Big Ten: Mike Klinkenborg
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The 2008 season has started and that means Iowa players can conduct interviews with out-of-town media again (celebration ensuing). Needless to say, I was very excited to get a call Tuesday night from Hawkeyes junior linebacker A.J. Edds, an emerging star who's as personable as he is talented.
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds is picking up where the Mikes left off.|
Edds started last season alongside the Mikes (Humpal and Klinkenborg) and finished second on the team with 80 tackles (51 solo). A converted tight end, Edds has brought his playmaking skills to the strong-side linebacker spot and last Saturday recorded a safety and deflected a pass that led to an interception against Maine. The 6-4, 244-pound Edds (pronounced EEds) discussed his emergence as a leader, learning from the Mikes and Iowa's need to move beyond a problematic offseason away from the field.
Are you sensing a greater need to take a leadership role with the two Mikes gone? You're one of the more experienced guys at linebacker.
A.J. Edds: Definitely. I'm kind of expecting more of myself in that capacity, and the coaches are as well. They ask more of me in a leadership role, football-wise, on the field. With the departure of Mike and Mike, it's naturally put me into the spot for being more of a leader, having been the lone starter returning out of the core. I'm trying to do what I can with the other two backers. A lot of guys are splitting some time in there, and I'm trying to help out wherever I can, whether it be guys questioning the game plan or questions about nerves, getting out there and playing their first game. It's definitely been something I've been asked to do and hopefully I'll step into that role more and more.
You sound pretty comfortable doing it. Do you feel like an older guy?
AJE: I've obviously got a pretty good grasp of what we're doing as a team and obviously, as a defense. I'm only a junior, but I do feel like I'm one of the more veteran guys on the defense and one of the guys being looked to, to come up with plays, offer that leadership to some of the younger guys. I'm comfortable in that role, definitely. I've been in a similar situation, coming up through high school, playing as a younger guy. By the time I got to be a junior and senior in high school, I was in a similar role, so it's a position I've been in before.
What did you learn from the two Mikes?
AJE: The big thing I took away from both of those guys is the off-field preparation that they put in during the week. It's one thing to have a coach preach, 'Watch the film, get into the game, know the game plan inside and out.' To have guys like that doing it and to see the success on the field is basically all I needed to see. I knew that was the case, but to see those guys put the time in they did off the field to get ready for the games and to see them play and perform the level they did, that was the big thing I took from them. And then the leadership stuff on a daily basis. They weren't real vocal guys, but when stuff needed to be said, guys listened and guys responded.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Game week is almost here, and coaches around the league have some big decisions to make. Your only decision is to keep reading.
- Rejus Benn could use a shave, particularly if he ends up on stage accepting an award or two in December. But the Illinois sophomore wideout isn't concerned about his preseason hype, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette. Sirod Williams' season-ending knee injury put Illini defensive tackle Josh Brent in the mix to start, Mark Tupper writes.
- No one at Indiana has said much about the reasons behind quarterback Kellen Lewis' spring suspension. But Lewis finally opened up Monday, saying he had thrown himself into "a party lifestyle," skipping classes and team meetings, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Very candid stuff from the junior:
"There were times when they called me and couldn't get a hold of me for three days. I had gone out and partied and then missed two classes and didn't wake up until 12:30. ... When you start believing in your own hype a little bit, you start thinking you can slide in a little bit later than everybody else. And now that you don't have to follow the same rules, you can bend this rule or that one. 'The essay is due on Thursday, but I can just e-mail it to [the instructor] later that night,' that kind of thing. And then it all just kind of caught up with me and my grades slipped to a point they had never slipped to before."
Also, some notes from Hoosiers practice, as wideouts Andrew Means and Brandon Walker-Roby returned to the field.
- Iowa's linebacking corps has a youthful look after the losses of the Mikes (Humpal and Klinkenborg). Jacody Coleman leads the next generation of Hawkeyes linebackers, Ryan Suchomel writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' name isn't the only interesting thing about the sophomore wideout, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- More details are emerging about Michigan running back Kevin Grady's drunken driving arrest. According to police, the Wolverines junior was passed out at the wheel, The Grand Rapids Press reports. Michigan doesn't have many definitive answers on its depth chart, but coach Rich Rodriguez isn't lacking for options, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. The healing process continues for Wolverines offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, who lost his father and girlfriend in a car accident last Christmas.
- Brandon Long was overshadowed by Michigan State teammate Jonal Saint-Dic last season. The defensive end knows his time is now, Chris Solari writes in the Lansing State Journal. Long and the other Spartans defensive linemen face an immediate test in Cal's Jahvid Best, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Minnesota's offensive line is young and banged-up, but guards Chris Bunders and D.J. Burris are back in the mix after injuries, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Northwestern broke camp in Kenosha, Wis., after a solid 10 days.
- Ohio State opened its doors to the public Monday night, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor didn't disappoint, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. More on Pryor's throwing motion and wideout Dane Sanzenbacher, the star of Ohio State's camp, from The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises. Also, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel weighs in on the debate about closing practices and scrimmages to the media and the public.
- Josh Hull has gone from walk-on to projected starter at Linebacker U., Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The 50-yard Lion blog begins ranking Penn State's opponents, from easiest to hardest.
- The prognosis doesn't look good for Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor, who has his right knee evaluated today, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier. Boilers fifth-year senior safety Frank Duong has been rewarded with a scholarship, WNDU-TV reports.
- Wisconsin will name its starting quarterback Wednesday, with Allan Evridge the likely choice, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. The team also could open the season without star linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ankle). Badgers cornerback Niles Brinkley, a possible starter, is inspired by the memory of his sister, who died earlier this month.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The position rankings resume with the linebackers, which is usually a strong position in the Big Ten but one that lacks headliners this season. Ohio State boasts two standouts in preseason Defensive Player of the Year James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, but most teams welcome new players to their defensive midsection. Illinois lost All-American middle linebacker J Leman, Michigan lost backfield beast Shawn Crable and Penn State lost standout Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury this spring. But I'll get to the individuals later.
Here's a look at the linebacker groups in the Big Ten:
1. Ohio State -- Laurinaitis and Freeman passed up the NFL for one final season together and one final stab at the national championship. The star tandem has combined for 429 career tackles, easily putting Ohio State in the top spot for linebackers. Sophomore Ross Homan, a candidate for the third starting spot, could be the next great Buckeyes linebacker.
2. Wisconsin -- This group admittedly underachieved a bit last season, but better things are on the way with all three starters back. Senior Jonathan Casillas led the team in tackles last season and looks to regain his playmaking form of 2006, when he had a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss. DeAndre Levy provides leadership and should flourish under new coordinator Dave Doeren.
3. Illinois -- Leman's production can't be replaced and Illinois also lost second-leading tackler Antonio Steele, but there is plenty left over at linebacker. Veteran Brit Miller, who has slimmed down this offseason, slides over to middle linebacker, a position he's played before. Miller has the personality to lead and will be able to mentor highly touted sophomore Martez Wilson.
4. Penn State -- The Lions undoubtedly would have been higher with Lee leading the way, but they still have some playmakers here. Penn State needs big things from veteran outside linebacker Tyrell Sales, who had three sacks last season. Promising sophomore Chris Colasanti will play a larger role along with junior Josh Hull, who appeared in every game last fall.
5. Indiana -- Despite boasting the league's best pass rusher in end Greg Middleton, Indiana's campaign for a better defense hinges on this unit. Incumbents Will Patterson and Geno Johnson return, and there's plenty of buzz about junior Matt Mayberry. Patterson recorded three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries last season.
6. Michigan -- This appears to be the weak point of the Wolverines defense, which will miss All-Big Ten selection Crable and Chris Graham. But Obi Ezeh has experience at middle linebacker and will be pushed by John Thompson. Sophomores Marell Evans and Jonas Mouton bring speed to the weak side.
7. Iowa -- A.J. Edds is a budding star at outside linebacker after ranking second on the team in tackles last season. But after Edds, there are questions. The Hawkeyes must replace two productive players in Mike Humpal and Mike Klinkenborg and need promising sophomores Jacody Coleman, Jeff Tarpinian and Jeremiha Hunter to step up.
8. Michigan State -- Here's another young group that could finish higher but needs more than one proven commodity. Greg Jones is on his way to a stellar career after a strong freshman season. His move to the middle should help the Spartans, but they need more from returning starter Eric Gordon as well as a reliable player to emerge at the third spot.
9. Purdue -- Anthony Heygood has been productive at outside linebacker, racking up 15 tackles for loss last season. If Heygood continues to cause havoc and Jason Werner takes another step after a strong spring, Purdue could soar up this list. Werner showed good durability in spring ball, but he must avoid injuries after back problems nearly ended his career.
10. Northwestern -- Linebacker is usually the strongest position group on a weak defense, but for the second straight year there are questions. The Wildcats lose Adam Kadela, the league's No. 3 tackler last season, and need Malcolm Arrington to build off a decent 2007 season as he shifts to middle linebacker. Senior Prince Kwateng hasn't reached his potential thus far, while promising young players like Bryce McNaul and Nate Williams are ready to step up.
11. Minnesota -- Despite some strong additions this offseason, last year can't be overlooked. The Gophers return experience with Steve Davis and Deon Hightower, and hopes are high for junior-college transfer Rex Sharpe. But run-stopping was a disaster in 2007, so until Minnesota shows otherwise, it will linger at the bottom.