman, who has 31 career starts. "You go out there and do certain things individually, focusing on your key, but at the same time, you have to be able to fend for your (teammate) next to you."

Unfortunately for the Badgers' linemen, the field isn't the only place where they've had time to jell.

Injuries swept through the entire team but hit the line especially hard. Chapman tore his ACL against Ohio State last season, while DeCremer (back), Shaughnessy (leg), Newkirk (shoulder) and junior-college transfer Dan Moore (knee) missed part or all of spring ball. DeCremer and Newkirk have been somewhat limited in preseason practice, but all the linemen are expected to be ready for the opener Aug. 30 against Akron.

"We've bonded and we've also gotten a lot smarter, too, just knowing basically the ins and outs of the defense because we've had that time to sit back and watch everything," DeCremer said. "That's really helped."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Start your clocks. We're two weeks away. Before the scrimmages get going around the league, check out these links:

  • Bad news for Illinois as wide receiver Jeff Cumberland, a projected starter, will miss two to four weeks with a foot injury. The Illini could have used Cumberland's size against Missouri in the season opener. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen has a revised preseason depth chart with Chris Duvalt moving into Cumberland's spot with the first-team offense.
  • Indiana tight end Max Dedmond models himself after Dallas Clark and even gets called "Dallas" in practice, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Also, no word yet on whether Florida transfer Jerimy Finch will be allowed to play this season. 
  • Iowa's offensive linemen hate the number 46 -- last season's sacks allowed total -- and vow to change things this fall, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. There's also a nice personnel breakdown of the line. The sexual assault trial involving two former Iowa players appears headed for a delay.
  • Missed this from a few days ago, but The Ann Arbor News' Jim Carty answers some Michigan questions. He thinks four players, including running back Carlos Brown, will take snaps this fall.
  • Free safety has become a position of concern at Michigan State. Roderick Jenrette, a projected starter alongside Otis Wiley, has been asked to take an indefinite absence from the team to address a personal matter. Also, Spartans sophomore Enrique Shaw has left the program voluntarily. Junior Dan Fortener could step in for Jenrette. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is borrowing some baseball sayings to address his team's current position, John Lemon writes in the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.
  • Minnesota has gone live (full tackling) more than most teams this preseason -- after last season, it needed to. Today's scrimmage will mark the end for a while, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.
  • Don't know how Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis would do in the 200-meter butterfly, but he bears a resemblance to that Phelps guy, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. If you're going to Ohio State's open practice Monday, leave your cameras at home.
  • Penn State wideout Derrick Williams wants to end his career like he started it, with a trip to a BCS bowl.
  • Jaycen Taylor holds a slight edge over Kory Sheets right now, but if history is a guide, both Purdue running backs will play plenty, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier. Sheets first has to fix his fumbling problems.
  • Wisconsin might go with two kickers this season, but the Badgers definitely will use three running backs this season, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy returned to practice Friday after heading home following the death of his older brother.

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