Big Ten: Ryan Wynn

Two more Big Ten teams have produced their depth charts for Week 1. Let's take a look at Illinois' depth chart for the opener against Arkansas State, and Minnesota's depth chart for its opener at USC.

ILLINOIS

Depth chart (Page 10)
  • As expected, redshirt freshman Michael Heitz has earned the starting strong-side offensive tackle spot. Scott McDowell and Simon Cvijanovic will serve as backups at tackle.
  • Sophomore receiver Darius Millines earned a starting spot with a very strong performance in preseason camp. Classmate Spencer Harris also is listed as a starter at receiver alongside veteran A.J. Jenkins. Ryan Lankford, who had a strong spring, is listed as a backup to Jenkins.
  • Senior Jason Ford is the No. 1 running back, while three players -- senior Troy Pollard and true freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- are listed as co-backups. Don't be surprised if Young gets significant playing time behind Ford.
  • Interesting to see Justin Green and Terry Hawthorne listed as co-starters at cornerback opposite senior Tavon Wilson. Hawthorne has been pretty impressive when healthy, but Green is right there in the mix.
  • After starting last season at safety, Trulon Henry is listed as the starting strong-side linebacker. Sophomore Jonathan Brown enters the season as the top weak-side linebacker ahead of redshirt freshman Houston Bates.
  • Sophomore Miles Osei and freshman Reilly O'Toole are listed as co-backups at quarterback behind Nathan Scheelhaase.
  • No major surprises on the starting defensive line, as senior Craig Wilson steps into the tackle spot vacated by first-round draft pick Corey Liuget.
  • Hawthorne is the team's No. 1 punt returner, while Pollard and Millines are the top two men on kickoff returns.
  • Illinois has a good number of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the depth chart, including tight end Jon Davis, and defensive tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe.
MINNESOTA

Depth chart (Page 22)
  • Junior college transfer Malcolm Moulton has made quite an impression. Moulton is listed as the starter at two receiver positions (the "Z" and "V"); freshman Marcus Jones is the backup at both spots. Senior Collin McGarry is listed as another starting receiver alongside All-Big Ten candidate Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Ryan Wynn and Zach Mottla are listed as co-starters at center, the result of Wynn battling a sprained ankle during preseason camp.
  • Although Minnesota's interior offensive line might feature three senior starters, the top tackles are a sophomore (Ed Olson) and a redshirt freshman (Jimmy Gjere). Two other freshmen, Sean Ferguson and Foster Bush, are listed as Gjere's backups.
  • The depth chart includes another redshirt freshman starter in defensive end Ben Perry. Minnesota is very young along the D-line, as tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey are the only seniors listed among the top three players at each position.
  • Freshman quarterback Max Shortell has won the backup job behind MarQueis Gray.
  • Not many surprises among the linebackers, although Florida transfer Brendan Beal is just a co-backup with junior Ryan Grant at middle linebacker.
  • Eric Lair, who stood out at tight end for Minnesota in 2010, is listed as the team's starting H-back/fullback.
  • Sophomore Brock Vereen appears as the team's No. 1 cornerback opposite senior Troy Stoudermire. Shady Salamon and Kim Royston are the starting safeties.
  • Not surprisingly, freshmen and redshirt freshmen fill coach Jerry Kill's Week 1 depth chart. Quite a few young players will get their college football baptism Saturday afternoon at the L.A. Coliseum.

Video: Minnesota's X factor

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
4:30
PM ET

Brian Bennett looks at Minnesota’s X factor: Ryan Wynn.
The preseason position rankings march on with the offensive lines. Team rankings are below, and we'll take a look at the individual rankings for tackles, centers and guards early next week.

Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.

Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWill arm length be an issue for former Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff in the NFL?
2. Iowa: The line is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest strength and should be one of the nation's elite units in 2011. Iowa returns starting experience at all five positions and should have decent depth. Left tackle Riley Reiff, projected as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, will enter the fall as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy. James Ferentz is one of the league's top centers, and Markus Zusevics is poised for a big year at right tackle.

3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.

4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.

5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.

6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.

7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.

8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.

10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.

12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
Penn State went through a spell of player arrests. So did Iowa. Michigan State wants to finally move past the residence hall mess that resulted in 11 players pleading guilty to assault.

Now Minnesota appears to be the Big Ten team struggling to keep its players out of the blotter.

Gophers junior linebacker Gary Tinlsey faces two felony charges and three misdemeanors following his arrest early Sunday. According to Minneapolis police, Tinsley, 20, and another person were driving mopeds in the wrong direction down a one-way street when an officer ordered them to stop. Both kept driving and one of them, later identified as Tinsley, fled on foot before being caught by University of Minnesota police.

Tinsley, a projected starter at linebacker, faces felony charges of fleeing police in a vehicle and on foot, as well as misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and traffic law enforcement. He remained in Hennepin County jail as of Monday night. No disciplinary action has been announced yet, but Minnesota officials, including athletics director Joel Maturi, are gathering more information about Tinsley's case.

"We're disappointed," Maturi told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press. "We're frustrated. I believe we'll handle it appropriately. Once we know all the facts, we'll make a decision on how to respond."

Tinsley also was cited for underage drinking and fleeing police following an alleged fight in late September, though he wasn't suspended from the team.

Minnesota has endured several other player arrests in the last four months. Starting safety Kyle Theret was indefinitely suspended last month after being cited for driving while impaired. Linebacker Sam Maresh, a candidate for a starting position whose comeback from a heart ailment attracted national attention, twice has been cited for underage drinking in recent weeks.

Two other Minnesota players, running back Kevin Whaley and offensive lineman Ryan Wynn, were arrested during the team's trip to the Insight Bowl in Arizona. Whaley, who came to Minnesota with a checkered past, left the team following a suspension, while Wynn is practicing this spring. Cornerback Michael Carter was arrested in November but didn't face a suspension.

The incidents are adding up, which isn't a good sign heading into a pivotal year for this program and its coaching staff.

Head coach Tim Brewster started his Minnesota tenure by making a strong statement on conduct when he dismissed four players allegedly involved in a rape of an 18-year-old woman, including star cornerback Dominic Jones.

"We spend a considerable amount of time addressing our players regarding their personal conduct and we will not compromise our values," Brewster said in a statement at the time. "We are establishing a culture of integrity and we will demand that our players are held accountable for their actions."

Sounds like it's time for this message to be relayed to Minnesota players once again.
Minnesota had the Big Ten's most experienced roster in 2009, and there are quite a few holes to be filled this spring. The Gophers must replace nine starters on defense as well as All-Big Ten wide receiver Eric Decker, a team record-holder.

The spring features a competition at quarterback between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray and plenty of opportunities for young, highly recruited players to step up.

Here's a look at Minnesota's strong point and weak point heading into spring ball, which kicks off March 23.

Strongest position: Safety

  • Key returnees: Senior Kyle Theret (73 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 passes defended); senior Kim Royston (86 passes, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 7 passes defended); senior Ryan Collado (34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended).
  • Key departures: None
  • The skinny: Minnesota boasts the Big Ten's top safety tandem in Theret and Royston. The two finished the 2009 season on a high note in the Insight Bowl. Theret had two interceptions and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt, while Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, including a forced fumble. Collado provides depth behind them. Although the Gophers lose both starting cornerbacks (Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels), the veteran leadership at safety combined with some exciting young players should fill in the gaps.
Weakest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: Tackles Dom Alford, Jeff Wills and Ryan Wynn; guards Matt Carufel, Chris Bunders and Trey Davis; and center D.J. Burris.
  • Key departures: Tackle Matt Stommes, center Jeff Tow-Arnett
  • The skinny: It would be easy to spotlight linebacker or defensive tackle, positions where the Gophers lose multiple starters from 2009. But until the offensive line starts stepping up, this team is going to struggle. Minnesota has ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, which is simply unacceptable for a program steeped in running tradition. The Gophers have experience, but whether these linemen are good enough or tough enough to execute a new scheme remains to be seen.
Off-field problems continue to hurt Minnesota's program, as running back Shady Salamon is the latest player to get in trouble with police.

Salamon was cited for underage drinking Jan. 8 along with his former high school teammate and current Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. The 20-year-old Floyd told police that he had been involved in a fight near the Minnesota campus and had been drinking. Salamon, 19, also admitted he had been drinking.

A team spokesman told the Star Tribune that head coach Tim Brewster is aware of the situation and will deal with it internally. Two other Gophers players, offensive lineman Ryan Wynn and running back Kevin Whaley, were involved in incidents in Arizona following the team's appearance in the Insight Bowl. Whaley since has been granted his release from the team.

"Obviously, we're bothered by it,'' Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune. "I think any issue is an issue we're concerned about, but when you have multiple issues, you're more concerned. .... Obviously, we're not successful getting our message across [to Minnesota athletes]."

Salamon started two games at running back in 2008 but wasn't in the mix there this fall. The team auditioned him at defensive back during bowl practices, and Salamon recorded six tackles on special teams.
When Minnesota's competition at running back resumes this spring, Kevin Whaley won't be a part of it.

Whaley asked for his release from the team, which obliged on Wednesday. Minnesota said in a news release that Whaley had been indefinitely suspended for violating team rules following the team's loss to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl.

Whaley was arrested and charged with assault following an incident at a Scottsdale, Ariz., nightclub early on New Year's Day. Scottsdale police said Whaley attacked two security guards at the club while being escorted out after disturbing female patrons. Whaley, 21, was released after being charged.

The New Year's incident wasn't Whaley's first brush with trouble at a nightclub. He sat out his first year at Minnesota after being shot in the leg outside a nightclub in Virginia. He also was arrested for assault outside a Minneapolis nightclub in 2008.

Athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune that head football coach Tim Brewster addressed conduct with his players following the Insight Bowl, though both Whaley and offensive lineman Ryan Wynn were arrested.

"Coach Brewster did an unbelievable job of thanking the seniors, of making sure MarQueis [Gray] didn't feel the responsibility for losing the game," Maturi told the newspaper. "Then he spent several minutes talking about acting properly. He said, 'Don't go out and do anything stupid tonight. You are representing yourself and our institution.' Obviously a couple of people didn't listen."

Whaley had 88 carries for 367 yards and two touchdowns this fall. Some considered him the frontrunner to win the starting job this spring, but Minnesota now will turn to Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and several incoming recruits to carry the load at running back.
Minnesota offensive lineman Ryan Wynn spent New Year's Eve in an Arizona jail after being arrested for public consumption by a minor.

Wynn, 20, faces a charge of consumption by a minor after Tempe, Ariz., officers observed he might be impaired by alcohol. The sophomore center didn't play this season after undergoing back surgery but was in Tempe for Minnesota's Insight Bowl matchup against Iowa State.

Wynn appeared in court Friday.

Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune: "It's not what we like to see. But we'll deal with it as we deal with all of the issues that some of our young people get involved with."

Maturi also told the Star Tribune that he expects to complete a contract extension for head coach Tim Brewster before National Signing Day in February.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tim Brewster knows what an NFL player looks like. So do the scouts that visit Minnesota to evaluate Gophers players. 

When they look at a filled-out Matt Stommes, they like what they see. 

"He just has some great measurables," Brewster said. 

Stommes doesn't just pass the eye test. He aces it. The senior is 6-foot-7 and 296 pounds and has arms that measure 36 inches, the same as Denver Broncos first-round pick Ryan Clady.

He looks the part of an elite offensive tackle, and this spring he's getting the chance to prove himself.

Brewster surprised some when he announced that Stommes would open spring ball as Minnesota's starting left tackle. After all, this is a guy who played defensive line for two years and didn't log significant playing time along the offensive front until late last season.

But Stommes made a surprising start at right tackle in the Insight Bowl against Kansas, and as the Gophers change gears on offense to a pro-style, power run attack, he very much figures in the plans.

"It just sometimes happens like that," Brewster said, "where it takes a guy a little while to get to the right spot."

Or, in Stommes' case, grow into the right spot.

He came to Minnesota as a 240-pound defensive end and immediately added 35 pounds his first year. After appearing in nine games as a sophomore, Stommes was asked to switch to offense in preseason camp last summer.

"I had mixed feelings right away," he said. "Playing a bunch my sophomore year, I was like, 'Well, what's going to happen now? Am I going to play at all this year?' So it was a little more encouraging to get some playing time in at the end of [2008], just fed off of that in the offseason."

Stommes added another 20 pounds or so last year to top out at around 295 pounds, though he's leaner than most of the Gophers' linemen.

"When I was a kid, I always had the mentality to be active," said Stommes, who recorded 12 tackles (two for loss) in 2007. "And I give a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning staff. They're excellent. They know how to put the right weight on us."

The adjustment in technique from defense to offense took some time to pick up. Stommes went from reacting and moving forward to "sitting back, kind of in an awkward position." 

But there are benefits to playing offensive line, especially when you know the opponent's thought process. 

"It's a little different when you go up to the line knowing what you're going to do," Stommes said. "I try to use some things I learned on defense and try to apply them to offense, what they're trying to do to you on a 1-on-1 basis."

Brewster's hiring of new offensive line coach Tim Davis in late November marked the first step toward a fundamental transition of offensive philosophy. It was clear early on that Stommes factored heavily in Davis' vision for the group. 

Ryan Wynn had started every game at right tackle during the regular season, but he shifted to left guard as Stommes made his first career start. For spring ball, Dom Alford moved from left tackle to left guard, clearing a spot for Stommes.

"Obviously, it's nice to be running with the 1s," Stommes said, "but it's something each person wants to fight for."

Stommes is aware of his pro potential, but he doesn't dwell on it. 

"The coaches sometimes say something," he said. "They're just trying to get me motivated, which is a good thing. All that matters right now is running a good offense, running a good offensive line. That's what I'm focused on."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It was a heavy news day around the Big Ten, so my regularly scheduled mailbag will be pushed back to Wednesday. From here on out I'll have mailbags on Tuesdays and Fridays, so make sure to send in your questions.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced this afternoon that junior Jake Christensen will start at quarterback Saturday against Maine. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who has come on strong toward the end of preseason camp, also will see action. Christensen threw for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions as the starter last season, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.

"He came in as a starter, and I think he's practiced well," Ferentz said of Christensen. "It's not a matter of his performance. He's elevated his performance from the spring. I thought he was better in the spring than he was in the fall [of 2007], and I think he's continued to improve, which is what we're hoping for."

Here are some notes and links I didn't get to earlier:

  • Ferentz announced that reserve running back Nate Guillory will transfer. Guillory had been competing for the starting job this month but fell behind opening-day starter Shonn Greene and emerging sophomore Paki O'Meara. Freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton are also in the fold, so Ferentz isn't concerned about depth despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. "The jury is still out because we haven't played a snap that counts," he said, "but based on what we've seen, we're pretty optimistic."
  • Ferentz also announced that tight end Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wideout Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will miss the opener with injuries. Doering, a possible starter at left guard, has a hand injury but should be back by next week. Moeaki will miss 1-2 weeks with a foot injury. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has a hamstring injury but could play.
  • Wideout Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are no longer with Illinois' team, coach Ron Zook announced today. Gamble had been expected to contribute at receiver this fall.
  • Minnesota's Week 1 depth chart is out, and not surprisingly, there are some notable changes. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons are listed as starters at safety and cornerback, and former wideout Marcus Sherels has won the other starting cornerback spot. Sherels also will serve as the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts.
  • Sophomore Ralph Spry and emerging junior Ben Kuznia have joined star Eric Decker as the Gophers' starting wideouts. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith are listed as backups. Minnesota's starting spots at left guard and right tackle remain undecided. Sophomore D.J. Burris is competing with Ryan Orton at left guard, and redshirt freshmen Ryan Wynn or Jason Meinke will start at right tackle.
  • Penn State safety Nick Sukay will miss the season with a broken bone in his foot, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Starting cornerback Tony Davis expects Lydell Sargeant to win the other top CB job, Jeff McLane writes.
  • Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is healthier but must leapfrog several players on the depth chart, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Also check out the list of Buckeyes true freshmen likely to play this fall (besides Terrelle Pryor, of course).
  • Maybe RichRod is fooling all of us, but he seems fine with playing two quarterbacks in the season opener, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
  • Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio praises the play of defensive end Dwayne Holmes, who could start the opener.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the second half of my interview with Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster. (For part I, click here.)

Have the junior college guys set a new tone on defense?

Tim Brewster: We ask this singular question of our players: Are you a great teammate? We spend a lot of time talking about what a great teammate is and team camaraderie and those types of things. We really feel like we're growing together very closely. I just have a really good feel for this group of kids. They genuinely care about each other, and that will take you a long way.

Recruiting is obviously a big part of what you do and have done. What has it been like so far recruiting to Minnesota?

TB: I really felt like this was one of the best-kept secrets in college football, the Twin Cities, the facilities we have here, the facility commitment, brand-new stadium. I think that last season's recruiting success is just the tip of the iceberg. We're going to continue at a very high level each and every year. It's something that's very important to me and our staff. We work really hard at it, and the biggest thing is we really enjoy the recruiting process. Minnesota's not a hard sell at all. Last year, we had 45 kids in on official visits; 31 of them signed scholarships with us. That's over a 72 percent success ratio. That's amazingly high.

Leadership starts with the quarterback spot. How has Adam [Weber] come along in camp and where do you see him progressing?

TB: Adam has got a chance to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He's got tremendous physical characteristics. He's got a great mind. He's really adapted well to the spread offense. The thing I'm most excited about is his leadership capability. He's verbalizing leadership, he's really taken command of our football team and in particular, our offense. We had some pretty good numbers last year, but I think we'll be much improved on that side of the ball as well.

Is the running back spot a position you need to get more from? There were some injuries last year and a lot was on Adam's shoulders.

TB: In our offense, the quarterback is a designed runner, so it wasn't by accident that Adam ran so many times. He'll run the ball quite a bit this year as well. We really think Duane Bennett's going to be an outstanding player. We've got some really good young kids: DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salomon, Jay Thomas comes back healthy. So we think that tailback is going to be a position of strength for us.

Adam and Eric [Decker] developed great chemistry last year. Are some other guys stepping up at wide receiver to provide a second option?

TB: Brandon Green is going to be really an outstanding football player. Brodrick Smith is really making an impact on our team. Xzavian Brandon is doing some nice things. So under the leadership and guidance of Eric Decker, that group is really coming along nicely. We're really going to have to expedite the learning process with those guys because we need 'em from Game 1 to be performers for us.

So in terms of junior-college guys and freshmen playing this fall, are you thinking 15-20 guys?

TB: I don't necessarily put a number on anything. There'll be a lot of new faces, especially on the defensive side of the ball and there'll be some new ones on offense. Collectively, we've got a chance to be a much-improved team.

You've been a little banged up on the offensive line, which has some new starters. How is that group coming along?

TB: The line has really done a nice job. We've got some real workmanlike guys, nothing flashy about those guys. I just really like their work ethic. A young guy, Ryan Orton has really stepped in and played extremely well at left guard. Dom Alford has been a solid Big Ten football player. Ryan Wynn has really done a nice job and Ned Tavale, Chris Bunders. We've got some youthfulness there, but we also have some outstanding talent. It's a nice group.

With the players feeding off your optimism, what are their expectations for the season?

TB: It's hard to say. I think our team is a confident group. They feel good about themselves, and they should. Last season was a very painful one for all of us, but our team, the investment they've made in improving themselves physically, off the field, in the weight room, has been amazing. Summer camp has gone very well. We want to make certain that we honor the game the way we play it. I think our kids are going to do that, without question.

Three questions for Minnesota

August, 19, 2008
8/19/08
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Today I'll be taking a closer look at Minnesota, which tries to rebound from a school-record 11 losses as it enters Tim Brewster's second season as coach. Here are three questions facing the Gophers as they enter the fall:

1. Who are these guys?

Minnesota's roster has a decidedly different look to it, and that's not a bad thing after last year. Recognizing the need for immediate upgrades on defense, Brewster brought in several junior-college players who will start or get major playing time. Keep an eye on Tramaine Brock, a hard-hitting safety who won a starting job this spring and should set the tone in the secondary. He'll get help from Traye Simmons at cornerback. The line also will have a JC flavor with Cedric McKinley at defensive end and Simoni Lawrence and linebacker. Minnesota will lean on a strong crop of incoming freshmen, including cornerback/return man Troy Stoudermire, and wide receivers Brandon Green, Xzavian Brandon and Brodrick Smith.

2. How will the offensive line fare after losing three starters?

As the rest of the team prepares to take the next step with greater knowledge of the system, the line is, in a sense, starting over. This was one of few Gophers units that excelled last season, allowing a Big Ten-low 13 sacks. The loss of standouts Tony Brinkhaus and Steve Shidell will sting, and Minnesota needs Jeff Tow-Arnett to make a smooth transition from left guard to center. Ryan Wynn, Ryan Orton and Chris Bunders lead a group of promising young linemen, but they can't afford growing pains. Getting the line right is the biggest priority for a team sensing a breakthrough this fall.

3. How will new coordinator Ted Roof reshape the nation's worst defense?

Roof loves tough challenges, but unlike the Duke team he coached last year, Minnesota has the talent to make a big jump this fall. The veteran defensive coach stressed the basics upon his arrival, and Minnesota tackled a ton this spring after not doing it enough last fall. Roof doesn't consider himself a panacea, but he's another reminder that last season is in the past. There's no doubt the junior-college transfers will help. Roof's challenge will be facilitating improvement from returning starters like defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and linebackers Steve Davis and Deon Hightower.

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