Big Ten: Ryan Russell
By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or forced to listen to William Hung songs until their ears exploded. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Purdue is our penultimate team in the series.
Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Sr.
The Boilers already will be without a standout defensive tackle in Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft (first Big Ten player selected). They can ill afford to lose another space-eater in the interior defensive line. Gaston is a three-year starter who recorded two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2012. Although Gaston hasn't put up All-Big Ten-type numbers, he has been consistently productive in his career and could take things to the next level as a senior leader. Gaston missed most of spring practice following thumb surgery but made an impact after returning for the final few workouts. "There’s weight classes in boxing for a reason," Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said, referring to Gaston. "When big guys move around, things happen. They create space and they alter the line of scrimmage." Hudson thinks Gaston, with a strong summer, could flourish at the 3-technique for Purdue this fall. He's critical to improving Purdue's run defense and overall consistency and would be missed if he goes down.
Akeem Hunt, RB, Jr.
There are several other possibilities here -- Ryan Russell, Dolapo Macarthy, Robert Kugler -- but it's hard to ignore what Hunt did this spring at a position where Purdue currently has very little depth. Hunt capitalized on the chance to establish himself as the Boilers' No. 1 back and more than just a speed guy. Although Purdue likely needs another back or two to emerge and could rely on incoming freshmen like Keyante Green, the coaches can enter camp knowing they have a good option with some experience and knowledge of John Shoop's offense. The passing game is a significant question mark as Purdue remains unsettled at quarterback and needs several receivers to step up. The Boilers can help their unproven signal-caller with a threat in the run game, and Hunt provides it. His contributions on special teams as arguably the Big Ten's fastest player also can't be overlooked.
They get a reminder every time they turn on the television every Sunday during the NFL season. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller built his program largely on recruiting the Lone Star State, and the centerpiece of Tiller's efforts plays quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
"We knew from what Coach Tiller was able to do here at Purdue," Parker, Purdue's recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, recently told ESPN.com. "The players that came out of [Texas], the first one obviously being You Know Who in Mr. [Drew] Brees. Those guys did a good job in Texas."
AP Photo/J.D. PooleyNew Purdue coach Darrell Hazell and his staff will be making recruiting talent out of Texas a priority.
Those numbers could increase under the new staff. Although head coach Darrell Hazell and several of his assistants have ties to the East Coast and, of course, to Ohio, Texas will be a priority for Purdue's recruiting in the coming years. Parker had two assistants each spend a week recruiting in Texas during the post-spring evaluation period.
Purdue's lone commitment so far for the 2014 -- wide receiver Trae Hart -- hails from Texas. The Boilers are pursuing other Texas prospects like quarterback David Blough, a Carrolton native recently selected for the Elite 11 finals. Blough learned he had made the finals when Brees tweeted about it.
"Texas is another state that has great football, great tradition, those kids grow up playing, they're well-coached" Parker said. "So we wanted to get back and put our feet in the ground and obviously get some kids from that area."
Purdue's previous coaching staff didn't hide its preference for Florida recruits, and there are 19 Floridians on the current roster and five in the incoming recruiting class. Although the team's recruiting map will spread out a little more under Hazell and his assistants, they aren't going to neglect the Sunshine State.
Three of Hazell's assistants -- offensive line coach Jim Bridge, defensive line coach Rubin Carter and secondary coach Jon Heacock -- all have recruited Florida for years and will continue to do so.
"We've got Florida still covered, there's no question about it," Parker said. "With the players we have currently, who are all pretty good players, we want to keep that tradition alive, and the only way you do that is continue to sign kids from that area."
But there's another position where Purdue has put together a similar track record of excellence: defensive end. The Boilers' D-end tradition isn't as well-known as its quarterback heritage, but consider the names who have come through the program in the past two decades: Roosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips, Ray Edwards, Rob Ninkovich, Cliff Avril, Anthony Spencer and Ryan Kerrigan, the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American.
All nine players went on to the NFL, and several like Kerrigan and Spencer are in starring roles. Purdue has called itself the Cradle of Quarterbacks for years. It now also uses the label Den of Defensive Ends.
Boilers junior defensive end Ryan Russell needs no education on the subject.
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaRyan Russell hopes to be next in the long line of disruptive defensive linemen developed at Purdue.
"It's a big tradition, and I'm hoping definitely to uphold it."
After losing defensive tackle Kawann Short, a second-round pick in last month's NFL draft, Purdue is looking for the next star to emerge along a line that underperformed in 2012. The Boilers finished 78th nationally in both rush yards allowed (182.3 YPG) and sacks recorded (1.69 per game).
Along with veteran defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Russell is viewed as a potential major contributor up front this fall. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior will enter his third season as a starter and his first under Purdue's new coaching staff. After recording 33 tackles and making 11 starts as a redshirt freshman in 2011, Russell had 37 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and four sacks, last season.
"He’s got a power-to-speed ratio that's good for him to be a factor," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. "He can play the run, but he's got that end build and speed where he can also affect the passer.
"He's got that prototype look and ability."
Russell might look the part, but like many of his teammates, he needs to get stronger. His speed and lower-body strength are in good shape, and he has fully recovered from knee and ankle injuries, but his upper body "isn’t really where I would like it to be."
After practicing alongside Kerrigan as a true freshman in 2010, Russell understands the gains he needs to make.
"Ryan Kerrigan was one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said, "so when that's the standard with the Big Ten, Purdue defensive linemen and defensive ends, we definitely and myself personally have a long way to go."
Kerrigan led the country in tackles for loss (26) in 2010, finished third in sacks (12.5) and tied for second in forced fumbles (5). Russell observed firsthand the relentless motor that drove the Boilers' star.
When one pass-rush move didn't work, Kerrigan would simply move to the next and the next until the whistle blew.
"Pass-rushing a lot of the time is a mentality, going 110 percent, outworking somebody all the time, every play," Russell said. "[Defensive line coach Rubin Carter] always says, 'If you're not going to make the play, they will.' So just always having that mentality that you’re going to get there is a big thing.
"Your get-off and your motor is the engine that runs the train."
Russell is taking well to the new staff, the faster practice pace and the new defensive scheme under Hudson. He has worked extensively with Carter, a former longtime NFL assistant, on using his hands more effectively to fend off offensive linemen.
Hudson, who last season had a front-row seat for one of the nation's best defensive lines as a Florida State defensive assistant, shapes his system around Russell and the other down linemen.
"We will do things to turn him loose," Hudson said. "We cater to the D-line. We're going to make sure they know what’s going on, there's no confusion and they're happy. And when the ball's snapped, we say, 'Take off, break off.'
"That's what we want them to do."
Russell continues to follow Kerrigan with the Washington Redskins, and he also studies the other Purdue greats he has met like Avril (Seattle Seahawks), Ninkovich (New England Patriots) and Spencer (Dallas Cowboys).
"You have a common ground," Russell said. "They started the same place you started, and what they're doing is the goal, so you’re trying to see what they're doing to get to the goal you all share."
2. The new coaches are blending in well. The Big Ten's two newcomers, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell, took proactive steps to establish themselves with their new programs. Andersen put his imprint on practices with a steady stream of music and sprinkled in team-building activities, but he also showed respect for Wisconsin's track record of success and a large and decorated senior class. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team," star linebacker Chris Borland said. The same can be said of Hazell, who got the Boilers' attention this winter with 6 a.m. workouts and kept the focus strong during crisp, efficient practices this spring. "Players who maybe thought they'd plateaued are learning and still developing," Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell said.
3. Ohio State and Nebraska have remarkably similar profiles. The Buckeyes and Huskers will be popular picks to meet in the Big Ten championship game, and the teams are somewhat mirror images coming out of the spring. They have dynamic offenses capable of piling up points and yards in bunches. They have dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. They have multiple weapons at running back and some improving receivers. And they have major questions with the defensive front seven. Ohio State must replace all four starting defensive linemen from 2012, and Nebraska is on the lookout for linebackers. Filling gaps on defense will undoubtedly be the focus for both teams when preseason camp rolls around.
We're taking a page from our friends at the ACC blog and examining whether certain Big Ten teams will be contenders or pretenders in the 2013 season. The series does not include Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska -- three teams that, in our view, have earned the "contender" label entering the fall. For each team, we'll make a case for why they're contenders and pretenders and provide our final verdict. We invite you to vote on whether a team is a contender or a pretender or send us your thoughts for mailbags here and here.
Next on our list: the Purdue Boilermakers.Akeem Hunt had a standout spring and no longer looks like just a track star. The Boilers have some nice options at the skill position with him and guys like Raheem Mostert, Gary Bush and Dolapo Macarthy at receiver. Kawann Short is gone, but Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell are still strong anchors for the defensive line. If healthy, both can be among the best at their position in the Big Ten. And Purdue should be very good in the secondary, led by cornerback Ricardo Allen. A lot will have to go right, but maybe this is the year the Boilermakers actually fulfill that sleeper status.
Why they're pretenders: Purdue looked completely out of its league last year against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, and it lost some of its top players in Short, cornerback Josh Johnson, quarterback Robert Marve and receiver Antavian Edison. The quarterback situation is unclear right now, as it appears to be a two-man race between Rob Henry and Danny Etling. Henry is experienced but has never shown a great throwing arm, while Etling is a true freshman. The Boilers once again look to have some major issues at linebacker, a position that Hazell will have to shore up through recruiting. There is also bound to be an adjustment period for a new coaching staff. The biggest obstacle to Purdue contending, though, might be the schedule: three tough nonconference games (at Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois) combine with a Big Ten slate that sees the Boilers open conference play at Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State. An 0-4 start in Big Ten play is a real possibility.
Verdict: We liked the Hazell hiring and think he will do good things in West Lafayette. But with the coaching transition, the potential of a freshman starter at quarterback and a challenging schedule, we just don't think that will happen this year. Getting back to a bowl should be the goal in 2013. Purdue is a pretender.
So we're going to out-mock the mockers by creating our own, totally fake Big Ten players' draft. Adam and I are doing our best impressions of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay -- we've both been running our hairdryers for hours now -- to come up with what a first-round of a Big Ten draft might look like.
Here's how this works: All current Big Ten players are eligible to be drafted (not signees, this isn't the NBA draft), and the teams will pick in reverse order of regular-season finish last year, just like the NFL. We're trying to think like the teams involved here and draft not just best player, but also best fit. For example, teams like Iowa and Wisconsin aren't going to draft a spread quarterback for their system. Teams would also want to take eligibility into account. Is a great senior worth more than a promising sophomore? Depends on how close your team is to winning.
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireOhio State QB Braxton Miller would be a hot commodity if the Big Ten held an NFL-style draft.
Let's get to it ...
Pick No. 1: Illinois
Brian Bennett says the Illini select ... Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
I considered having Tim Beckman take a Penn State player, just for old time's sake. (He and his staff certainly did enough scouting in State College last summer). But Miller is the no-brainer. Illinois needs playmakers, and even if Miller is still evolving as a passer, he can make things happen on his own with his feet. Illinois might let him carry it 50 times per game.
Adam Rittenberg says the Illini select ... Miller
The Illini need a major boost for the nation's 119th-rated offense, and Miller, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, provides it with his many talents at quarterback. He's an easy choice for a sputtering unit.
Pick No. 2: Iowa
Adam Rittenberg says the Hawkeyes select ... Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Like Illinois, Iowa is trying to repair one of the nation's worst offenses and lacks a quarterback on its roster who has taken a snap in an FBS game. Gardner, who blossomed down the stretch for Michigan last season, fits into a pro-style offense and provides the big-play ability Iowa sorely needs. He also has two years of eligibility left.
Brian Bennett says the Hawkeyes select ... Penn State DE Deion Barnes
This is a tough one, because Iowa could really use a standout wide receiver, an experienced quarterback and some secondary help. But remember that Kirk Ferentz would be making this pick, and I believe Ferentz would stay true to himself and look to the trenches first. Iowa has lacked a dynamic pass-rusher for a couple of years now, and Barnes would provide that. Plus, he's only a sophomore, and the Hawkeyes have some rebuilding to do.
Pick No. 3: Indiana
Brian Bennett says the Hoosiers select ... Ohio State DE Adolphus Washington
Indiana is as set on offense as any Big Ten club, even though Kevin Wilson might be tempted to grab a quarterback or a receiver because he loves the passing game. What the Hoosiers desperately need are high-impact defensive players, especially on the defensive line. Washington is by no means proven, but he had a strong freshman year and looked dominant this spring. He can also play inside at tackle if needed. Wilson also would have three years of Washington to develop, along with the rest of his young team.
Adam Rittenberg says the Hoosiers select ... Penn State's Barnes
Indiana obviously needs defense, and while there are several good options out there, a difference-maker in the pass rush would really help. Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has three seasons of eligibility left, and would bolster a line with major question marks entering the fall.
Pick No. 4: Minnesota
Adam Rittenberg says the Gophers select ... Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
The Gophers are unsettled at linebacker after losing two starters from last season. Although they could go secondary with this pick, Shazier provides an immediate playmaking presence for the core of the defense. Plus, he has two years of eligibility left.
Brian Bennett says the Gophers select ... Penn State WR Allen Robinson
I could definitely see Jerry Kill picking a linebacker or a lineman as he continues to build his team's toughness. But the Gophers desperately need to improve their downfield passing game, and in Robinson they get the Big Ten's top receiver, who has two years of eligibility left. Philip Nelson just did a backflip in celebration.
Pick No. 5: Purdue
Brian Bennett says the Boilermakers select ... Ohio State's Shazier
Linebacker has been a bit of a black hole for Purdue of late, and Shazier could fix that problem quickly. Darrell Hazell would also get two years out of him.
Adam Rittenberg says the Boilermakers select ... Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo
Chi Chi Who? Hear me out. Purdue really needs help at linebacker, and one-year players like Chris Borland or Max Bullough only do so much, especially for a coaching staff looking to the future. Michigan's Jake Ryan is a possibility, but he tore his ACL this spring and might bolt to the NFL after the season. Ariguzo has two years left and recorded two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 10.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups for Northwestern last season. He's the young playmaker Purdue needs.
Pick No. 6: Michigan State
Adam Rittenberg says the Spartans select ... Penn State's Robinson
The Spartans need a featured running back, but should be able to pick up someone like Iowa's Mark Weisman in the later rounds. Wide receiver remains a pressing need after a season of dropped passes. Robinson, the Big Ten's wide receiver of the year in 2012, gives Michigan State an obvious No. 1 target. Plus, he's only a sophomore.
Brian Bennett says the Spartans select ... Michigan's Gardner
You heard that right. Michigan State needs a quarterback who can lead the team down the field, and Gardner has the kind of arm and scrambling ability that Mark Dantonio needs. Gardner could solidify the Spartans' offense for the next two years. Plus, Dantonio would be weakening his top rival in the process. That's what you call a win-win.
Pick No. 7: Michigan
Brian Bennett says the Wolverines select ... Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland
The sound you heard was Brady Hoke punching the wall of Michigan's war room once the Spartans drafted Gardner. That leaves Michigan in a real bind at quarterback, but there aren't great options for their system here. Instead, the defensive-minded Hoke will go for Borland, who will provide some insurance for the injured Jake Ryan. Borland is a senior, but with the Wolverines' young talent on the way, they need a veteran for 2013.
Adam Rittenberg says the Wolverines select Nebraska G Spencer Long
The Wolverines obviously need a quarterback after losing Gardner, but there aren't many great pro-style options in the Big Ten right now. By adding Long, Michigan could boast two All-Americans on its offensive line (if it keeps left tackle Taylor Lewan). While both players depart after this season, they'll provide excellent leadership for the Wolverines' talented group of younger linemen.
Pick No. 8: Wisconsin
Adam Rittenberg says the Badgers select ... Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
The Badgers need help in the secondary, but the top options available -- Ohio State CB Bradley Roby, Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard -- are one-year guys. Bell has two years left and plays a position where Wisconsin is undermanned. He'll be an excellent complement for Jared Abbrederis this year, and the No. 1 wideout in 2014. Bell grew up in Boulder, Colo., and will easily adjust to life in Madison.
Brian Bennett says the Badgers select ... Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
I mean, c'mon. This is Wisconsin we're talking about. Don't the Badgers go for the best offensive lineman, even if he's only got one year left? The Badgers are good enough that one player could put them over the top.
Pick No. 9: Penn State
Brian Bennett says the Nittany Lions select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence
Bill O'Brien takes the long view here, knowing he needs a young player to help him build through the sanctions era. Spence is just a sophomore, and he fills the void left when Barnes was drafted earlier. Spence hasn't done much yet, but looked like a future star this spring. Oh yeah, and he's a Pennsylvania native and former Penn State commit.
Adam Rittenberg says the Nittany Lions select ... Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Penn State could go quarterback here after losing Steven Bench, but the long-term forecast under center looks pretty good. The immediate needs are linebacker and defensive leadership. Bullough provides both. He's a first-team All-Big Ten selection, one of the nation's smartest players and an excellent leader. He'll complement Mike Hull and Glenn Carson very well.
Pick No. 10: Northwestern
Adam Rittenberg says the Wildcats select ... Michigan's Lewan
Offensive line is the one area at Northwestern where graduation took its toll. Although the Wildcats might have a bigger need at guard than at tackle, they can't pass up arguably the nation's best offensive linemen in Lewan. He'll anchor the line, allow Jack Konopka to stay at right tackle and allow other players to slide inside to guard. Although Lewan is a one-year guy, Northwestern can draft to win now.
Brian Bennett says the Wildcats select ... Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Let's face it: the secondary hasn't exactly been the Wildcats' strong suit over the years. Pat Fitzgerald can draft Roby here and feel confident that he'll shut down one side of the field. You think the Roy Roundtree miracle catch happens with Roby wearing purple? He's headed to the NFL draft after this season, but Roby could be the missing piece for a team that's ready to contend.
Pick No. 11: Nebraska
Brian Bennett says the Cornhuskers select ... Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman
It's no coincidence that Nebraska's defense hasn't been the same since Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick left town. The Huskers need help the most at defensive tackle, and the very athletic Hageman can provide that. He'll only play one year in Lincoln, but with Nebraska set up to win now with its offense, that's OK with Bo Pelini.
Adam Rittenberg says the Cornhuskers select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence
This is certainly a projection pick, but Spence looks like a superstar and Nebraska desperately needs one on its defensive line. The Huskers could go with a more experienced option like Hageman, but Spence is just a true sophomore and should be an impact pass-rusher for at least two more years.
Pick No. 12: Ohio State
Adam Rittenberg says the Buckeyes select ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
The Buckeyes need a quarterback after losing Miller, but should be able to get a guy like Kain Colter in the later rounds. Ohio State's most pressing need -- the defensive front seven -- remains the same, especially after losing both Shazier and Spence. Borland, an Ohio native, gives the Buckeyes a proven, productive veteran at linebacker who can help in many different ways. Although he's a senior, Ohio State is in win-now mode as it eyes a national title.
Brian Bennett says the Buckeyes select .. Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Ohio State has been decimated more than any other team by this draft. Urban Meyer would have to strongly consider Taylor Martinez here, but he can either get another quarterback later, or roll with Kenny Guiton for a year. Defense is crying out for help after losing Washington, Spence, Shazier and Roby. So the Buckeyes go with the best defensive player on the board and a guy who will bolster the front seven.
And our quick second-round picks:
Adam's second round
Iowa: Indiana WR Cody Latimer
Purdue: Penn State OL John Urschel
Michigan State: Weisman
Michigan: Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort
Penn State: Northwestern DE Tyler Scott
Northwestern: Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell
Nebraska: Iowa LB James Morris
Ohio State: Michigan State DE Marcus Rush
Brian's second round
Illinois: Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Minnesota: Purdue DE Ryan Russell
Purdue: Penn State DT DaQuan Jones
Michigan State: Penn State TE Kyle Carter
Penn State: Michigan CB Blake Countess
Ohio State: Martinez
Check out coverage of the game here and here and here.
Star of the game: Running back Akeem Hunt. The junior cemented himself as Purdue's top running back during the first 14 spring practices and finished spring ball with a flourish, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Linebacker Will Lucas (forced fumble, tackle for loss, pass breakup) and defensive end Ryan Russell (sack, forced fumble, pass breakup) also had good days.
How it went down: The Black team looked much stronger on paper entering the game, and although it only won by two touchdowns, its performance was pretty decisive. Sloppy play plagued both offenses for much of the game as there were five combined turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) plus another giveaway on special teams.
Ball security will continue to be a sticking point for Hazell, who put up a sign that reads: "The Ball is the Program" in Purdue's team meeting room.
"You can win a lot of football games if you don't turn it over, and one of the key components that leaves no doubt is the player who is hanging onto the football gets the football back to the official," Hazell said. "That's one of the things I was taking notes on. I think there were six situations when we didn't. I wanted to remind the guys that's very important. It may not seem like it. Over the course of the season, that's going to get you an extra two or three wins."
Hunt's big day on the ground is a good sign for an offense still looking for a quarterback to emerge. Senior Rob Henry completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 75 yards and a touchdown but had three consecutive incomplete passes on a first-and-goal situation from the 4-yard line that resulted in no points after a missed field goal. Freshman early enrollee Danny Etling, who has emerged as the top challenger to Henry, completed 5 of 7 attempts for 54 yards with an interception.
Both Henry and Etling played for the Black squad, giving Austin Appleby an opportunity to improve his stock in the competition. But Appleby struggled for the Gold team, completing just 6 of 18 pass attempts for 52 yards with an interception and a lost fumble.
Henry comes out of the spring as Purdue's top quarterback, and though he has impressed Hazell with his play and his leadership, the senior is "definitely in the battle."
Hazell placed some restrictions on both the offense (formations) and the defense (number of blitzes), as he wanted to see both units in their base sets. Bright spots included tight end Gabe Holmes (four receptions, 74 yards), and defensive end Michael Rouse III (interception, two pass breakups).
"I really like the direction that we're heading," Hazell said. "We're working hard and we're understanding how to compete in some tough situations. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done before we open up the season against Cincinnati, but we're understanding what it takes to be a better football team."
Purdue's spring game will air on the Big Ten Network tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
Here's a closer look:
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.
Admission: Free. Gates open at noon. Free parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis in the A Lot (west half only), F Lot, G Lot, H Lot (upper and lower), R Lot and Z Lot. The family fun fest takes place from 11 a.m.-noon ET and is open to all kids in eighth grade or younger.
TV: Live on BTN2Go. Big Ten Network will air the game at 9 p.m. ET on April 15.
Weather forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, temperatures between 41-48 degrees, winds at 15-17 mph.
What to watch for: There are new schemes on both sides of the ball, an evolving quarterback competition and a different feel with Hazell and the new staff. Purdue drafted teams Wednesday -- secondary coach Jon Heacock will lead the Black team and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will lead the Gold squad. Full rosters are here.
The quarterbacks will be in the spotlight Saturday and it will be interesting to see how the Black squad rotates senior Rob Henry and freshman Danny Etling, as they seem to have separated themselves a bit in the competition. Henry tried to trade Etling to the Gold squad for offensive lineman Robert Kugler and punter Thomas Meadows but was shot down.
Etling made a move last week and shared most of the reps with the first-team offense in practice earlier this week. Henry has worked extremely hard to learn John Shoop's pro-style system, and while he's always branded as an athlete first, he wants to show he can be an effective pocket passer. Austin Appleby, meanwhile, will lead the Gold squad and has a good opportunity to end the spring on a strong note. Although Appleby seems to have fallen back a bit in the race the last week, he can leave the coaches with a strong impression coming out of the spring.
Line play also will be an area to watch as Purdue tries to get closer to being "Big Ten strong." Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. is back on the field after recovering from thumb surgery, and he'll lead the Gold squad line, while end Ryan Russell lines up for Black. Hazell told ESPN.com this week that the offensive line is "starting to make strides," so it will be interesting to see which team protects the passer better. The defensive line is thin as Ryan Isaac, Greg Latta and Brandon Taylor all are out with injuries.
The secondary could be a strength for Purdue this fall, and while top defensive backs like Ricardo Allen, Frankie Williams and Normondo Harris are split between the teams, all have opportunities to showcase their playmaking ability. Outside receivers Dolapo Macarthy and Charles Torwudzo, both of the Gold team, will challenge Williams and Harris.
Running back Akeem Hunt has had a very good string in establishing himself as the starter, and he'll help lead the Black team's offense. The Gold will counter with Robert Gregory and, if he's cleared, Brandon Cottom.
Hazell served as an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. His staff includes defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who held the same post at Minnesota under Glen Mason from 2000-04, and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, an Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08.
Ask any to name the first objective for Purdue's program, and the word "physical" comes out of their mouths. The conference Purdue plays in is a big reason why.
"We've got to continually get Big Ten strong," Hazell told ESPN.com. "This conference is different. There's teams in this conference that are very strong and very physical, and we need to continue to work toward that."
Purdue players started the process during 6 a.m. winter workouts. They've continued it through 11 practices this spring.
The progress report?
"That's one of our main challenges," Hudson said. "We're not ready to label a guy Big Ten strong. That's a different strength now."
The previous coaching staff made no secret about their desire to bring more speed to Purdue. It showed up in how they recruited and where they invested their time on the trail.
The Boilers boast enough speed to compete in the Big Ten, especially in areas like the secondary. But they lacked size at certain spots and got pushed around by teams like Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2012.
Junior defensive end Ryan Russell is spending the offseason developing his upper-body strength. When Russell first arrived at Purdue, he played behind Ryan Kerrigan -- the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and "one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said. Kerrigan, a unanimous first-team All-American and a first-round draft pick, showed Russell what a Big Ten lineman should look like.
Russell's goal this summer is to do 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
"Being Big Ten strong is a big thing," Russell said. "We're a fast team, but we're not necessarily always the strongest team. You want to be able to have everything in line to win a championship, so being strong is definitely a priority right now."
It also will be a priority in the new staff's recruiting efforts. There's only so much they can do with the current roster, and they need more size and power at certain positions, particularly on defense.
"I need linebackers I can look up to," Hudson said. "You should know the difference between your front, your linebackers and your secondary just by looking at them. ... Not only is it Big Ten strong, but it's Big Ten big. There's a reason it's called the Big Ten. We have big players, big buildings, big stadiums, big budgets.
"We need to blossom in all areas."
No one mistakes Bruce Gaston Jr. for a linebacker or a defensive back. At 6-2 and 303 pounds, he's a space-eating defensive tackle with huge arms and plenty of power.
But even Gaston, who recently returned to live practice action after recovering from thumb surgery, has taken steps to improve his explosiveness.
"Big Ten strong is being able to compete on a Big Ten level without feeling noticing the strength difference [with an opponent]," Gatson said. "I think it's more of a mentality, too. Everyone has physical capabilities and different physical limits, but to me, it's a mind-set, too.
"You've got to be Big Ten strong to play this game."
OK, so Purdue isn't hiring that Rubin Carter to coach its defensive line. But a man by the same name will guide Ryan Russell, Bruce Gaston and the other linemen this fall as first-year coach Darrell Hazell is completing his coaching staff.
Carter spent last season coaching defensive line at FCS Towson University, but he brings extensive experience at both the college and NFL levels. He has coached defensive linemen for three NFL teams -- Denver, Washington and the New York Jets -- as well as in college for New Mexico (2009-11), Temple (2004-05), Maryland (1997-98), San Jose State (1995-96) and Howard (1989-93). Carter also served as head coach at Florida A&M from 2005-07.
A former All-America nose tackle at Miami, Carter played 12 seasons for the Denver Broncos and was part of the famous "Orange Crush" defenses.
Hazell appears to have made a very good choice with Carter, who will oversee a group that underachieved in 2012 and loses its biggest piece in tackle Kawann Short. Carter's extensive experience around the country also should aid Purdue's recruiting efforts. He'll be the third defensive line coach the players have had in as many seasons, so it'll be important to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Carter's hiring would complete Purdue's staff, but Hazell likely will have one more vacancy as offensive line coach Jim Bollman reportedly is headed to Michigan State to become offensive coordinator there. Neither Purdue nor Michigan State has confirmed or denied Bollman's reported move to East Lansing.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.
2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players such as Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.
3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.
Spring start: March 2
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 passing yards and seven TDs. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.
2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.
3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players such as Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)
What to watch:
1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.
2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.
3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he has gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.
-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?
2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.
3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.
-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.
2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.
3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.
Spring start: March 9
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.
2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.
3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior college All-American Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.
This was one of the stronger position groups for the league throughout the season. You can see how we ranked them in the preseason here. You need both star power and depth to rate high, especially on units like these.
Here we go ...
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesOhio State defensive end John Simon tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks last season with nine.
2. Penn State (Preseason: 4): The Nittany Lions made up for the loss of 2011 defensive player of the year Devon Still quite nicely. Jordan Hill was playing as well as any league defensive tackle at the end of the year. Deion Barnes won freshman of the year honors for his havoc-inducing work off the edge. Penn State also had solid depth behind the starters and led the league in sacks.
3. Michigan State (Preseason: 2): The Spartans fielded the best defense in the Big Ten and were the toughest team to run against, and the defensive line was a big reason why. There was always a feeling that the linemen, especially William Gholston, could have created a few more negative plays. But overall, the line was really strong, with more depth and balance than sheer superstar power.
4. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): The Badgers lacked a dominant pass rusher but were very stout up front and hard to run against. Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer did an excellent job of controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage, while David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly cleaned things up on the outside.
5. Northwestern (Preseason: 10): The Wildcats were one of the pleasant surprises among league defensive lines. They had the third-best rushing defense in the league and ranked fifth in sacks. Tyler Scott had a breakout year at defensive end, while Brian Arnfelt was an underrated defensive tackle. Quentin Williams had a pick six in the bowl game victory.
6. Michigan (Preseason: 7): This was a perfectly solid defensive line but not one that often grabbed your attention. Will Campbell finally fulfilled most of his promise as a starting defensive tackle, and Craig Roh was predictably reliable as a senior. But this unit lacked a dynamic playmaker, which is evident in the Wolverines' decent but not outstanding sack and rush-defense numbers.
7. Minnesota (Preseason: 12): A recent sore spot for the Gophers turned into more of a strength in 2012. Ra'Shede Hageman put his huge body to great use at defensive tackle, while D.L. Wilhite got off to a great start and finished with nine sacks. Minnesota's defense also had to carry a heavy load down the stretch as the offense struggled to stay on the field.
8. Nebraska (Preseason: 6): The Huskers' defensive line had its moments, and end Eric Martin emerged as a fearsome pass-rusher. Baker Steinkuhler's late-season injury hurt as he was playing really well inside, and Cam Meredith did his best to hold his ground there. But the memory of Wisconsin completely flattening Nebraska in the Big Ten title game prevents me from ranking this group any higher.
9. Purdue (Preseason: 3): We expected much more out of this group, with talents like Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell. And perhaps we are unfairly judging their performance because the unit struggled with injuries throughout the year. Still, Purdue was steamrolled by teams like Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Oklahoma State and simply didn't get enough out of its front four on a consistent basis.
10. Illinois (Preseason: 5): If there was a strength for the 2012 Illini -- and after a 2-10 season, we're not sure there was one -- it had to be the defensive line. Yet like Purdue, we expected more from a group that included athletes like Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan, though they would have had to be superhuman to change their team's course.
11. Iowa (Preseason: 9): We feared for the Hawkeyes' youth in the preseason, but this group held together pretty well most of the year. The low ranking is in some ways a reflection of other teams playing better than expected. Yet Iowa's defensive line seemed to wear down late in the season, and the lack of any true studs was reflected in a Big Ten-worst 13 sacks in 12 games.
12. Indiana (Preseason: 11): The 2012 Hoosiers actually improved over 2011 on the defensive line but still finished last in the league in rush defense. Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. gave Indiana something to work with in the middle as two of the defense's rare veterans. But as it showed in the crucial Wisconsin game, this group still has a long way to go.
1. Dominate the trenches: Purdue's strength this season was supposed to be its defensive line, led by All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short. When Short and others dealt with injuries in the middle of the season, the Boilermakers got steamrolled in league play. Not coincidentally, the team won its final three games after those guys started to get healthy, and a month-long break should have the defensive line in its best shape since early September. The 315-pound Short can change a game when he's blowing up the middle of the line of scrimmage, and fellow tackle Bruce Gaston is an underrated force. Ryan Russell is a promising young pass-rusher who has also healed from some bumps and bruises. Purdue absolutely must disrupt the timing and rhythm of Oklahoma State's high-powered offense while keeping running back Joseph Randle in check. If they can do that, the Boilers will have a chance.
2. Run, run, run the ball: Akeem Shavers was the MVP of last year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with 149 rushing yards. While Oklahoma State's defense is much better than Western Michigan's was a year ago, Shavers ended this season with 225 rushing yards in his final two games. Ralph Bolden is also expected back following a late-season hamstring injury, and Akeem Hunt gives the team a home run hitter with his sprinter's speed. Purdue has to get its running game charged up to help out quarterback Robert Marve and, more importantly, keep the Cowboys' offense on the sidelines.
3. Stay clean: One of the reasons Danny Hope didn't make it to this bowl game is that the Boilers often played sloppily under their former head coach. Penalties, turnovers and special teams blunders always seemed to rear their heads at the wrong times. That can't happen in a game like this, in which Purdue is such a huge underdog. Marve gave the team a spark when he was thrust into the starting lineup, but he still has a tendency to force throws into coverage. He and the Boilers can't afford to give Oklahoma State extra possessions, and Purdue has to maximize opportunities in the kicking game to win the field-position battle. This team has enough talent to pull off the upset, especially against an Oklahoma State squad that might be overlooking this game. But the Boilermakers can only put themselves in that position if they first avoid beating themselves.