Big Ten: Navorro Bowman

Two PSU assistant coaches leave program

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Longtime linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher are no longer with the Penn State football program, according to the school.

The university's official statement said both coaches "have resigned to pursue other opportunities." It wasn't immediately clear what those other opportunities were.

Neither Fisher nor Vanderlinden returned calls from ESPN.com seeking comment.

"I've greatly enjoyed my 13 years at Penn State and all the student-athletes I had an opportunity to work with," Vanderlinden said in a news release. "I wish Coach [Bill] O'Brien and Penn State nothing but the best in the future."

O'Brien will begin a job search immediately and said he will not comment until the positions are filled. Potential candidates are not yet known.

The assistants' departures come just three days after the Nittany Lions clinched their second winning season during unprecedented sanctions. Penn State upset then-No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday, the first time PSU defeated a top-15 team on the road since 2008, to finish the season at 7-5.

Vanderlinden's departure was considered especially surprising, given his track record. He's been a part of the staff since 2001 and oversaw a program widely known as Linebacker U. He coached several All-Americans such as Michael Mauti, Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny -- in addition to NFL stars NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee.

He also played an important role in the commitments of at least a half-dozen pledges for the 2014 class, including four-star linebacker Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del./Salesianum).

"At this point it does not affect my decision," Reeder said earlier in the afternoon. "Coach [Bill] O'Brien and [John] Butler will be coming down to see me today and are going to explain everything in more detail."

Vanderlinden has coached since 1978 and served as Northwestern's defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1996 -- coaching current Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald -- and then coached at Maryland from 1997 to 2000 before landing in Happy Valley.

Fisher was one of O'Brien's first hires at Penn State and helped spring former walk-on Matt McGloin to a school-record 3,266 passing yards in 2012. Fisher arrived at the school after spending one season at Miami (Ohio), where he acted as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator. Before that, he was an assistant at Vanderbilt for nine seasons.

"I want to thank Penn State and Coach O’Brien for the opportunity to be a part of the program the past two seasons,” Fisher said in the news release. “It was a great experience and I am very proud of what we accomplished. Now I'm looking forward to the next chapter and making a positive impact on the next group of players I have the privilege of working with."

Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 4, 2013
3/04/13
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More of your Monday mail:

David from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: I believe that Gene Wojo's article "Work in Progress" was right on. What do you the odds of this happening are? Additionally, do you think the fact that this is going on in public will hurt the chances of this happening? Meaning if it was discussed behind the scenes no one could say that the NCAA caved to public/media pressure. Or some people believe that there was this wink/hand shake agreement already in place at the beginning, that if Penn State cleaned up the situation and made transparent changes that the NCAA would consider reducing the sanctions early.

Mikey from Seattle writes: Is it just me or does anyone else think lessening Penn State's punishment for the Sandusky affair to be just plain wrong? I feel for the fans. And I understand that the current players/coaches are innocent, but they have the option to play/coach elsewhere. Paterno and the PSU administration (and others) knew and, not only kept quiet about it, but allowed these crimes to continue. I'm frankly offended by Gene Wojciechowski's suggestion that PSU should be granted a parole hearing or, worse, having their punishment reduced for "the university's rehabilitation efforts" (let's remember, against letting a child rapist run rampant). I want to see B1G football succeed and believe PSU is one of our marquee teams. I commend BOB and the current PSU team for what they've accomplished. However, I don't want to see B1G success at the cost of what's right and, frankly, just. Seven months of good behavior/progress is great, but the victims of Penn State's crimes will likely suffer a lifetime of emotional scarring. They deserve better.

Brian Bennett: I grouped these two emails together to show the range of opinion on this topic. Frankly, I think David and Mikey each can make a good argument. Unfortunately as with most NCAA penalties, the people who really suffer are the players and coaches who had nothing to do with the mess. You can't help but admire how Penn State's players and coach Bill O'Brien have conducted themselves throughout this whole ordeal. Yet we can't also ignore the horrific nature of the Sandusky scandal and the reason why the harsh sanctions were levied in the first place.

I would not have a problem with the NCAA lessening the Nittany Lions' punishment, though the most vociferous Penn State supporters who seem to think the school was the victim in the Sandusky scandal create little empathy. I remain skeptical that will happen simply because the NCAA rarely provides leniency to those it has sentenced. I still think a change in leadership at the NCAA is Penn State's best bet for a reversal.




Dylan B. from Corvallis, Ore., writes: I am writing you, as many PSU fans have to many different sports writers, to let you know that PSU is not facing any different scholarship restrictions than they faced last year. While the formal restrictions do kick in soon (not this year, mind you, but next year), we actually played at 67 scholarships this past year. The comment in your latest Big Ten column, about PSU's "toughest tests lying ahead", is erroneous. What you saw last year, on a team that went 8-4 and very easily could have won a few more, is what you will see moving forward. Due to last year's 67 including several walk-ons, we were in a sense playing below the 65 limit we will be working with moving forward. ... Last year was not an anomaly. That is what PSU is capable of even under the sanctions.

Brian Bennett: Yes, I was wrong in thinking the 65-scholarship limit kicks in this year. Actually, that will be in effect from the 2014-17 seasons. The limit of 15 scholarships per recruiting class began this year. O'Brien said last week that the number of current scholarship players is in the low 70s. I still stand by my assertion that the worst is yet to come for Penn State with the sanctions. Last year's team had many valuable seniors who'd played a lot. It's going to get harder to restock the roster through recruiting, and a wave of injuries could be devastating. O'Brien still has his work cut out for him.




Travis from Fort Lee, Va., writes: This whole "the Big Ten needs to do better" obsession seems to be yours and ESPN's and nobody else's. I couldn't care less how the rest of the Big Ten does this Spring. Time to think of new meaningless stories, Brian.

Brian Bennett: Do we at ESPN sometimes play up the conference-wide angles too much? That's a fair criticism. But we're certainly not the only ones who have said the Big Ten as a whole needs to improve. Coaches and even commissioner Jim Delany would agree with that. And like it or not, teams are defined by their conference in college football these days. Don't think it matters how strong your league is? Just wait until your favorite Big Ten team is in contention for the four-team playoff starting in 2014. You can bet the first question every team must answer, at least in the court of public opinion, will be how good its league competition was. Just ask the SEC what conference perception can do for your profile.




Mike from Creedmoor, N.C., writes: In regards to the Big Ten and high first round draft picks, I'll submit exhibit No. 1 of why it's a case of "Who really cares?": Mr. NaVorro Bowman. Perhaps the best LB in the league (definitely Top 3), and a 3rd round pick. It's not where you get picked, it's what you do in the league. Tough not being a Combine-hero I guess. So, I'll be happy to watch guys like that go in the 4th, 5th, 6th rounds (oh yeah, that Brady guy....) all day when they develop into the players Bowman has become.

Brian Bennett: Good points. It really doesn't matter where a player is drafted -- except, you know, in terms of his paycheck -- as long as he develops into a top-notch performer. The stat we mentioned was that the Big Ten hadn't produced a top-10 pick since 2008. Well, J.J. Watt at No. 11 in 2011 turned out OK. Still, it figures that the more of those no-doubt, top 10-type draft picks a league has, the better it should perform on the field.




Matt from Ann Arbor writes: The recruiting for 2013 was dominated by two schools. I love seeing that some teams other than Michigan and Ohio State have picked up a few solid early commits (Iowa has a top lineman, Minn has a top RB). Do you see another school or two in the B1G being able to jump up the recruiting rankings for the conference for 2014? Maybe get 3 teams in the top 10?

Brian Bennett: To answer this question, I first went back and examined ESPN.com's recruiting class rankings since 2006. Only one Big Ten team besides Ohio State and Michigan has finished in the top 10 classes during that span, and that was Penn State at No. 9 in '06. (The Lions also finished No. 11 in 2010). That makes sense, as Penn State has the resources and location to reel in that type of class when at full strength. Obviously, it's going to be nearly impossible for that program to rank that high in the next few years simply because of the numbers restrictions. Then you start wondering which other teams could pull off a top-10 class. Wisconsin typically hasn't recruited those kinds of star players. Nebraska has had some good classes but also faces obstacles with its location. Michigan State doesn't worry much about star ratings. Other league programs just haven't historically had a lot of highly-rated classes.

There could always be an outlier, like when Illinois landed the No. 12 class in 2007. Or a team like Nebraska could hit some home runs with every elite prospect it gets in on. But it's unlikely we'll see a third Big Ten team in the top 10 classes. Then again, Wisconsin wasn't ranked in the top 25 classes in any of those years and has been to three straight Rose Bowls. So there's that.




Samir from San Francisco writes: Being a Wolverine fan, when I look at their 2013 schedule, I feel they have a very good chance of going undefeated this year. They have a lot easier schedule also playing Notre Dame, Nebraska and "Ohio" at home. What are your thoughts on the Wolverines going undefeated in 2013 or any B1G team going undefeated for that matter?

Brian Bennett: It's kind of fun to think about what the 2012 Wolverines would have done with the 2013 schedule. No Alabama, and those big games you mentioned at home instead of on the road. There's no question that this year's schedule is far more favorable than last year's. Still, the first three conference road games -- at Penn State, at Michigan State and at Northwestern -- will not be easy by any means. Had Michigan played the Spartans and Wildcats on the road last year, that might have been enough for them to lose those games. I wouldn't predict Brady Hoke's team to go undefeated, especially with some lingering concerns in the trenches. The team with the best chance to go undefeated is still Ohio State, because its nonconference schedule is very manageable. But going 12-0 two years in a row is mighty difficult. If Nebraska can improve on defense, it would also be a threat to go undefeated. The Huskers have only two road games that look tough on paper (Michigan and Penn State) and do not play Wisconsin or Ohio State.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
12:00
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Quick programming note: my regularly scheduled chat for today has been moved to noon ET Thursday. Be sure to join me then to discuss all things Big Ten football.

Onto the links ...
As colleague Brett McMurphy tweeted earlier today, the SEC leads all conferences with 23 players on the two Super Bowl rosters (based on 2012 conference membership). But the Big Ten isn't too far behind.

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens boast a combined 19 Big Ten players on their rosters for Super Bowl XLVII. That's tied with the ACC for the second highest total among conferences this season.

Here's the Big Ten contingent for the Big Ten in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Active roster:

A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
Garrett Celek, TE, Michigan State
Trenton Robinson, S, Michigan State
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Alex Boone, OL, Ohio State
Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State
Larry Grant, LB, Ohio State
Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State
NaVorro Bowman, LB, Penn State
Scott Tolzien, QB, Wisconsin

Reserve/Injured list:

Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan

Practice squad:

Al Netter, OG, Northwestern
Nate Stupar, LB, Penn State

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Active roster:

Sean Considine, S, Iowa
Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana
Sam Koch, P, Nebraska
Bernard Pollard, S, Purdue
Marshal Yanda, OL, Iowa

Practice squad:

Jack Cornell, OL, Illinois

Here are some coaching staff connections for each team ...

49ERS
  • Head coach Jim Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan
  • Quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst served as a Wisconsin assistant in 1988
  • Assistant secondary coach Greg Jackson was a Wisconsin assistant in 2010
  • Linebackers coach Jim Leavitt joined Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa in 1989
  • Running backs coach Tom Rathman played running back at Nebraska
RAVENS
  • Head coach John Harbaugh coached Indiana's defensive backs and special teamers in 1997
  • Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg coached Minnesota's secondary in 1996
  • Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell played at Iowa; served as a Penn State assistant from 1986-92 and a Northwestern assistant in 1981
  • Defensive coordinator Dean Pees held the same post at Michigan State from 1995-97
  • Secondary coach Teryl Austin held the same post at Michigan from 1999-2002 and served as a graduate assistant at Penn State
  • Offensive line coach Andy Moeller played linebacker at Michigan and coached the Wolverines offensive line from 2000-07
The best Big Ten defenses often boast standout tandems, as we've seen in recent years.

In 2008, Ohio State had linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. In 2009, Iowa had defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Pat Angerer, while Penn State countered with defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker NaVorro Bowman. In 2011, Nebraska had the league's top linebacker (Lavonte David) and the league's top defensive back (cornerback Alfonzo Dennard). Last season also featured standout tandems at Illinois, Wisconsin and other spots.

SportsNation

What will be the Big Ten's top defensive tandem in 2012?

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    25%
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    6%
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    3%
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    24%
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    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,442)

Who will be the Big Ten's top 1-2 punch on defense during the 2012 season?

There's no shortage of choices. Wisconsin returns the Home Improvement tandem of Tim Mike Taylor and Al Chris Borland, who combined for 293 tackles, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles in 2011. Michigan State's defense is led by end William Gholston and cornerback Johnny Adams, both of whom could be first-round draft picks in April. Penn State brings back first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill, one of the league's top interior linemen. Purdue has the league's top defensive tackle back in the fold (Kawann Short), along with an experienced playmaking cornerback (Ricardo Allen). Illinois has a nice track record of producing defensive stars, and linebacker Jonathan Brown and end Michael Buchanan could be next in line.

The poll only affords us five options, so several potentially good tandems (Iowa's James Morris and Christian Kirksey) didn't make the cut. Some teams have one proven defensive standout (i.e. Ohio State's John Simon) but need a second to step forward. Still, the list is filled with familiar names who earned significant accolades in 2011.

Here's your chance to vote. Should be an interesting result.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- New Penn State coach Bill O’Brien reiterates he has not watched and will not watch one frame of film from the team’s 2011 season.

That's not necessarily good news for Nittany Lions defenders Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill. Both men could splice together some impressive highlight reels from last fall.

Hodges, an outside linebacker, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in his first full season as a starter, leading Penn State with 106 tackles, including 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks, and adding two forced fumbles and an interception. Hill was somewhat overshadowed by fellow Lions defensive tackle Devon Still, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, but he had a fine season in his own right, recording 59 tackles, including eight for loss and 3.5 sacks, to go along with a team-high three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

Both men could have bolted for the NFL draft, but both decided fairly early on that they'd return to Penn State and play for a coach who didn't care about what they had done in the past.

"I'm pretty sure [the coaches] heard about my style of play," Hodges told ESPN.com. "But I still feel it's my job to prove myself to them that I can play football, let them know as a man that I can play."

Hodges and Hill both are delivering the right messages this spring to the new coaching staff. O'Brien on Friday called Hodges "what you'd picture in a Penn State linebacker" and said Hodges has had one of the better springs on the squad. O'Brien told ESPN.com last week of Hill: "Excellent player, plays extremely hard and is technically sound."

The two seniors anchor a front defensive front seven that undoubtedly will be the team's strength in the first year of the new regime.

Both men have made position switches this spring that allow them to operate in more space. Hill is playing more at the 3-technique after spending most of last season at the nose (Still played the 3-technique). Rather than lining up over the ball, Hill is looking to shoot gaps between guards and tackles. Hill acknowledges the 3-technique is more of a glamor spot for defensive tackles.

At only 6-1, he’s able to keep his pads low and gain leverage against taller offensive linemen. He's also facing more 1-on-1 blocks, which he welcomes.

"You're playing against these big 6-7 guys, and they can’t reach you sometimes,” Hill said. "It's really an advantage at nose guard, too, because you're playing against 6-5, 6-6 centers and guards. They come at you on a double team, and if you're already at their hips, it's much easier."

Hill has played alongside elite defensive tackles throughout his time at Penn State. As a young player, he studied Jared Odrick, the Big Ten’s co-defensive player of the year in 2009 and a first-round pick in the 2010 draft. He spent last season lined up next to Still, a consensus All-American.

Although Hill is a different type of tackle than Odrick and Still, both of whom stand four inches taller, he took away traits from both. Odrick's motor never stopped, while Still’s drive in his final season made him a different player.

"It's definitely in the back of your head because you want to keep the defensive line moving, that tradition," Hill said. "As a defensive line, we're all one. If individual success comes from it, it’s because of the guys right next to me. Even with Dev's great success, he had an extraordinary year, [but] without Jack [Crawford], Eric [Latimore], me, that's not possible.

"It's the whole defensive line's effort."

[+] EnlargeGerald Hodges
Rob Christy/US PresswireGerald Hodges will move from weakside linebacker to the strong side in 2012.
Hodges, who began his Penn State career as a safety, moves from weakside linebacker to the strong side. Like Hill, Hodges' new position allows him to play more in space, a change he welcomes.

And like Hill, Hodges is aware of the tradition at his position at Linebacker U. He's not the first Penn State standout linebacker to shift to the strong side.

"Navorro [Bowman], Sean [Lee] and Paul [Posluszny], those guys, their last years they finally got to play strong side," Hodges said. "As guys' careers move to the end here, their last year, their last two years, they get moved to the strong side and are able to play out in space.

"It's something I take personally and something I take pride in."

Both Hodges and Hill have stood out this spring as Penn State absorbs a different defense under coordinator Ted Roof. Pass coverage will be a bigger emphasis for Hodges, who nearly picked off a short pass in a recent practice.

"Even though he had a great season last year, he's still hungry," middle linebacker Glenn Carson said. "He still wants to get better. That's the one thing that's going to make him a great football player."

Carson sees similar qualities in Hill.

"I'm seeing things from him on tape that you're just wowed by," Carson said. "He's an unbelievable athlete and just like Gerald, he's a hard worker. He's really hungry, chasing his dreams."

With Hodges and Hill leading the defense, Penn State can dream big in 2012.
Larry Johnson's recruiting clout in the state of Maryland has benefited Penn State greatly over the years. Aaron Maybin, Derrick Williams and Navorro Bowman are among the standouts Johnson, Penn State's defensive line coach, lured to State College from Maryland.

So it's no surprise that new University of Maryland coach Randy Edsall expressed interest in Johnson for his defensive coordinator vacancy. Former Miami coach Randy Shannon reportedly turned down the Terrapins' DC job.

The good news for Penn State: Johnson is staying put in Happy Valley.

From The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News:
Johnson told me today he is not a candidate for the job on Randy Edsall's new staff but wished not to discuss details. A knowledgeable source within the team said Johnson reluctantly turned down an overture from Edsall 10 days ago when Johnson was working a clinic in Baltimore. Johnson told Edsall he could not in good conscience entertain thoughts about the Maryland DC job after having assured several PSU recruits he had just signed that he would be coaching them next season, the source said.

Johnson turned down a chance to become Illinois' defensive coordinator following the 2008 season.

It's amazing that after all the buzz about Penn State losing assistants during this offseason, everyone has remained on Joe Paterno's staff. Johnson's presence will be key as Penn State tries to boost its defensive line play and, perhaps more important, land a talented 2012 recruiting class.
The morning after Penn State's first full-contact practice of fall camp, linebacker Michael Mauti woke up in pain.

The good kind of pain.

"I was like, 'Oh, this is what it feels like to be hitting again,'" Mauti recalled. "But it definitely felt good to get out there and start hitting and get that feeling again."

It sure beats the alternative.

Mauti experienced a different pain a year ago, both physically and emotionally. After a strong start to camp -- many projected him as a starter for the season -- Mauti tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over.

Penn State's next great linebacker prospect spent the fall on the sideline. Fortunately for him, the view wasn't bad, as he could study linebackers Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull, each of whom earned All-Big Ten honors in 2009.

"I've probably watched more football than ever," Mauti said, "so I'm just really looking forward to getting back out there come September, and make plays. The way I look at it is I've had the last year to prepare for this season."

Mauti went through spring practice in a somewhat limited role and didn't feel fully comfortable with the knee until June, where he could "run and wouldn't feel anything." He entered camp with no restrictions on contact and has progressed well.

"I'm very happy with what he's done so far," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley told me Sunday. "The knee has gone fine. We've done everything we can with him; we haven't backed off of anything. Sometimes in two-a-days, they'll take him out of a conditioning thing just to be careful, but he doesn't beg out of it.

"He's a tough, tough player."

Ranked by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's 58th best prospect 2008, Mauti arrived at Penn State with plenty of attention. His father, Rich, starred for the Nittany Lions as a wide receiver before playing eight seasons in the NFL. Mauti's older brother Patrick was a senior receiver for Penn State in 2009.

Needless to say, Nittany Nation was aware of the younger Mauti, who showed promise as a true freshman with 26 tackles, including a filthy hit on Michigan's Sam McGuffie that jarred the ball loose on a kickoff return.

Although a large group of linebackers are competing for three starting spots in camp, it's pretty clear who Penn State fans want to see win a job.

"It's awesome," Mauti said. "I feel when people are looking at you and asking about you, that's a cool feeling."

Mauti isn't the first Penn State linebacker to go through a major knee injury in recent years.

Paul Posluszny and Lee both suffered ligament damage, and both bounced back rather well to earn All-Big Ten honors.

"I watch tapes of Sean and Paul and Dan Connor all the time," Mauti said. "Just the way they played, how sound their technique is, I try to take little parts of their game and try to practice that. You could say looking at things from a different perspective, the game slowed down a little bit.

"I’ve been flying around and feeling good, and I think I'm ready."
It's time to take a look at the top five linebacker units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes boast two of the Big Ten's top 10 linebackers in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and they also have good depth. Homan might have been the league's most underrated defender in 2009 after tying for fourth in the league in interceptions (five) and finishing eighth in tackles (8.3 per game). Rolle makes up for his lack of size with speed and explosiveness. Ohio State's supporting cast includes Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, Dorian Bell and others.

2. Michigan State: Back-to-back Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones enters the season as the frontrunner to win the Butkus Award. But he's not alone on what should be a loaded linebacking corps. All-Big Ten candidate Eric Gordon has played a ton of football alongside Jones, and the coaches were pleased with Chris Norman this spring. Hopes are extremely high for true freshmen William Gholston, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, and Max Bullough. It's clear to see why the Spartans are moving closer to the 3-4.

3. Wisconsin: Health remains a concern, as Mike Taylor's knee problems will linger and Chris Borland comes off of shoulder surgery, but Wisconsin has plenty of talent here. Borland is a rare, do-everything player who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009. Taylor likely would have contended for the same award if not for a torn ACL against Iowa. The Badgers also bring back Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen.

4. Northwestern: As a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves the look of this group. Senior Quentin Davie is a bona fide NFL prospect who has consistently reached the offensive backfield throughout his career. Middle linebacker Nate Williams enters his third year as the starter, and the coaches have solid options in Bryce McNaul, Ben Johnson and David Nwabuisi. Fitzgerald says this is the most linebacker depth Northwestern has had in his tenure.

5 (tie). Iowa and Penn State: These teams combine to lose five All-Big Ten 'backers from 2009, including first-team selections Pat Angerer (Iowa) and Navorro Bowman (Penn State). But both have historically reloaded at linebacker, and this year should be no different. Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter returns for his third year as a starter, and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen are primed for bigger roles. Troy Johnson and Bruce Davis are two other names to watch, and hopes are high for freshman James Morris. Penn State loses all three starters, but Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu have played a lot of football. Michael Mauti's return from an ACL injury and Penn State's strong recruiting at linebacker also elevate hope for the group.

Next up: Secondary

More rankings ...

Big Ten mailblog

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
5:00
PM ET
As always, contact me here and join more than 14,000 of your closest friends following me on Twitter.

Adam from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Just read your Camp Preview for Ohio State. Not sure how you see David Durham making an instant impact. You do realize they are going to start him out at LB, arguably the deepest position on OSU's roster. Not sure how he is going to beat out the likes of Dorian Bell, Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein, Jonathon Newsome, and Jordan Whiting? Christian Bryant making an immediate impact as well? Do you even look at the depth chart and/or roster? The defensive secondary is possibly the second deepest position on the team. Do you think guys like Donnie Evege, Nate Oliver, Corey Brown, Travis Howard, Dominic Clarke, and Zach Domicone are all going to quit? How about doing some research before making statements and predictions that have no chance of proving true.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you're right, none of the Buckeyes freshmen will many any impact this year. No chance. We're talking about a category in a training camp preview, not a proclamation that guys definitely will see the field. It might happen, it might not. You're right about the depth at linebacker, but the secondary is definitely not the second-deepest group on the team. Ohio State has more proven depth at offensive line, running back and linebacker, and I like the defensive line group better than the secondary. Sure, several defensive backs return, but Ohio State loses Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell at safety. Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines are nice pieces, but I don't see anyone back there who you can say is a sure-fire all-conference player.


Greg from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: "Geography shouldn't be a deciding factor," you wrote regarding Big Ten football divisions. "Not that many fans travel to road games as you think."That may be true for some teams, but not Iowa. Away game tickets can be very hard to get, even for many season ticket holders who are donors. And Hawkeye fans have been known to outnumber the home team's fans at Minnesota and Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I'm well aware of Iowa fans' fondness for traveling, but on the whole, road travel among Big Ten fans is down. And while the league wants to accommodate its fans, it also must look at the bigger picture, specifically television appeal. My problem with divisions based on geography is that when (not if) Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all are good in the same year, no one nationally will care about the other division. That's not a knock against what Wisconsin and Iowa do on the field, but those are excellent regional programs that don't appeal nationally as much as Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska do. That's my concern.


Rakesh from Memphis writes: Hey Adam,Everyone talks about Zook getting canned but can they even afford it? And if they buy out his contract then how are they going to pay a quality coach for the next round?

Adam Rittenberg: Rakesh, these are very relevant questions. After spending so much money on new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning, Illinois might have to consider whether or not to take another financial hit if it comes down to that. I can't see how you push forward after another three- or four-win season, especially after all the pressure from boosters and others to make a change. But AD Ron Guenther seems willing to let this situation run its course. Your second question is a good one, too. If you buy out the remainder of Ron Zook's contact, can you spend enough to get a solid replacement? It won't be easy, especially given the budgetary struggles in the state right now. At least Illinois has some stability at the top with a new president.



Scott from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Adam, nice blog. If the BT moved OSU and UofM into different divisions, the game would need to be earlier in the season, why not opening BT game, and then a week off for each team as their bye week-end. The players that I have talked to, say that they would need a week off just to get over the physcial play that their body had to endure in that game. That would book end the season and really move the needle. Also the loser would have the season to make up for the loss. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, an Ohio State-Michigan Big Ten opener? That would seem pretty strange. It also would be tough to have a permanent bye week for those two teams while rotating the bye weeks for the other 10 Big Ten squads (Nebraska included). If they move The Game, and I'm not sold on moving it, I'd rather see it played in mid to late October. There's enough of a gap before the end of the regular season, and it could shape the league title race in certain years.


Steve from State College, Pa., writes: Adam,Love the blog and it keeps me goin throughout the day. My question is about Penn State's linebackers. Obviously they won't be as good as Lee, Bowman and Hull but no one expects them to be. People expect them to carry on "Linebacker-U". I feel Stupar, Mauti and Gbadyu can keep that tradition going. But what about the other guys? Hodges, Colasanti, and Yancich. Hodges is a converted safety and if he was still at safety he would kill people. Whats your take on that position for Penn State?

Adam Rittenberg: Gerald Hodges is a guy I'm really looking forward to seeing on the field this fall. He played sparingly in 11 games in 2009 and recorded three tackles, but he should be a much bigger presence in 2010. Chris Colasanti may or may not start, but he boasts a lot of experience as a reserve the past three years. He'd start on several Big Ten teams this fall. The reports on Michael Yancich are very favorable, and he should see the field a good amount this fall. So you're right: the linebackers won't be as decorated as Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull were in 2009, but the overall depth should help Penn State continue the Linebacker U. tradition.


Dirk from Cincinnati writes: Are you Jared from the Subway commercials?

Adam Rittenberg: I wish. I'd be A LOT richer.



Kyle from Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Hey Adam,A future Big Ten member here, and I read your article about splitting up Michigan and OSU, and I think that is a terrible idea. Coming from the Big 12 I can tell you that will destroy the rivalry the same way it did with Nebaska and Oklahoma. The final game of the regular season in each division needs to be OSU vs Michigan in one and Nebraska vs PSU/Iowa/Wisconsin in the other. That way the OSU-MU rivalry still potentially decides the Big Ten Champion the same way it has for many years.

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, thanks very much for the perspective. It's a real shame how the Big 12 destroyed Nebraska-Oklahoma, and the Big Ten certainly should learn from what happened. Now, the Big Ten never will let the Ohio State-Michigan game go off the schedule in any season, but it must preserve the integrity of the rivalry. I'd love to see the Big Ten have a second blockbuster matchup to go up against Ohio State-Michigan on the final Saturday of the regular season, whether it be Nebraska-Penn State, Nebraska-Iowa or Nebraska-Wisconsin. All three of those games would get some play nationally, especially Nebraska-Penn State.


Nick from Madison, Wis., writes: Wisconsin's offensive line is looking to be one of the best in the nation. What would be a good name for this squad? Moffits marauders? the big red blockade? I'm sure you/the blogosphere can do better.

Adam Rittenberg: I'll open this one up to the group. Suggestions? Here's one option: The Thick Red Line. Here's another: The Madison Block Party.

Opening camp: Penn State

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
1:30
PM ET
Schedule: First practice takes place today in State College. Practices will be scheduled around the end to Penn State's second summer academic session, which has final exams beginning Aug. 13.

What's new: Quite a lot. Penn State loses six first-team All-Big Ten performers from 2009, including quarterback Daryll Clark and defensive tackle Jared Odrick, the league's co-Defensive Player of the Year. All eyes will be on the quarterback spot as last year's backup, Kevin Newsome, competes alongside Matt McGloin and two true freshmen, Paul Jones and Robert Bolden. The Lions also will have a new-look lineup at linebacker, although Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu are familiar names.

Key battle: Everyone knows about the quarterback race, which likely won't be decided until late in camp. But there are other battles, too. The offensive line has to be better this year after struggling against elite defensive fronts like Iowa and Ohio State in 2009. Penn State is set with standout Stefen Wisniewski at right guard, but the left guard spot will feature plenty of competition between DeOn’tae Pannell and Johnnie Troutman. Both players have experience but one needs to emerge.

New on the scene: Penn State brings in the Big Ten's top recruiting class and should see some immediate contributions from its freshmen. You know about the quarterbacks, but keep an eye on defenders like Khairi Fortt, Dakota Royer, C.J. Olaniyan and Mike Hull. Penn State must replace five starters on defense and build depth there as well.

Switching it up: Chaz Powell ranked fourth on the team in receiving last season, but he practiced at cornerback this spring and could be a big contributor there. Sophomore Stephon Morris did some good things as a true freshman in 2009, but Powell should push him.

Breaking out: You just know Penn State will have a new group of stars on defense after losing Odrick, Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and others. Devon Still is poised for a big season at defensive tackle if he can stay healthy, and Jack Crawford could take the next step and become one of the league's premier pass-rushers. The linebacker group should be very interesting, as Michael Mauti, a fan favorite, gets his opportunity to shine. If Penn State finds a capable quarterback, wide receiver Derek Moye might have a breakout season.

Back in the fold: Mauti tore his ACL in camp last summer and missed the entire 2009 season. He'll definitely be in the mix for a starting spot, most likely at outside linebacker.

Quoting: "We've got a tough schedule and we've got a good young squad that's got a long way to go to be good. We've got a bunch of kids that'll work at it and get better each week. Before it's all over, we'll be a pretty good football team. How many games we'll win? I don't know." -- Head coach Joe Paterno
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and 2010 potential, continue with ...

No. 22: Quentin Davie, LB, Northwestern, Sr., 6-4, 230

2009 numbers: Tied for 12th in the Big Ten in tackles (90); finished tied for fifth in the league in forced fumbles (4); has recorded 22 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 147 tackles and six passes defended in the past two seasons.

Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Davie: I include Davie in a fairly sizable group of Big Ten linebackers who were overlooked last season, in large part because Greg Jones, Navorro Bowman and Pat Angerer performed so well and hogged the hype (justifiably, I might add). Ohio State linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, who you'll see later in the rankings, also were part of this forgotten fraternity. But Davie shouldn't struggle to get noticed this year. NFL types are already inquiring about him as he prepares to enter his third season as a starter. Davie transformed his body before the 2009 season, adding mass to a big frame but not losing any speed. He responded with 90 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss, and recorded four forced fumbles and an interception. He'll anchor a linebacker corps that should be the strength of Northwestern's defense this fall.

The rundown

  • No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
  • No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
  • No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug

Big Ten lunch links

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
12:00
PM ET
For your information, I don't have an ego. My Facebook photo is a landscape.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
5:30
PM ET
Bring it.

Tim from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: Adam,After the Blue and White game this past weekend many questions still remain at quarterback and along the offensive line. While Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome seem to be the front runners for the job they were very shaky at the game and it seemed to me Paul Jones gave the best performance. I know it wasn't against the first team defense but i don't understand why it seems Jay and Joe Paterno have written this kid off from starting next year. He seems to already posses the physical tools to perform at the next level and if its experience that is worrisome McGloin has never started a game plus Newsome has only played in garbage time. With three away games against top ten opponents i don't think we are making a run at a national championship this year, would it really be that bad if we started a freshman?

Adam Ritenberg: Jay Paterno sounded open to the idea of playing Jones after the Blue-White Game, and certainly Penn State can't close the door on any of its quarterbacks right now. I would give the coaches the benefit of the doubt. They've seen these guys every day in practice, Jay has charted every pass thrown and graded them out. Jones played well in the spring game, but how did he perform in the other 14 practices? While most of the players who spoke to reporters last week only talked about Newsome and McGloin, the opportunity for Jones seems to be there. True freshmen start at quarterback these days in the Big Ten, and I would hope Penn State coaches wouldn't be na´ve to what's happening around them.


Ian from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Overall, I like MSU's new digs. The bronze is a little much and the fonts are overstyled, but really the changes aren't as dramatic as they could be. Football aside, I'm really disappointed that the basketball jerseys say "Spartans" and not "State." MSU basketball owns that tittle. New fonts, new colors aside, the basketball team deserves to be known nationwide as "State."

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Ian. Things certainly could have been worse, and some of the changes provide a better look. I definitely agree with Michigan State's mission to get uniformity with its brand for athletics. The school can't please everyone with the changes, but overall, it did a good job. But I'm with you about the basketball jerseys. The "State" on the front was so recognizable and brought prestige with it.


Joe from Toledo writes: Hey Adam, what do you think of Donovan Warren not getting drafted? And now he signed with the Jets who have Revis Island, picked up Cromartie, and just drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round, will he make the team or even see the field??

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I was surprised that Warren went undrafted, and I feel bad for him. He got some poor advice along the way, but on the other hand, he seemed ready to move on. Of the six Big Ten underclassmen in the draft -- Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Arrelious Benn, Navorro Bowman and Thaddeus Gibson -- only Warren didn't hear his name called in New York. The five others went in the fourth round or higher. There was talk Warren could be a second-round selection at one stage, but his stock clearly dropped as the draft approached. It's never easy for undrafted free agents to make a team, particularly one stacked at cornerback like the Jets, but Warren has some ability and got plenty of good experience at Michigan going against top wideouts from the Big Ten.


Greg from Austin, Texas, writes: Does the absence of any Buckeyes drafted in the first three rounds finally put to rest any idea that Tressell wins the Big Ten mainly because he has more talent? Are some voters finally going to wake up and give him a richly deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year award? After all, both Iowa and PSU had more players drafted and I believe eight different Big Ten teams had a player drafted before the Buckeyes, yet the Buckeyes won another Big Ten title. Sounds like good coaching to me.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have to agree with you that Ohio State's poor draft showing definitely strengthens the case that Jim Tressel should have been 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year rather than Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. The problem for Tressel is he should have plenty of first-team, All-Big Ten players as well as first-round draft picks on the 2010 team, which will be the Big Ten preseason favorite. Could he finally win COY as a lifetime achievement award this fall? He deserves to, but I'd bet if a team like Michigan State or Purdue or even Penn State challenges for the Big Ten title, the award will go elsewhere again.


Bit Guru from Washington D.C. writes: One way to solve all the expansion problems and get the BTN into several lucrative TV markets is to simply merge the Big Ten and the Pac Ten. (Could even ruthlessly eject Northwestern, Stanford, and say Minnesota to yield two 9-team divisions for round-robin football perfection.) Sure it will never happen, but hypothetically what do you think?Seriously, one of the stories you linked to a while back made a good case for Colorado. Good enough that I was pretty much convinced. But is Colorado now off the expansion radar?

Adam Rittenberg: Uh, no. Not happening. The Pac-10 has much bigger problems than the Big Ten as far as marketing its teams on a national level and raising its overall profile. USC is a big deal, but how many folks who live East of the Rockies see Oregon, Cal, Oregon State or Arizona play much? I grew up a Pac-10/Cal fan, and I have to stay up until 2 a.m. to see the Bears finish night games. The Big Ten has no need to share its success with the Pac-10, which brings on more risks than potential rewards. And the idea of ejecting teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Minnesota is silly for both leagues. Colorado would be a good addition for the Pac-10, but I highly doubt the Big Ten would look to the Buffs for expansion.


Bill from Marshall: where's all the spring game coverage? Stop slacking off!!There were a bunch of spring games. You should have a TON of material ready. Get off your nerdy backside and do something

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, should I fire on Bill or let you guys handle him for me in the comments section ... tough decision. Bill, you can criticize me for a lot of things, and you'd be correct on some of them. But saying I don't work hard enough, seriously, dude? I've got a little assignment for you. Go back and read this blog. Then go and try to find another one out there with more content year-round. You won't. I'll recap all the spring games eventually, but I don't place nearly as much of an importance on them as the fans do. They're glorified scrimmages that rarely mean anything when the season rolls around.


John from Dominica, West Indies, writes: Love the blog! Nearly as good as the Caribbean weather...until I read your recent post! Does Michigan State have a REAL quarterback?! I just read that Cousins said "Football is not my life" and it irked me, especially since Keith Nichol was quoted as saying he would "rather be on the field than play quarterback" If neither one of them cares THAT much about it, how vulnerable are we at QB?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I think the island air is getting to you. Just kidding. But I do think you're misinterpreting comments from two very upstanding guys in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins meant that football isn't the only thing in his life. He has his faith, his education, his family, etc. The guy gives maximum effort in every area of his life, but he's not going to be a football robot or delusional about life after he's done playing. As for Nichol, he wants to help the team in any way he can, and right now that's at wide receiver. Trust me, he'd play quarterback in a heartbeat and give it everything he had if that's where the coaches wanted him, but he can best serve the team as a wideout. He could complain about it, but instead, he's taking it in stride. Lastly, can you send some of that Caribbean weather my way?

The thought first dawned on me late Friday afternoon in Columbus, as large groups of reporters circled around Ohio State linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle after practice. Finally, Homan and Rolle were getting the attention they deserved.

One problem you encounter when a league boasts so many elite players at one position is that most of them tend to get overlooked. The Big Ten had three consensus selections for first-team all-conference in 2009: Michigan State's Greg Jones, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Iowa's Pat Angerer. I'd put those three against any group in college football, and I'd like my chances. If you're running a 3-4 scheme, toss in Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009.

But the performances of Jones, Bowman, Angerer and Borland overshadowed guys like Homan. How many linebackers record 108 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defended, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries and don't make first-team all-conference?

The good thing for Homan is he has another season to get the attention he deserves. The same can't be said for Minnesota's all-senior linebacking corps of Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, each of whom ranked among the Big Ten's tackles leaders last fall. Or Indiana's Matt Mayberry, a blog favorite who flew under the radar. Or Iowa's A.J. Edds, who finished the season with five interceptions and nine passes defended. Penn State's Josh Hull got some love with a second-team All-Big Ten pick from the coaches, but his value to the defense wasn't really known outside Happy Valley.

Those players have moved on, but here are a few linebackers who will step into the spotlight in 2010:

Ross Homan, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats:
108 tackles, 5 interceptions, 10 passes defended, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries

Brian Rolle, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats:
95 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defended

Quentin Davie, Sr., Northwestern
2009 stats:
90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 quarterback hurries, 1 interception

Jason Werner, Sr., Purdue
2009 stats:
77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

Eric Gordon, Sr., Michigan State
2009 stats:
92 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick

Jeremiha Hunter, Sr., Iowa
2009 stats:
89 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick, 1 interception, 5 passes defended

Mike Taylor, So., Wisconsin
2009 stats:
46 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, led the team in tackles before suffering season-ending injury against Iowa on Oct. 17.

Tyler Replogle, Sr., Indiana
2009 stats:
80 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups

Joe Holland, Jr., Purdue
2009 stats:
81 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended

Ian Thomas, Jr., Illinois
2009 stats:
95 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery

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