Big Ten: Steve Davis

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I've arrived safely in Columbus and it's still early enough to call this a morning briefing, so it is. I'll be heading over to Ohio State for interviews this afternoon, but first here's what's going on around the Big Ten as training camps wind down.

  • A major renovation of Memorial Stadium is almost complete, and Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther will turn his attention to other matters, including whether to continue playing the annual football game with Missouri in St. Louis or switch to campus venues, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune. Illinois-Missouri used to be just a basketball rivalry, but both teams are on the upswing. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Loren Tate takes a look at most hyped games in the series history.
  • Jerimy Finch gives Indiana's defense another playmaker and requires the coaches to be creative with their lineup, possibly pairing Finch with Nick Polk at safety or using the Florida transfer at linebacker, the Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog. Indiana got some more good news Thursday as talented freshman wideout Tandon Doss is cleared to play after being sidelined by an academic issue.
  • Here's a closer look at the Iowa depth chart, which includes two starting quarterbacks and no Shonn Greene, who still is expected to play a major role. Greene wasn't as much of a couch potato last year as roommate Albert Young indicated, but his exile from the program took a toll, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
  • An injury to a right guard rarely spells doom, but Michigan's offensive line looks thinner without Cory Zirbel, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Michigan State's coaches have a new $15.5 million recruiting tool, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Spartans star running back Javon Ringer, one of four team captains announced Thursday, will face a new look from Cal's defense in the opener, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Minnesota shuffled its defense, going big at middle linebacker with Lee Campbell moving over from defensive end, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. The shift creates an interesting competition at outside linebacker between veterans Deon Hightower and Steve Davis.
  • Ohio State senior linebacker Marcus Freeman loves the pub -- and the double teams -- teammate James Laurinaitis receives, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises checks in with former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith. Why was a Division III swimming coach talking to the Ohio State football team, especially since he's not a fan? Because he wins national championships.
  • Quarterback isn't the only starting spot in Penn State's offensive backfield not yet determined. Here's a look at the running backs, courtesy of The Altoona Mirror's Todd Irwin. Joe Paterno didn't say much during an interview with the Big Ten Network, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane writes in his blog. Penn State has stayed relatively healthy during the preseason, Bob Flounders writes in The Patriot-News.
  • Ultra-confident Kory Sheets might tick off Purdue's coaches at times, but he's ready to carry the load at running back, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The Boilers' lack of linebacker depth forced the team to move Joe Holland from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
  • Jaevery McFadden is the man in the middle for Wisconsin's defense, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Offensive line depth is a concern for the Badgers entering the season, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.

Three questions for Minnesota

August, 19, 2008

Posted by'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.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the second half of my interview with Minnesota's new defensive coordinator Ted Roof.

 AP Photo/Gerry Broome
 Former Duke coach Ted Roof is taking on a new challenge as the defensive coordinator for Minnesota.

Of the three units on defense, was one further along than the others coming out of the spring?

Ted Roof: Our defensive line was a little bit further along because there was a lot more experience there. All four of those guys were returning starters. So from within the program, we were a little bit ahead at that position. And then at linebacker, we got some guys back, but Deon Hightower missed spring practice with injury. The position move with Steve Davis, I was real pleased. He had a great spring and has done a good job of leading, so I'm excited to see what happens with him. There were some things in the secondary that we did a good job with this spring. We've just got to keep growing.

What was your message to the guys this spring, and how did you see them responding to you?

TR: People have asked me about that a lot. Just staying on the fundamentals, how you defeat blocks, how you tackle, your pursuit angles, your communication. I want to be able to come in here and grade the tape on Sunday and the unforced errors, to diminish those or at least make them go down so it's not, 'Well, if this guy would have done this, this would have happened,' or, 'This guy should have been here but he wasn't because he did this.' Just like in all the other sports, tennis with the unforced errors, you don't want to beat yourself.

From talking to Steve Davis at media days, he mentioned how the team was close in so many games but at the end it would always fall apart. On defense, is that just conditioning and discipline, being able to play better at the end of games? How do you finish off those games?

TR: Whether you're a program trying to be respectable or a program that's one of the top two or three in the country, you have a successful season when you win your close games. When you don't win your close games, you have disappointing years. It's a lot of things. Sometimes it's the great player on the other team making a great play. But it's the same things that you draw up all the time, the discipline of being exactly where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there, and not getting caught up in, 'Well, this is the two-minute drill, this is the fourth quarter.' Just play the next play and then have amnesia and then play the next play, always be in the moment and not sit there watching the scoreboard. Just do your job and play hard and good things will happen.

Steve mentioned there was a lot more competition this spring, especially with the new guys. Do you have a timetable on that when you want to fill out those starting spots?

TR: It will play itself out, but that's probably one of the bigger things that's going to help our team, the competition for jobs and the competition for playing time. We'll be much improved in that regard, which should correlate to performing well on Saturdays.

Obviously every head coach wants to stay a head coach, but switching back to this kind of job, did you miss coaching a unit or a position?

TR: Obviously, I'd like to be a head coach again, but job titles are just titles. It's about relationships and coaching kids and trying to get better. Whether you're responsible for a room of five or a room of 50 or a room of 100, that's what it is. I've really enjoyed it. It's been a lot fun so far.

What is it about these types of challenges that draws you to them?

TR: You like challenges and opportunities where a lot of people don't think that you can do it or be successful. That just motivates you even further. That doesn't mean you're always going to do it, but I like those challenges and opportunities.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The position rankings resume with the linebackers, which is usually a strong position in the Big Ten but one that lacks headliners this season. Ohio State boasts two standouts in preseason Defensive Player of the Year James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, but most teams welcome new players to their defensive midsection. Illinois lost All-American middle linebacker J Leman, Michigan lost backfield beast Shawn Crable and Penn State lost standout Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury this spring. But I'll get to the individuals later.

Here's a look at the linebacker groups in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State -- Laurinaitis and Freeman passed up the NFL for one final season together and one final stab at the national championship. The star tandem has combined for 429 career tackles, easily putting Ohio State in the top spot for linebackers. Sophomore Ross Homan, a candidate for the third starting spot, could be the next great Buckeyes linebacker.

2. Wisconsin -- This group admittedly underachieved a bit last season, but better things are on the way with all three starters back. Senior Jonathan Casillas led the team in tackles last season and looks to regain his playmaking form of 2006, when he had a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss. DeAndre Levy provides leadership and should flourish under new coordinator Dave Doeren.

3. Illinois -- Leman's production can't be replaced and Illinois also lost second-leading tackler Antonio Steele, but there is plenty left over at linebacker. Veteran Brit Miller, who has slimmed down this offseason, slides over to middle linebacker, a position he's played before. Miller has the personality to lead and will be able to mentor highly touted sophomore Martez Wilson.

4. Penn State -- The Lions undoubtedly would have been higher with Lee leading the way, but they still have some playmakers here. Penn State needs big things from veteran outside linebacker Tyrell Sales, who had three sacks last season. Promising sophomore Chris Colasanti will play a larger role along with junior Josh Hull, who appeared in every game last fall.

5. Indiana -- Despite boasting the league's best pass rusher in end Greg Middleton, Indiana's campaign for a better defense hinges on this unit. Incumbents Will Patterson and Geno Johnson return, and there's plenty of buzz about junior Matt Mayberry. Patterson recorded three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries last season.

6. Michigan -- This appears to be the weak point of the Wolverines defense, which will miss All-Big Ten selection Crable and Chris Graham. But Obi Ezeh has experience at middle linebacker and will be pushed by John Thompson. Sophomores Marell Evans and Jonas Mouton bring speed to the weak side.

7. Iowa -- A.J. Edds is a budding star at outside linebacker after ranking second on the team in tackles last season. But after Edds, there are questions. The Hawkeyes must replace two productive players in Mike Humpal and Mike Klinkenborg and need promising sophomores Jacody Coleman, Jeff Tarpinian and Jeremiha Hunter to step up.

8. Michigan State -- Here's another young group that could finish higher but needs more than one proven commodity. Greg Jones is on his way to a stellar career after a strong freshman season. His move to the middle should help the Spartans, but they need more from returning starter Eric Gordon as well as a reliable player to emerge at the third spot.

9. Purdue -- Anthony Heygood has been productive at outside linebacker, racking up 15 tackles for loss last season. If Heygood continues to cause havoc and Jason Werner takes another step after a strong spring, Purdue could soar up this list. Werner showed good durability in spring ball, but he must avoid injuries after back problems nearly ended his career.

10. Northwestern -- Linebacker is usually the strongest position group on a weak defense, but for the second straight year there are questions. The Wildcats lose Adam Kadela, the league's No. 3 tackler last season, and need Malcolm Arrington to build off a decent 2007 season as he shifts to middle linebacker. Senior Prince Kwateng hasn't reached his potential thus far, while promising young players like Bryce McNaul and Nate Williams are ready to step up.

11. Minnesota -- Despite some strong additions this offseason, last year can't be overlooked. The Gophers return experience with Steve Davis and Deon Hightower, and hopes are high for junior-college transfer Rex Sharpe. But run-stopping was a disaster in 2007, so until Minnesota shows otherwise, it will linger at the bottom.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt
 After going 1-11 his first season as coach, Tim Brewster brought in juco transfers to push his starters.

CHICAGO -- When Tim Brewster arrived at Minnesota, he talked about canvassing the state's high schools to land top talent. His recruiting exploits at Texas and North Carolina were well-known, and he quickly brought several elite prospects to Minneapolis.

But after going 1-11 in his first season and seeing the Gophers defense set records for futility, Brewster looked elsewhere for help. He found it in the junior-college ranks, signing seven transfers, six on the defensive side. Brewster's primary objective was to find "immediate impact players," but he also put his returning starters on notice.

"We're not going to bring juco kids to provide depth," Brewster said. "They're going to hopefully help us immediately. ... Football's a game of competition, and you can't worry about getting your feelings hurt. These players know that if you don't come in and compete on a daily basis, I'm going to put somebody else on the field. We don't concern ourselves with last year's guys. It's all about us winning today."

Several of the transfers are projected to start after strong spring performances, including hard-hitting safety Tramaine Brock, cornerback Traye Simmons and linebacker Rex Sharpe. Defensive end Cedric McKinley, who teamed with Brock at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, will see significant playing time.

Senior linebacker Steve Davis took a help-is-on-the-way attitude toward the influx of junior-college transfers. The defense needed a facelift after finishing last in the nation in yards allowed (518.7 ypg) and 109th in points allowed (36.7 ppg). But the arrivals have also spurred the holdovers in new ways.

"It's something that Minnesota needs because there really wasn't that much competition," Davis said. "For (Brewster) to bring all these juco guys in, it says, 'Hey, they can come in and take your spot at any time.' It makes you play harder and do better so that you can play. Your job's at stake."

Brock is already drawing excellent reviews.

"Tremendous speed, toughness," Brewster said of Brock. "I like what he's brought to our defense."

Big Ten players at media days

July, 10, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

I meant to post this a few days ago, so my apologies. Here's the list of players each school is bringing to the Big Ten media days July 24-25 in Chicago.

Ryan McDonald*, Sr., OL
Brit Miller, Sr., LB
Juice Williams*, Jr., QB

Greg Brown, Sr., DT
Austin Starr*, Sr., K
Marcus Thigpen, Sr., RB

Mitch King*, Sr., DT
Matt Kroul*, Sr., DT
Seth Olsen*, Sr., OL

Tim Jamison*, Sr., DE
Mike Massey, Sr., TE
Morgan Trent*, Sr., CB

Michigan State
Brian Hoyer*, Sr., QB
Justin Kershaw, Sr., DT
Javon Ringer*, Sr., RB

Steve Davis, Sr., LB
Eric Decker, Jr., WR
Adam Weber, So., QB

C.J. Bachér*, Sr., QB
Eric Peterman, Sr., WR
Tyrell Sutton*, Sr., RB

Ohio State
Todd Boeckman*, Sr., QB
Malcolm Jenkins*, Sr., CB
James Laurinaitis*, Sr., LB

Penn State
Josh Gaines*, Sr., DE
A.Q. Shipley*, Sr., C
Derrick Williams, Sr., WR

Anthony Heygood*, Sr., LB
Greg Orton, Sr., WR
Curtis Painter*, Sr., QB

Travis Beckum*, Sr., TE
Jason Chapman, Sr., DT
Andy Kemp, Sr., G

* Indicates 2007 All-Big Ten selection

Most of the list is predictable and Ohio State can't bring the entire team, but there were a few surprises. I know schools like to feature their veteran players, but it would have been nice to have seen reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Arrelious Benn in Chicago.

Other notable omissions include:
Indiana DE Greg Middleton, nation's sacks leader in 2007
Wisconsin RB P.J. Hill

Other guys I'd love to talk with:
Indiana QB Kellen Lewis
Iowa QB Jake Christensen
Michigan QB Steven Threet
Penn State QB Daryll Clark (sense a theme here?)
Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman
Ohio State T Alex Boone
Illinois CB Vontae Davis
Penn State WR Derrick Williams