Big Ten: Nick Polk

Indiana's preseason camp this year had all the usual ingredients: heat, position competition, scheme review, scrimmages, heat, two-a-days, conditioning.

Did I mention heat?

The one element Indiana's coaches decided to scale back, however, was full-blown tackling. Indiana had its share of contact drills, but you didn't see nearly as many players taken to the turf.

"We stayed up as much as we possibly could, a lot of thud practice, tried to control some of the full scrimmaging," head coach Bill Lynch explained. "We've done some pretty extensive studies here, and a lot of injuries that kept guys out of games occurred in practice and particularly preseason practice.

"So we took a little different approach, but we think we're very prepared to play a game."

The strategy makes sense after watching Indiana the last few seasons. The Hoosiers' first-string players on offense and defense typically can hold their own against most if not every team in the Big Ten. But there has been a noticeable drop-off after the starters.

You could see it last fall in the Iowa game, which took place on Oct. 31. The Hoosiers were thin in the secondary and played most of the game without starters Nick Polk and Ray Fisher. The absences caught up to IU in the fourth quarter as Iowa broke open the game with big pass plays.

"We looked at our woes in the month of November and what could be the cause of those woes," co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic said. "We were either worn down or not having our starters in November. So it's knowing what's happened in the past and doing something a little bit different."

Palcic said Indiana tried to model its practice after those in the NFL, where the speed and intensity remains high even though there's less tackling to the ground. Indiana did hold two full-contact scrimmages, and not surprisingly, three players ended up going down and needing surgery, including cornerback Chris Adkins (ankle).

Coaches often struggle with determining how much contact to have in the preseason. Northwestern had a bunch of injuries last summer and backed off, only to pay the price early in the season with several poor tackling performances.

Can Indiana's strategy still prepare players for a season where opponents never will back off?

"You never really know until you play, but we tried to get our guys legs back underneath them," Lynch said. "It's always a grind no matter what you do in terms of the physical part. Football's a different kind of game, and you have to do different things that you really can't simulate in offseason conditioning. So that part always wears on your body.

"I think what we're doing is the right approach for us, and we'll see once we get into the season."

Spring superlatives: Indiana

March, 19, 2010
The spring superlatives series, which takes a look at the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team, marches on with Indiana.

The Hoosiers begin spring practice stocked at the offensive skill positions, as quarterback Ben Chappell, All-Big Ten wide receiver Tandon Doss and others are back. Indiana's major concerns once again rest with a defense that loses seven starters.

Strongest position: Wide receiver/tight end

  • Key returnees: Tandon Doss (77 receptions, 962 yards, 5 TDs); Damarlo Belcher (61 receptions, 770 yards, 5 TDs); Terrance Turner (46 receptions, 443 yards, 1 TD); Max Dedmond (18 receptions 141 yards, 1 TD).
  • Key losses: Wideout Mitchell Evans (33 receptions, 366 yards, 3 TDs) moves to safety.
  • The skinny: How loaded are the Hoosiers at receiver? Head coach Bill Lynch is moving two players, Evans and Matt Ernest, to the defensive side to help a beleaguered secondary. Doss earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media (second-team from the coaches) as a sophomore and has great potential to play at the next level. Belcher boasts great size and the ability to stretch the field, while Turner brings good experience to the group. Quarterback Ben Chappell will have no shortage of targets in 2010.
Weakest position: Defensive back
  • Key returnees: Cornerback Donnell Jones (30 tackles, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups); cornerback Richard Council (22 tackles, 2 pass breakups); safety Chris Adkins (14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception).
  • Key losses: Austin Thomas (67 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 pass breakups); Nick Polk (53 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups); Ray Fisher (40 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 635 kickoff return yards and 2 TDs).
  • The skinny: Indiana has concerns at other positions, namely linebacker and defensive end, but the secondary will be the coaches' top priority this spring. The Hoosiers lose three starters, including both safeties, and are rushing to fill the gaps. Bill Lynch signed two junior college cornerbacks (Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles) and moved both Evans and Ernest over from the offense. Evans, who played safety as a freshman in 2007, is expected to step into a leadership role in the secondary. I saw a decimated Indiana secondary face Iowa last year, and the Hawkeyes hit on several huge pass plays in the fourth quarter. IU must build depth in the back four to be able to survive injuries in 2010.
Anyone who watched Indiana in 2009 could see the obvious improvement that took place in Bloomington. The Hoosiers had a more dynamic offense and good speed on both sides of the ball. But once again, progress didn't translate into a better record, as IU couldn't finish off potential victories against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State. Fourth-year head coach Bill Lynch will be on the hot seat entering 2010, and he'll need to see his team make more strides on the field, particularly on defense, and most important, in the win column this fall.

[+] EnlargeBill Lynch
AJ Mast/Icon SMIAfter losing seven starters on defense, Bill Lynch's staff has it's work cut out on that side of the ball.
Indiana kicks off spring ball a week from today, and I recently caught up with Lynch to preview the spring.

You were so close in so many games last year. Is there any way to build off that as you hit the field again?

Bill Lynch: I certainly think so. I've seen it throughout the winter program. We're building off what we did in the fall, and I've certainly seen good leadership, good gains in the weight room. We've got a great attitude going into the spring. Obviously, we've got two different kinds of teams. We've got great experience on offense. Certainly our skill position guys are back and healthier than they were a year ago. Offensive line, we lost a couple guys, but we've got some good young guys that have been waiting their turn. Defense is a bunch of young guys that are really anxious to go, some kids who have redshirted and we feel are very talented, guys that haven't played but who we think are going to be really good football players for us. So it will be fun to watch them get out and go. It's going to be a fun spring that way. I like what we're doing from an X's and O's standpoint. We just have to get better at it right now.

You mention the defense and I know you lose a lot [seven starters] on that side. As a head coach, I know you're an overseer, but will you spend more time with the defense this spring?

BL: I don't think my personal time will be spent any more [with the defense]. We'll certainly do a great job of evaluating the kids. We've got to do more of it this spring than we've done in the last couple [of years], in terms of being very accurate in our grading and what we do in the spring with personnel, particularly on the defensive side. When you get out of the spring, you want to have a pretty good idea of your two-deep going into the fall. Now things can change and other kids can have great summers, but you have to have a starting point. In the spring, you give a lot of guys opportunities and see where it shakes itself out. But going into the fall, you have to have a pretty good idea.

So, would you like to know your depth chart on defense coming out of the spring?

BL: Yeah, I think so. I've always felt like you'd like to come out of the spring knowing who your top 50 football players are. That's not to say you're not going to tweak some things over the summer before they get here in August, but it's important, not only offense and defense, but it gives you a great idea of how you'd like to start out with your special teams.

You mentioned the anxiousness of young players on defense to get out there. Who are some of the guys you're looking forward to seeing this spring?

BL: I'll start at defensive end, because [Jammie] Kirlew and [Greg] Middleton played so much. Darius Johnson and Javon Cornley. We've got a guy named Kevin Bush, an older guy, really, but he's had a great fall and winter. He was a walk-on who was in the military and came back to school. And then Fred Jones, Eric Thomas are guys who have been in our program that are good football players. They've been waiting their turn to really go in and compete. At linebacker, it's more of a young group, but Damon Sims and D.J. Carr-Watson and Griffen Dahlstrom and Chad Sherer are all kids that are looking forward to showing what they can do because [Matt] Mayberry and [Will] Patterson and [Justin] Carrington and some of those guys that played so much [are gone]. We've got a JC kid in Jeff Thomas from Northern California; we like what we've seen from him in the winter, so I'm anxious to see him on the field. He's an inside [linebacker]. And then in the secondary, it's wide open. [Austin] Thomas and [Nick] Polk played so much, and then [Ray] Fisher played last year. There are some guys there that have had good winters because they know it's going to be very competitive, and this is their opportunity.

I'm sure you have a good idea of your leaders on offense, but who steps into those roles on defense?

Lynch: There are a couple guys who are great leaders on that side. Tyler Replogle is as good as you're going to find, and Mitchell Evans is the same way, and we're moving Mitchell from offense to defense. So it starts there with those two guys. But all our [defensive] tackles played a lot of football for us last year, so we have good experience there. Evans certainly will give us some stability in the back end there because he's played so much football, even though it hasn't all been on defense.

Big Ten to send 41 to NFL combine

February, 2, 2010
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine is out, and the Big Ten will send 41 former players to Indianapolis later this month. The combine takes place Feb. 24-March 2, and all 11 Big Ten schools will be represented. Iowa leads the way with seven invitees, followed Penn State with six invitees and four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State) each with four invitees.

You've already seen an early list, which didn't include underclassmen and some seniors who were named later.

Here's the full roster of Big Ten participants, sorted by team:

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Bryan Bulaga, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson, CB Amari Spievey

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor, CB Donovan Warren

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: LB Lee Campbell, WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, DE Thaddeus Gibson, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: LB Navorro Bowman, QB Daryll Clark, LB Josh Hull, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, LB O'Brien Schofield (injured)
College football all-star season is nearly upon us, as ESPN's Scouts Inc. is covering all of the preparations for Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in Orlando.

Don't forget about the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge, to be played Feb. 6 at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas. As its title suggests, the game pits all-stars hailing from Texas against those from around the country.

Eight Big Ten players are scheduled to participate in the game, all for the Nation squad.

They are:

  • Penn State CB A.J. Wallace (also listed as a return man)
  • Ohio State K Aaron Pettrey
  • Indiana S Nick Polk
  • Minnesota LB Simoni Lawrence
  • Minnesota LB Nate Triplett
  • Penn State LB Josh Hull
  • Indiana DE Jammie Kirlew
  • Penn State OL Dennis Landolt

The full game rosters can be found here.

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
National Signing Day is right around the corner, and Big Ten teams will look to add depth and identify a few immediate contributors in the upcoming recruiting classes. What do these squads need the most?

Here's a look:


Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.

Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.


Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.

Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.

Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.


Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.

Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.


Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.

Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.

Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.


Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.

Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.

Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.


Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.

Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.

Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.


Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.

Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.


Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.

Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.


Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.

Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.

Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.


Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.

Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.

Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.


Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.

Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine should be available soon, but Sporting News has compiled a preliminary roster, which includes 33 players from the Big Ten. This list DOES NOT include juniors who have declared for the draft and will be updated with underclassmen and other seniors.

The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield

Indiana injury report: Fisher out

November, 6, 2009
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Indiana has issued its official injury report for Saturday's home game against No. 21 Wisconsin (Big Ten Network, noon ET).

  • DE Darius Johnson, shoulder
  • CB Chris Adkins, elbow
  • DT Jarrod Smith, back
  • CB Ray Fisher, knee
  • S Jarrell Drane, thigh
  • OL Cody Faulkner, shoulder
  • DE Terrance Thomas, shoulder
  • S Jerimy Finch, hamstring
  • RB Zach Davis-Walker, foot
  • S Nick Polk, ankle
  • RB Darius Willis, ankle
  • DE Fred Jones, foot

Fisher is a big loss for Indiana. He's the team's top cover corner and a very dangerous kick return man, leading the Big Ten and ranking fourth nationally in return average (37.4 yards per return). Wide receiver Tandon Doss and running back Demetrius McCray will handle return duties Saturday. The Hoosiers are thin at cornerback with Adkins out and Donnell Jones also battling an elbow injury. Adrian Burks will get the start in Fisher's spot, with Richard Council serving as his backup. The news is more promising on both Polk and Willis, two starters whom the Hoosiers will need to upset the Badgers. Polk sat out last week's game against Iowa and Indiana endured several critical breakdowns in the secondary down the stretch.
Posted by ESPN's Adam Rittenberg
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Indiana coach Bill Lynch saw his Hoosiers collapse yet again in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa's clutch victories away from Kinnick Stadium are the talk of the Big Ten this fall, but the Indiana Hoosiers could easily be the league's road warriors.

Indiana held fourth-quarter leads in all three of its conference road games, against Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa. And all three times, the Hoosiers managed to fall short.

The Hoosiers blew late leads in Ann Arbor and Evanston, but their fourth-quarter collapse Saturday against No. 4 Iowa had to sting the most. Indiana totally controlled the first half and overcame some speed bumps in the third quarter to claim a 24-14 lead.

But from the moment Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt broke free for a 92-yard touchdown, Indiana's hopes for a huge upset, a program-reviving win and a victory that would have moved them closer to bowl eligibility went down the drain.

Iowa dominated the final 12 minutes, scoring 28 points and surging to a 42-24 triumph.

"We played a great football team that made some big plays on us," head coach Bill Lynch said. "There wasn't anything mental about those long pass plays. Those were plays they executed and we didn't stop.

"Our kids were locked in from start to finish. There was not [a letdown]. That wasn't the case."

Indiana could have folded following an 86-yard Tyler Sash interception return that hit several players before falling into the Iowa safety's arms. The Hoosiers also had a touchdown catch overturned by replay and missed a short field goal.

They responded from those mishaps, but Iowa's big pass plays to McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who raced 66 yards for a touchdown, proved to be too much. Indiana played with a banged-up secondary, as two starters, cornerback Ray Fisher and safety Nick Polk, didn't play most of the game.

The Hoosiers' defensive backs recorded five interceptions, but the fourth-quarter breakdowns cost them in the end.

"Those are big plays that are tough to overcome," Lynch said.

Last week, Indiana blew a 28-3 lead against Northwestern as the Wildcats mounted the biggest comeback in team history. Lynch later lamented that the Hoosiers scored too much too early.

Did it happen again?

"This is a completely different game," Lynch said. "Our kids battled."

Indiana players fighting the flu

October, 14, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Indiana head coach Bill Lynch revealed Tuesday that the flu kept a handful of key defensive players out of practice last week, including starting middle linebacker Matt Mayberry, starting defensive end Greg Middleton and starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk. Indiana endured its worst defensive performance of the season in last Saturday's 47-7 loss to Virginia, which piled up 536 yards (305 passing, 231 rushing) in the game.

"I would never use that as an excuse because I think it's something we're going to have to deal with throughout the fall," Lynch told reporters in Bloomington. "It looks like it's on every college campus, and I'm not sure we're done with it. We had several guys on defense that didn't get a chance to practice last week and if you don't practice, it sometimes reflects what happens on the field."

Mayberry admitted that the enthusiasm was lacking in Charlottesville and might have stemmed from himself and others dealing with the flu.

A few other notes:
  • Lynch said linebacker Damon Sims, who had a chance to play as a true freshman, will be redshirted. The coach is taking a wait-and-see approach with two other true freshmen, quarterback Edward Wright-Baker and kicker Mitch Ewald.
  • Running back Darius Willis (ankle) and right guard Pete Saxon (ankle) are listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Illinois (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET).

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Indiana defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton don't shy away from responsibility.

 AP Photo/Getty Images
 Greg Middleton (92) led the country in sacks (16) in 2007, and Jammie Kirlew racked up 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2008.
They want to carry the burden for an improved Hoosiers defense. And who better to take on such a task?

No defensive end tandem in the FBS has combined for more career sacks than Kirlew and Middleton (40). Middleton had his breakthrough in 2007, leading the nation with 16 sacks and finishing as a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award. Kirlew followed last fall with a huge season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after finishing second in the league in sacks (10.5) and third in tackles for loss (20).

Like his teammate the year before, Kirlew was named a Hendricks Award finalist.

"Just thinking about it, it’s amazing having two very talented defensive ends on the same team at the same time," Kirlew said. "We should definitely be doing damage. We expect it of ourselves. We have to have big games to help our team do well."

The tandem needs its best game Saturday against Michigan, which has surged offensively in its second year under head coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines lead the league in scoring through three games (38 points per game) and boast a ton of speed at all the skill positions.

While Indiana's defense has made obvious strides from 2008 -- the Hoosiers rank among the top four in the Big Ten in rushing defense (76 ypg), sacks (9), scoring (17.7 ppg), total defense (312.3) and opponent third down conversion percentage (29.4) -- Michigan provides a much bigger challenge than any of the teams IU has faced.

To have a shot at the upset, Indiana needs both Kirlew and Middleton to apply steady heat on freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.

"They’ve got great speed and their quarterbacks are playing very well," Indiana head coach Bill Lynch said. "It certainly helps to have Jammie and Greg, the experience they bring and the way they’ve been playing the first three weeks. They’ve really set the tone for the defense.

"They’ve been a force, particularly in some key situations, in the first three games.”

(Read full post)

Big Ten lunch links

August, 13, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Camps are cookin' around the Big Ten, and so are these links. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's a critical year for Indiana football and head coach Bill Lynch. As the program moves into its sparkling new end-zone facility at Memorial Stadium, the team must rebuild after sliding to 3-9 in 2008. Two years removed from a breakthrough bowl season under Lynch, the Hoosiers can ill afford another step back.

  Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI
  Indiana coach Bill Lynch knows his team must improve on last season.
Despite losing former All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis after spring ball, Lynch is excited about his team, which he says has more depth and experience than ever before. Perhaps most important, the Hoosiers are relatively healthy after being ravaged by injuries in 2008. Several standout defenders return -- ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, linebacker Matt Mayberry -- and junior quarterback Ben Chappell enters camp as the clear-cut starter.

Here are some of Lynch's thoughts on the upcoming season as we chatted last week.

You've mentioned a couple times that you feel this is a different team. Is there anything you can put your finger on as far as why things are different?

Bill Lynch: It really goes all the way back to when we got going in January with our offseason program. Every team's different. As guys get older and become seniors and juniors, this group's really taken ownership. It's the leadership we've seen and the way they've really held each other accountable to the work it takes to be a good football team. When you're in this business long enough, you see that and you feel it. That's where we are, throughout the program. This group is very committed.

I know you're excited about the pistol offense this year. Has that system fully sunk in, or is it still a process?

BL: They've got a good handle on it. It's not drastically different. The biggest thing is we want to run the football better and run it in a little different style. The spread is primarily a zone-blocking scheme where you're trying to spread the defense and create some creases, versus the pistol is more of a traditional offense where you can be a little more downhill. As a result, we can use some different blocking schemes, run some power and some gap and man schemes. We just felt like we needed to get more multiple in our offense. Our guys really picked that up in the spring. We're still going from the no-huddle attack, and that hasn't changed. The terminology is very similar, so it's not like we totally changed the offense.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Bill Lynch has spent less than four days in Indiana's end zone facility, but he loves his team's new digs.

He loves his team even more.

Despite a 3-9 season in 2008, a swell of major injuries to key players and the dismissal of record-setting quarterback Kellen Lewis after spring practice, Indiana enters preseason practice Friday with a great deal of confidence. Players have healed both mentally and physically, and team chemistry is much better than it was a year ago.

The results on the field also need to improve, or the swanky new coaches offices in the north end of Memorial Stadium could be vacant by December.

"The 105 [players] we had starting the 1st of June, those same 105 are the ones reporting," said Lynch, who enters his third season as Hoosiers head coach. "Most of the time a walk-on or a returning player or even an incoming freshman, for some reason, doesn't show up. But we should have the same 105. It's huge, and it starts with the amount of experienced upperclassmen we have.

"They understand the expectations, and they've held each other accountable."

Indiana enters camp with 40 players of junior standing or older: 13 fifth-year seniors, seven true seniors, 14 redshirt juniors and four true juniors. The preseason depth chart includes only three sophomores in starting roles -- left guard Justin Pagan, wide receiver Tandon Doss and cornerback Donnell Jones.

Lynch will coach by far his most experienced team, which he expects will pay off in a critical year for the program.

"There's always a sense of urgency when you have older guys because they don't have much left in college football," Lynch said. "When you're talking about a really young team with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, they don't think it's ever going to end.

"The older you get, you realize, 'This is my last season of college football.' I certainly think that sense of urgency takes over."

  • Lynch expects most if not all of Indiana's injured players to be 100 percent for presesason practice. Among those fully cleared to practice are safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk, linebacker Will Patterson, defensive end Jammie Kirlew, left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After a long weekend off, it's time to dive back into the Big Ten position rankings. The secondary units are up next.

The top two look absolutely stacked, and the top four or five all will be solid. Quarterback play should be much better in the Big Ten this fall, and the secondaries will need to elevate their play.

1. Iowa -- Three starters return from a unit that helped Iowa lead the Big Ten in takeaways (32) and allow the fewest passing touchdowns (9) in 2008. Junior Amari Spievey is the league's best cover corner, and he'll be joined by safety Tyler Sash, who shared the league lead in interceptions with teammate Pat Angerer last fall. Bradley Fletcher will be missed and depth is a mini concern, but the back four will anchor Iowa's D.

2. Northwestern -- The Wildcats boast the Big Ten's deepest secondary and possibly the league's best. I covered a string of woeful Northwestern secondaries earlier this decade, and it's a major testament to assistants Mike Hankwitz and Jerry Brown that the unit has come this far. All four starters return, led by safety Brad Phillips and corner Sherrick McManis. Northwestern can go at least nine deep and boasts capable reserves like Brian Peters.

3. Ohio State -- It's a bit of a mixed bag for the Buckeyes, who return the Big Ten's top safety tandem but look thin at cornerback. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell both will contend for All-Big Ten honors after solid junior seasons. Ohio State loses Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins and hopes Chimdi Chekwa can fill the void. Several young players will get a chance to shine this fall, including Travis Howard and Ohrian Johnson.

4. Michigan State -- All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley departs, but there's a lot to like about the Spartans secondary. Perhaps only Northwestern boasts more depth than Michigan State, which can go at least eight deep in the secondary. Corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver should have big seasons, and safety Trenton Robinson was the story of the spring and will earn major playing time.

5. Purdue -- Pop quiz: Which team led the Big Ten in pass defense last fall? It might surprise some to know Purdue topped the chart (183.2 ypg). A poor run defense contributed to the numbers, but the Boilers still look very strong in the back four entering 2009. Safety Torri Williams received a sixth year of eligibility during the offseason, and he'll join returning starters David Pender, Brandon King and Dwight Mclean.

6. Minnesota -- Minnesota led the Big Ten in takeaways for much of last season, and the secondary was the biggest reason why. Playmaking cornerback Traye Simmons leads a unit that returns three starters and could be deeper than it was in 2008. Senior corner Marcus Sherels and junior safety Kyle Theret have loads of experience, and Simmons is thrilled about the arrival of Wisconsin transfer Kim Royston at safety.

7. Wisconsin -- Easily the toughest unit to rank. The Badgers have the playmakers to be a top 4 secondary this fall. Cornerback Niles Brinkley recorded four interceptions last season, backup safety Shane Carter had a league-leading seven picks in 2007 and safety Jay Valai might be the Big Ten's hardest hitter. But consistency and depth are major concerns for Wisconsin. A lot depends on how cornerback Aaron Henry returns from knee problems.

8. Michigan -- Junior cornerback Donovan Warren could have a huge year or a really quiet one. See, Warren is easily the team's most experienced defensive back, and for that reason, opponents might try to avoid him and attack the Wolverines' unproven players. Michigan boasts a lot of young talent in the secondary -- corner Boubacar Cissoko, safety Troy Woolfolk, safety Vladimir Emilien -- and those players need to grow up fast.

9. Penn State -- This is easily the weakest unit on a team with Big Ten title aspirations. Penn State loses all four starters from a secondary that got exposed late in a loss to Iowa and early in a Rose Bowl beating against USC. The Lions need cornerback A.J. Wallace to straighten out his academic situation before Sept. 5. Safety Drew Astorino is ready to lead, but Penn State must identify capable pieces around him.

10. Illinois -- As expected, Vontae Davis bolted to the NFL a year early, leaving Illinois without a lock-down cornerback. The safeties also struggled at times last year, which creates plenty of questions heading into the fall. Illinois would certainly benefit from having a healthy Donsay Hardeman at safety, while cornerback Tavon Wilson showed some promising signs during spring ball.

11. Indiana -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Indiana finished much higher in my end-of-year rankings, but there are too many uncertainties entering camp. How will safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk respond from serious knee injuries? Has Ray Fisher successfully transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback? Will Florida transfer Jerimy Finch finally emerge as an impact player? The answers could determine whether Indiana survives on defense this fall.