Big Ten: Ross Homan

Everyone knows Terrelle Pryor headlined Ohio State's nationally acclaimed recruiting class in 2008.

But who can name the Buckeye's No. 2 rated player in the class, according to ESPN Recruiting? Hint 1: It wasn't Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, J.B. Shugarts or DeVier Posey. Hint 2: He's still in Columbus.

It might surprise some to know Etienne Sabino came to Ohio State with as much hype as the others, besides Pryor. ESPN Recruiting ranked him as the nation's top inside linebacker and No. 18 player overall. Sabino, who had an excellent size-speed combo coming out of Miami's Dr. Krop High School, received similar accolades from other recruiting services.

[+] EnlargeEtienne Sabino
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesEtienne Sabino, right, is looking to end his career at Ohio State the right way in 2012.
Yet unlike Pryor, Brewster and the others, Sabino didn't make an impact right away. He played mostly special teams as a freshman, recording six tackles. He had virtually the same results as a reserve in 2009 (13 games played, six tackles made).

Pegged as a starter in the spring of 2010, Sabino had high hopes entering fall camp. Linebackers coach Luke Fickell said of Sabino that spring, "He's the guy. ... This has been his best spring so far." But a great spring didn't translate into fall camp, as Andrew Sweat beat out Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot alongside Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. Sweat had been another decorated recruit in 2008, although not as heralded as Sabino.

Sabino and the coaches agreed he should redshirt the season, and while a rash of injuries midway through the season nearly forced him onto the field, he was able to sit out.

His wait for a bigger role finally ended in 2011, as he started five games and recorded 62 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and two sacks. It was a step, although not a huge one. Ask most Ohio State fans what they're excited about at linebacker entering 2012, and the name Ryan Shazier likely will be brought up before Sabino's.

"Coming in from high school, you want everything to happen right away," Sabino told ESPN.com. "You want to jump in, you want to contribute to the team, you want to be a superstar. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way. As of right now, I think my career, would I want it to be a little better at this point? Yes. But I feel like it’s getting better in the past year or so, and I'm looking to build on that.

"I just feel ready. I felt ready before, but I have such a good grasp of what we're doing and what's expected."

As one of just eight members of the 2008 class still with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Sabino is embracing a greater leadership role. He called the most recent spring practice "the most comfortable I’ve felt since I've been here." He has embraced the scheme under Fickell, the team's defensive coordinator, and his role as an outside linebacker after getting a look at the middle earlier in his career.

Ohio State's defense took a step back in 2011, and the linebacker play was below program standards. While the Buckeyes have depth questions at linebacker outside of Sabino, Shazier and Storm Klein, Sabino has high hopes for the group.

"We pride ourselves on being Linebacker U," Sabino said. "There might be a little bit of a controversy everywhere else, but we truly feel this is Linebacker University and we're trying to uphold that tradition here."

Fickell, who like many had such high hopes for Sabino coming out of spring practice in 2010, has seen the fifth-year senior embrace the urgency before his final season in Scarlet and Gray.

"He is an unbelievable example to a lot of guys because he was one of those highly, highly recruited guys," Fickell told ESPN.com. "Things didn't happen for him really fast, and he's had a true up-and-down college career from what people might have thought or he might have thought when he came out. It just doesn’t always happen for everybody really fast.

"We always try to tell them, 'It’s not about where you start, it's where you finish.' He's on that route to really be able to finish very, very well."

Sabino still has time to make Ohio State fans remember his name.
Tyler Moeller could be called the resident historian of Ohio State's defense.

No Buckeyes defender has been on the roster longer than Moeller, who enters his sixth season this fall.

[+] EnlargeTyler Moeller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireRecovered from a chest injury, linebacker Tyler Moeller is excited about Ohio State's defense.
Since his arrival in 2006, Moeller has been part of units that have ranked 12th, first, 14th, fifth and fourth nationally in yards allowed. He has seen Ohio State finish fifth, first, sixth, fifth and fifth nationally in points allowed.

On paper, the 2011 version of the Buckeyes' D might have a tough time continuing such an impressive run. The unit says goodbye to seven starters, including first-round pick Cameron Heyward and four other players selected in April's draft (Chimdi Chekwa, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and Jermale Hines). Ohio State's defense must fill gaps in all three levels.

But Moeller isn't concerned about the unit's outlook. Just the opposite.

"I'm more excited about this defense than any defense since I've been here," he said. "The guys we're bringing back, the guys that are stepping up, even the people who you don't see in the first lineup, they're great."

Moeller rattles off names like lineman John Simon, linebacker Etienne Sabino, cornerback Dominic Clarke and safety Christian Bryant.

"We have a lot of playmakers," Moeller said. "At any position, anyone can make a turnover or a big play at any time."

One of the biggest reasons for optimism is Moeller himself. He returns to action after missing the final eight games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Limited both in the weight room and on the field this spring, Moeller has been cleared for full participation. Unable to bench press for years because of the pectoral muscle, which began to tear before the 2008 season, Moeller is boosting his bench press and his body in preparation for camp next month.

"Compared to last year, I feel like I'm 10 times better," he said. "I was 200, 205 last season going in after my head injury, and I'm 219 today. I definitely got some mass back, my strength feels great, I feel almost 100 percent right now and we still have three, four more weeks until camp starts."

Although Moeller has played in only five games since 2008 -- he missed the entire 2009 season with a head injury after being assaulted in a Florida restaurant -- he showed good promise in limited action. He recorded two forced fumbles, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss last season, despite an injury that kept getting worse until it tore.

Moeller played the "star" position, a safety in Ohio State's oft-used nickel package, last season. He could see time this fall at star or as an outside linebacker, a position he played in the first part of his Buckeyes career. He recently spent time watching film with new Buckeyes linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, who "gives a whole new perspective of what to look at," Moeller said.

Moeller doesn't care where he lines up.

"They’re really the same thing," he said. "Hopefully, the coaches will put me in a position where I can go out there and be the type of player I am."

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
9:00
AM ET
The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).

NEBRASKA'S DRAFTEES

Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.
Four more Big Ten spring games are on tap Saturday, and I'll be previewing all of them throughout the day.

Let's kick things off with Ohio State, which will pit the offense against the defense in the Jesse Owens Spring Game.

The vitals: 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Ohio Stadium, tickets are $7 in advance and $15 on the day of the game, parking is free.

More details: Fans can attend Ohio State's lacrosse game at 11 a.m. ET, and the FanFest starts at 10:30 a.m. outside St. John Arena. You can find out more information here.

Three things to watch

1. The quarterbacks: Terrelle Pryor remains sidelined as he recovers from offseason foot surgery, and Ohio State must identify who will replace the three-year starter during his five-game suspension to begin the season. Fans can get a glimpse of the four candidates -- Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller -- on Saturday at The Shoe. Bauserman has backed up Pryor the past two seasons, and Guiton has a bit of game experience, but Graham has drawn favorable reviews this spring and Miller, an early enrollee, likely is the most talented of the bunch. Ohio State likely won't name a "starter" until preseason camp, but the spring game provides a showcase opportunity for all four players.

2. The running backs: While the quarterback situation understandably makes some Buckeyes fans nervous, the running back group gets them excited, and for good reason. Although senior Dan "Boom" Herron will miss the first five games, Ohio State boasts talent and depth behind him. Sophomore Jaamal Berry and freshman Rod Smith stood out in the first spring scrimmage, and Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde also are in the mix. The Buckeyes have variety at the position and likely will need multiple backs early in the season, given the lack of depth at receiver. This is a very healthy competition and it will be interesting to see how the carries are dispersed Saturday and who steps up.

3. New faces on defense: OK, not exactly new faces, but several players will be stepping into more featured roles as Ohio State must replace seven starters on defense. It's the most production the Buckeyes have lost on defense since A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and others departed after the 2005 season. Who fills in for standouts like Cameron Heyward, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines? Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino look like the leaders at linebacker. Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke have worked as the first-team cornerbacks this spring, but Bradley Roby and Dionte Allen also are in the mix. C.J. Barnett is in line to fill Hines' starting spot. Johnathan Hankins should help the situation up front. I'll be watching these players to see how they perform in a game setting.
Ohio State kicked off spring ball in 2010 looking for a third linebacker to join standouts Ross Homan and Brian Rolle.

Just days into practice, the Buckeyes appeared to have found their missing piece: Etienne Sabino.

"He's the guy," linebackers coach Luke Fickell said after a workout last April. "This has been his best spring so far."

[+] EnlargeEtienne Sabino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesOhio State is counting on Etienne Sabino to step up at linebacker and help lead the Buckeyes defense.
A quick glance at Ohio State's 2010 stats shows Sabino had no tackles, no sacks, no interceptions ... and no games played. Before the season kicked off, Sabino and the coaches agreed that redshirting would be the best option.

Andrew Sweat, who outperformed Sabino in preseason camp, moved into the third starting linebacker position. Sabino spent Saturdays on the sideline.

"I did feel good about my situation last spring, but unfortunately several things happened," Sabino told me this week. "That's behind me, and I'm just looking forward to the future."

Sabino is once again a big part of Ohio State's plan at linebacker. The Buckeyes must replace multi-year starters in Rolle and Homan, and the spotlight once again has turned to Sabino, a 6-3, 242-pound junior from North Miami Beach, Fla.

"This is what you come here for, so it's very exciting," he said. "I feel real comfortable out there, and I think everything is just clicking right now."

Although Sabino prefers to lead by example, he has taken a more active role on the practice field. He made many of the defensive calls in Saturday's scrimmage, and cornerback Travis Howard told The Columbus Dispatch that Sabino is "definitely our leader right now in the middle of the field."

"I'm just trying to do the right things at all times, and hopefully, people will follow," Sabino said.

He didn't get the chance last fall. The coaches liked their linebacker depth entering the season with two All-Big Ten candidates and the emerging Sweat.

But injuries began to erode Ohio State's defense, first in the secondary and then at linebacker, as Homan hurt his foot against Wisconsin and would miss several weeks. Suddenly, the prospect of Sabino taking the field seemed very real.

The worst part: He hoped he wouldn't have to.

"If anybody else was to go down, I was going to have to come out of my redshirt year," he said. "We were about eight games into the season. By that point, I was just hoping everybody would stay healthy so I wouldn't have to play. But if I was called on, I would have been ready.

"Luckily, everybody was able to stay healthy."

Along with Sweat, Sabino will anchor the linebacker group this season, and he has spent the spring fine-tuning his game, trying to keep his pads lower and employ better technique. Ohio State says goodbye to seven defensive starters, the most production lost since after the 2005 season.

It's critical for players like Sabino, who has been around a while but lacks game experience, to fill the gaps.

"Is it going to be a challenge? Yes," Sabino said. "But I think we’re up for it. I think we're going to surprise a couple people."
There's little doubt that the first Big Ten player drafted in April will be a defensive lineman.

(Not including Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who played his entire career in the Big 12.)

Who will hear his name called first? Wisconsin's J.J. Watt? Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan? Illinois' Corey Liuget? Iowa's Adrian Clayborn? Ohio State's Cameron Heyward?

I'll have more on the hopefuls as we get closer to draft night, but colleagues Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are always dissecting the draft and have come out with their latest three-round mock selections.

Here's McShay's mock draft and where the Big Ten players fall:

First round
  • Illinois DT Corey Liuget, No. 14 overall to St. Louis
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, No. 16 overall to Jacksonville
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, No. 17 overall to New England
  • Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi, No. 21 overall to Kansas City
  • Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, No. 24 overall to New Orleans
  • Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, No. 32 overall to Green Bay
Second round
Third round

Here's a look at Kiper's mock draft and where the Big Ten prospects fall:

First round
  • Watt, No. 10 overall to Washington
  • Liuget, No. 14 overall to St. Louis
  • Kerrigan, No. 20 overall to Tampa Bay
  • Carimi, No. 23 overall to Philadelphia
  • Clayborn, No. 27 overall to Atlanta
  • Heyward, No. 30 overall to New York Jets
Second round
  • Wilson, No. 34 overall to Buffalo
  • Leshoure, No. 53 overall to Indianapolis
  • Doss, No. 64 overall to Green Bay
Third round
  • Ballard, No. 67 overall to Denver
  • Kendricks, No. 68 overall to Buffalo
  • Moffitt, No. 77 overall to Tennessee
  • Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa, No. 81 overall to Oakland
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, No. 85 overall to Philadelphia
  • Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski, No. 93 to Chicago

Some interesting stuff here. Both McShay and Kiper think the Colts' Big Ten pipeline will continue, and both also like Buffalo to draft Big Ten players. Kiper includes three players McShay leaves out -- Chekwa, Homan and Wisniewski -- while McShay includes one player (Brewer) who Kiper leaves out. It also stands out how teams like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin have more high-level draft prospects this year than Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska.

Amukamara is the only Nebraska player included in both mock drafts. Both McShay and Kiper have Amukamara going 13th overall to Detroit, where he'll reunite with former Huskers' teammate Ndamukong Suh.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
5:30
PM ET
Reminder: I'm still looking for your Top 25 player lists from 2010 as well as a short rationale (150 words or less). Send them here.

Dave from Allentown, Pa., writes: If the Big Ten goes with a nine game schedule, I am ok with the division membership and mandatory cross over game. At a minimum, we would be playing the schools in the other division 6 out of 10 times (pre 2011 ? it was 75% of the time).If the Big Ten uses an 8 game schedule and a mandatory cross over game, we will be playing the other division teams 4 out of 10 times. As a Penn State fan, games such as PSU vs. Iowa, PSU vs. Michigan will be scheduled less than half the time. If we are in one conference shouldn?t we play each team at home at least once in an undergraduate student?s career?From my perspective, the division alignment and cross-over game with an 8 game schedule will have a negative impact on the conference. Should the Big Ten revisit the divisions and mandatory cross-over games if they don?t go with a 9 game schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Dave. During the expansion process, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany talked extensively about maintaining the intimacy of a league. He doesn't want a situation like Big East basketball where some teams don't play each other every year. Delany wants to go to a nine-game conference schedule, and I think we'll see one in the next five years. It needs to be flushed out because of future scheduling, but I'd be surprised if we don't see nine league games eventually. Now if it doesn't happen, the league could revisit the crossover games, but I can't see the divisions going anywhere.


Aaron from Milwaukee writes: Adam. I seldom diagree with any of your blog posts. However, after reading the big ten post season rankings and the people listed as "just missed the cut" I believe you left out Tyler Sash of Iowa. I understand that there are many great players in the big ten, but come on man. All this guy did was make plays. Please explain to me your reasoning.

Andrew from SEC country writes: Hey Adam, I read blog everyday to keep up with Big Ten news (it's hard to get updates on teams that aren't in the SEC!). Referring to your player rankings, I think you really missed 1 player. Where is Tyler Sash? I'm not just saying this because I am a Hawkeye fan, but I'm genuinely wondering why he is not on the list? He made an impact on many game, even though he did not have the stats he did the past 2 years. Can you give so reasons you did not include him. Other than that, I think you nailed it!

Adam Rittenberg: Sash had a nice season and will go on to have a good NFL career. I just felt other Big Ten standouts impacted games more consistently than he did in 2010. Sash made a huge impact against Michigan State and several other teams, but the consistent playmaking ability we saw from him in 2009 wasn't as pronounced last fall. Again, not saying he had a bad year by any means, but other players had better seasons. You could say "all this guy did was make plays" in 2009, but not in 2010.


Adam S. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, I respect what you do with the player rankings. I know I could not be as objective as you are. But I try to be, and thinking about Ohio State's season, I don't understand how Ross Homan did not even make honorable mention. I think one could argue he was the best player on a very good defense for the past two seasons. As far as NFL potential, I have seen him ranked in the top 5 OLB prospects in some "expert" opinions. I understand if you just had to limit the Ohio State players on the list because no one likes us and they would get angry, but I would rather he be included over Mike Adams.

Adam Rittenberg: Homan was an interesting case because he has been so consistent throughout a very good Buckeyes career. He missed some time with injury this past season but still put up some decent numbers (72 tackles, 2 forced fumbles). I'll go ahead and say that was a miss on my part and Homan should have been at least among the players who barely missed the cut. I definitely didn't limit players from any team, and I wouldn't discount what Adams did at left tackle.


David from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, could you talk more about Northwestern's kicking situation for the upcoming season? Demos's departure always seems to be mentioned in passing, but I think it leaves a huge hole that NU needs to fill. Northwestern isn't a big school, so leaving the spot open for a walk-on doesn't seem like an option. What does the depth chart look like right now? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: David, I totally agree that the kicker situation is critical for Northwestern, given the number of Wildcats games where the kicking game has played a huge role. Sophomore Jeff Budzien and junior Steve Flaherty are the top two options right now in spring practice. Budzien is a scholarship player who came to Northwestern with a decent amount of buzz as a recruit. Flaherty is a walk-on best known for being on the field when Northwestern tried a fake field goal to win the 2010 Outback Bowl against Auburn. Neither guy has much experience, so it's a pretty wide-open race there.


Blackshirt Backer from Minneapolis writes: I disagree about D-Line as Nebraska's strongest position... Linebackers. And it's not close. I'd bet good money that Nebraska's trio of Lavonte David, Will Compton, and Sean Fisher will be the best linebacking group in the country next season. The D-Line might struggle as they are a little undersized for the Big Ten and secondary is breaking in a few too many starters, but Nebraska will have a standard Bo Pelini Blackshirt defense because of the linebackers.

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points, Blackshirt, but you can't say it's linebackers in a runaway. David is an All-America candidate who will be the Big Ten's top returning linebacker in 2011, but Compton had only 15 tackles in nine games last fall and Fisher missed all of last season with a broken leg. While Fisher showed a lot of good things in 2009 as a redshirt freshman, we'll have to see how he responds from the time off. I'm not saying Nebraska's linebackers won't be a major strength, but the safer bet is a defensive line that returns three starters. It will be interesting to see how many linebackers Nebraska plays this coming season and how David & Co. adjust to facing offenses built around the power game.


Chris from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam,I have a hypothetical situation for you. Say Ohio State manages to weather the storm and win the Big Ten next year. It would easily be Tressel's best coaching job and deserving of the Coach of the Year award but would the Big Ten be willing to give him an award right after he got caught for cheating? What would they do in that situation?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, since Big Ten media members vote on this award, I'd be pretty shocked if it went to Tressel after what we've learned in the last few weeks. If Ohio State were to win the Big Ten title, Tressel would get credit, but so would his assistants, who ran the game operations on Saturdays. The interesting thing is that before Tressel's involvement came to light, the situation set up well for him to finally win Coach of the Year, guiding Ohio State to a title despite the absence of the players. But since Tressel is joining his players for the suspension -- and he could face more penalties from the NCAA -- I just can't see him winning this award.


Eric from Brighton, Mass., writes: Hey Adam-I think you did a good job overall on the postseason rankings, but I have a question on one omission: Why was Derek Moye not included in your top 35 (including the first 10 out)?His stats overall were fairly comparable to #9 Sanzenbacher, and he did it with much worse quarterbacking (a true freshman and a walk-on). If your list was designed to take importance to the team into account, Moye has an even stronger case. He basically was the only consistent part of our passing offense.I'm not trying to come across as a whiny Penn State fan (I know you get a lot of those), I'm more just curious for your rationale.Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Adam Rittenberg: You're right, Eric. Moye has a strong case, and he's certainly a guy who gained some consideration for the rankings. He didn't consistently impact games as much as Sanzenbacher, but he wasn't far off. I was comfortable with Sanzenbacher and Indiana's Tandon Doss as my top two receivers, but Moye certainly is in that second group with Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert and Iowa's Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. I'd expect to see his name in the preseason player rankings.

Big Ten NFL combine wrap-up

March, 2, 2011
3/02/11
10:30
AM ET
The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs going through drills.

Let's check out the Big Ten's top performers:

CORNERBACKS
  • Ohio State's Chimdi Chekwa tied for third in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds; Nebraska's Prince Amukamara tied for fifth at 4.43 seconds;
  • Ohio State's Jermale Hines (listed as a cornerback for the combine) tied for 10th in bench-press reps with 19
  • Amukamara tied for fifth in the vertical jump at 38 inches
  • Amukamara tied for second in the broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches; Chekwa tied for sixth at 10 feet, 6 inches
  • Nebraska's Eric Hagg finished 10th in the 3-cone drill at 6.73 seconds
SAFETIES
  • Iowa's Tyler Sash tied for fourth in the 40-yard dash at 4.62 seconds
  • Sash tied for fifth in the vertical jump at 33 inches
  • Sash tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 6.9 seconds

Now that the combine is finished, let's see which Big Ten players ranked in overall top performance.

BIG TEN TOP COMBINE PERFORMANCES (all positions)
  • Chekwa tied for eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds; Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. finished 13th at 4.42 seconds; Amukamara finished 14th at 4.43 seconds
  • Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan tied for 10th with 32; Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan tied for 12th with 31
  • Indiana receiver Terrance Turner tied for fifth in vertical jump at 41 inches
  • Amukamara and Turner tied for ninth in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
  • Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher finished third in the 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished sixth in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Helu tied for 11th at 4.01 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished fourth in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Helu tied for ninth at 11.07 seconds
The NFL scouting combine wraps up on Tuesday with defensive backs, but more test results are in for defensive linemen and linebackers.

Defensive line once again is the Big Ten's highest-rated group entering the 2011 draft, as up to six players -- Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward -- could be selected in the first round.

Let's check out the top combine performers from both groups:

Defensive linemen
  • Kerrigan tied for seventh in the 40-yard dash at 4.71 seconds; Ballard finished 12th at 4.8 seconds; Clayborn finished 13th at 4.83 seconds; Watt finished 14th at 4.84 seconds
  • Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
  • Watt finished second in vertical jump at 37 inches; Kerrigan tied for ninth at 33.5 inches; Clayborn finished 11th at 33 inches; Ballard finished 14th at 31.5 inches
  • Kerrigan finished second in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Watt finished third at 10 feet
  • Watt tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 6.88 seconds; Kerrigan finished 15th at 7.18 seconds
  • Clayborn finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.13 seconds; Watt finished second at 4.21 seconds
Linebackers
  • Ohio State's Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
  • Wilson finished first in the 40-yard dash at 4.49 seconds; Rolle finished third at 4.56 seconds; Homan finished seventh at 4.68 seconds
  • Wilson tied for sixth in the vertical jump at 36 inches; Homan finished eighth at 35.5 inches; Rolle finished 12th at 33 inches
  • Wilson finished third in the broad jump at 10 feet, 4 inches; Michigan State's Greg Jones finished ninth at 9 feet, 9 inches; Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter tied for 10th at 9 feet, 8 inches; Michigan's Jonas Mouton and Rolle tied for 12th at 9 feet, 7 inches
  • Rolle tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.89 seconds; Wilson finished ninth at 7.04 seconds; Mouton finished 11th at 7.08 seconds; Homan finished 15th at 7.21 seconds
  • Rolle finished eighth at 4.26 seconds; Jones finished ninth at 4.27 seconds; Wilson tied for 10th at 4.28 seconds; Homan and Mouton tied for 14th at 4.34 seconds
  • Homan tied for ninth in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.76 seconds; Jones tied for 13th at 11.84 seconds

The defensive backs go through full testing Tuesday, but they did the bench-press Monday. Ohio State's Jermale Hines tied for 10th in bench-press reps among cornerbacks with 19 (Hines played safety at Ohio State but isn't classified as one for the combine).

Big Ten weekend combine recap

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
9:00
AM ET
All eyes were on Indianapolis this weekend as dozens of NFL prospects, including a large contingent from the Big Ten, went through the scouting combine.

My ESPN colleagues are all over the happenings in Naptown, so check out the combine blog and the latest Scouts Inc. combine notebook.

There's more testing and timing Monday with the defensive linemen and linebackers, but some results are in, so let's take a look. I'm breaking these down into top performers by position. I'll put together an overall top performers post once the combine is finished.

Wide receivers

  • Nebraska's Niles Paul finished second in bench-press reps (225 pounds) with 24
  • Paul tied for 14th in the 40-yard dash at 4.51 seconds
  • Indiana's Terrance Turner tied for second in vertical jump at 41 inches
  • Turner finished seventh in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
  • Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher finished second in 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds; Turner tied for 14th at 6.77 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished third in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Paul finished 12th at 4.14 seconds; Turner finished tied for 13th at 4.15 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished second in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Turner tied for ninth at 11.21 seconds
Quarterbacks
  • Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien tied for 13th in the 40-yard dash at 4.93 seconds
  • Stanzi finished ninth in the vertical jump at 32.5 inches; Tolzien tied for 12th at 29.5 inches
  • Tolzien tied for seventh in the broad jump at 9 feet, 8 inches; Stanzi finished 12th at 9 feet, 2 inches
  • Tolzien tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.84 seconds; Stanzi finished 12th at 6.95 seconds
Running backs
  • Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. finished sixth in the 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds; Ohio State's Brandon Saine finished seventh at 4.43 seconds;
  • Illinois' Mikel Leshoure tied for third in the vertical jump at 38 inches; Helu tied for eighth at 36.5 inches
  • Leshoure tied for fourth in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Helu finished 10th at 9 feet, 11 inches
  • Helu finished second in the 3-cone drill at 6.67 seconds; Leshoure finished sixth at 6.82 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.01 seconds; Penn State's Evan Royster tied for eighth at 4.18 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.07 seconds
Tight ends
  • Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks finished eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds; Michigan State's Charlie Gantt finished 11th at 4.93 seconds; Iowa's Allen Reisner finished 12th at 4.95 seconds
  • Gantt tied for first in bench-press reps with 27; Kendricks tied for third with 25
  • Kendricks finished sixth in vertical jump at 34.5 inches; Gantt finished 13th at 30.5 inches
  • Kendricks finished second in broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Gantt finished ninth at 9 feet, 4 inches; Reisner tied for 12th at 9 feet
  • Kendricks finished sixth in the 3-cone drill at 6.94 seconds; Gantt finished 11th at 7.15 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for second in 20-yard shuttle at 4.15 seconds; Gantt tied for eighth at 4.4 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for sixth in 60-yard shuttle at 11.9 seconds; Gantt and Reisner tied for 11th at 12.12 seconds
Defensive linemen
  • Wisconsin's J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
Linebackers
  • Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
Offensive linemen
  • Iowa's Julian Vandervelde tied for 10th in the 40-yard dash at 5.21 seconds; Indiana's James Brewer and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi tied for 14th at 5.27 seconds
  • Michigan's Stephen Schilling and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski tied for sixth in bench-press reps with 30; Carimi tied for ninth with 29; Ohio State's Justin Boren tied for 14th with 28
  • Carimi finished fifth in vertical jump at 31.5 inches; Vandervelde tied for sixth at 31 inches; Wisconsin's John Moffitt tied for eighth at 30.5 inches
  • Carimi finished fifth in broad jump at 9 feet, 1 inch; Vandervelde finished tied for 13th at 8 feet, 8 inches
  • Vandervelde finished seventh in 3-cone drill at 7.46 seconds; Wisniewski finished eighth at 7.51 seconds; Boren finished 11th at 7.57 seconds
  • Moffitt finished sixth in 20-yard shuttle at 4.53 seconds; Vandervelde tied for seventh at 4.59 seconds; Schilling tied for ninth at 4.62 seconds;
Spring practice is creeping closer, and Purdue will hit the field in less than two weeks (March 1 to be exact) for the first of its 15 workouts.

Here's a snapshot of what to expect in the Leaders Division this spring.

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • New look at linebacker: Illinois loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Martez Wilson as well as playmaker Nate Bussey. They combined for 195 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Illini need a middle linebacker and could turn to productive senior Ian Thomas or promising sophomore Jonathan Brown. Illinois also is replacing linebackers coach Dan Disch.
  • Ford tough: All-American running back Mikel Leshoure departs, turning the spotlight to Jason Ford. At 235 pounds, Ford is a true power back who will give the Illinois offense a slightly different look in 2011. The Illini also want to build depth at running back with players like Troy Pollard.
  • Replacing Liuget: Illinois begins the difficult task of replacing the Big Ten's most disruptive interior defensive lineman in Corey Liuget, a likely first-round draft pick in April. Akeem Spence had a very solid redshirt freshman season and will take on a larger role, but Illinois must build around him with Glenn Foster and others. This is a major priority for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and line coach Keith Gilmore this spring.
INDIANA

Start of spring practice: March 8
Spring game: April 16
End of spring practice: April 19

What to watch:
  • Culture change: Kevin Wilson has talked extensively about changing the culture around the Indiana program, and the process begins in full force this spring. Players will have to adjust to the demands of Wilson and his staff, which still isn't in place but soon will be. There will be plenty of teaching and learning, as players must absorb Wilson's offense and a 4-3 defensive scheme (IU operated out of the 3-4 for part of last season).
  • Quarterback competition: Three-year starter Ben Chappell departs, and there's no clear-cut successor entering spring practice. Both Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker played sparingly in five games last season, and they bring different skills to the table. It'll be interesting to see who emerges under center this spring before acclaimed recruit Tre Roberson arrives for fall camp.
  • Identify defensive contributors: Indiana can't expect to get over the hump until it upgrades the defense, and co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory begin a crucial evaluation process this spring. The Hoosiers need to build depth and identify Big Ten-ready players throughout the defense, particularly in the back seven after losing standout linebacker Tyler Replogle and others.
OHIO STATE

Start of spring practice: March 31
Spring game: April 23
  • Suspension preparation: Ohio State knows it will be without four offensive starters and a key defensive reserve for the first chunk of the 2011 season. This spring, the Buckeyes start the process of evaluating who will step in, especially at the quarterback spot for Terrelle Pryor. Joe Bauserman holds an edge in experience (though little has come in games), and he'll compete with Kenny Guiton and heralded incoming freshman Braxton Miller.
  • Receiving orders for Drayton: Stan Drayton left Florida for Ohio State primarily to expand his coaching repertoire and oversee a new position group. The career running backs coach will work with a mostly unproven group of Ohio State wide receivers this spring. Ohio State must replace All-Big Ten standout Dane Sanzenbacher, and DeVier Posey is among those suspended for the first part of the season. Says Drayton of his receivers, "Personnel wise, they're in competition with the whole offensive unit."
  • Up-the-middle defensive replacements: Excuse the baseball reference, but Ohio State loses several standout players in the core of its defense: linemen Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and safety Jermale Hines. Although the Buckeyes always find ways to reload on defense, it will be interesting to see who emerges this spring, especially at linebacker.
PENN STATE

Start of spring practice: March 18
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks, especially Rob Bolden: Penn State's quarterback competition should be wide open this spring, and it might be the most fascinating race in the Big Ten. You've got sophomore Rob Bolden, who asked for his release after the Gator Bowl but didn't get it from Joe Paterno, and has returned to compete for a job he thought he never should have lost. Junior Matt McGloin tries to redeem himself after the bowl disaster, and Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome also are in the mix.
  • Line play on both sides: The Lions boast enough at the skill positions on both sides of the ball to be a much improved team in 2011. But they have to get better and more consistent on both lines. The offensive line must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski and find the form it displayed in 2008. The defensive line tries to regain its swagger after backsliding in 2010, and identify a pass-rushing threat or two.
  • Kicking it: Collin Wagner was Penn State's top offensive weapon for much of the 2010 season, but the standout kicker departs the program, leaving a void. Punter Anthony Fera likely will handle the bulk of the kicking duties this spring until incoming freshman Sam Ficken arrives.
PURDUE

Start of spring practice: March 2
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Replacing Superman: Purdue returns nine defensive starters, but the Boilers lose Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan. The Boilers were the league's top pass-rushing team in 2010, but Kerrigan's production and presence played huge roles in the overall sacks and tackles for loss totals. The entire defensive line took a step forward last fall, and will need to do so again without No. 94.
  • The quarterbacks: Robert Marve is still recovering from his second ACL tear, so Rob Henry, Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson will be in the spotlight this spring. Henry showed promise when healthy in 2010, and TerBush had a strong spring a year ago before being ruled academically ineligible for the season. The quarterback race won't be decided until the summer, but all the candidates can help themselves in spring ball.
  • The offensive identity: A wave of injuries forced Purdue to overhaul its plan on offense in 2010. Although several key players will be out or limited this spring, the Boilers can start to reshape their plan on offense. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Marve and the others return at full strength, but he doesn't want to take anything for granted. This is a huge spring for players a notch or two down the depth chart to get noticed.
WISCONSIN

Start of spring practice: March 22
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Finding Tolzien's successor: After a one-year respite, Wisconsin's annual spring quarterback competition resumes. Sort of. Jon Budmayr will have every opportunity to establish himself as the Badgers' top option before Curt Phillips (knee) returns to full strength. Budmayr turned heads with his performance two springs ago, but played sparingly last season behind Scott Tolzien.
  • New leadership on defense: Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash are familiar faces who step into new roles this spring. Partridge and Ash were promoted to co-defensive coordinators following Dave Doeren's departure, and they'll get their first opportunity to shape the defensive vision this spring.
  • Reloading on the lines: Wisconsin loses three All-American linemen from 2010: Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on the offensive side, and J.J. Watt at defensive end. Although the Badgers must replace more bodies on the offensive front, they boast excellent depth there and should be able to fill the gaps. Watt leaves a bigger void, and Wisconsin needs strong springs from players like Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.

Big Ten Senior Bowl wrap-up

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
10:28
AM ET
The Big Ten all-stars at the Senior Bowl didn't come away with a win Saturday -- the South squad beat the North 24-10 -- but several players helped their stock for the 2011 NFL draft.

Let's take a quick look back at the game.

STATISTICS
  • Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi completed 7 of 12 passes 87 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher, a late addition to the North roster, led the squad with five receptions for 62 yards
  • Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks added three receptions for 39 yards
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones recorded seven tackles (4 solo)
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan had a big day with three tackles for loss, a sack and five total tackles
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan recorded three tackles
  • Iowa DE Christian Ballard had two tackles
  • The North squad featured three Big Ten offensive linemen in starting lineup: Michigan G Stephen Schilling, Wisconsin C John Moffitt and Indiana T James Brewer. Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi missed the game after sustaining an ankle injury in Thursday's practice.

Here's what the Scouts Inc. crew had to say about the Big Ten players:

Ricky Stanzi: "He has made three great throws on a fourth-quarter drive. The first throw, to WR Vincent Brown, had great timing and accuracy. His second throw was drilled into a tight window to TE Lance Kendricks. And his third throw had excellent timing and was a very catchable ball on a seam route by Brown. He completed six of his first nine throws."

Ryan Kerrigan: "An instinctive and tough player. He shows a quick first step and a wide variety of pass rushing moves. He may not be an explosive or gifted athlete, but he sets up blockers well and brings it play in and play out. He's had a good week and is making an impact in this game."

Greg Jones: "Jones' missed tackle on Tulsa RB Charles Clay showed his limitations and the concerns we have about him in the open field. He needs to do a better job of breaking down and taking better angles. He has not had a great week."

Carimi and Kerrigan both made the list of top five players at the Senior Bowl, while both Jones and Kendricks were mentioned among those who didn't improve their draft stock during the week.
You can add one more name to the Big Ten contingent at this week's Senior Bowl.

Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010, is a late addition to the North team roster. Sanzenbacher joins Buckeyes teammate Ross Homan in Mobile, Ala., and gives the Big Ten 11 participants in the game. The Big Ten group would be larger, but Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn has opted out of the game and two Ohio State players -- cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward -- are injured.

I'm a little surprised Sanzenbacher didn't make all-star rosters after an outstanding senior season for the Buckeyes. He led the Big Ten in both receiving yards (948) and touchdown catches (11).
"I want to do something they're going to remember," Sanzenbacher told The Columbus Dispatch.

Although he's undersized, Sanzenbacher boasts great hands, good speed and a fearless approach to catching the ball that should serve him well at the next level.

Big Ten to send 12 to Senior Bowl

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
1:30
PM ET
The Big Ten will once again be decently represented in the nation's premier all-star game for NFL hopefuls.

Twelve players from Big Ten teams will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 29 in Mobile, Ala. Wisconsin and Iowa both are sending three players to the game, while five other Big Ten teams will be represented.

The participants are:
  • Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard
  • Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  • Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi
  • Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi
  • Wisconsin guard John Moffitt
  • Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks
  • Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones
  • Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker
  • Indiana offensive tackle James Brewer
  • Michigan guard Stephen Schilling
  • Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan
  • Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan

It's interesting to see some players included who might have flown under the radar during the season but project well to the NFL. Ballard and Brewer certainly fit into this category.

Ohio State and Michigan both have only one representative, although Buckeyes cornerback Chimdi Chekwa would have made the roster if he didn't suffer a broken wrist in the Sugar Bowl.

The group includes three potential first-round picks in Kerrigan, Carimi and Clayborn.

Should be fun to see how they all perform.
NEW ORLEANS -- Solomon Thomas' bowl-clinching interception marked a fitting end to the season for Ohio State's defense.

Few units in the Big Ten endured more challenges with personnel than the Buckeyes' defense, and each time, someone answered the bell.

Ohio State remained a top-10 pass defense despite losing several players, including nickel safety Tyler Moeller, to season ending-injuries. The Buckeyes didn't miss a step after losing senior linebacker Ross Homan to a foot injury for several weeks in the middle of the season.

More challenges arrived Tuesday night against Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

All-Big Ten cornerback Chimdi Chekwa left the field late in the first quarter with a serious elbow injury sustained after a gorgeous pass breakup. Ohio State also lost No. 3 cornerback Travis Howard (cramps) and All-Big Ten safety Jermale Hines (toe) for stretches. Freshman defensive back Christian Bryant saw his first action since Oct. 16, while No. 5 cornerback Dominic Clarke recorded three tackles in the win.

And then there was Thomas, a reserve in Ohio State's defensive line rotation who recorded his first interception at any level to seal the 31-26 victory.

"We had a ton of guys out of there," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It was nice to get the win and some of those young guys had to play. Dominic Clarke had to play. It was good."

Safety Orhian Johnson told me Sunday that Ohio State lives by a simply philosophy on defense: When you're in the game, you're considered a starter.

The Buckeyes' reserves performed like starters all season, and the team's defensive depth is quite possibly the biggest reason it won 12 games.

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