Big Ten: Patrick Omameh

Michigan season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
10:30
AM ET
Can Michigan make the jump from the cusp to an actual Big Ten championship game? A look at the 2013 Wolverines:

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Coach: Brady Hoke (66-57, 19-7)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB/RB Denard Robinson; WR Roy Roundtree; RG Patrick Omameh; C Elliott Mealer; DE Craig Roh; DT Will Campbell; MLB Kenny Demens; CB J.T. Floyd; S Jordan Kovacs

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould running back Derrick Green be the key to Michigan's season? The touted freshman is expected to compete for the starting job right away.
Key returnees: QB Devin Gardner; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Jeremy Gallon; TE Devin Funchess; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DT Quinton Washington; DE Frank Clark; LB Jake Ryan (injured); LB Desmond Morgan; CB Blake Countess; CB Raymon Taylor; S Thomas Gordon

Newcomer to watch: There are a couple of freshmen who could see major snaps for Michigan, but the most notable is running back Derrick Green. He will push Toussaint for the starting job immediately and could end up as the featured back by the end of the season. The other two freshmen who could see major time are early enrollees: defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt. Neither will likely start, but both will be key reserves or used in subpackages.

Biggest games in 2013: Michigan had all of its key games on the road last season. This year, the Wolverines will have their two toughest games at home: Notre Dame on Sept. 7, and Ohio State on Nov. 30 in the regular-season closer. The Buckeyes, though, cap a difficult month for the Wolverines, who have trips to Michigan State on Nov. 2 and Northwestern on Nov. 16.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Who will run the ball? As the Wolverines complete their transition to a pro-style offense, they need a capable running back lining up behind quarterback Gardner. Considering the importance of play-action in what they will try to do offensively, they will need a back to gain yards to keep the whole offense balanced and a defense confused. The main candidates are Toussaint and Green, with freshman De'Veon Smith, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson and junior Thomas Rawls also pushing for time.

Forecast: Good. Like most teams that are near the end of a rebuilding phase, depth at certain positions is questionable, which means anything written here would be for naught if Gardner, Gallon or Lewan were injured for any length of time. Provided those three offensive stalwarts stay healthy, the Wolverines have a strong shot at making a run to the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan’s season could come down to whether it can beat Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. It is entirely possible that by the time the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the regular-season finale that both will have wrapped up divisional titles and Big Ten title game trips. The best news for Michigan in all of this is how the schedule breaks down. After Notre Dame in Week 2, the Wolverines have only one real challenge -- at Penn State -- until November. This will allow a young offensive line to gain confidence and chemistry, and a young defensive line a chance to figure out how to beat Big Ten linemen.

A road win at any of those three places could lift Michigan into a different level, because one of the major issues with coach Brady Hoke has been his inability to win a game of any significance away from Michigan Stadium, where he has yet to lose.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
12:00
PM ET
You get older, you have kids, you stop stealing, it's sad.
2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

B1G postseason position rankings: OL

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
10:15
AM ET
The postseason position rankings march on with the group where it all begins: the offensive line. Traditionally one of the stronger positions throughout the Big Ten, the 2013 season brought mixed results. Several traditionally strong lines took a step back, while other groups surprised us.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season. Star power matters, but depth often matters more, especially for a spot like offensive line. If you missed our preseason O-line rankings, check 'em out.

Let's begin ...

1. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 5): Few position coaches in the country made a stronger impact in Year 1 than Ohio State line coach Ed Warinner. He took a talented group that had underachieved in 2011 and turned it into the powerful engine of the Buckeyes' revamped offense. Converted tight end Reid Fragel blossomed at tackle along with Jack Mewhort, while center Corey Linsley stepped forward in his first year as the starter. The Buckeyes received solid guard play, and the line came on strong during the Big Ten schedule, beating up opponents in the red zone. Ohio State led the league in scoring (37.2 ppg) and finished second in rush offense (242.2 ypg).

[+] EnlargeSpencer Long
Reese Strickland/US PresswireSpencer Long stood out on a Huskers offensive line that blocked for the Big Ten's top offense.
2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 4): Personnel losses didn't faze Nebraska in 2012, whether it was running back Rex Burkhead dealing with chronic knee issues or offensive lineman Tyler Moore transferring to Florida. The Huskers' line took a nice step, leading the way for the Big Ten's top offense. Guard Spencer Long earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and second-team AP All-American honors, and tackle Jeremiah Sirles received second-team All-Big Ten honors. Nebraska's walk-on tradition remained alive and well with Long, Justin Jackson and Seung Hoon Choi. The line blocked well no matter who was carrying the ball. The only knock against Nebraska, much like Ohio State, was its sacks allowed total (35).

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 9): First-year coach Bill O'Brien called the offensive line a pleasant surprise during spring practice, and the group continued its upward trajectory during the season. Despite losing four starters from 2011 and needing to absorb a dramatically different system, Penn State's line came together around senior center Matt Stankiewitch. The Lions protected quarterback Matt McGloin and created room for several running backs, including Zach Zwinak, who surged late in Big Ten play. Stankiewitch, guard John Urschel and tackle Mike Farrell all received All-Big Ten recognition, as Penn State's offense proved to be one of the league's biggest surprises in 2012.

4. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 8): Northwestern rarely has struggled to move the ball since installing the spread offense in 2000, but the run game had been lagging until this year. Although the Wildcats needed a featured back to take charge, as Venric Mark did in 2012, they also needed more from the offensive line, a group to which the coaches had recruited well. The line stepped forward in a big way as Northwestern finished 19th nationally in rushing. Guard Brian Mulroe earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, while tackle Patrick Ward was an honorable mention selection. The Wildcats didn't pass much but protected the pocket well, allowing a league-low 16 sacks.

5. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 12): Youth was our big concern with the Hoosiers before the season, but the line came together nicely despite throwing several unproven players into the fire. Indiana surrendered only 17 sacks despite passing the ball more than anyone else in the league -- and racking up more pass yards (3,734). Freshmen Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney held their own, and center Will Matte anchored the unit. Indiana struggled at times to run the ball but performed well in the red zone.

6. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 2): The Wolverines' line had its moments, especially in pass protection, but Michigan struggled to generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson. Left tackle Taylor Lewan did his part in earning Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and his return for 2013 gives Michigan a big boost. Guard Patrick Omameh also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches, but the line had some inconsistency against strong defensive fronts such as Notre Dame's and Michigan State's. Help is on the way as Michigan piled up elite offensive line prospects in its 2013 recruiting class.

7. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 1): If the Wisconsin line was graded on its three performances in the Hoosier State -- at Purdue, at Indiana and against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis -- it likely would be at the top of the list. But the Badgers line only looked like a Badgers line for stretches this season. There were as many depressing performances (Oregon State, Michigan State) as dominant ones. The line repeatedly faced adversity, from the firing of line coach Mike Markuson after Week 2 to three different starting quarterbacks. To its credit, the group kept bouncing back. Tackle Rick Wagner, center Travis Frederick and guard Ryan Groy all earned All-Big Ten honors, and Frederick, like his predecessor Peter Konz, opted to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

8. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 6): The Boilers' line ended up just about where we thought it would, in the middle of the pack. Purdue finished in the top half of the Big Ten in total offense (fifth), rushing offense (sixth) and pass offense (third), despite dealing with a quarterback rotation for much of the season. There were some issues in pass protection, especially early in the season. The line lacked star power but Robert Kugler's emergence at guard later in the season was a bright spot. Purdue has endured some ups and downs with several converted defensive linemen on the offensive front and could take a step forward in 2013.

9. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 3): The Spartans had high hopes for their offensive line before the season, but things never really got on track. The season-ending loss of right tackle Fou Fonoti after two games really hurt, and other injuries cropped up throughout the fall. Although running back Le'Veon Bell racked up 1,793 rush yards, he made a lot of things happen on his own, and Michigan State struggled to convert red zone opportunities (44) into touchdowns (23). Guard Chris McDonald earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

10. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 11): Notice a theme here about injuries? It continues with the final three teams on the list. Injuries hit Minnesota's offensive line especially hard, as the Gophers lost their top two centers in a win against Illinois and were constantly moving pieces around up front. The good news for Gopher fans is that the offensive line made significant strides for the bowl game against Texas Tech, as Minnesota racked up 222 rush yards. But the line had its struggles during Big Ten play, as Minnesota eclipsed 17 points just once in eight league games.

11. Iowa (Preseason ranking: 7): Like Michigan State and Minnesota, Iowa's offensive line endured several key injuries, losing two starters (Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal) in a blowout loss to Penn State at Kinnick Stadium. The line blocked well for Mark Weisman during his early season surge, but Iowa still finished with the league's worst rushing offense (123 ypg) and second worst total offense (310.4 ypg). Iowa also struggled to reach the red zone (38 opportunities) or convert those chances into touchdowns (league-low 18). Center James Ferentz and guard/tackle Matt Tobin both earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

12. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): No position group is absolved of blame for Illinois' offensive struggles, and the line certainly underachieved for the second consecutive season. The Illini finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense, and 11th in both rushing and pass offense. They allowed a league-worst 39 sacks, and Illinois failed to score more than 22 points in any Big Ten contest. Sure, injuries were a factor, but the Illini had two good building blocks in tackle Hugh Thornton, a likely NFL draft pick in April, and veteran center Graham Pocic. Thornton earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches, while Pocic was an honorable mention selection. Despite the youth and a new system, this group should have been a lot better.

Michigan's Lewan gears up for Clowney

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
11:10
AM ET
Hours before Michigan's game at Nebraska, Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and two of his linemates killed some time in the hotel by watching South Carolina take on Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Patrick Green/Icon SMIMichigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan has been studying South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in preparation for their Jan. 1 bowl game.
Not surprisingly, Lewan soon noticed No. 7 in maroon for the Gamecocks. Sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is hard to miss.

"You know what," Lewan told teammates Elliott Mealer and Jack Miller, "that guy's a good player."

Lewan had no idea at the time that he'd be spending most of December watching Clowney. Michigan faces South Carolina on Jan. 1 at the Outback Bowl, and no individual matchup in the game brings more intrigue than Lewan vs. Clowney.

Both men have appeared on All-America teams and earned conference recognition, as Lewan won the Big Ten's Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award and was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick. Clowney claimed the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award from the league's coaches and unanimous All-SEC honors. Clowney recorded 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss this season.

"I can't say enough about him," Lewan said. "He's a great player, and I'm excited about the opportunity to go against him. Big, physical player, gets his hands off, swings a lot."

Lewan hasn't faced a defensive end quite like the 6-6, 256-pound, freakishly athletic Clowney in the Big Ten this season. He said the closest comparisons are Ohio State's John Simon -- the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year -- and former Purdue star Ryan Kerrigan, who won 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors before becoming a first-round pick of the Washington Redskins.

Lewan has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick if he chooses to forgo his senior season. Clowney can't enter the draft until after the 2013 season, but he's the most draft-ready true sophomore in college football. Lewan says he's not thinking about his draft decision, or whether a matchup against Clowney gives him a gauge of what he could do at the next level.

But he does plan to see plenty of the South Carolina star in Tampa.

"He lines up across from the left tackle every time, from what I've seen," Lewan said. "I'm not sure what their game plan is, but I'm sure we'll be going against each other a lot."

Lewan acknowledges that Michigan's offensive line has had its ups and downs this season. The Wolverines eclipsed 400 yards of offense six times and were held to fewer than 300 yards four times, including in a Nov. 24 loss to rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale.

Although "one game won't define us as an offensive line," Lewan knows there's a lot at stake against Clowney and a South Carolina defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in total defense (12th) scoring defense (13th), rushing defense (15th), sacks (fifth) and tackles for loss (19th).

"There's three seniors on the starting offensive line right now (guards Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum and Mealer), and I want them to go out with a bang," Lewan said. "There'd be nothing better than going out with an Outback win."

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
12:00
PM ET
Let's get this one, birds on the bat.
Brady HokeRobin Alam/Icon SMIBrady Hoke's drive to win the Big Ten title appears to be influencing his Michigan players.
Brady Hoke called Michigan's 2011 season a failure -- never mind the 11 wins and the Sugar Bowl championship -- because it did not result in a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance.

When national titles are brought up around Hoke, he typically shifts the focus back to the Big Ten race.

Whether Hoke's singular focus excites you or disappoints you, it certainly rubs off on his players. Although they weren't happy about a 2-2 start to the season, they had no trouble turning the page to the Big Ten slate last week at Purdue. And if the Wolverines' performance in West Lafayette -- a 44-13 win -- is any indication, the Big Ten will bring out the best in them this fall.

"With the nonconference season, we had one of the toughest in the nation," Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan told ESPN.com, referring to games against No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Notre Dame. "We took those games very seriously, but the goal's always a Big Ten championship. There's a little more fire in this team.

"We're excited about it, and every game is a Big Ten championship game."

Stifling defense and powerful offensive line play sparked Michigan in 2011, and the Wolverines appear to be reclaiming both hallmarks for the 2012 conference campaign. After struggling in just about every area against Alabama and seeing continued problems against Air Force, Michigan took a big step on defense against Notre Dame and also received better play from the offensive line as the game in South Bend went on.

Although turnovers doomed the Wolverines against the Irish, they made progress in both areas at Purdue. Michigan held a Boilers team averaging 51 points on its home field to 13 points, 213 total yards and 56 rushing yards (2.2 yards per attempt). It also controlled the line of scrimmage from the onset, holding the ball for 12:11 of the first quarter and opening the game with the program's sixth-longest drive (8:48) since 1978, a methodical 78-yard march that required 17 plays and 19 players.

Michigan's defense has surrendered only 13 points in each of its past three games, and opponents' yardage totals have dropped (259 to 239 to 213). The unit seemed to turn the corner at the same time last season, when it blanked Minnesota 58-0 in Week 5, allowing only 177 total yards. The Wolverines held six of their next seven Big Ten foes to fewer than 335 yards.

"What you're seeing is the younger guys who have been in the program for a second year, you would expect them to play up to their talent level, and that's what's happening," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison told ESPN.com. "Some of our talented young guys are starting to now become older, and play like older players."

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Sandra Dukes/US PresswireMichigan LB Jake Ryan continued to wow his coaches with his performance against Purdue last Saturday.
Although Mattison and his staff installed a new scheme in 2011, they had the luxury of leaning on three senior defensive linemen -- Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger -- while working several young players into major roles. The difference this fall, according to Mattison: Seniors with a ton of starting experience are in short supply, so some of the unit's more seasoned players -- Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, Thomas Gordon -- are also young.

"We're getting a lot better communication," Mattison said. "... When you're young, at an early part of the season, you're just kind of fending for yourself. You're just trying to get yourself to play. And when you get a little older in the season, whether you're a sophomore or a senior, you start feeling more comfortable. Therefore, you can do the things that are expected of you, and that is to communicate and get everybody set.

"These are guys that are now starting to feel like veterans."

Hoke singled out the linebackers as the group that has made the most strides in recent weeks. Ryan, who started 11 games last season as a redshirt freshman, has been particularly noticeable. "You can feel him on the field," Hoke said.

Ryan recorded five tackles and a pass breakup against Notre Dame and followed it with six tackles, including two for loss and a sack, against Purdue.

"The sky's the limit for Jake," Mattison said. "He has God-given talent, and he also has showed that it's very, very important to him. He's become a very good student of the game."

After Week 3, Lewan challenged the offensive line to "play angry, play nasty." While the group isn't quite there, in Lewan's estimation, there has been progress.

Michigan averaged 5.6 yards per rush against a talented Purdue defensive front, which failed to record a sack or a quarterback hurry against Denard Robinson (235 rush yards, 105 pass yards). The Wolverines' rushing attempts also are on the rise, from 30 per game in the first two weeks to 46 per game the past three weeks.

"In the Notre Dame game, it was somewhat of a change," Lewan said. "We saw we can move the line of scrimmage. We found out we have the capability to do that. It really came together at Purdue, but we have to be a better team this week than we were last week. Every week from now on is championship week because our goal is the Big Ten championship."

Lewan, who will make his 21st consecutive start Saturday against Illinois, welcomes a leadership role on the line. He shares the responsibility with fifth-year senior guard Patrick Omameh and fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer, a first-year starter at center.

"[Offensive coordinator Al] Borges put pressure on us, so did Coach Hoke, but at the end of the day, we need to put pressure on ourselves also," Lewan said. "Coach Hoke talks about it all the time. There's a standard you play at Michigan. I can throw cliché lines at you and every program says the same thing over and over, but the fact is we have the tradition to back it up. There's a tradition at Michigan, and there's a way you play."

Especially in the Big Ten season. There are still areas to improve -- Michigan needs to spark running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (169 rushing yards, 3.3 yards per carry) and its pass rush (five sacks in as many games, 104th nationally) -- but the team's identity is taking shape.

"You don't want to say the games leading up to the Big Ten don't count," Mattison said, "but when you come to Michigan, you come to win a championship. Now, it's on the line. Every game is on the line."

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
12:00
PM ET
Barney's movie had heart, but "Football in the Groin" had a football in the groin.
It's time to jump back into our preseason position rankings with a look at the offensive line units.

On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.

Away we go:

1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US Presswire With top tackle Taylor Lewan returning, Michigan fields one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan: The Wolverines might have the top tackle in the league with junior Taylor Lewan, and guard Patrick Omameh is a three-year starter. Senior Ricky Barnum is taking over for David Molk at center. Michael Schofield should be solid at right tackle, though the left guard spot remains a competition. It should be a strong starting group, though depth here is a major concern.

3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.

4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost three starters from last year's line, but much like Wisconsin, this is a group that usually reloads. Guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi provide nice building blocks, with Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez solidifying the tackle spots. The big question here is center and who will replace Mike Caputo.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes had their problems up front last year and now are implementing a new offensive system. Urban Meyer wasn't happy with the group's work ethic in January but felt much better about them by the end of spring. Jack Mewhort replaces Mike Adams at left tackle, while Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall try to live up their potential at guard. Corey Linsley earned Meyer's praise for his work at center. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot, where former tight end Reid Fragel is now the first-stringer. But true freshman Taylor Decker is pushing him.

6. Purdue: Injuries kept the Boilers from building much cohesion this spring, but this can be a sturdy group when healthy. Three starters are back, with Trevor Foy moving from right to left tackle. This is an experienced bunch, but Danny Hope wants to see more dominance. Senior center Rick Schmeig should be a leader

7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year's edition. The leader is center James Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.

8. Northwestern: The Wildcats lost two valuable starters in tackle Al Netter and Ben Burkett but return three-year starter Brian Mulroe at guard and promising sophomore center Brandon Vitabile. There should be good depth up front, but can the Wildcats generate a consistent rushing attack?

9. Penn State: The good news is that the Nittany Lions played better than expected last year on the offensive line. The bad news is four starters are gone, not to mention some potential transfers in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. There is still talent here, including guard John Urschel and tackle Donovan Smith. But the least experienced line in the league will have to learn a new offensive system.

10. Illinois: There was little excuse for the Illini O-line to play as bad as it did last year with standout players Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic in the mix. Pocic is back this year at center, though he might take some snaps at tackle as well. Young players like sophomore Simon Cvijanovic and redshirt freshman Ted Karras will need to come on. This unit should be improved, but it ranks low based on last year's finish.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill shuffled this group last year and played a lot of youngsters. It's still a relatively inexperienced unit, but there is hope for improvement. Junior left tackle Ed Olson has the best chance to be a star.

12. Indiana: Center Will Matte is one of the most experienced linemen in the league. But beyond him are several young players, including three true sophomores who started as freshmen last year. There's nowhere to go but up.
It's time to wrap up the offensive side of the ball in our preseason rankings of the best players by position in the Big Ten for 2012.

Remember that these rankings are weighed heavily on past performance while taking potential into account. We've already gone over all the skill players; now we turn to the guys who do the dirty work in the trenches to make those big plays possible. Our offensive linemen rankings will give an edge to tackles over interior players since those positions are harder to man.

Here's how we see the best Big Ten big uglies (we say that with love) right now:

1. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan, junior: Lewan was a big key to the Wolverines' success last year, and if he continues to mature on and off the field, he could be an All-American. The 6-foot-8, 302-pounder is already being projected as a first-round pick in next year's draft.

[+] EnlargeRicky Wagner
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDoes Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema have another Outland Trophy winner in left tackle Ricky Wagner?
2. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin, senior: Bret Bielema likes to point out that every left tackle who has started for him has won the Outland Trophy. Wagner has a chance to keep that going in his second year guarding the blind side for the Badgers. The 6-6, 322-pounder doesn't talk a whole lot, but he says a lot with his play. Some have projected him as a top-five pick in next year's draft.

3. Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin, junior: Frederick was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year, which doesn't fully denote his value. He started 11 games at guard, then moved to center for two games when Peter Konz was injured, including a start in the Big Ten championship game. Frederick will start the season at center this year, and if he makes as much improvement as Wisconsin linemen often do, he could be in line for national awards.

4. Chris McDonald, G, Michigan State: While the Spartans' offensive line went through some upheaval last season, McDonald provided an anchor. He started every game and played more snaps than any other lineman on the team, surrendering only one sack on the season. He has started 17 consecutive games at right guard and 26 overall.

5. Spencer Long, G, Nebraska, junior: Long is a former walk-on who didn't play in 2010 but started every game in 2011. And he made quite an impression, helping pave the way for the Huskers' powerful running attack. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder is expected to be a leader on the Nebraska line this year.

6. James Ferentz, C, Iowa, senior: Ferentz is more than just the coach's son; he's one of the most valuable offensive linemen in the league. An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last year, he started in all 13 games and played just about every offensive down for the second straight season. With some new starters moving into place on the line, Ferentz will need to be a leader this year, and we know he's got that in his genes.

7. Graham Pocic, C, Illinois, senior: Pocic is awfully big for a center at 6-7 and 310 pounds and likely projects as a guard at the next level. But he's doing a great job at his current position, starting the past 26 games for the Illini. He was named the team's offensive MVP this spring and looks poised for a big season.

8. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State, junior: Mewhort moved around last year for the Buckeyes, starting at right and left guard while also playing some right tackle. He'll start at left tackle this season, taking over for NFL second-round pick Mike Adams. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he's got ideal size for the position.

9. Patrick Omameh, G, Michigan, senior: Along with Lewan, Omameh is one of the leaders of Michigan's offensive line. He has started 29 consecutive games at right guard and is as dependable as they come.

10. Will Matte, C, Indiana, senior: Matte has been one of the bright spots for the Hoosiers the past few years. He started the first 32 games of his career before getting injured in Week 8 against Wisconsin last year. He was a frequent game captain in 2011 and will be counted on to help guide his young teammates.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges likes what he has to work with this spring. And who wouldn't be excited about Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint returning in the backfield as the offensive core?

But like every team, the Wolverines have some issues. One of the key concerns is building a solid two-deep along the offensive line.

"It's a position where we feel good about the kids who are playing," Borges said. "We just need to enhance our depth."

Michigan must replace Rimington Trophy winner David Molk at center, and Ricky Barnum will get the first crack at the gig. Barnum was injured most of last season, and has played left guard in the past.

"He's athletic," Borges said. "Ricky can move. He's really has the profile more of a center. He's smart, he understands who to block and he's played some guard, which should have some carry-over to center. So I think Ricky is going to be fine."

Making up for Molk's leadership might be the toughest task this spring. Borges said Barnum, left tackle Taylor Lewan, and senior guard Patrick Omameh should help pick up the slack in that area.

The starting group up front should be solid, with senior Elliott Mealer taking over at left guard, and Michael Schofield moving to right tackle to replace Mark Huyge. Behind them is a lot of inexperience. Borges said redshirt freshmen Jack Miller and Chris Bryant should contribute. And an incoming freshman like Kyle Kalis has a chance to crack the depth chart.

"We'll see how quick they can pick it up," Borges said.

Another area of concern is tight end, which loses departed seniors Kevin Koger and Steve Watson. Borges said senior Brandon Moore, who has played sparingly, and Ricardo Miller, who's more of a receiving tight end, will get the bulk of the work this spring. But it's a position that remains unsettled.

"We're looking at other kids, and the jury is still out," Borges said. "It's a position where, if a freshman came in and showed something, he could probably make a contribution."

Incoming recruit Devin Funchess could be that guy, though he'll likely need to put on some weight. The Wolverines also signed A.J. Williams as a tight end prospect.

"Seeing who's going to come to the forefront and be our starting tight end this spring, that's huge," Borges said.
A few PM items for you on a toasty Tuesday in Chicago:
  • Penn State added a big piece for its 2012 recruiting class as four-star quarterback prospect Skyler Mornhinweg committed to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday afternoon. If you're wondering about the last name, Skyler is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He originally committed to Stanford but withdrew his pledge after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the 49ers job. Mornhinweg, ranked as the nation's No. 16 quarterback by ESPN Recruiting, also received interest from Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois. Penn State has several young quarterbacks in Robert Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, but the team's QB picture could look different by the time Mornhinweg is ready to see the field.
  • Iowa announced its three "color games" for the 2011 season. Fans attending the Sept. 17 home game against Pitt will be asked to "Be Bold, Wear Gold." The Oct. 15 prime-time game against recent nemesis Northwestern will allow fans to stripe Kinnick Stadium in black and gold. Fans in even numbered sections are asked to wear gold and fans in odd numbered sections are asked to wear black. This is my favorite display by far, as last year's game against Penn State looked amazing. Iowa's home finale Nov. 12 against Michigan State has been designated the annual "Blackout" game at Kinnick. Here's a look at the "Blackout" against Michigan in 2009.
  • Allstate and the AFCA on Tuesday announced their nominees for 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, and seven Big Ten players made the list. The team recognizes players at all levels of college football who excel in community service work. The Big Ten nominees are: Northwestern OT Al Netter, Minnesota DE D.L. Wilhite, Iowa P Eric Guthrie, Nebraska DT Jared Crick, Indiana LB Leon Beckum, Michigan G Patrick Omameh and Purdue QB Rob Henry. The 11-player FBS Good Works Team will be announced in late September.


A few PM items for you on a toasty Tuesday in Chicago:
  • Penn State added a big piece for its 2012 recruiting class as four-star quarterback prospect Skyler Mornhinweg committed to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday afternoon. If you're wondering about the last name, Skyler is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He originally committed to Stanford but withdrew his pledge after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the 49ers job. Mornhinweg, ranked as the nation's No. 16 quarterback by ESPN Recruiting, picked Penn State despite interest from Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois. Penn State has several young quarterbacks in Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, but the team's QB picture could look different by the time Mornhinweg is ready to see the field.
  • Iowa announced its three "color games" for the 2011 season. Fans attending the Sept. 17 home game against Pitt will be asked to "Be Bold, Wear Gold." The Oct. 15 primetime game against recent nemesis Northwestern will allow fans to stripe Kinnick Stadium in black and gold. Fans in even numbered sections are asked to wear gold and fans in odd numbered sections are asked to wear black. This is my personal favorite by far, as last year's game against Penn State looked amazing. Iowa's home finale Nov. 12 against Michigan State has been designated the annual "Blackout" game at Kinnick. Here's a look at the "Blackout" against Michigan in 2009.
  • Allstate and the AFCA on Tuesday announced their nominees for 2011 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, and seven Big Ten players made the list. The team recognizes players at all levels of college football who excel in community service work. The Big Ten nominees are: Northwestern OT Al Netter, Minnesota DE D.L. Wilhite, Iowa P Eric Guthrie, Nebraska DT Jared Crick, Indiana LB Leon Beckum, Michigan G Patrick Omameh and Purdue QB Rob Henry. The 11-player FBS Good Works Team will be announced in late September.
Since Adam Rittenberg inexplicably follows the Cubs, I had to explain to him the concept of "All-Stars." I'm not looking forward to him trying to grasp the concept of October baseball this fall.

I digress. We're playing off tonight's All-Star Game to present our own version in the Big Ten. Adam gave you his Leaders Division team this morning. Here's my All-Star team from the Legends Division. Later on, we'll let you vote for who would win in a matchup between these two. (And don't worry; home field in the Big Ten title game won't be decided by the outcome).

OFFENSE

OT: Riley Reiff, Iowa
OT: Al Netter, Northwestern
C: David Molk, Michigan
OG: Joel Foreman, Michigan State
OG: Patrick Omameh, Michigan
QB: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
RB: Edwin Baker, Michigan State
RB: Marcus Coker, Iowa
TE: Kyler Reed, Nebraska
WR: Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern
WR: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
WR: Roy Roundtree, Michigan

DEFENSE


DE: Vince Browne, Northwestern
DE: Cameron Meredith, Nebraska
DT: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DT: Mike Martin, Michigan
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
LB: Gary Tinsley, Minnesota
LB: James Morris, Iowa
CB: Shaun Prater, Iowa
CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
S: Brian Peters, Northwestern
S: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State

SPECIALISTS


P: Will Hagerup, Michigan
K: Dan Conroy, Michigan State
KR: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota

I'd better explain my two most controversial selections. Quarterback was obviously the toughest call in a division that features Cousins, Denard Robinson, Dan Persa and Taylor Martinez. While Robinson and Persa are more exciting, I went with the steady Cousins for this reason: this is an All-Star game, and my quarterback is surrounded by talent. I don't need him to take off running like Robinson, Persa and Martinez are wont to do. I just need him to deliver the ball to my other studs, and I think Cousins is the best at this in the division. If things are going badly for my offense, I can summon Robinson or Persa from the bullpen for a spark.

At running back, I might have surprised you with the selection of Coker, who had one truly big performance last season in the bowl and is largely unproven. Nebraska fans will no doubt howl for Rex Burkhead there. My thought on this is that I want as well-rounded of a team as possible, so I want a big, bruising back to go along with the 5-foot-9, 209-pound Baker. That's why I went with the 230-pound bag of hammers that is Coker, who can lead block for Baker or crush defensive backs with the ball in his own hands.

And with that, I will paraphrase Norman Dale: My team is on the field!
My apologies for posting these a day late -- blame it on Russell Wilson -- but it's time to break down the Big Ten offensive linemen entering the 2011 season.

Rather than list the top 10 across the three position groups, I've decided to go a different route: top five players at each spot. Despite losing standout linemen like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, the Big Ten returns several of the nation's top players at their positions.

Center might be the Big Ten's deepest position, while the league also boasts several standout tackles. The guard spot is a bit thin.

Let's take a look.

CENTER

Michael Brewster
Greg Bartram/US PresswireMichael Brewster may be the best center in the country.
1. Michael Brewster, Ohio State, senior -- Brewster enters the season as the leading candidate for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation's top center. He has started each of the past three seasons and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in 2010. Boasting 36 career starts, Brewster could be the top center selected in next April's NFL draft.

2. David Molk, Michigan, senior -- Molk is right up there with Brewster among the nation's truly elite centers. If not for some injury trouble, he could be at the top of the list. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in 2010 and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. Molk has made 29 career starts and displays top-notch blocking skills and leadership.

3. Peter Konz, Wisconsin, junior -- Konz is a big reason why Wisconsin's line shouldn't take a step back despite losing Carimi, Moffitt and Bill Nagy. He has made 20 starts at center in the past two seasons and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. After missing most of spring practice with an ankle injury, Konz's health this fall is a big key for Wisconsin.

4. Mike Caputo, Nebraska, senior: The Huskers' line has a few question marks entering the season, but center isn't one of them. Caputo is the undisputed leader of the group after starting every game in 2010. The former walk-on earned consensus honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and helped Nebraska eclipse 200 rushing yards in 10 of 14 games.

T-5. James Ferentz, Iowa, junior: Ferentz has emerged as an All-Big Ten caliber lineman and will lead one of the league's better groups this season. He started every game in 2010 and showed impressive durability, playing every offensive down in nine contests. Iowa needs an elite offensive line this season, and Ferentz will be leading the charge.

T-5. Graham Pocic, Illinois, junior: Along with Jeff Allen and others, Pocic leads an Illinois line that punished opponents at times last season. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter. Pocic solidified a line that helped Illinois lead the Big Ten in rushing and rank 11th nationally (246.1 ypg).

TACKLE

1. Riley Reiff, Iowa, junior: Reiff has put himself in position to become the next truly great Hawkeyes offensive lineman. He started every game in 2010 and 11 of 13 contests in 2009, earning consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. Already projected as a potential top-15 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Reiff should be in the mix for the Outland Trophy as he anchors the Iowa line.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State, senior: The Buckeyes will be counting the days until Adams returns from his suspension to open the season. After some ups and downs early in his career, Adams blossomed last season and started to meet the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of high school. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. If not for the five-game suspension, he would be a top contender for the Outland Trophy.

3. Jeff Allen, Illinois, senior: One of the league's best and most experienced offensive linemen, Allen will lead a strong Illini line this fall. He has started 34 games in his first three seasons at Illinois, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media last fall. Allen is a bona fide NFL prospect who should challenge players like Brewster, Molk and Reiff for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors.

4. Al Netter, Northwestern, senior: Besides star quarterback Dan Persa, Netter is the only player coach Pat Fitzgerald considers an undisputed starter entering the fall. Perhaps it's because Netter has started each of the past 39 games. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 and should be primed for a big senior season. Northwestern needs him to help spark its rushing attack.

5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin, junior: We'll get a full read on Wagner after he switches from right tackle to the left side to replace Carimi, but the expectations are high. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after stepping in for the injured Josh Oglesby at right tackle. Wisconsin really likes Wagner's potential, and he'll have a chance to blossom at the more prestigious tackle position.

GUARD

1. Joel Foreman, Michigan State, senior: An easy pick here as Foreman enters the season as one of the nation's top left guards. He has earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons and started 36 games at left guard, including each of the past 22. Offensive line is a huge question mark for the Spartans, so Foreman's play will be huge.

2. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, senior: Zeitler will be a leader this fall for a Wisconsin line looking to continue its tradition of excellence. He has started 22 games at right guard in each of the past two seasons and helped Wisconsin rank among the nation's top rushing offenses. Zeitler earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010.

3. Hugh Thornton, Illinois, junior: Thornton has played a lot of football in his first two seasons and could take another step in his development this fall. He started eight games at weak-side guard in 2010 after starting seven games at tackle in 2009. Illinois expects the offensive line to be its strength, and Thornton is a big part of the group.

4. Ken Plue, Purdue, senior: This pick is a bit risky after Plue worked his way into the coaches' dog house in spring practice. But he has the size, the skills and the experience (28 starts) to become one of the Big Ten's top guards this fall. If the 6-7, 358-pound Plue can work out his issues, look out for him and the Boilers.

5. Patrick Omameh, Michigan, junior: After starting all 13 games for a record-setting offense in 2010, Omameh is a reason why hopes are high for the Wolverines offensive line. He has started 16 consecutive games and has the ability to contend for All-Big honors. Omameh must get a little more consistent this fall, but I like how he projects for 2011.

SPONSORED HEADLINES