Big Ten: Nate Palmer

The rosters are practically set for two postseason all-star games, and it's time to find out which Big Ten players will be on the field later this month at the Senior Bowl (Jan. 26 in Mobile, Ala.) and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (Saturday in Carson, Calif.).

Here are the Big Ten contingents (positions are assigned by each game):

Notes: Six of the nine Big Ten invitees are linemen and a seventh, Simon, played both defensive line positions at Ohio State. Robinson played mostly quarterback and a bit of running back at Michigan but will be used as a receiver during Senior Bowl week. The Big Ten sent 24 players to the Senior Bowl last year.



Notes: Mealer played center in college, while Stanley lined up at defensive end for Penn State. Mealer will be on the same team as former Michigan teammate Sam McGuffie, who transferred to Rice. McGuffie played running back at Michigan but is listed as a wide receiver for the game. The game features two other former Big Ten players in Louisiana Tech WR Myles White (Michigan State) and Illinois State DE Nate Palmer (Illinois).

Opening camp: Illinois

August, 4, 2010
Schedule: First practice takes place Thursday at Memorial Stadium. First group hits the field at 4 p.m. ET and the second group at 5:30 p.m. ET. Team practices three times in Champaign before moving to Rantoul, Ill., on Aug. 9, for 15 workouts.

What's new: Uh, like, everything. Ron Zook is still the head coach, but he has six new assistants, including coordinators Paul Petrino (offense) and Vic Koenning (defense). Illinois is breaking in new systems on both offense and defense, and redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase takes over at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Juice Williams. The new-look staff has some familiarity, as Petrino, quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm and tight ends coach Chip Long all worked together at Louisville during the Cardinals' juggernaut days. Illinois needs a No. 1 wide receiver to emerge after Arrelious Benn's departure to the NFL.

Sidelined: Strong-side offensive tackle Corey Lewis, a projected starter this spring, sustained a torn ACL in spring ball and likely will miss the season. Illinois needs a strong camp from Ryan Palmer as he steps into a featured role.

Key battle: Illinois has two experienced defensive line pieces in Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget, but the other two spots should bring plenty of competition. Glenn Foster had a nice spring and could be the answer at the second defensive tackle spot, while several players, including Michael Buchanan and Nate Palmer, compete at the "bandit" position.

New on the scene: Although veteran Eddie McGee can shift from wide receiver to quarterback if needed, true freshman Chandler Whitmer likely is a play away from the field. Whitmer enrolled early and impressed the coaches with his knowledge this spring. He enters the fall as Scheelhaase's backup. Also keep an eye on safety Trulon Henry, a junior college transfer and Benn's older brother. He enters camp as the backup to Supo Sanni at free safety.

Breaking out: Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins nearly left Illinois in the winter before deciding to stay and turn around his career. Zook and Petrino raved about Jenkins this spring, and he'll likely be Scheelhaase's top target. Running back Mikel LeShoure will carry the load after a very impressive finish to 2009. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne also could have a big year after making an impact as a freshman last fall.

Back in the fold: Illinois really missed Martez Wilson, and the middle linebacker finally gets to hit people again in camp after being fully cleared by doctors. Wilson suffered a herniated disk in his neck in the 2009 opener against Missouri and underwent season-ending surgery. The one-time, can't-miss recruit has one final chance to break out. Cornerback Miami Thomas also returns after tearing his ACL in camp last year.

Quoting: "The players, we didn't execute. People want to jump on the coaches and blame the coaches. The last time I saw coach Zook catch a pass or make a tackle, they were wearing leather helmets. It is on us now. They brought in new coaches, but at the end of the day, we're the ones playing." -- defensive end Clay Nurse
The spring game recap series ends with Illinois, which wrapped up spring ball Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The defense controlled the first part of the scrimmage before the offense came on strong late behind running backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, who combined for 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns. LeShoure, who finished the 2009 season on a strong note, finished spring practice the same way, elevating hopes for Illinois' rushing attack this fall.

Not surprisingly, the quarterbacks took center stage but had mediocre to poor results. Nathan Scheelhaase, the clear front-runner for the starting job, completed 11 of 20 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Jacob Charest, the only candidate with game experience, really struggled with two picks and just two completions on eight pass attempts. True freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee who the coaches say is behind both Scheelhaase and Charest, had the best performance, completing 7 of 8 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown for the Blue team. Whitmer also took four sacks.

Illinois likely won't officially name a starter until August, but if Scheelhaase holds onto the top job, he should have some help on offense with the two running backs and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who capped a strong spring with six receptions for 95 yards in the spring game.

The Illini defense played without several key pieces -- linebacker Martez Wilson, end Clay Nurse, cornerback Miami Thomas -- but received a strong performance from the line. Tackle Glenn Foster ended a very good spring with nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks.

Illinois also got production from its new "Bandit" position, an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid spot. Michael Buchanan, the team's projected starter at the Bandit, recorded nine tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks, while backup Nate Palmer added two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Other Illini nuggets:
  • The big negative from Saturday was the knee injury to starting offensive tackle Corey Lewis, who tore his ACL and will undergo surgery. Lewis' status for the 2010 season is unknown, and Illinois will have to fill his spot.
  • Head coach Ron Zook saw growth from linebacker Aaron Gress this spring, and the senior finished strong with seven tackles, one for loss, and an interception in the spring game.
  • Safety Nate Bussey and cornerback Tavon Wilson both recorded interceptions, and linebacker Justin Staples had two tackles for loss, including one sack.
  • Former backup quarterback Eddie McGee is playing wide receiver these days, but he saw some time at his old position Saturday. Illinois introduced the "D.C. package" -- McGee is a Washington D.C. native -- and had McGee take the snap with the quarterback lined up as a receiver. Scheelhaase certainly has the athleticism to excel as a receiver, so this could be a dangerous weapon for Illinois this fall.
  • Ball security will continue to be stressed after Illinois committed seven turnovers (four interceptions, three lost fumbles) in the spring game. Jenkins, return man Terry Hawthorne and Charest all coughed up the ball.
  • Derek Dimke continues to lead the competition at kicker and connected on the only field goal attempt of the spring game, a 44-yarder in the second quarter.
Illinois has issued its post-spring depth chart, although the list includes one player who likely won't suit up this fall. There's no official link available, but The (Champaign) News-Gazette has the rundown.

Junior offensive tackle Corey Lewis, a contender for a starting spot on the strong side opposite Jeff Allen, suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's spring game and will undergo surgery in the near future. Lewis is listed as the starting strong-side tackle on the post-spring two-deep, but Ryan Palmer now moves into the top spot. Keep in mind that Illinois will use an unbalanced line with strongside and weak side guards and tackles.

Other depth chart nuggets:

  • Nathan Scheelhaase and Jacob Charest are listed as co-starters at quarterback, although it's clear that Scheelhaase emerged from spring ball as the frontrunner for the job.
  • Walt Aikens, indefinitely suspended following his arrest Friday on felony possession of stolen property charges, is listed as the backup strong safety behind Travon Bellamy.
  • Mikel LeShoure is the No. 1 running back ahead of Jason Ford, and while both players will get their share of touches this fall, LeShoure has a chance to be special if he can build on his performance from late last season.
  • It's interesting that veteran Clay Nurse is listed as a co-starter at defensive end with sophomore Whitney Mercilus. Nurse underwent offseason shoulder surgery and did everything but full contact drills this spring. Head coach Ron Zook praised Nurse's play and calls him a leader on defense, so Mercilus must have really made an impression.
  • Zook singled out defensive tackles Akeem Spence, Glenn Foster and Daryle Ballew for their play this spring, and it's reflected on the depth chart. Foster is listed as a starter at one spot, while Spence and Ballew are co-backups behind veteran Corey Liuget.
  • Michael Buchanan is the starter at the new "Bandit" position, a rush end or linebacker-end hybrid, ahead of Nate Palmer.
  • Derek Dimke is listed as the starting placekicker ahead of Matt Eller, although the competition should continue there.
  • The starting wide receivers are Jarred Fayson, A.J. Jenkins and converted quarterback Eddie McGee. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino called Jenkins the team's No. 1 wideout this spring.