Big Ten: Shane Jones

The spring football odyssey in the Big Ten wraps up this weekend, as the final three spring games will take place Saturday. As we've done with the previous 11, we're going to preview each event. Let's take a look at the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans' spring fling:

When: 2 p.m. ET Saturday

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Admission: Free. Fans may also purchase press box seats for $75 (deadline is noon today). Stadium gates A, B, C, D and G open at 12:30 p.m. The first 30,000 fans will receive a commemorative 2013 championship team poster, and the team will be honored at halftime. Fans are invited to take photos with the 2013 Legends Division, Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl championship trophies from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the southwest ramp of Spartan Stadium, adjacent to Gate C.

TV: Big Ten Network (live).

Weather forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 56 degrees.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichigan State's spring game festivities allow Mark Dantonio's Spartans to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.
What to watch for: This is a spring game but also -- as you can tell by the festivities -- a celebration of the Spartans' 2013 championship run. Head coach Mark Dantonio has said he wants 50,000 fans to show up because "that's where this program needs to go." That would be more than double the estimated turnout from a year ago, but the weather looks much better for Saturday than it did for the '13 spring game.

The team held its annual player draft on Wednesday afternoon, and the White team ended up with starting quarterback Connor Cook. Redshirt freshman Damion Terry, whom fans were clamoring for early last season, will see time at quarterback for both teams. It will be fascinating to see how the Spartans incorporate him this fall.

Other things to watch for include a new-look defense that is replacing six starters, including four All-Big Ten performers. Linebacker will be a particular area of curiosity, with Max Bullough and Denicos Allen gone and younger players such as Jon Reschke, Riley Bullough and Shane Jones pushing for playing time. Redshirt freshman safety Jalyn Powell was the surprise first draft pick among the safeties, ahead of veterans RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox, so he obviously has the respect of his teammates.

Offensively, Michigan State returns the nucleus from last season's squad, although there will be some new faces on the offensive line. Tight end Jamal Lyles has turned a lot of heads this spring and could be unleashed on Saturday.

Regardless of how the spring game goes, Spartans fans should have plenty of reasons to smile this weekend.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Taiwan Jones is a sociology major at Michigan State, but the senior's toughest course this spring might be his switch to middle linebacker.

"I feel like I'm taking another class right now," he told

This isn't 100-level stuff, either. It's more like graduate or post-doctorate work, taught by professor Pat Narduzzi and building on the groundbreaking thesis of former ace pupil Max Bullough.

Jones is no stranger to the Spartans' defensive scheme. He has started 17 games at weakside linebacker, including 13 times last season, when he finished with 67 tackles.

But now he takes over in the middle, the position that Bullough so expertly commanded by Bullough the past three seasons. Narduzzi often called Bullough his "computer" on defense, because Bullough knew where every player was supposed to be and could serve as a coach on the field.

Michigan State is hoping Jones can eventually have all that information at his fingertips and lead the same way.

"Everybody's depending on you," Jones said. "You're that guy. I'm not nervous about it, but I feel a little bit of pressure. But pressure makes champions, I feel like."

[+] EnlargeTaiwan Jones
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokMichigan State's Taiwan Jones is immersed in learning how to be an effective middle linebacker this spring.
Physically, the New Baltimore, Mich., native looks the part. Head coach Mark Dantonio described the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder as "a thumper." Narduzzi said Jones didn't quite fit the mold of a weakside linebacker in his system, but that was the best place to get him on the field the past couple of seasons because of veterans such as Bullough and Denicos Allen.

"He's a more physical type of guy to begin with, so I think he brings a physical style in the box," Narduzzi said. "He should be a little more at home there."

The Spartans have little doubt that Jones can make plays. It's that intricate knowledge of the system that's a work in progress. Jones said he's spending a lot of extra time in the film room with linebackers coach Mike Tressel and trying his best to translate what he sees from film study and meetings onto the field early on this spring.

"I know the defense," he said, "but it's the other things I have to know better. I have to know when to check into things, when to put the defensive linemen into stunts, stuff like that.

"Most importantly, it's leadership. It's guys knowing they can depend on me, that I've got their back and that I'll never put us in the wrong position. Max never put us in the wrong position. I'm trying to have the utmost confidence so they can have confidence in me to lead them."

Jones has little choice but to lead because he's the only returning starter at linebacker with both Bullough and Allen gone, along with Rose Bowl defensive MVP Kyler Elsworth. Michigan State is counting on juniors Darien Harris and Ed Davis stepping forward, as well as sophomore Riley Bullough and redshirt freshmen Jon Reschke and Shane Jones. Dantonio said when the team put the pads on for the first time this spring on Saturday, "We didn't look the same at linebacker."

Narduzzi's scheme depends on linebackers being able to play effectively against both the run and the pass, so the position has to maintain its high standards in order for the Spartans to reach their goals.

It all starts with Jones. Narduzzi said he won't know until the end of fall preseason practice whether Jones is truly ready to bring all the things to the table that Bullough did. But he already has seen small improvements in his new middle linebacker during the first few practices of the spring.

"We're going to make him a better football player because we're going to make him smarter," Narduzzi said.

Sounds like Jones has a lot more homework ahead of him in this class.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

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.

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, Michael Trotter, Max Bullough, Jonathan Brown, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Mylan Hicks, Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, Ryan Russell, Joshua Perry, Derek Landisch, Jimmy Hall, Denicos Allen, Ralph Cooper, Curtis Grant, Darien Harris, Quinton Alston, Marcus Trotter, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael Rose, Joseph Jones, Camren Williams, Vince Biegel, Cole Fisher, Jack Lynn, Nyeem Wartman, Allen Gant, T.J. Neal, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Joe Gilliam, David Cooper, Jon Reschke, Taiwan Jones, Ben Gedeon, Shane Jones, Brandon Bell, Nathan Gerry, Marcus Newby, Forisse Hardin, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, Eric Finney, Trey Johnson, Leon Jacobs, Reggie Spearman, Alec James, De'Vondre Campbell, De'Niro Laster, Damien Wilson, Josh Banderas, T.J. Simmons, Clyde Newton, Marcus Oliver, Ben Kline, Drew Smith, Nick Rallis, Troy Reeder, James Ross III, Joe Schobert, Raekwon McMillan, Gelen Robinson, Gary Wooten, Ed Davis, Travis Perry, Brian Knorr, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Jaylen Prater, B1G spring positions 14, Darron Lee, L.A. Goree, Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Abner Logan, Danny Ezechukwu, Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause, Jamal Merrell, Davon Jacobs, L.J. Liston

You've probably seen The Scowl. Just about everybody has.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is often typecast on the sideline, where he's most exposed. His standard game-day expression -- furrowed brow, piercing eyes, pursed lips often forming a scowl -- creates a default image.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio might be best known for his sideline scowls, but his success at Michigan State has made Spartans fans smile.
Saturday snapshots create lasting labels for coaches, as the Mad Hatter (LSU's Les Miles) or The Vest (former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel) can attest. For Dantonio, it's the scowl.

"People always ask me questions, about how he's grumpy or scowling," said Dan Enos, an assistant for Dantonio from 2004 to '09. "My daughter's even said that to me, watching him on TV. I don't know how he portrays himself to the public, but he's very funny, very engaging, obviously very bright -- one of the most pleasant, best people I've ever been around."

There's much more to Dantonio than the scowl. There's the meticulous mind who impressed his superiors as a young defensive coach by providing scouting reports, recruiting evaluations and game reviews. There's the chief who grants autonomy to his deputies while creating a culture of confidence fueled by themes -- this season's: Chase It -- and gutsy decisions.

There's the 57-year-old who names his trademark special-teams fakes after children's movies such as "Little Giants" and dances to hip-hop -- specifically, Rich Homie Quan's "Type of Way," MSU's anthem this season -- in the locker room after wins. There's the man dedicated to faith and family whose beliefs have been strengthened in recent years after a health scare and his father's death.

There's another label Dantonio has earned: elite coach. He has won 41 games since the start of the 2010 season, guiding Michigan State to two Big Ten championships, including its first outright title and Rose Bowl appearance in 26 years. Only five coaches have won more games than Dantonio in that span, including Alabama's Nick Saban, a Dantonio mentor known to scowl occasionally.

"He's just been rock solid," said Tressel, who had Dantonio on his staff at Ohio State and at Youngstown State. "He's always known what he wants to accomplish with his kids. He knew if he established a good, steady program, the winning would come, and it certainly has."

Dantonio's plan is blossoming at MSU, but the seeds were planted decades ago. As a graduate assistant at Ohio State, Dantonio oversaw live scouting (then permitted) and compiled extensive reports.

While serving as Ohio State's defensive coordinator, Dantonio wouldn't let the team recruit defenders unless they were sound tacklers and unselfish, regardless of their raw athleticism.

"He was very strict and stringent in his evaluation," Tressel said. "He wanted to meet every one of those defensive kids."

Dantonio's ability to "take the entire picture of a recruit," as Enos puts it, sets him apart. It helped when he left the brand-name program in Columbus for his first head-coaching post at Cincinnati, which he boosted in three years there.

Michigan State had greater recruiting reach, but, other than the 2009 class, Dantonio's hauls haven't landed on the national radar. Even this year's team, which featured the nation's No. 1 defense, had just three players rated in the ESPN 150/300, including two redshirting freshmen (Shane Jones and Damion Terry).

"They might not have a lot of four- or five-[star] recruits, but they play like four- and five-star," said Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason, who had Dantonio on his staff at Kansas from 1991 to '94. "That's what he went after, that's what he's built it around."

Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo sees similarities between Dantonio's program and his own, from player development -- "It's not like either of us are loaded with top-five guys," Izzo said -- to core values. The difference: Spartans hoops is a national powerhouse.

Dantonio's teams had been very good but not elite until this year. Player development and staff continuity helped -- only four assistants have departed in seven years, two for head-coaching jobs -- but Dantonio's handling of adverse situations pushed MSU a step further.

"He's gotten better at making tough decisions," Izzo said.

Dantonio suspended 13 players for the 2009 Alamo Bowl for their roles in an on-campus fight after the team banquet. He showed patience with a messy quarterback situation early this fall. Connor Cook eventually emerged.

"Everybody ripped him for having three quarterbacks in the same game," Izzo said. "Nobody stood out; he's trying to give each a chance. He did what he knew was right."

Dantonio made one of his toughest calls Wednesday night, suspending starting middle linebacker and two-time captain Max Bullough for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

Dantonio's coaching trials have been interspersed with personal challenges. He suffered a mild heart attack in the 2010 season and missed two games. Five days before the 2011 season, Dantonio's father, Justin, died at age 86.

"You hope that all these experiences shape you," Dantonio said.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has seen a more relaxed Dantonio, who often reminds players that life is short so enjoy every moment.

"Mark is still the same Mark, but, when you lose your dad, it has an impact," MSU athletic director Mark Hollis said. "Do you shift the rudder a bit? Absolutely.

"But he's used those life experiences, I believe, to complete his life in a positive way."

Hollis hopes Dantonio will complete his coaching career at MSU. Hollis built bonds with Dantonio and Izzo while all three served in assistant roles at MSU in the 1990s. The triumvirate talks daily about player conduct, recruiting, academics and other issues.

"The three of us literally are like brothers," Hollis said.

Hollis has kept the family intact despite NBA overtures to Izzo. He must do the same as Dantonio's stock soars.

Named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2010 and again this season, Dantonio is arguably the nation's best bargain, earning about $1.96 million, ninth among Big Ten coaches. A substantial raise is coming.

"Coach D and I are in a very good place," Hollis said. "We both know what the future is going to look like for him and his staff."

Deep-pocketed programs such as Texas still might court Dantonio, but the Zanesville, Ohio, native is rooted in the Midwest and at MSU, where both of his daughters are students.

Asked recently about the Texas job, Dantonio called it flattering but said, "I see Michigan State as a destination, not a stop."

Those who know him best agree.

Mason: "He might want to be the Tom Izzo of football at Michigan State. He's definitely put his footprints all over that program."

Izzo: "Mark's not all about the money, he's not about the name, he's about building something that's his. I'd say this is home for him."

Tressel: "He's never been a guy that's bounced around. All signs are he'll be wearing that green and white."

For Spartans fans, that's nothing to scowl at.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 15, 2013
Saw these guys last night in Cincinnati. Great band from Big Ten country.

Spartans LB Allen has foot surgery

February, 13, 2013
Michigan State senior linebacker Denicos Allen underwent foot surgery on Tuesday and could miss at least part of spring practice, according to a report from's Mike Griffith.

Allen reportedly injured his left foot during an early-morning winter workout on Friday. The injury is not considered serious, and Allen is expected to be ready to go for the start of the 2013 season. Michigan State begins spring practice March 19.

Allen finished third on the team last season with 79 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. The Spartans are well positioned to absorb a potential loss at linebacker with starters Max Bullough and Taiwan Jones returning, plus several promising young players at the position like Darien Harris, Riley Bullough and signees Shane Jones and Jon Reschke. If Allen does miss a significant portion of spring ball, that could give the youngsters more reps to hasten their development.

Recruiting Q&A: MSU's Mark Dantonio

February, 7, 2013
Michigan State signed a relatively small class this year, with just 18 new players. And the Spartans were overshadowed a bit by the recruiting successes of Michigan. But Mark Dantonio and his staff have shown a knack for identifying their type of player on the recruiting trail and then developing them into All-Big Ten type performers. So you'd be wise not to sleep on this latest batch of recruits who are heading to East Lansing.

I caught up with Dantonio for a few minutes to discuss this year's class.

What were your main objectives with this class?

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio has five state champions and 11 all-state selections in his 18-player recruiting class.
Mark Dantonio: We didn't have a lot of seniors, and then we had a few guys go out early, so we had to adjust some thinking and needs. But I thought the needs we addressed were we needed to find a kicker to compete for the No. 1 position, and I thought we did that. Michael Geiger is ranked the No 1 kicker by Rivals, so that's exciting for us. You don't need a kicker until you need one. The two linebackers we signed were big-time recruits, four-star players, but more importantly state champions from excellent programs. Team leaders and very active, explosive players in Jon Reshcke and Shane Jones.

The tailback situation, with Le'Veon Bell going out, we added a lot of depth to that position by signing Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams, who's really an athlete who can play a lot of positions. But he'll start at tailback. He reminds me a lot of Bell when he came in here. So three talented players there, and an excellent offensive lineman, a tight end and defensive linemen. Then I think in our secondary, Darian Hicks is an outstanding player and an extremely good athlete, and Justin Williams and Jalyn Powell are the same. Wide receivers are talented as well. I think we've got five state champions and 11 all-state players.

Damion Terry has gotten a lot of attention. He's a dual-threat quarterback, which we haven't seen much of lately at Michigan State. What were your thoughts on his recruitment?

MD: Damion is a guy we started the recruiting process on last spring. He came to camp and did a tremendous job throwing the football. Great mechanics and very poised and composed. And then he has the ability to run around. He's 6-foot-3, probably 6-4, and 220 pounds. He has run the football on designated runs but also created in high school. He was a state champion player. He was the AAA player of the year in the state of Pennsylvania. Damion has thrown for 50 touchdowns and run for 12 more in one year. He's got tremendous upside. One of the biggest things is he seems like a great leader. Very calm. And extremely talented.

You haven't had to play many freshmen right away on defense the past couple of years. Do you see that continuing with this group?

MD: Redshirting and playing, as a young freshman, is really determined by opportunity, timing and a lot with injuries. Can you stay healthy, can you pick up the defense the first two weeks of summer camp? The players in front of them, do they get injured and provide a window? But I think they're capable, from a physical standpoint, of running, of playing the deep ball, of explosiveness at the linebacker spot like we talked about. Those guys have the upside to be able to play early. It's just, can they stay healthy and will people in front of them stay healthy, and how do they pick up things? That remains to be seen.

With Bell gone, you don't have a lot of veterans at tailback. Do you see some of these young guys contributing there early?

MD: Yeah, I do, just because of the nature of the position. We really only have three other tailbacks, and couple of guys are smaller in stature -- powerful, but smaller. I think these guys will all be 200-pound-plus guys, and they all have great skill. Their skill should allow them to be in a competitive situation. Now can they stay healthy and the things I just talked about? That remains true.

You've had a strong run at linebacker recently. Are these new guys in that same mold?

MD: Yeah, I think they're very, very similar. They're guys that are explosive. Good blitzers who play downhill and can run very, very well. Both have great football IQs and come from great programs. They're used to playing on great stages. There is no bigger stage than the Cincinnati-area Catholic league, and there's no bigger stage in the state of Michigan than Brother Rice. They're state champions, both of them, and very, very successful players.

You also signed a defensive tackle transfer from the University of Toronto in James Bodanis. How do you see him contributing?

MD: He's a young man who played college competition up there. It's similar to probably junior college football down here. He's got the skills, he's quick, he's explosive, he's big, he's very powerful. But it's going to be an adjustment to the game down here. And there has to be a window of opportunity. Can he adjust?

Did you have to be more selective this year because of the small scholarship numbers?

MD: We're always going to be very selective. We try to take quality over quantity. We only took one offensive lineman, but he's an outstanding player in Dennis Finley. He's a big, long guy. I think he could be one of the best players maybe in the class. So it will be exciting to watch him grow and mature. We're excited about it. It's like New Year's Day for us. I think everything at this point starts fresh, and it's a new life and a new stage for these guys.
The fax machines are collecting dust again around the Big Ten as national signing day is in the books and all 12 classes are signed. Earlier Wednesday, Brian Bennett took a look at the Leaders Division and how teams did in filling their most pressing recruiting needs. Now it's time to take a look at the Legends Division.


Needs filled: Iowa's passing game needs a jolt after ranking 99th nationally last season, and the team signed five wide receivers. The Hawkeyes also were mindful that they'll lose all three starting linebackers after 2013 and flipped Reggie Spearman, an Illinois commit. Cornerback Desmond King should provide immediate help in the secondary.

Holes remaining: Offensive line could soon be an issue as Iowa missed out on several targets in this year's class. The Hawkeyes also need some difference-makers along the defensive line and signed only two linemen in this class.


Needs filled: The Wolverines got the running back they wanted and needed, Derrick Green, who could contribute immediately. They also continued to address the depth issues coach Brady Hoke inherited on both lines, adding five offensive linemen ranked in the ESPN 300. Although Devin Gardner solidified the quarterback spot late last season, Michigan needed to plan for the future and signed a solid signal-caller, Shane Morris.

Holes remaining: There aren't many obvious weak spots, although Michigan could use a bit more help on the perimeter, especially at wide receiver. Top wideouts Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo depart after the 2013 season, and the depth in the secondary isn't quite where it needs to be.


Needs filled: The Spartans signed three running backs -- Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams -- who could compete for immediate playing time at a position with very little depth. They also brought in a likely quarterback of the future in Damion Terry and bolstered the linebacking corps with ESPN 300 selection Shane Jones and Jon Reschke.

Holes remaining: Michigan State's offensive line depth still isn't where it needs to be, and the Spartans signed only one offensive lineman (Dennis Finley) this year. MSU signed only two defensive backs, although the coaches really like what Darian Hicks and Jalyn Powell bring to the field.


Needs filled: The Gophers lose a lot at linebacker and filled the gaps with junior college players Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell. They need more playmakers on offense and added some at receiver to go along with an intriguing dual-threat quarterback in Chris Streveler.

Holes remaining: Minnesota loses some key defensive backs and will lose more after the 2013 season. The Gophers signed only two cornerbacks and no safeties in this class, so they could have some depth issues if current sophomores and juniors don't pan out.


Needs filled: The Huskers continued to address their depth issues at linebacker with prospects such as Marcus Newby and added more depth to the offensive line with five players. They added a potential quarterback of the future in Johnny Stanton and continued to recruit well at all the offensive skill positions.

Holes remaining: After missing out on several elite defensive linemen, Nebraska is still looking for disruptive players up front. Perhaps junior college arrival Randy Gregory fills the void. The Huskers could have used another elite secondary prospect.


Needs filled: The Wildcats will need a quarterback after the 2014 season and found an absolutely perfect fit in Matt Alviti. They also addressed the running back spot for the second straight year. Offensive line recruiting continues to be a strength for Northwestern.

Holes remaining: The class lacks an obvious difference-maker on defense, a unit where Northwestern improved in 2012 but still has a long way to go. Northwestern could have picked up another linebacker and another pass-rushing defensive end. Perhaps four-star prospect Godwin Igwebuike, listed as a running back, will contribute on the defensive side.
National signing day is just one week away. Before the big day arrives, we thought we'd check in with a pair of recruiting experts to get their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker were kind enough to take some time out of their frenzied schedules to address a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. Here's is Part I of that discussion; look for Part II on Thursday:

Michigan and Ohio State are obviously the headliners among Big Ten teams right now. Are they recruiting at a level where fans can expect them to contend for national titles in the near future?

Tom Luginbill: Possibly. The challenge for both OSU and Michigan will be whether they can pool the type of defensive front player that can contend with SEC competitors, because that is the difference right now, and both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke know it. Both coaching staffs are recruiting very well and at a level that should set them apart from the rest of the conference at this time. Michigan continues to lay down its blueprint of what they want their identity to be, which is why the commitment of running back Derrick Green is so pivotal. He embodies what they want their program to be about -- physical, tough, wear-you-down type of roster. Ohio State's focus is clearly on defense in the front with the 2012 class and again in this class, but with more of an emphasis on the defensive secondary and offensive-skilled weapons.

The reality is that if Michigan or Ohio State are undefeated or one-loss teams, which both are capable of being in the coming years, then yes, they will be able to contend for the title. Winning it means they will have to lure top defensive lineman likely out of the South and away from the SEC and ACC.

Jared Shanker: I think so. Florida and Alabama, we have them as No.s 1 and 2 in in the country right now. Ohio State, if you look at some of their remaining targets, there's a chance -- I don't know if they can get all the way to No. 1, but they could crack at least the top three. I like what they've been able to do defensively, especially in the defensive backfield, with five-star Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Cam Burrows. I like what Michigan's been able to do, especially offensively, with Shane Morris at quarterback and Derrick Green at running back. There might not be another offensive line haul as good in the country as Michigan's.

If you look at both classes, this is the second year both of them are going to finish among the highest in the country. You have to believe they're going to continue to do that. These recruiting classes should be able to help close that gap and translate into at least competing for a spot to play in the national championship at some point.

Outside of the Wolverines and Buckeyes, what other Big Ten schools have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Indiana. Say what you will, but Penn State has been able to hold firm. Of course they had some early defections, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman have been true ambassadors for the Nittany Lions as much as any coach has been. The class will not be large, of course, but the caliber of player is quality, and better than most would expect. The question is whether they can do it over the next three years as well. The numbers will dwindle, and likely so will the wins, so what is the caliber of player going forward that they will truly have a legitimate shot at?

Kevin Wilson has some buzz right now. It actually started last year with the likes of quarterback Nate Sudfeld who was way under the radar and from California, and has continued with this class with more of an emphasis on the South. The state of Georgia has proven to be quite fruitful with the additions of athlete Rashard Fant, outside linebacker Kristopher Smith, and cornerback Noel Padmore. In-state defensive tackle Darius Latham is a huge get at a critical need position.

JS: I like what Michigan State's done. They don't have huge numbers in this class, but they have a lot of quality there. I especially like what they're doing at linebacker, with ESPN 300 guy Shane Jones. Delton Williams, he's a bit of a tweener, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at linebacker. Four-star Jon Reshcke, he's a Michigan State legacy; Michigan came after him a little bit late but he's sticking with the Spartans. So three of their four top commits are likely all going to be playing linebacker, and the one guy that isn't a linebacker in that group is quarterback Damion Terry. I've seen him play and really like what he's done. He brings a dual threat to Michigan State, and I think in a couple of years he can be the next big quarterback there.

Northwestern, they've done pretty well on the offensive line, and once again they've been able to get one of the better recruits in the country with quarterback Matt Alviti, Obviously, they're not going to get a staggering class, but they've got two four-star guys and some pretty good offensive linemen. So I like what they've been able to do.

How have the new staffs at Wisconsin and Purdue fared in recruiting after getting a late start?

JS: I think they're doing what you'd kind of expect, maybe a little bit better in terms of keeping guys on board. I believe Wisconsin has only lost one commitment. Four-star Alec James is wavering, but I believe he's going to end up sticking with Wisconsin at this point. They're making a run at a couple of other guys they wanted, but they're going to keep the class intact for the most part. They might add a couple of juco guys, or a couple guys late. You have to at least like that Gary Andersen has been able to hold the class, and if they can get a guy like Tanner McEvoy, the juco quarterback out of Arizona, I think you'd have to be really happy. But I think Badger fans should be satisfied that Andersen kept the class together for the most part.

Purdue has done pretty well with some big recruiting weekends recently. They've had to scramble a little bit and go for some guys who were maybe looking at the MAC level before. But I like what they've done. Offensive tackle Jason Tretter, he's 6-foot-7 and had a pretty bad injury his junior year, and that might have prevented him from getting a little more attention. Evan Panfil, they were able to flip from Illinois. Dan Monteroso, they flipped him from Boston College. I think all things considered, coming in late and Purdue not being the easiest place to recruit to, there are a lot of positive signs in what coach [Darrell] Hazell's been able to do. You have to like that he was able to keep the two biggest recruits on board as well: quarterback Danny Etling and running back Keyante Green.

TL: There has not been much movement. For the most part the classes have held firm from commitments to the prior staff. Purdue seems to continue its presence in the Southeast, which Danny Hope started.

B1G recruits in latest ESPN 300

January, 11, 2013
The folks at ESPN Recruiting have presented their final pre-signing day version of the ESPN 300, listing the nation's top prospects in the 2013 class.

Let's see which Big Ten commits made the rundown (note: positions listed by ESPN Recruiting):
  • No. 11: CB Eli Apple (formerly Woodard), signed with Ohio State
  • No. 15: QB Christian Hackenberg, committed to Penn State
  • No. 43: CB Gareon Conley, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 48: LB Trey Johnson, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 49: WR Jalin Marshall, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 56: DT Joey Bosa, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 62: CB Cam Burrows, signed with Ohio State
  • No. 67: TE Adam Breneman, signed with Penn State
  • No. 88: CB Jourdan Lewis, committed to Michigan
  • No. 91: G David Dawson, committed to Michigan
  • No. 93 ATH Dymonte Thomas, committed to Michigan
  • No. 101: G Patrick Kugler, committed to Michigan
  • No. 102: TE Marcus Baugh, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 104: OT Logan Tuley-Tillman, committed to Michigan
  • No. 106: OT Evan Lisle, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 109: RB Ezekiel Elliott, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 114: LB Mike McCray II, committed to Michigan
  • No. 116: DE Taco Charlton, committed to Michigan
  • No. 127: QB Shane Morris, committed to Michigan
  • No. 128: LB Mike Mitchell, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 134: OT Chris Fox, committed to Michigan
  • No. 147: ATH Rashard Fant, committed to Indiana
  • No. 149: RB Corey Clement, committed to Wisconsin
  • No. 157: G Kyle Bosch, committed to Michigan
  • No. 164: QB Matt Alviti, committed to Northwestern
  • No. 177: QB Danny Etling, signed with Purdue
  • No. 182: TE Jake Butt, committed to Michigan
  • No. 188: LB Shane Jones, committed to Michigan State
  • No. 208: G Brendan Mahon, committed to Penn State
  • No. 216: DT Michael Hill, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 218: S Jayme Thompson, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 232: WR Jaron Dukes, committed to Michigan
  • No. 237: WR Dominic Walker, committed to Nebraska
  • No. 247: QB Johnny Stanton, committed to Nebraska
  • No. 254: DT Henry Poggi, committed to Michigan
  • No. 261: QB J.T. Barrett, signed with Ohio State
  • No. 265: RB Keyante Green, committed to Purdue
  • No. 279: DT Darius Latham, committed to Indiana
  • No. 280: ATH Ben Gedeon, committed to Michigan
  • No. 281: DT Donovan Munger, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 281: QB Damion Terry, committed to Michigan State
  • No. 287: DT Billy Price, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 296: LB Marcus Newby, committed to Nebraska

Ohio State (15 recruits) and Michigan (14) dominate the ESPN 300, but Nebraska has made a nice push recently and Indiana will surprise some folks with multiple entries. Three Big Ten teams -- Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota -- don't have a recruit ranked in the ESPN 300.

The latest class rankings also are out. Insider Ohio State holds steady at No. 4, while Michigan drops a spot to No. 7. Penn State holds steady at No. 24, while Nebraska moves up a spot to No. 26 and Wisconsin moves up two spots to No. 30. Michigan State holds steady at No. 34, while Indiana moves down a spot and rounds out the top 40.
The calendar has flipped to June, so it's time to check the Big Ten 2013 recruiting scorecard once again. There haven't been too many changes from the last scorecard, although teams like Illinois have made a surge, and others have picked up pieces here and there. Individual recruiting grades also have been updated throughout the ESPN database.

Michigan still leads the FBS in verbal commits with 18, although teams like Georgia and Texas A&M are closing the gap. The Wolverines have a bigger advantage in ESPN 150 commits with 11 total, three more than any other squad.

Ohio State is tied for fifth nationally in ESPN 150 commits with five, and Penn State is tied for 10th with three.

Scorecard time ...


2013 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Fellow offensive line recruits Logan Tuley-Tillman and Kyle Bosch have been in the headlines this week following Tuley-Tillman's letter-burning incident, but Michigan has secured the nation's No. 1-rated guard in David Dawson from Cass Tech in Detroit. Dawson is the No. 2 player in the state behind fellow Wolverines commit Shane Morris.

ESPN 150 selections: 11

Highest rated: Shane Morris, QB (Grade of 87)


2013 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Ohio State might solidify the cornerback position for years to come in the 2013 class. Both of the Buckeyes' top-rated prospects, Eli Woodward and Cam Burrows, play cornerback. Ohio State will have one vacancy at cornerback after the 2012 season, and Woodward and Burrows have the skills to see the field early in their careers.

ESPN 150 selections: 6

Highest rated: Eli Woodard, CB (Grade of 89)


2013 verbal commitments: 10

Spotlight: May was a productive month for the Illini, who picked up four commitments, including one from another Detroit Cass Tech player, defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs. At 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, Gibbs won't need to get much bigger to help Illinois on the interior defensive line.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Aaron Bailey, QB (Grade of 80)


2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive end David Kenney III seems to fit the mold of previous Iowa defensive linemen. He might be able to play both line spots, and has the ability to power rush off of the edge. Along with defensive tackles Brant Gressel and Nathan Bazata, Iowa is putting together a strong group of defensive linemen in this class.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: David Kenney III, DE (Grade of 80)


2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Lions hope defensive tackle prospect Greg Webb is their next dominant defensive tackle. But Webb will have to bounce back from an injury setback after he tore his ACL in February. Webb recently told that his recovery is going well, and that he's ahead of schedule.

ESPN 150 selections: 3

Highest rated: Christian Hackenberg, QB (Grade of 89)


2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Huskers lose two senior tight ends (Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed) after this season, but they're replenishing the position with Greg Hart from Bo Pelini's home state of Ohio. Hart already is a big target at 6-4, 225, who should fit in well with Tim Beck's offense.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Tre'vell Dixon, Athlete (Grade of 82)


2013 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Michigan State's last superstar linebacker named Jones, Greg Jones, attended Cincinnati's Archbishop Moeller High School. The Spartans are hoping for the same success with commit Shane Jones, a 6-1, 220-pound linebacker. Jones will join another Moeller alum, defensive end Marcus Rush, in East Lansing.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Damion Terry, QB (Grade of 82)


2013 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: Defensive end Chikwe Obasih continued Wisconsin's pipeline to Brookfield, Wis., with his verbal commitment in late April. He'll play multiple positions in a 3-4 defense as a senior before joining the Badgers' 4-3 scheme in 2013.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Jack Keeler, T and Garret Dooley, LB (Grade of 79)


2013 verbal commitments: 2

Spotlight: Matt Alviti resembles recent Northwestern quarterbacks in that he lacks height but makes up for it with speed, arm strength and competitiveness. A Dan Persa clone? Wildcats fans would be thrilled if that's the case.

ESPN 150 selections: 1

Highest rated: Matt Alviti, QB (Grade of 84)


2013 verbal commitments: 2

Spotlight: Defensive end Randy Gregory originally committed to Purdue in 2011 before heading to a junior college in Arizona. Several other schools pursued Gregory, but he pledged again to the Boilers, and will suit up in 2013.

ESPN 150 selections: 0


2013 verbal commitments: 1

Spotlight: Cornerback Keelon Brookins is Minnesota's only verbal so far, but the Gophers had only two players committed at this time last year. So it's too soon to press the panic button. It will be interesting to see how well second-year coach Jerry Kill and his staff do within the state. They had 10 Minnesota players in last year's class.

ESPN 150 selections: 0


2013 verbal commitments: 0

Spotlight: The Hoosiers are one of four major-conference programs -- Iowa State, Oregon State and Wake Forest are the others -- without a commitment for 2013. This is a departure from the end of the Bill Lynch era, when Indiana was among the Big Ten's leaders in early commits.