Big Ten: Ryan Russell
Former Boilermakers coach Danny Hope made changes to the defensive coordinator position after the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. After Hope's ouster, another new defensive play-caller, Greg Hudson, arrived with Darrell Hazell last season.
The changes don't excuse a defense that last fall finished 111th in points allowed, 104th in yards allowed, 114th against the run, 101st in pass efficiency and 120th in red zone defense. Purdue's offense might have been historically bad, but the defense wasn't far off.
"It's the first spring these older guys have gone into where they're speaking the same language," Hudson told ESPN.com. "Now you're able to have football conversations with them. They're starting to retain it."
Hudson sees it in the increased numbers of players at Mollenkopf Center on their own time. He sees it in their willingness to learn and in the questions that they ask.
"It's very, very important that the players build equity in the defense," he said. "The more equity, the more ownership."
Purdue's seniors, in particular, have to take ownership of the defense. Hudson has applied the necessary pressure -- "If they don't play well, we're not going to be very good," he said -- while also making it clear that the coaches will go with younger players if they're deserving. Seniors such as end Ryan Russell, safety Landon Feichter and linebacker Sean Robinson all have plenty of snaps under their belts.
None are guaranteed to start when Purdue kicks off the season Aug. 30 against Western Michigan. Russell looked like Purdue's next elite pass rusher after the 2011 season, but his production the past two years has been spotty.
"It's do or die for him," Hudson said. "He's running out of reps. The ability's there. He's got to be at 100 miles an hour instead of 75. I just told him it's like driving. You need to break the speed limit every time the ball's snapped."
Hudson needs his seniors to elevate their play, but he's also optimistic about several younger players, including ends Evan Panfil and Jake Replogle, both of whom saw the field as true freshmen last fall. Replogle is working with the first-team defense in spring, while Panfil is backing up Russell.
Last spring, Purdue coaches stressed the need for players to become "Big Ten strong." It didn't show up in the fall, as the Boilers dropped all but one of their Big Ten games by 14 points or more and six league contests by 20 points or more.
Is Purdue any closer?
"We've taken another step," Hudson said. "There's another level out there that we need to get to. There's a fine line between building athletes and building football players. We have to find that fine line. They still have to play the game in this league at a very powerful level. I don't want to recruit a bunch of guys at Gold's Gym, but we've moved forward."
Hudson's two main goals for the spring are comprehension of the scheme and relentless play. The first is helped by greater familiarity for players; the second by constant competition.
"There's not very many guys that can separate themselves from the guy behind them," he said. "Their names are written in pencil."
Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).
Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.
Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.
Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.
Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.
Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.
Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.
Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.
Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.
Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.
Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.
Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.
Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.
Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.
Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.
Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.
Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.
Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.
Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.
Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.
Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.
Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.
Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.
Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.
Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.
Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.
Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.
Only once – last season – has it reached 250 rushing and 200 passing.
Through six games this fall, the Huskers sit at 285 rushing and 205 passing. Granted, three of the Big Ten’s top four rushing defenses – Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan – await Nebraska in November, and the other top unit against the run, Ohio State, might well be there for the Huskers in Indianapolis on Dec. 7 if things go as planned in Lincoln.
Regardless, credit the Nebraska offensive line, whose members talked in August of ranking as a vintage Huskers group. That’s a mouthful at a school that won six Outland Trophies and 13 NCAA rushing titles in the 1980s and 1990s alone.
Now they meet their biggest challenge, the test the Nebraska linemen hoped they would never face: the loss of Spencer Long. How they respond will define the way they are remembered.
“From here on out, we’re playing for Spencer,” said junior Mike Moudy, Long’s likely replacement at right guard next Saturday when Nebraska visits Minnesota. “We’ve got the drive to compete for him. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. But everyone’s just taking that in stride and saying we’re going to give our all to Spence.”
Long meant so much to his teammates. He was a throwback to the great linemen of Huskers past – a walk-on from Elkhorn, Neb., who toiled on the scout team, earned his scholarship, then all-conference honors and a recognition as a captain in his fifth-year senior season.
He started 33 games. He remains a top student, majoring in pre-med. He’ll probably be a doctor, even if the NFL delays his continued studies.
He went down on the fifth play from scrimmage last week in the Huskers’ 44-7 win at Purdue. Long was hustling around the backside of a rush by Imani Cross and fell over the legs of defensive end Ryan Russell. Long’s left knee buckled.
Coach Bo Pelini was among the first to reach him on the ground. Long underwent surgery Thursday to repair a torn MCL. Don’t bet against his return in time to work for NFL scouts ahead of the May 8-10 NFL draft.
“What happened to Spencer sucks,” senior left tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “There’s no way around it. His career got cut short here at Nebraska, but a lot of young guys have got great opportunities now.
“We’re going to honor Spencer with our effort. We’re going to honor Spencer with the way we play, because he was our captain. We followed him.”
Who will they follow now? Perhaps Sirles, a veteran of 34 starts, fellow seniors Andrew Rodriguez at right tackle and center Cole Pensick. With Moudy and junior Jake Cotton at left guard, the offensive line is still a seasoned group.
Coaches have talked this week of shifting Pensick, using untested Ryne Reeves or Givens Price or even pulling the redshirt from junior college transfer Chongo Kondolo.
It will work best if Moudy sticks. He fits the pedigree at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, another top student who has worked in the program for four years. As recently as last season, Moudy spent time on the scout team. Pelini said he noticed a big jump in the spring.
“Probably just wanting to play, “Moudy said. “The desire to play. I kind of got tired of sitting on the scout team. I had to take another step mentally.”
Long, with Cotton and offensive line coach John Garrison, aided Moudy in his ascent.
He began to prove himself at Purdue. Moudy allowed one sack but otherwise played well.
The other linemen chided him for the mistake.
“He did a great job,” Sirles said, “but he’s going to held to the same standard Spencer was held to. People are like, ‘Oh, that’s not fair.' But we all hold ourselves to a high standard. It doesn’t matter who’s out there playing.”
Injuries such as this one are all too common over the past two seasons at Nebraska. Senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler went down last year during the Huskers’ regular-season finale against Iowa.
The defense did not respond well as Wisconsin and Georgia gouged Nebraska for 115 points in subsequent games.
I-back Rex Burkhead, a leader and motivational figure in the same vein as Long, missed six games of his senior year with a knee injury last season. In his place, the Huskers found a new star, Ameer Abdullah, and hardly missed a beat.
Which path will the offensive line take over the next six weeks? It figures to define their legacy.
Coach Bo Pelini said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference that an evaluation after the Huskers’ 44-7 win on Saturday over Purdue showed less damage than originally feared, but Long, a first-team All-Big Ten pick by ESPN and second-team Associated Press All-American a year ago, will undergo surgery on Thursday.
Long was hurt on a running play during Nebraska’s opening drive against the Boilermakers when he fell over Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell as the Nebraska lineman tried to block on the backside of a rush by Imani Cross. A former walk-on from Omaha, Neb., Long has started 33 games since 2011.
He was the most experienced member of an offensive line that helped the 5-1 Huskers rush for 284.8 yards this season, eighth nationally and second to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Additionally, Nebraska has allowed three sacks in six games, tied for the fewest nationally with Fresno State, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
Junior Mike Moudy replaced Long against Purdue and will likely move into the starting lineup on Oct. 26 against Minnesota, opposite junior Jake Cotton at left guard. The Huskers are off this week.
Sophomores Givens Price and Ryne Reeves could also receive more playing time as a result of the injury. Newcomer Chongo Kondolo, a junior-college transfer who is on target to redshirt this season, could also factor, Pelini said.
“We’re looking at all our options,” Pelini said.
Taylor Martinez’s status has not changed. He’s still not returned to practice or cleared to return, according to Pelini.
Coach: Darrell Hazell (16-10 overall, two seasons; first season at Purdue)
2012 record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Key losses: DT Kawann Short, CB Josh Johnson, QB Robert Marve, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, C Rick Schmeig
Key returners: DT Bruce Gaston Jr., DE Ryan Russell, S Landon Feichter, CB Ricardo Allen, RB Akeem Hunt, C Robert Kugler, TE Gabe Holmes
Biggest games in 2013: The Boilermakers have a difficult nonconference schedule that includes trips to Cincinnati (Aug. 31) and visits from 2012 BCS bowl teams Notre Dame (Sept. 14) and Northern Illinois (Sept. 28). They open conference play at Wisconsin on Sept. 21 and also play Nebraska (Oct. 12), at Michigan State (Oct. 19) and Ohio State (Nov. 2) in their first four Big Ten games. They close the season on the road against rival Indiana.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The quarterback battle is obviously a big question looming over this team in preseason camp, and the Boilers might have to live with some mistakes there, especially if they start a true freshman. An even bigger question might be at linebacker. Though there is some experience at the position with Will Lucas, Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam, Purdue has had subpar linebacker play the past couple of seasons, and that has held the defense back in some of its bigger games. Robinson did a nice job last season, but the fact that he converted from quarterback and earned a starting job tells you a lot about the depth at the position.
Forecast: Just about everybody loved the hire of Hazell, a former longtime Ohio State assistant who worked some magic at Kent State. Hazell has already won over players and fans with his upbeat yet no nonsense style, and he promises to bring far more discipline on and off the field than former coach Danny Hope, who was fired despite getting the team to a second straight bowl game last season.
But there's little doubt that Hazell faces a rebuilding job, even though the Boilers pushed both Notre Dame and Ohio State to the wire last season. There are question marks at quarterback and linebacker, and the team will need several young players to step forward at the skill positions. Hunt had a great offseason and could be a dynamic running back with a track star's speed, but he is small in stature and took only 42 carries last season. Can Purdue's offensive line mash people enough to play Hazell's preferred power-run style? The defense has some really strong building blocks in defensive tackle Gaston, defensive end Russell and cornerback Allen, but opposing Big Ten offenses have been able to exploit the Boilers' weaknesses the past two seasons.
The biggest hurdle for Purdue might be that schedule. The Boilers could be underdogs in six of their first seven games, and that might make getting back to a bowl difficult. Hazell doesn't want to settle for more 6-6 type seasons, anyway.
"One of the first things that I said to our team -- our very first team meeting on that Sunday night -- was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle of the Big Ten," Hazell said at Big Ten media days. "And I told them it's going to take a lot of work, but we're going to climb ourselves out of the middle, and we're going to put this program in national prominence for a long point in time."
Hazell looks like the right coach to lift Purdue back up. It just might not happen this season.
(We do so in honor of the late, great sack master Deacon Jones, who was so good that he is credited with inventing the term "sack." I have a feeling some quarterbacks in heaven are looking over their shoulders right about now).
The Big Ten didn't have any players reach 10 sacks last year, but two did so in 2011, including national leader Whitney Mercilus of Illinois. Who's the most likely to bring the pain to opposing backfields and potentially crack double digits this fall? Let's examine the candidates in order of likelihood.
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State: The Big Ten's reigning freshman of the year finished with six sacks in 2012, and while that leaves him pretty far away from 10, we think he'll only continue to get better. Losing Jordan Hill might mean he gets more attention, but Barnes still has plenty of room to grow.
Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern: Perhaps Scott should have topped our list, as he did have nine sacks last year. He looked like one of the most improved players in the league last year and has the strength to cause opposing offensive tackles all kinds of problems.
Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' two super sophs deserve to be mentioned together right now. Both got a taste of playing time last year, with Washington having a bigger impact than Spence. Both wreaked havoc this spring against a veteran offensive line. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort has predicted Spence will lead the Big Ten in sacks. But will he even lead his own team in that category?
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers' large human being had six sacks a year ago and has been tearing it up this offseason. It's not always easy for an interior lineman to rack up big sack totals, though. It could be that he creates traffic jams and opens up opportunities for teammates like Thieren Cockran and Michael Amaefula to reach the quarterback.
Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue: Russell had only four sacks last year and has yet to put up the big stats that his potential suggests he can. But that's just it: the potential is there. He could be ready to make the leap.
Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State: Allen managed only three sacks last year, but the "Waterboy" put up 11 in 2011, so the ability is there. The Spartans were strangely poor at bringing down the quarterback in 2012 despite their defensive talent, but the speedy Allen could help change that in '13 if he rediscovers his heat-seeking form.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: If you want to speculate on sacks, Gregory is a good stock to buy. He was ranked by some as the top junior college defender in the nation last year, and he racked up 21 tackles for loss and nine sacks at Arizona Western. The opportunity for immediate playing time is definitely there on the Huskers' D-line.
Others to watch: Frank Clark, DE, Michigan; Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB Wisconsin; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois.
Here are five Leaders players with much to prove this fall:
1. Curtis Grant, LB, Ohio State: Grant was one of the top-rated recruits in the Class of 2011, as ESPN.com ranked him No. 3 in the country at his position and 46th overall, while Rivals had him as the No. 2 overall prospect. He's now a junior with only 10 career tackles, and he was beaten out last year by a converted fullback. But Grant looked good this spring and is once again slated to start at middle linebacker; he and others believe this is the year he finally starts to live up to his prodigious talent and hype. "He's learned to calm down, stop over thinking everything and just play the game," outside linebacker Ryan Shazier told ESPN.com this spring. Ohio State will need Grant to emerge as a solid contributor with only one returning starter in its defensive front seven.
2. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Few Big Ten quarterbacks have as much experience under their belts as Scheelhaase, who has played in 36 games and has been the team's starter since his redshirt freshman year in 2010. But injuries, a poor supporting cast and a coaching change all took its toll on Scheelhaase last year, as he threw for just 1,361 yards and a career-low four touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Scheelhaase should be back at the controls this year in new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's spread offense, which will depend heavily on good decision-making by the quarterback. If Scheelhaase can't bounce back from his 2012 performance, Reilly O'Toole and freshman Aaron Bailey will be nipping at his heels.
3. Ryan Groy, OL, Wisconsin: The Badgers' run of All-Americans and major award winners on the offensive line ended last year, though center Travis Frederick still parlayed a strong junior season into a new job with the Dallas Cowboys. Even with a coaching change, Wisconsin will look to continue its tradition of standout linemen, and Groy could be the next star. The senior filled in at left tackle last year when Ricky Wagner was hurt and could start the year protecting the blind side, although he also could play guard. Head coach Gary Andersen is concerned about the depth on the line and will need Groy to serve as an anchor for the group.
4. Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue: Russell has been talked about as a future star since he debuted as a starter two years ago when he was a redshirt freshman. Bothered by some injuries last year, he recorded four sacks last year on a defensive line that did not meet lofty expectations. With Kawann Short off to the NFL, the Boilermakers need Russell to step up and become the next member of their defensive end "Den" tradition. He's got the talent to be one of the top pass-rushers in the league, and if he can play at an elite level, Purdue could surprise some people this fall.
5. Bill Belton, RB, Penn State: When Silas Redd transferred to USC last summer, Belton seemed like the obvious successor at tailback. But after being slowed by an ankle injury early in the season, Belton all but disappeared from the Penn State offense, compiling just 263 rushing yards and receiving only one carry in the final three games as Zach Zwinak put a firm grip on the running back job. Belton remains one of the fastest and shiftiest players the Nittany Lions have, and he reportedly turned in a good spring. Whether he can beat out Zwinak or hold off freshman Akeel Lynch remains to be seen, but he's too talented to remain merely an afterthought. If he can become the player most thought he would develop into, that would give Bill O'Brien another important weapon on offense.
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."
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.
"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.
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.