Big Ten: T.Y. Williams

Big Ten lunch links

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
12:00
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We've been ranking each position group in the Big Ten, and so far we've looked at running backs and quarterbacks. Today, let's finish off the offensive skill positions with receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten is blessed with plenty of standout wide receivers, but remember these rankings heavily account for overall depth at the position, not just isolated star power. We're also including the tight ends in this group while acknowledging that the best ones aren't necessarily big-time pass-catchers.

Here's how we rank them:

[+] EnlargeB.J. Cunningham
Andrew Weber/US PresswireB.J. Cunningham had the best numbers last season among a deep group of receivers and tight ends.
1. Michigan State: The Spartans may lack a true superstar, though senior B.J. Cunningham (50 catches for 611 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010) is pretty darn good. What Mark Dantonio can really count on is depth. Cunningham has good size at 6-foot-2, while Keshawn Martin is a speed-burner. Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler fill out a solid cast of receivers, and when you throw in Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims at tight end, this group deserves the top spot.

2. Michigan: If Darryl Stonum weren't suspended indefinitely, this group might be No. 1. It's still pretty good as things stand now. Roy Roundtree leads the way after catching 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and Junior Hemingway is a strong secondary option for Denard Robinson. Tight end Kevin Koger is a third-year starter who can occasionally make big plays in the passing game.

3. Northwestern: Senior Jeremy Ebert (62 catches for 935 yards and eight touchdowns last season) was a first-team All-Big Ten performer as voted by the media. Demetrius Fields had 25 receptions last year, and the Wildcats are counting on big improvements from sophomores Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark. Northwestern uses its superback position as a tight end, and Drake Dunsmore had 40 catches from that spot last year.

4. Indiana: The Hoosiers languish at the bottom of many of these rankings, but receiver/tight end is a point of pride. Senior Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 catches last year on his way to 832 yards. Even with the loss of Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner, who each had more than 60 catches in '10, new coach Kevin Wilson has a solid corps behind Belcher with Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes, among others. And Ted Bolser is a highly productive tight end who had 27 catches for 407 yards and five scores a year ago.

5. Penn State: Three of the top four receivers from last year return, including No. 1 target Derek Moye (his 16.7 yards per catch average was second in the Big Ten a year ago). Justin Brown and Devon Smith need to continue moving forward. Will the Nittany Lions get anything out of Curtis Drake, who's trying to return from his second broken leg? Penn State hopes to get something out of the tight end position, where Andrew Szczerba and Garry Gilliam dealt with season-ending injuries last year.

6. Wisconsin: Once we reach the middle of these rankings, the units start to become interchangeable and a little indistinguishable. Wisconsin doesn't have to throw it too much because of its stellar running game, but the Badgers have some solid choices when they do go to the air. Senior Nick Toon has the talent to record more than the 36 catches and 459 yards he produced a year ago. Jared Abbrederis should continue to come along after a nice freshman campaign. There's potential but not much experience among the rest of the receivers. Star tight end Lance Kendricks will be tough to replace, but Jake Byrne is an outstanding blocker and Jacob Pedersen caught two touchdowns last year.

7. Nebraska: Brandon Kinnie is the leader here, and the 6-foot-3 senior isn't afraid to make the big catch. Freshmen Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell had nice springs and could add some playmaking skills to a largely unproven crew around Kinnie. Kyler Reed might be the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the Big Ten, if not the country, after hauling in eight touchdowns and 18 yards per reception a year ago.

[+] EnlargeMarvin McNutt
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Marvin McNutt will be expected to be the No.1 wideout for the Hawkeyes this season.
8. Iowa: Senior Marvin McNutt is the go-to option after recording 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Hawkeyes will look to junior Keenan Davis to improve and become the No. 2 target. Just about everyone else is green. Tight end is usually a strength for Kirk Ferentz and should be again with senior Brad Herman and a group of talented backups behind him.

9. Ohio State: Seems like we write this a lot, but the Buckeyes would be ranked higher if their star player in this group were available an entire season. But DeVier Posey's five-game suspension means this is an awfully young corps, and that inexperience showed with some inconsistent play this spring. Ohio State will need talented sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown to take a big leap forward and youngsters like Chris Fields, T.Y. Williams and James Louis to contribute in Posey's absence. Tight end Jake Stoneburner might have to become a bigger presence in the passing game.

10. Purdue: The Boilermakers have some decent depth but no proven stars. Antavian Edison is the leading returning receiver with just 314 yards last year, though the junior does have good speed. Justin Siller is talented but has had trouble staying healthy. Purdue lost two solid veterans at tight end in Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay and added a couple of potential replacements, including former basketball player Patrick Bade, this summer.

11. Minnesota: Da'Jon McKnight tied for second in the Big Ten last year with 10 receiving touchdowns. But the Gophers' second-leading receiver last season was MarQueis Gray, who's now their starting quarterback. Brandon Green could help after an injury-plagued season. Tight end Eric Lair can grab a few passes, as he did 39 times in 2010.

12. Illinois: The good news: A.J. Jenkins is a reliable weapon who had 746 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The bad news: There's not much experience behind him. Perhaps Ryan Lankford, who starred in the spring while Jenkins was out with an injury, will emerge as a star his sophomore year. Evan Wilson is back at tight end after starting 11 games as a freshman.

Spring game recap: Ohio State

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
1:30
PM ET
Four Big Ten teams held spring games Saturday, and I'll take a quick look at each one throughout the afternoon.

Let's get things started with Ohio State, which held its game at Ohio Stadium. Although the defense controlled the action for much of the day, the offense prevailed 59-27 thanks to a complex scoring system.

Here's a snapshot of the game.

Game coverage: Here and here and here and here.

Quotable: "In this scrimmage situation so much has to do with what the other 10 are doing. Braxton [Miller] probably played more relaxed and had a little more fun than he has had. Joe [Bauserman] and Kenny [Guiton] showed that they have been around and can manage our offense. And, we have to learn as young quarterbacks, that you can’t get sacked in the red zone. We've been giving those four equal reps. When we figure it out we are going to play whoever we need to." -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on the quarterbacks

Highlights
  • The Braxton Miller hype machine revved up as the freshman quarterback led three scoring drives in four possessions and finished 7-for-12 passing for 73 yards and a touchdown. Although Miller and the other quarterbacks faced an injury-depleted secondary, the freshman certainly helped himself Saturday, showcasing his mobility in addition to his arm. While the other three quarterbacks -- Bauserman, Guiton and Taylor Graham -- also threw touchdown passes, Miller generated the most buzz. "People want excitement," Bauserman said. "A guy they've never seen before gets them thinking about it."
  • Next to quarterback, receiver was the most intriguing position to watch as Ohio State must replace team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher as well as DeVier Posey for the first five games. T.Y. Williams provided the biggest highlight of the day as he hauled in a 68-yard touchdown reception from Graham. Williams finished with three catches for 83 yards, although he and several other young receivers had some drops. Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed had a 17-yard touchdown catch and should be in the mix for playing time this fall.
  • Defensive standouts included linebackers Etienne Sabino (6 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup) and Andrew Sweat (10 tackles, .5 tackle for loss) and defensive linemen John Simon (1 tackle for loss) and Joel Hale (1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack).
  • Running back Dan Herron had a strong performance (37 rush yards, 6 carries), but most folks were watching the other backs who will replace Herron during his suspension. Bruiser Rod Smith averaged 5.1 yards on seven carries, while Jordan Hall had 37 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. It's surprising that Jaamal Berry only received two carries for 16 yards.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The sweater vest stayed in the closet for Jim Tressel at Ohio State's spring game on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeGene Smith and Jim Tressel
AP Photo/Terry GilliamAthletic director Gene Smith, left, chats with coach Jim Tressel before Ohio State's spring game.
Instead, the Buckeyes coach wore camouflage pants and a matching hat to honor the Ohio National Guard members and their families in attendance. Of course, that sartorial choice lent itself to a lot of easy wisecracks, like the notion that the embattled Tressel was using the outfit to hide from NCAA investigators and his own athletic director.

Though just a scrimmage, Saturday marked the last time Tressel will stand on the sidelines at Ohio Stadium for any kind of game until Oct. 29 against Wisconsin. He is suspended for the first five games, along with quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas. To no one's surprise, Tressel didn't feel like talking about that situation Saturday, ending his news conference after just five question when a reporter asked how his next few months would be different.

"I'm not worried about what lies forward," he said.

Plenty of Buckeyes fans are, and Saturday gave them a chance to preview the 2011 season and how life might look without those five key starters.

Pryor stood behind the offense wearing a headset and a jacket over his jersey, not playing as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery. The four quarterbacks who are battling to replace him for the first five games each threw a touchdown pass and got snaps with the first-team offense. The most impressive of the group was freshman early enrollee Braxton Miller, who led the offense on a 92-yard scoring drive. He finished 7-of-12 for 73 yards and showed off his athleticism by wiggling for extra yards on scrambles.

Miller probably ensured that he'll get a longer look this summer -- and guaranteed that he'll get more hype than he deserves in the meantime.

"People want excitement," said senior Joe Bauserman, who has backed up Pryor the past two seasons and took the first reps on Saturday. "A guy they've never seen before gets them thinking about it."

Bauserman went 4-for-11 for 42 yards, Kenny Guiton was 5-for-11 for 43 yards and Taylor Graham was 4-for-9 for 91 yards. Graham was also sacked five times.

"I thought Braxton probably played a little more relaxed and had a little bit more fun than he has, in part because we really limited what we were doing today," Tressel said. "Joe and Kenny showed they've been around and are able to manage our offense and know what's going on. Taylor had a big home-run throw, but he took a couple too many minus-yard plays."

After Pryor, the biggest loss for the Buckeyes in the suspensions is Posey, their lone proven playmaker in the passing game. So it was encouraging to see young receivers make their presence felt in the spring game.

Redshirt freshman T.Y. Williams caught three passes for 83 yards, including a 68-yard bomb from Graham. Williams had let a pass slip through his hands on the previous play before the touchdown. Corey Brown, Ryan Ross and Verlon Reed also caught scores, albeit against a secondary severely depleted by injuries.

"I felt like a proud dad watching them score touchdowns and make plays," Posey said. "To me, that shows growth. At the beginning of the spring, I didn't know if they would make those plays. Now I can look forward to the next four months."

Herron looked like the best player on the field early when the offense had trouble moving the ball in its first dozen series. He ripped off runs of 16 and 17 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his six attempts.

"I really went out there and gave it my all today, because it's going to be a little while until I get out there again," he said. "During this offseason, I've got to work hard and stay conditioned, because my day will come again."

Herron will be missed, but his loss does not cause a crisis. Jordan Hall (37 yards on eight carries), Jaamal Berry (two carries for 16 yards) and Rod Smith (seven for 36) showed they can carry the load while Herron is sidelined.

Ohio State still has issues, including a lack of depth on the offensive line that forced Tressel to abandon the traditional spring game format for a modified offense vs. defense scrimmage. The quarterback position needs to be figured out, and the young receivers must prove they can get it done against better competition -- Williams' long score, for example, came against walk-on cornerback Vincent Petrella.

"All in all, we had a good spring," Tressel said.

The coach ended the spring game after 89 snaps and fewer than 90 minutes because severe weather approached the stadium on an overcast day. Saturday offered some encouraging signs, but it remains to be seen if Tressel and the Buckeyes can stay ahead of the storm this fall.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Off-field issues continue to dominate the discussion around Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have plenty to address between the lines.

Not only does Ohio State lose 24 seniors from the 2010 team, but the Buckeyes will be without five players, including four offensive starters, for the first five games this coming season. The cumulative loss in production has coach Jim Tressel calling this his youngest team at Ohio State.

Here are the five players suspended for the first five games of 2011:
* returning starter

Filling these gaps is a primary goal for Ohio State this spring. The team is in good shape at some positions and thinner at others.

Here's a breakdown of the five positions, from the most shaky spot to the most stable.

QUARTERBACK

    [+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
    AP Photo/Terry GilliamJoe Bauserman is the most experienced of Terrelle Pryor's backups and is the favorite to start.
  • Sidelined: Terrelle Pryor, three-year starter (2010 stats: 210-for-333 passing, 2,772 yards, 27 TDs, 11 INTs, 754 rush yards, 4 TDs)
  • Fill-ins: Joe Bauserman (senior, two-year backup, appeared in every game last season and completed 16 of 22 pass attempts); Kenny Guiton (sophomore, appeared in five games last season and completed 1 of 2 attempts); Taylor Graham (freshman, redshirted in 2010); Braxton Miller (true freshman, enrolled early and participating in spring)
  • The skinny: Quarterback is undoubtedly Ohio State's biggest concern because Pryor has held the starting job since September 2008. Bauserman is a veteran but lacks game experience, while the others essentially have none. Although Bauserman and Guiton have an edge right now in the spring, Graham and especially Miller could close the gap. Guiton and Miller are the most mobile of the group, although Bauserman moves pretty well, too.
  • Quotable: "Braxton is lost. Kenny and Joe have the best grasp on it. Taylor's somewhere in between. We've had four practices. I hope in the next 11, we get a lot more looks that will really make you think, 'OK, this guy.' If I had a game tomorrow, Joe would start, but Kenny has looked good and the two young guys, they're so hesitant because they don't know much, and we have to wait until we get out there and chase them when people are allowed to tackle them." -- Tressel
WIDE RECEIVER

  • Sidelined: DeVier Posey, two-year starter (2010 stats: 53 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs)
  • Fill-ins: Corey Brown (sophomore, eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in 2010); Chris Fields (sophomore, three catches for 22 yards in 2010); James Louis (freshman); T.Y. Williams (freshman)
  • The skinny: If the quarterback spot weren't so important, receiver would be Ohio State's most pressing need. Posey, graduating senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and graduating senior running back Brandon Saine accounted for 131 of the team's 228 receptions in 2010. Brown is a good bet to start and Fields could land the other spot in Posey's absence. Ohio State also could use its running backs as receivers more this fall. The 6-foot-5 Williams is an intriguing prospect because of his size. New assistant Stan Drayton has his hands full in his first year.
  • Quotable: "Coach Drayton said DeVier is like Coach Posey now. He knows the offense so well and I'm sure coach Drayton is still getting caught up a little bit." -- center Mike Brewster
LEFT TACKLE

    [+] EnlargeMike Adams
    Greg Bartram/US PresswireLosing Mike Adams for five games will really test Ohio State's O-line depth.
  • Sidelined: Mike Adams, started throughout 2010 season, consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection
  • Fill-ins: Andrew Norwell (sophomore); Marcus Hall (sophomore, redshirted in 2010 because of academic issues); Jack Mewhort (sophomore)
  • The skinny: Overall offensive line depth is an issue for Ohio State this spring, and the lack of bodies could prevent the Buckeyes from having a full-blown spring game. Players are rotating at several spots during practice, and Mewhort and Hall both are in the mix for starting jobs at guard, too. Hall's return should help Ohio State survive without Adams, as hopes were high for Hall before his academic issues last season. Norwell backed up right tackle J.B. Shugarts as a freshman in 2010 and could be the answer during Adams' suspension.
  • Quotable: "We only have 10 linemen right now. We'll get a couple more for [preseason] camp. But I'm really, really impressed by the guys. They've been rotating around, playing left tackle, left guard. It has been encouraging." -- Brewster
DEFENSIVE END

  • Sidelined: Solomon Thomas (2010 stats: 14 tackles and a win-clinching interception in the Sugar Bowl as a reserve)
  • Fill-ins: Nathan Williams (senior, 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes defended, one interception in 2010); Adam Bellamy (sophomore, 11 tackles, two tackles for loss in 13 games in 2010); Melvin Fellows (sophomore)
  • The skinny: Ohio State lacks many true defensive ends and will need a big year from Williams, a returning starter, at the rush end position. Thomas likely would have started if not for the suspension, but the Buckeyes have some flexibility up front. Most of Ohio State's defensive linemen play both inside and outside. John Simon, who started last season at defensive tackle, lined up at end for part of Wednesday's practice. Ohio State boasts better depth at the inside position, so players like Simon and Bellamy could see more time on the outside.
  • Quotable: "You've got your Johnny Simons and your Nate Williamses back, and you hope they can be the core and the leadership. They might not be production leaders because of where they are [on the field], but that's where it starts." -- co-defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Luke Fickell
RUNNING BACK

  • Sidelined: Dan Herron, 17 career starts, first-team All-Big Ten in 2010 (2010 stats: 216 carries, 1,155 rush yards, 16 touchdowns, 19 receptions, 180 receiving yards)
  • Fill-ins: Jordan Hall (junior, 37 carries, 161 rush yards, 2 TDs in 2010); Jaamal Berry (sophomore, 32 carries, 266 rush yards, 1 TD in 2010); Carlos Hyde (sophomore, 24 carries, 141 rush yards in 2010); Rod Smith (freshman, redshirted in 2010)
  • The skinny: Of the five positions where Ohio State loses a player to suspension, running back looks to be the strongest by far. Herron had a strong performance in Big Ten play last fall and could be missed, but the Buckeyes should be very deep in the backfield. They have variety in size, skill sets and running styles, and they will be able to give defenses different looks. Hall and Berry both looked good at times last season, and Smith generated a lot of buzz during practices before the Sugar Bowl. Fullback Zach Boren said running backs coach Doc Tressel has noted that the team has seven players capable of starting in the backfield.
  • Quotable: "It's a stable of backs. To me, it's one of the most impressive backfields in the country. All those guys, you can tell they're trying to do the right things because they know whoever's going to have that little edge, they need to make sure they're doing the right things off the field as well. There's so many running backs, it's going to be hard to get them all on the field." -- Brewster
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I had a chance to watch about 30 minutes of Ohio State's full-pads workout indoors Tuesday. Despite the limited media viewing period, there was a lot to observe in an extremely physical Buckeyes practice.
  • Kenny Guiton stood out to me among the quarterbacks. He put some nice zip on the ball in both individual and team drills, and he showed good mobility. Before team drills, Guiton worked in a group with Braxton Miller and Taylor Graham. Terrelle Pryor, wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, threw a few passes with a separate group. Pryor didn't do much with his footwork as he's recovering from clean-up surgery on his foot Monday.
  • Miller definitely has mobility and created extra room for himself on a check down to Adam Homan. He followed it up with a nice throw to receiver Ryan Ross.
  • Expect Ohio State's running backs to be more involved in the pass game this year. During one period, the offense lined up solely with running backs or tight ends out wide, and several backs looked good catching the ball. Rod Smith, who generated hype during bowl practice, beat linebacker Andrew Sweat for a catch during a goal line drill. Carlos Hyde delivered a nice hit on a defender after a reception. There's some really nice versatility in both size and style among the Buckeyes' backs. I don't think they'll miss Dan Herron too much during the first five games, but we'll see.
  • Jim Tressel was very involved in the practice during the media viewing period. The coach lined up as a cornerback during some passing drills and gave pointers to the quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends.
  • Former Buckeyes defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins, now of the New Orleans Saints, and Donald Washington, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, attended Tuesday's practice.
  • There were several nice defensive plays: second-team cornerback Dionte Allen, a transfer from Florida State, had a diving interception of a Graham pass; linebacker Etienne Sabino "sacked" Guiton; linebacker Dan Bain broke up a pass to Carlos Hyde during goal line; and Adam Bellamy tipped a Guiton pass at the line of scrimmage. Allen could help Ohio State's secondary depth this fall.
  • For those depth chart aficionados ... DeVier Posey and Corey Brown worked as the first-team wide receivers ... Christian Bryant and Orhian Johnson worked as the first-team safeties ... Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke worked as the first-team cornerbacks ... the first-team defensive line consisted of Nathan Williams and John Simon on the outside and Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins on the inside.
  • The wide receivers had some ups and downs. Chris Fields had a nice hit on two defenders after making a catch, and T.Y. Williams caught my eye with his impressive physique (6-5, 228).

Overall, I liked the tempo and the hitting. Tuesday marked only Ohio State's second practice in pads, but the players weren't holding much back.

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