Big Ten: Ohio State
We're talking about guys who maybe haven't had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices -- and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.
The series rolls along with a look at Ohio State and its rebuilding defense.
Spring breakout player: LB Darron Lee
Filling the void left behind by one of the most productive linebackers in the nation isn’t likely going to be a job Ryan Shazier’s replacement in the lineup can do alone, and technically Lee isn’t going to be playing exactly the same position in Ohio State’s retooled defense.
But with Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant both returning as starters, the spotlight all spring was on the final piece of the puzzle and the fresh face working with the unit. There wasn’t much buzz about the former high school quarterback and defensive back heading into camp, but Lee impressed the staff with his work in the offseason program and was plugged into the first-team role at strongside linebacker on the opening day of practice -- and he never did anything to relinquish the job when all the work on the field was done in the middle of April.
Lee is obviously unproven after appearing in just two games as a true freshman, and he’s still not guaranteed anything heading into training camp with redshirt freshman Chris Worley pushing for playing time as well. But Lee’s ability to stay at the top of the depth chart while the Buckeyes were closely monitoring the position and trying to restore the proud tradition of their linebackers speaks volumes about the potential he has shown on the field as a tackler and in the weight room as he has built his 6-foot-1 frame up to 225 pounds.
The Buckeyes may still not be fully reloaded in terms of depth and experience at linebacker quite yet. But Lee at least appeared to give Ohio State a viable candidate to replace Shazier and fill out the first-team defense, which made the spring a success for both parties.
With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival give you a look at what to watch within the conference:
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A few questions and answers before the weekend.
Donny from Decatur, Ill., writes: I've been hearing a lot of the hype surrounding this years Illinios receivers, everything from "Maybe the best in the country", "best in the Big Ten". Maybe it's because I am in Illinois. But I am excited to go see these guys in action this year. What are your thoughts on them this year? Do you think they will live up to the hype? WithBenn, Cumberland, Sykes, Jenkins, Duvalt, James, and TE Hoomanawanui and Newcomers/Red shirts etc. Fayson, Ramsey, Scottand Hawthorne the Illini look to have a very solid group for a few years to come. Also Juice has gotten better with every year he has played. What do you truly expect from these guys this year?
Adam Rittenberg: Well, since I've been writing some of those things myself, I'd say my opinion is pretty high of Illinois' group. As an Illini fan, you have the right to get very excited about these wideouts. Arrelious Benn will contend for All-America honors this fall, and Illinois could have a legit No. 2 receiver to complement Benn in Jarred Fayson. I never thought Jeff Cumberland could truly be a No. 2, and now he won't have to be. But all those weapons you list easily make Illinois the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. If Juice Williams gets time to throw, look out.
Brian from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Could you explain why OSU has only 16 scholarships available (I think) but they lost 33 players from last year?
Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State signed a fairly large class in February (25 recruits), which accounted for most of the graduation losses. The Buckeyes also boast a pretty sizable junior class, which includes true juniors like Brandon Saine, redshirt juniors like Thad Gibson and even transfers like Justin Boren (Michigan). You always have to factor in the number of redshirted players and the number of fifth-year seniors when calculating how big or small a recruiting class will be.
Derek from New Jersey writes: I saw you posted a lunch-link about Minnesota's new stadium. I also watched a video about it. I was just wondering, from somebody who has been there, what your thoughts on it were. Is it built up (ie: Beaver Stadium) or out (Michigan Stadium)? Do you know where the student section will be in the horshoe stadium, or how many seats will be blocked off for them? Any neat novelties worth mentioning? It's not often a college team gets an all new stadium. Thanks for any extra insight!
Adam Rittenberg: TCF Bank Stadium breaks the traditional mold of most Big Ten football facilities. For starters, it is located in a major metropolitan area, which will be a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. Fans in the upper deck and suites will get a great view of downtown Minneapolis. It definitely doesn't compare with any of the huge Big Ten facilities in terms of size, though it could expand to 80,000 seats if Minnesota chooses to add another deck. The student section will be in the east (non-open) end of the horseshoe, near the Gophers' tunnel. As far as novelties, the massive scoreboard in the open end will be pretty cool. Fans also will be able to see the field while walking along the main concourse. There isn't much excess space on the field footprint, so fans will be very close to the action. Overall, it should be a great venue, and I love the fact that Minnesota didn't build something too big to start off. For more, check out my tour of the facility back in November.