Big Ten: Ray Fisher

Big Ten stock report: Week 8

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
6:00
PM ET
Invest wisely.

STOCK UP

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst: Chryst called a masterful game against Ohio State, especially on the decisive 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive after Ohio State had cut Wisconsin's lead to 21-18. He strayed from standard procedure and called four consecutive pass plays before wisely going to running back James White in the red zone. Chryst mixed personnel well all game and made a great decision to feature receiver Nick Toon on quick passes.

Purdue's rushing attack: Basketball on grass this is not, but it's still working for Purdue. The Boilermakers eclipsed 200 rushing yards for the fifth consecutive game, the first time they've done so since the 1973 season. Danny Hope wanted to spark the run game this fall, and despite a rash of injuries at both running back and quarterback, he's finding the players (Dan Dierking, Rob Henry) to get it done.

Michigan State's defense: Takeaways can bring a defense to a whole new level, and Michigan State has proved it this season. The Spartans already have twice as many interceptions (12) as they had all of last season. They've forced 18 turnovers this year after having only 14 in 2009. All four starters in the secondary had a hand in a takeaway against Illinois.

Iowa S Tyler Sash: One of the Big Ten's top playmakers in 2008 and 2009, Sash finally got on the board with his first interception this season at Michigan, returning it 36 yards. Sash holds Iowa's record for career return yards with 386, which ranks fourth in Big Ten history. The junior also had a 37-yard return following a blocked field goal attempt. Sash added seven tackles in the win.

Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' talented tandem continues to get it done on Saturdays, combining for 14 receptions, 224 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas State. They became the first Indiana players to both eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game since James Hardy and Ray Fisher in 2007. Doss finished with 241 all-purpose yards.

STOCK DOWN

Ohio State's defensive line: This group rarely ends up here, but it got overwhelmed by Wisconsin's offensive front on Saturday night. The Buckeyes recorded no sacks or quarterback hurries and recorded only two tackles for loss. Nathan Williams struggled after some strong performances, and Cameron Heyward was held in check as Wisconsin created some enormous rushing lanes for its backs.

Michigan's third-down defense: A few more stops might have been enough for Michigan's offense to rally past Iowa, but Greg Robinson's defense couldn't get it done again. Iowa converted 7 of 13 third-down attempts in Saturday's win, including a third-and-14 right before halftime when it seemed content to settle for a field goal. Instead, the Hawkeyes reached the end zone to lead 21-7 at the break. Michigan has allowed a league-worst 42 third-down conversions this year.

Michigan State's offensive line: After a tremendous performance at Michigan, the Spartans' front five struggled against a good Illinois defensive line. Michigan State racked up only 93 rush yards and couldn't get Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell or Larry Caper going. Fortunately for the Spartans, an opportunistic defense bailed them out.

Minnesota's run game: You can't play power football if your top two running backs finish with only 51 yards. I know Minnesota had to pass more than it wanted to after falling behind 21-0, but the Gophers couldn't execute their power run in the first half. After a great start in the opener at Middle Tennessee, Minnesota has slipped to ninth in the league in rushing.

Illinois' second-half production: The Illini are hanging around in games but struggling to finish them off. They were outscored 23-0 in the second half Saturday at Michigan State and have been outscored 43-23 in the fourth quarter through the first six games. That trend needs to end if Illinois wants to go bowling.
Let's take a look back at a pivotal weekend in the Big Ten before peeking ahead to Week 8.

[+] EnlargeWhite
AP Photo/Andy ManisRunning back James White and Wisconsin overpowered previously unbeaten Ohio State.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. Through the first six weeks, Wisconsin provided little evidence to suggest it could knock off the nation's No. 1 team. But the Badgers put it all together in impressive fashion Saturday night against Ohio State. For the first time in recent memory, Ohio State's defense got humbled by a Big Ten opponent as Wisconsin's offensive line steamrolled the Buckeyes, creating huge running lanes for both John Clay and James White. Although the Buckeyes rallied in the third quarter and the early fourth, Wisconsin was too powerful on offense and received enough stops from J.J. Watt and the defense to keep Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State attack in check. Wisconsin overcame its big-game bugaboo and now hits the road for a huge rivalry game against No. 15 Iowa.

Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium was absolutely electric, and the game began with a bang as Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Wisconsin and Ohio State were mirror images in the first and third quarters, as each team dominated play and put together extensive touchdown drives (19 plays, 89 yards for Wisconsin; 19 plays, 94 yards for Ohio State). The Buckeyes had all the momentum as they closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin answered with the defining drive of its season, marching 73 yards in 10 plays and mixing up the play calls perfectly. The Iowa-Michigan game also brought some drama as Michigan rallied behind Tate Forcier, and Indiana-Arkansas State turned into a shootout.

Biggest play: We go back to Madison, as Wisconsin faced third-and-3 from its own 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter after Ohio State had rallied to within three points. Rather than pound away with the run game, Wisconsin took to the air and Scott Tolzien fired a bullet to receiver Nick Toon near the east sideline for a 20-yard gain. The Badgers didn't face another third down on the drive and went on to score a touchdown. "Huge catch in a crucial point of the game," Toon said. "But that's my job." Iowa faced a similar situation against Michigan, up 35-28 in the fourth quarter but facing third-and-9 from its own 41. Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt for 17 yards, and the Hawkeyes went on to score.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy really is starting to blossom as the successor to superstar Brett Swenson. Conroy went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against Illinois, connecting from 37, 34, 32 and 18 yards. The Spartans really needed him on a day when the offense struggled for stretches. Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald also had an impressive performance in relief of the injured Nick Freeland. Ewald went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter. Gilreath doesn't technically qualify as a specialist, but his return against Ohio State is notable. It marked Wisconsin's first kick return touchdown since Lee Evans in 2000, and the team's longest since Aaron Stecker's 100-yarder against Minnesota in 1995.

Most futile call: Making my way through the Camp Randall Stadium concourse to Wisconsin's media room Saturday night, I kept hearing the public-address announcer pleading with the Wisconsin students and other Badgers fans not to rush the field. Um, good luck with that one. I understand the safety issue and the past problems at Camp Randall, but you're just not going to keep people off the field when their team has just defeated No. 1.

Game balls:

  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt tormented Ohio State's offensive line all night and recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks of Pryor. It felt like he had four or five sacks with all the trouble he caused. Watt also was credited with a quarterback hurry and has a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss this year.
  • Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' star tandem combined for 14 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Arkansas State. Belcher and Doss became the first Indiana wideouts to both eclipse 100 yards in a game since Ray Fisher and James Hardy in 2007.
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones: The senior is well on his way to another All-America type season for Michigan State. He recorded a season-high 14 tackles to go along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Saturday's win against Illinois. Jones has led MSU in tackles in 27 of the past 33 games.
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: If there's a tougher wide receiver in America, feel free to send me his name because Sanzenbacher is my pick, hands down. Sanzenbacher never shies away from contact and making gutsy catches. He had six of them for 94 yards against Wisconsin. Sanzenbacher is playing like a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
  • Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: DJK became Iowa's all-time leading receiver Saturday after recording four receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven touchdown receptions this season. DJK, who added a 40-yard kick return against Michigan, should share the game ball with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who continues to put up Heisman-caliber numbers (17-for-24 passing, 248 pass yards, 3 TDs).
  • Purdue QB Rob Henry: The young fella looks like a winner, folks. Henry accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) against Minnesota and completed more than twice as many passes (13) on just two more attempts (20) than he did the previous week at Northwestern.
  • Illinois DL Corey Liuget: It's always notable when a defensive lineman leads the team in tackles, and Liuget had another big performance Saturday at Michigan State. The junior recorded 11 tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hurries as Illinois limited the Spartans' rushing attack.

OK, enough with Week 7. Let's take a quick look at Week 8.

No. 7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, but they have yet to win a game outside the state of Michigan. They head to Evanston and face a Northwestern team coming off of a bye week. Michigan State's playmaking defense has recorded 12 interceptions this fall; Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown only two in 177 pass attempts.

Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota for the first time against a Penn State team coming off of a much-needed bye week. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can regroup a bit and get its offense going against a Gophers defense that allows a Big Ten-high 31.7 points a game. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber takes aim at a Penn State defense missing several starters because of injury.

Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Purdue is one of those teams that always plays Ohio State tough, but the Buckeyes might have steam coming out of their ears for this one. Ohio State won't overlook Purdue again after last year's loss in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes are doubly mad after stumbling last week at Wisconsin. Henry is 2-0 as Purdue's starter, but he'll be tested at The Shoe.

Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2): Illinois has gotten through the toughest stretch of its season, but it still needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory against the Illini last year and has really struggled to get over the hump in league play. Ben Chappell and Indiana's high-powered pass attack goes up against an improved Illinois defense.

No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at No. 15 Iowa (5-1, 2-0): Two rivals with a lot of similarities meet in a showcase game at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recorded the signature win he needed against Ohio State, but he also must show he can beat elite teams away from Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema heads back to his alma mater and faces an Iowa team that begins a stretch of marquee matchups on its home field.

Bye: Michigan (5-2, 1-2)
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."

Indiana spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
10:30
AM ET
Indiana

2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 1-7 (T-10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 4, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Ben Chappell, WR Tandon Doss, WR Damarlo Belcher, RT James Brewer, RB Darius Willis, LB Tyler Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr.

Key losses

LT Rodger Saffold, DE Jammie Kirlew, LB Matt Mayberry, DE Greg Middleton, CB Ray Fisher, SS Austin Thomas, FS Nick Polk, LB Will Patterson

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Darius Willis* (607 yards)

Passing: Ben Chappell* (2,941 yards)

Receiving: Tandon Doss* (962 yards)

Tackles: Matt Mayberry (108)

Sacks: Jammie Kirlew (6.5)

Interceptions: Austin Thomas (4)

Spring answers

1. End game: Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton formed one of the Big Ten's most productive defensive end tandems during the last three seasons, and their departures raise a red flag about the defensive end position. So why isn't co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic concerned? He has tons of faith in Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush, the favorites to start at the two end spots. Bush, a 24-year-old redshirt sophomore, spent three plus seasons in the military before joining the Hoosiers. "I'm telling you, they're both going to end up being better than Jammie Kirlew," Palcic said.

2. Hoosiers switch to 3-4: Despite losing two veteran linebackers, Indiana employed more of the 3-4 alignment on defense this spring in an effort to capitalize on its athleticism. The switch allows the Hoosiers to rotate more players up front. Among the players to be featured in the 3-4 are Johnson, Bush, Damon Sims, Fred Jones and Adam Replogle, a big, athletic defender who moved from tackle to end this spring.

3. Receiving orders: Indiana entered the spring loaded at wide receiver, and the Hoosiers added more depth on the perimeter. First-team All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss turned in a stellar spring, and redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson worked his way into a rotation that also includes Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner. Junior Dre Muhammad also stepped up, as he and Wilson combined for 10 catches in the spring game.

Fall questions

1. The secondary: There were some bright spots this spring, like the play of redshirt freshman cornerback Lawrence Barnett, but the secondary is far from settled heading into the summer. Indiana loses two multi-year starters at safety as well as Ray Fisher, its top cover corner. Junior college transfer Lenyatta Kiles went through spring ball, and another juco corner, Andre Kates, arrives for preseason camp. It will be interesting to see where those two fit in and whether Jerimy Finch finally blossoms at safety.

2. Run game: The pistol formation was supposed to ignite Indiana's rushing attack, but it hasn't happened yet. And while there's little doubt the Hoosiers can light up defenses through the air, their running game is a major question mark. Darius Willis shows flashes but struggles to stay on the field because of ankle problems. Indiana needs a strong camp from Willis and continued production from other backs like Antonio Banks, who had a nice spring.

3. Offensive line: Indiana must replace arguably the Big Ten's most underrated player in left tackle Rodger Saffold, who nearly worked his way into the first round of April's NFL draft (he was the first pick of the second round). Junior Andrew McDonald is Saffold's projected successor, but other players are in the mix, including starting guard Justin Pagan. The Hoosiers also must replace veteran guard Pete Saxon, so building chemistry will be key in preseason camp.

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
9:00
AM ET
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

ROUND 1
ROUND 2
ROUND 3
ROUND 4
ROUND 5
ROUND 6
  • No Big Ten players selected
ROUND 7

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
In preparation for the start of spring practice Tuesday, Indiana has issued an updated depth chart (Page 4).

There aren't many surprises on offense, as eight starters return from 2009. Junior Andrew McDonald appears as the starting left tackle, as Indiana must replace standout Rodger Saffold. Veteran Cody Faulkner is listed as the starting right guard ahead of freshman Aaron Price.

The defensive depth chart reveals a few more clues:

  • Junior Darius Johnson and fifth-year senior Deonte Mack are listed as the first-team defensive ends. Several others will be in the mix, including Fred Jones, Eric Thomas and Terrance Thomas, who will miss spring ball with a shoulder injury. Mack boasts a good deal of experience at both line positions.
  • Senior Tyler Replogle shifts to middle linebacker as IU must replace Matt Mayberry. Junior college transfer Jeff Thomas is listed as the backup there.
  • Junior Leon Beckum and sophomore Chad Sherer are listed as the starters at the outside linebacker spots. Replogle started nine games at strongside linebacker in 2009.
  • Adrian Burks and Matt Ernest will compete for a starting cornerback spot opposite Donnell Jones. Ernest will be limited this spring as he's pitching for Indiana's baseball team.
  • Junior Chris Adkins is listed as the starter at free safety, while converted wide receiver Mitchell Evans is the starting strong safety ahead of Jerimy Finch. Evans will miss spring ball following hip surgery, so it will be interesting to see if Finch, a heralded transfer from Florida, can finally answer the bell.
  • All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss will get a shot to fill Ray Fisher's spots on returns. Doss is listed as the starter for both punt and kickoff returns.
  • Head coach Bill Lynch said today that Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel will compete for time as the team's Wildcat quarterback, a role Evans filled well in 2009.

Spring superlatives: Indiana

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
9:00
AM ET
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.
I'm man enough to admit mistakes, so here's one: I haven't given special teams nearly enough attention in the blog. As we saw throughout the 2009 regular season and bowl season, the kicking game often makes the difference in the final outcome.

Consider this a fresh start.

Let's take a look at who's back, who's gone and how the special-teams units look for each Big Ten squad in 2010. We'll start with the first six teams (by alphabetical order) and examine the other five later Tuesday.

ILLINOIS

  • Kicker: Derek Dimke and Matt Eller both return. Dimke went 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts (all beyond 30 yards) after taking over for Eller, who struggled in his second year, connecting on only 4 of 11 attempts.
  • Punter: Senior Anthony Santella returns after ranking sixth in the league in punting average (41.3 ypp).
  • Kick return: Troy Pollard is back, but Arrelious Benn and A.J. Jenkins both depart. Illinois finished ninth in the league last fall in this category (19.3 ypr).
  • Punt return: Jarred Fayson and Jack Ramsey both come back. Illinois ranked last in the league in punt returns in 2009 (4.2 ypr)
  • Quick thoughts: Illinois needs to upgrade its kicking game to have any shot at turning things around in 2010. The return game really struggled (114th nationally in punt returns, 105th in kick returns), and kickoff coverage wasn't good, either (90th). Dimke provided a nice spark late in the season, but Illinois has too much talent not to make a bigger splash in returns.
INDIANA

  • Kicker: Sophomore Nick Freeland returns after connecting on 14 of 25 attempts in 2009. Redshirt freshman Mitch Ewald and senior Nick Ford also are in the mix here.
  • Punter: Junior Chris Hagerup is back after finishing eighth in the league in punting average (40.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Ray Fisher, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (37.4 ypr), is gone. Wide receiver Tandon Doss, who led IU with 25 runbacks, returns for his junior season.
  • Punt return: Indiana loses Fisher but brings back Doss. The Hoosiers finished second in the Big Ten in punt returns last fall (10.3 ypr).
  • Quick thoughts: Fisher is a major loss in the return game, but Doss certainly has the ability to fill the void. Indiana must figure things out on field goals, as it ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage last fall (.560). The offense should be pretty dynamic in 2010, so any help the kicking game provides would be huge. Indiana covered punts well but needs to improve on kickoffs after finishing 93rd nationally (23.2 ypr).
IOWA

  • Kicker: Daniel Murray handled all of Iowa's field goals in 2009, connecting on 19 of 26 attempts. Junior Trent Mossbrucker also returns.
  • Punter: Senior Ryan Donahue will contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall after averaging 40.9 yards per punt in 2009.
  • Kick return: Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is back after finishing second in the league in kick return average (31.5 ypr). Running back Brandon Wegher and wideout Paul Chaney Jr. also are back.
  • Punt return: Senior Colin Sandeman is back, and he'll compete with Chaney and possibly others for the top job.
  • Quick thoughts: Special teams should be a major strength for the Hawkeyes in 2010. Johnson-Koulianos showed against Ohio State how dangerous he can be on kickoff returns. Donahue and Murray are two of the league's more experienced specialists. Iowa's coverage units fared well in 2009, ranking ninth nationally in kick coverage (18.4 ypr) and 21st in punt coverage (5.7 ypr).
MICHIGAN

  • Kicker: The Wolverines must replace Jason Olesnavage, who connected on 11 of 15 attempts in 2009.
  • Punter: Michigan suffers a big loss here as Ray Guy Award finalist Zoltan Mesko departs. Mesko led the Big Ten in punting average (44.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wideout Darryl Stonum is back after averaging 25.7 yards per runback with a touchdown in 2009. Michigan's No. 2 option, Martavious Odoms, also returns for 2010. The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten in kick returns last fall (23.8 ypr).
  • Punt return: Junior Hemingway is back after leading U-M in punt returns (8.6 ypr). Odoms had six punt returns last fall, though Michigan could look to its younger players here.
  • Quick thoughts: Replacing Mesko won't be easy, and Olesnavage quietly turned in a strong season, especially from long range. Incoming punter recruit Will Hagerup will step into the fire right away for the Wolverines. Kick returns should be a strength, and Michigan did a decent job on coverage last year, ranking 20th in punt coverage and third in the Big Ten in net kickoff coverage.
MICHIGAN STATE

  • Kicker: The Spartans suffer a big loss here, as first-team All-Big Ten selection Brett Swenson departs. Swenson went 19-for-22 on field goals last fall and led the Big Ten in kick scoring (101 points).
  • Punter: Senior Aaron Bates returns after finishing fifth in the league in punting average (41.6 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is back after becoming arguably the Big Ten's most dangerous return man last fall. Michigan State needs a No. 2 option here.
  • Punt return: Martin did a nice job on punt returns in 2009, averaging 7.4 yards per runback.
  • Quick thoughts: Swenson leaves a major void at kicker, as Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma compete to replace the back-to-back All-Big Ten selection. Martin really blossomed on returns during Big Ten play and could be a huge X-factor for Michigan State this fall. The Spartans' coverage teams were average in 2009. If Conroy and/or Muma can hold their own on field goals, special teams could be a real strength for Mark Dantonio's team.
MINNESOTA

  • Kicker: Eric Ellestad is back for his senior year after connecting on 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, with all the makes coming from within 40 yards.
  • Punter: Minnesota loses Blake Haudan, who had a very solid 2009 season, ranking third in the league in average (42.6 ypp). Sophomore Dan Orseske will step in this fall.
  • Kick return: Wideout Troy Stoudermire is back after once again getting a ton of action on returns, recording 43 runbacks for 1,057 yards (24.6 ypr). Duane Bennett and Hayo Carpenter are possible No. 2 options.
  • Punt return: Sophomore wideout Bryant Allen is back after averaging 12.2 yards on six runbacks last fall. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average (14.7 ypr), although the Gophers also had the fewest opportunities (9).
  • Quick thoughts: Haudan was a very solid punter in 2009, so Orseske will have some big shoes to fill. Stoudermire and Allen are fine options on returns, and Ellestad did a nice job on the kicks he should make. Minnesota really struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking 102nd nationally (24.1 ypr). If the offense starts slow again this fall, Minnesota will need to be sharp in the kicking game.
Despite another disappointing record (4-8) in 2009, Indiana finished the season with several reasons to believe things will get better soon.

Those reasons could be found in Indiana's offensive meeting room.

[+] EnlargeMitchell Evans
AJ Mast/Icon SMIMitchell Evans is one of several players who lined up on offense last season but could be on defense in 2010.
From quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to running back Darius Willis, Indiana boasted plenty of weapons to attack its opponents. And for the most part, they're all coming back in 2010, as the Hoosiers lose only three offensive starters, two of whom played on the line.

But offensive firepower rarely is the problem at Indiana. Defensive struggles have doomed the Hoosiers for the last decade, as they finished no better than 71st nationally since 2000. Despite a veteran-laden unit in 2009, Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.5 points per game), ninth against the pass (241.9 yards per game), ninth against the run (159.1 ypg) and 10th in total yards allowed (401 ypg).

The Hoosiers also lose seven starters on defense, including All-Big Ten end Jammie Kirlew, former national sacks leader Greg Middleton, standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry and three-fourths of the secondary. Even if IU lights up the scoreboard in 2010, it could have major problems stopping anyone on defense.

That's why head coach Bill Lynch plans to move several offensive players to defense, including versatile wide receiver Mitchell Evans.

Recruited as a quarterback and a safety, Evans began his college career at safety, moved to quarterback for preseason camp in 2008 and eventually switched to wide receiver. He ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, but he was perhaps best known for being the trigger man on the Wildcat offense, or, as Indiana folks called it, the Wild-Mitch. Evans took 69 snaps in the Wild-Mitch and rushed for 131 yards on 32 attempts.

This fall, Evans will be patrolling the secondary as a safety.

"He played safety for us as a true freshman," Lynch told me last week. "We're looking at some other guys that we may move to compete at corner and see how they do, knowing that they could go back to offense if it didn't work out."

Last year, wide receiver Ray Fisher moved to cornerback and became Indiana's top cover man. Fisher still contributed on kick returns, recording two runbacks for touchdowns. Evans also could maintain a role on offense, even though he'd be primarily a defensive player.

"He's the kind of kid that could [play both ways]," Lynch said. "It takes a mature guy that's a quick learner and doesn't need a lot of reps, and he's one of those kinds of guys. He's very unique that way."

Wide receiver Matt Ernest, who played safety in high school, also will switch over to defense for 2010. Indiana expects two junior college players, Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles, to fill in at cornerback.

"We don't want to count on freshmen coming in and doing it," Lynch said. "Kates and Kiles will compete right away, and then the next step is some of the guys we're going to move this spring."

Indiana lands CB Kates after all

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
12:22
PM ET
Junior college cornerback Andre Kates was the first player to commit to Indiana for the 2010 class back in May. He was the last to sign with the Hoosiers.

After reportedly wavering on his decision, Kates told Scout.com that he will play for the Hoosiers this fall. He'll provide a big boost for an Indiana secondary that loses three starters, including top cover man Ray Fisher.

Indiana had a ton of early commitments this year, and while the Hoosiers have lost a few key commits, including defensive end Jibreel Black, their overall class is decent.

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
11:43
AM ET
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:

ILLINOIS

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.

INDIANA

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.

IOWA

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.

MICHIGAN

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.

MICHIGAN STATE

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.

MINNESOTA

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.

NORTHWESTERN

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.

OHIO STATE

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.

PENN STATE

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.

PURDUE

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.

WISCONSIN

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.

Indiana signs juco cornerback Kiles

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
4:49
PM ET
Indiana loses several difference makers on defense this year, and head coach Bill Lynch wants to fill the gaps with some experienced players.

The Hoosiers today signed their second junior college defender for 2010 in Lenyatta Kiles, a 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback from Cerritos College in California. Kiles joins fellow juco transfer Jeff Thomas, who signed with Indiana earlier this month.

Kiles earned all-conference honors this season with two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 30 tackles. He'll be a candidate to fill the starting spot vacated by graduating senior Ray Fisher.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
3:00
PM ET
Loyal blog readers out there know where I'm headed with several of these picks, though I had some tough decisions in the end. It's not easy to condense so many defensive standouts into 11 slots, while there's certainly more wiggle room on the offensive side.

For your reference, my preseason All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten's official all-conference squads.

OFFENSE

QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
WR: Keith Smith, Purdue
WR: Blair White, Michigan State
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OL: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Dace Richardson, Iowa
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

DEFENSE

DL: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DL: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
CB: Donovan Warren, Michigan
CB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Tyler Sash, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
K: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Ray Fisher, Indiana
PR: Ray Small, Ohio State

All-Big Ten selections by team: Penn State (5), Iowa (5), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (3), Michigan State (3), Michigan (3), Northwestern (1), Purdue (1), Indiana (1)

There were 16 selections who also made the preseason All-Big Ten squad: Clark, Royster, Clay, Bulaga, Wisniewski, Boren, Garrett Graham, Brandon Graham, Odrick, Jones, Bowman, Angerer, Coleman, Mesko, Swenson and Small.
Indiana has issued its official injury report for Saturday's game at No. 18 Penn State (Big Ten Network, noon ET).

OUT
  • DE Darius Johnson, shoulder
  • DT Jarrod Smith, back
  • CB Ray Fisher, knee
  • S Jarrell Drane, thigh
  • OL Cody Faulkner, shoulder
QUESTIONABLE
  • CB Chris Adkins, elbow
  • DE Terrance Thomas, shoulder
  • LB Tyler Replogle, head
  • S Austin Thomas, shoulder
  • RB Darius Willis, ankle
PROBABLE
  • DT Mick Mentzer, back

The Hoosiers are very banged up in the secondary, as they'll be without their top cover man (Fisher) for the second consecutive game. Thomas is a starter who will be missed if he can't play, and safeties Nick Polk and Jerimy Finch also dealt with injuries in recent weeks. The Hoosiers need Adkins on the field against Penn State's big wide receivers. Willis, who leads Indiana with 465 rush yards and six touchdowns, has battled ankle problems throughout his career. Replogle ranks second on the team with 75 tackles. Redshirt freshman Chad Sherer is listed as Replogle's backup on this week's depth chart.

SPONSORED HEADLINES