Thursday, February 11, 2010
Who will break out in the Big Ten?
By Adam Rittenberg
Perhaps the best part about spring practice is projecting the handful of players who will turn heads and raise expectations heading into the fall. Most of these players have provided hints of bigger things to come.
So who will become a breakout player in the Big Ten? Here are a few names to watch.
Penn State CB Stephon Morris: Morris made a name for himself in Penn State's nickel package as a true freshman. He recorded 30 tackles, had an interception, a sack and two passes defended. Look for him to improve and become a major factor in Penn State's secondary.
Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin: He is already the Big Ten's most dangerous kickoff returner and could become one of the league's top wide receivers this year. Martin led Michigan State last season in yards-per-reception (22.8) and yards-per-carry (12.2). Look for the Spartans to find more ways to get the ball to Martin, who is a legitimate big-play threat.
Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks certainly looked like Wisconsin's tight end of the future in the Champs Sports Bowl, where he recorded seven receptions for a career high 128 receiving yards in the win against Miami. Garrett Graham's graduation opens up the top spot for Kendricks, who could have a monster season in 2010 working alongside quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Minnesota S Kim Royston: Minnesota will lean heavily on its safeties in 2010, and Royston looks ready for the added responsibility. The Wisconsin transfer finished the 2009 season on a very strong note: He recorded a career high 15 tackles (14 solo) and forced a fumble. Royston and Kyle Theret could form the league's top safety tandem.
Iowa RB Jewel Hampton: He's baaaack. Younger teammates Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher filled in nicely for Hampton in 2009, but Hampton still has the best chance to become Iowa's featured back. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns in 2008 as Shonn Greene's backup and can be very effective if his knee gets back to 100 percent.
Illinois CB/WR Terry Hawthorne: One of the few bright spots for Illinois last season, Hawthorne recorded 30 tackles, intercepted a ball for a 44-yard touchdown and had six passes defended as a true freshman. He can play both cornerback and wide receiver for the Illini, who are desperate for playmakers on both sides of the ball. Hawthorne provided a spark for Illinois last year, but he could be a star in 2010.
Ohio State LB Brian Rolle: Cameron Heyward and Ross Homan will be the headliners for Ohio State's defense in 2010, but watch out for Rolle as well. Rolle already "broke out," in a sense, with 95 tackles (seven for loss) and an interception in 2009. But he could truly explode for the Buckeyes this coming fall.
Northwestern TE Drake Dunsmore: Anyone who saw Dunsmore run through several Auburn defenders for a 66-yard touchdown in the Outback Bowl recognizes his immense potential. The junior might be NU's top NFL prospect and offensive coordinator Mick McCall loves to get him involved. Dunsmore will be one of the top targets for new starting quarterback Dan Persa.