Big Ten: Troy Johnson

National Signing Day is just about a week away, so let's take a look at the recruiting needs for each Big Ten team.

In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.

Let's start off with the Legends division.

IOWA

Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.

Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.

Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.

Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.

Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.

MICHIGAN STATE

Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.

Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.

Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.

NEBRASKA

Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.

Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.

NORTHWESTERN

Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.

Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.

Big Ten Monday health report

October, 18, 2010
10/18/10
5:30
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A few bits of injury news to pass along from around the Big Ten.
  • Wisconsin starting linebacker Mike Taylor is expected to play Saturday at No. 15 Iowa after injuring his ankle and knee against Ohio State. Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Taylor underwent X-rays that showed no structural damage after he rolled his ankle and hyperextended his knee. Defensive tackle Jordan Kohout (foot) and tight end Lance Kendricks also should be fine for the trip to Iowa.
  • Indiana expects running backs Trea Burgess, Nick Turner and Antonio Banks to be ready for this week's trip to Illinois, but the news along the offensive line isn't so good. Coach Bill Lynch said starting right tackle James Brewer (ankle) likely will miss another week, and reserve Josh Hager also likely is out, putting sophomore Marc Damisch in the starting role. Depth also could be an issue up front, as Dustin Dopirak writes. Defensive backs Richard Council and Chris Adkins remain out.
  • Northwestern defensive end Vince Browne participated in Monday's practice and will play Saturday against No. 7 Michigan State, coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
  • Michigan's bye week comes at a good time, as quarterback Denard Robinson (shoulder) and others have time to heal. Coach Rich Rodriguez said Robinson, who dealt with shoulder soreness last week in practice, "should be fine" for the Penn State game on Oct. 30. Center David Molk, defensive tackle Mike Martin and running back Michael Shaw also should be fine for Penn State.
  • Middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (stinger) once again isn't listed on Iowa's depth chart. Troy Johnson is pegged to start against Wisconsin with James Morris backing him up.

Big Ten Monday roundup

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
5:00
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I've been busy putting together team-by-team Big Ten midseason reviews for Tuesday -- check the blog bright and early! -- but here are a few notable items from around the league.
  • Michigan will be without receiver Martavious Odoms for an extended period after the junior suffered a broken foot in the loss to Michigan State. Coach Rich Rodriguez isn't sure if Odoms' injury is season ending, but Michigan now will lean more on wideout Junior Hemingway, who has looked good the past few weeks. Center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin both suffered ankle sprains in the Michigan State game, but should be fine for this week's contest against Iowa. Running back Fitz Toussaint (shoulder) will miss another game, but could return after the bye week, Rodriguez said.
  • Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema doesn't regret his decision to go for two in the Badgers' blowout win against Minnesota, saying Monday, "I went to the card and I would go with it 1 million times over." Bielema told reporters in Madison that he had just seen Minnesota's offense score a quick touchdown and wasn't trying to run up the score with the 2-point conversion attempt.
  • Iowa's depth chart for Saturday's game at Michigan doesn't include middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, who was limited to a few plays against Penn State with a neck stinger. Troy Johnson is listed as the starter despite suffering a concussion in the Penn State contest, while impressive freshman James Morris projects as the backup.
  • Tight end Jake Stoneburner is back on Ohio State's depth chart as the starter after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain. Expect to see No. 11 on the field Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
  • Colleague Mark Schlabach named Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as the nation's midseason Offensive MVP. The Michigan State-Notre Dame overtime thriller earned Game of the Year honors, although the Spartans' fake field goal for a touchdown lost out to Les Miles' fake field goal call against Florida for the title of Best Play. Speaking of Robinson, he's SI.com's pick for the Halfway Heisman (Terrelle Pryor is No. 4), and he stepped up as a leader after the MSU defeat. Pryor is second in this week's Heisman Predictor, while Robinson drops to No. 6.
  • Indiana's depth chart for Arkansas State also is out, and here are some notes from The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required).
It's time to take a look at the top five linebacker units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes boast two of the Big Ten's top 10 linebackers in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and they also have good depth. Homan might have been the league's most underrated defender in 2009 after tying for fourth in the league in interceptions (five) and finishing eighth in tackles (8.3 per game). Rolle makes up for his lack of size with speed and explosiveness. Ohio State's supporting cast includes Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, Dorian Bell and others.

2. Michigan State: Back-to-back Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones enters the season as the frontrunner to win the Butkus Award. But he's not alone on what should be a loaded linebacking corps. All-Big Ten candidate Eric Gordon has played a ton of football alongside Jones, and the coaches were pleased with Chris Norman this spring. Hopes are extremely high for true freshmen William Gholston, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, and Max Bullough. It's clear to see why the Spartans are moving closer to the 3-4.

3. Wisconsin: Health remains a concern, as Mike Taylor's knee problems will linger and Chris Borland comes off of shoulder surgery, but Wisconsin has plenty of talent here. Borland is a rare, do-everything player who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009. Taylor likely would have contended for the same award if not for a torn ACL against Iowa. The Badgers also bring back Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen.

4. Northwestern: As a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves the look of this group. Senior Quentin Davie is a bona fide NFL prospect who has consistently reached the offensive backfield throughout his career. Middle linebacker Nate Williams enters his third year as the starter, and the coaches have solid options in Bryce McNaul, Ben Johnson and David Nwabuisi. Fitzgerald says this is the most linebacker depth Northwestern has had in his tenure.

5 (tie). Iowa and Penn State: These teams combine to lose five All-Big Ten 'backers from 2009, including first-team selections Pat Angerer (Iowa) and Navorro Bowman (Penn State). But both have historically reloaded at linebacker, and this year should be no different. Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter returns for his third year as a starter, and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen are primed for bigger roles. Troy Johnson and Bruce Davis are two other names to watch, and hopes are high for freshman James Morris. Penn State loses all three starters, but Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu have played a lot of football. Michael Mauti's return from an ACL injury and Penn State's strong recruiting at linebacker also elevate hope for the group.

Next up: Secondary

More rankings ...
Before we get ready for a six-pack of spring games Saturday, let's take a quick look back at the final Big Ten scrimmage from a week ago.

Iowa wrapped up spring drills at Kinnick Stadium, and while it was more of a regular practice than the other spring games, the Hawkeyes did a bit of scrimmaging.

Iowa's top three running backs -- Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton -- missed the scrimmage as they recover from injuries, but quarterback Ricky Stanzi played and completed 7 of 11 passes for 72 yards. Backup James Vandenberg completed 13 of 22 passes for 144 yards. True freshman A.J. Derby twice was picked off by safety Nick Nielsen in limited work.

The Hawkeyes spread the ball around to several receivers. Starter Derrell Johnson-Koulianos recorded a 32-yard reception, while walk-on Don Nordmann had five catches for 49 yards.

Linebacker Troy Johnson stood out for the defense with a sack and a 48-yard touchdown return following a fumbled snap between Vandenberg and center James Ferentz.

Other Iowa nuggets:
  • The kicking game is a bit of a question mark after starter Daniel Murray converted only 3 of 7 attempts in the scrimmage. Trent Mossbrucker fared better, hitting on 4 of 5 attempts. "It's kind of been underwhelming this spring, quite frankly," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We've been very inconsistent. We've flashed, but we've been very inconsistent." Mossbrucker was the team's top kicker for most of the 2008 season and will push Murray for the starting job in preseason camp.
  • Another Iowa running back got a bit banged up, as Brad Rogers left the field with a left ankle injury that head coach Kirk Ferentz called a mild sprain. Wegher and Paki O'Meara got banged up during spring drills, although Hampton was fine and held out of contact only as a precaution. Still, running back health is a concern entering the fall.
  • The top offensive line consisted of left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Julian Vandervelde, center James Ferentz, right guard Adam Gettis and right tackle Markus Zusevics. Josh Koeppel remains in the mix at center.
Iowa opened spring practice today, and head coach Kirk Ferentz met with reporters to preview the next few weeks.

A few takeaways from Ferentz's news conference and Iowa's spring two-deep:

  • Health update: safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood will miss spring ball following shoulder surgeries; running back Adam Robinson also will sit out following shoulder surgery; linemen Steve Bigach (knee) and Kyle Haganman (shoulder) also are out following surgeries. Running back Jewel Hampton (knee) has been cleared to practice this spring and will be involved in some contact drills (won't be tackled). Wide receiver Paul Chaney Jr. (knee) will be very limited in spring ball but should be back to full strength by June. Defensive end Dominic Alvis (groin) will be very limited. Nolan MacMillan could be in the mix at offensive line, but he's still working back from sports hernia surgery.
  • Not surprisingly, Ferentz fielded several questions about the offensive line, which loses four players who started part or all of last season. Iowa's spring depth chart shows the starting offense line as Riley Reiff at left tackle, Julian Vandervelde at left guard, Josh Koeppel or James Ferentz at center, Adam Gettis at right guard and Markus Zusevics at right tackle. But don't read into that too much, as Ferentz likened filling out the first string, after Reiff and Vandervelde, to throwing darts or flipping coins. "We probably have eight or nine guys competing for the top spots," Ferentz said. "We have a lot of guys on pretty equal footing as far as the competition goes."
  • As expected, Shaun Prater is listed as the starter at right cornerback, while Micah Hyde appears as the starter at left corner ahead of both William Lowe and Jordan Bernstine, who comes back from an ankle injury that sidelined him all of last season. Amari Spievey was a huge loss, and it will be interesting to see who steps in for him.
  • Ferentz gave a very Ferentz-like answer when asked about the expectations Iowa will face heading into 2010. "We have some very good players back and that will drive expectations," he said. "Preseason polls are a lot like recruiting rankings. They are all speculative. Recruiting rankings are based on what guys did in high school, which is the only way you can rank them. I think preseason rankings are based on your experience level, your success level and then maybe the name of your school, too. So those three things factor in. ... Outside of maybe the name-brand schools, the preseason polls are usually not real accurate."
  • Ferentz called the competition at kicker wide open between Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker. "We can do better at that position," he said.
  • Ferentz praised the development of linebackers Jeff Tarpinian, Troy Johnson and Tyler Nielsen, who will compete for the two vacant starting spots alongside Jeremiha Hunter. "Quite frankly I'm almost more worried about a year from now at our linebacker spot," he said. "Sounds kind of funny, our two pretty good seniors graduating, but we are top heavy age-wise."
  • Ferentz is optimistic about the competition at running backs and would like to have three healthy options on game days this fall.
  • The coach also gave an update on his NCAA tournament bracket, which, like many of ours, is busted. One of his daughters, meanwhile, picked Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas. "She knows nothing about basketball," Ferentz said. "Her other picks were -- she was leading after the first two days. I guess she's still leading. She's beating the president, right now, on her brackets. Whatever. Mine are awful."

Big Ten Players of the Week

November, 23, 2009
11/23/09
10:00
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Can't argue with any of these choices.

CO-OFFENSE -- Penn State QB Daryll Clark and Northwestern QB Mike Kafka

Clark matched a career high with four touchdown passes while compiling 310 yards through the air to help lead Penn State to a road victory against Michigan State. The senior quarterback connected on 70.4 percent of his passes, completing 19 of 27 attempts with no interceptions.

Kafka guided Northwestern to its third straight conference victory and second over a nationally ranked team in the last three weeks by throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin. The senior quarterback connected on 65 percent of his throws, completing 26 of 40 passes with no interceptions. Kafka produced a pair of scoring strikes in the first two quarters to help the hosts enter the half up 27-14.

CO-DEFENSE -- Iowa LB Troy Johnson and Penn State LB Navorro Bowman

Johnson helped Iowa post consecutive shutouts against Minnesota for the first time since the 1955 and 1956 seasons with a career-high 11 tackles, one sack, one pass breakup and a fumble forced and recovered.

Bowman recorded 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a pass breakup in a victory at Michigan State. The junior linebacker posted seven solo stops on the day and his 3.5 tackles for loss pushed the Spartans’ offense back 17 yards, including a 9-yard sack. Bowman also won the award last week after his performance against Indiana.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Northwestern K Stefan Demos

Demos was perfect on four field goals and three extra points to tally 15 points and help Northwestern earn a 33-31 victory over nationally ranked Wisconsin. The junior kicker connected on field goals of 45, 38, 45 and 34 yards.
CO-OFFENSE -- Penn State QB Daryll Clark and Purdue QB Joey Elliott

They could be your All-Big Ten quarterbacks come Monday night, and they showed why on Saturday. Clark and Elliott combined to go 40-of-56 passing for 515 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in big victories against Michigan State and Indiana. Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka also deserves a mention.

DEFENSE -- Ohio State S Kurt Coleman

Coleman strengthened his case for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors with two interceptions, both in Ohio State territory, to go along with two pass breakups in the Buckeyes' 21-10 win at Michigan. Honorable mentions go to Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle, Purdue safety Torri Williams, Iowa linebacker Troy Johnson, Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones and Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Purdue RB Al-Terek McBurse

After Indiana had regained some momentum at the end of the first half, McBurse took it right back with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. It marked McBurse's first career touchdown and Purdue's first kickoff return for a score since 2007. Honorable mentions go to Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos, Northwestern kickoff return man Stephen Simmons, Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko and Penn State punter Jeremy Boone.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
9:00
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These guys saved their best for last.

  • Ohio State's defense: I could probably give helmet stickers to five Buckeyes defenders, but I need to spread the wealth a bit. Ohio State's defense forced five turnovers, converting one for a touchdown, in its 21-10 victory against Michigan. Individual standouts included safeties Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines, cornerback Devon Torrence, defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan and defensive tackle John Simon.
  • Penn State QB Daryll Clark: After two uncharacteristic performances, Clark stepped up big in Penn State's spanking of Michigan State. The senior completed 19 of 27 passes for 310 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as he spread the ball to eight different players.
  • Purdue QB Joey Elliott: If Clark doesn't win first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, it should go to Elliott. He made the most of his senior season and finished with a big win against Indiana, completing 21 of 29 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
  • Northwestern QB Mike Kafka and WR Andrew Brewer: Three years ago, they competed for the starting quarterback job and lost out to C.J. Bacher. On Saturday against Wisconsin, they hooked up six times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Kafka finished 26-of-41 for 325 yards and no interceptions.
  • Iowa's defense: Another team effort from the Hawkeyes, who shut out Minnesota for the second straight year. All four starting defensive linemen recorded tackles for loss, and linebackers Pat Angerer and Troy Johnson stepped up in a big way as Iowa inched closer to a BCS at large berth.

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