NCF Nation: Brandon Kirksey
The Big Ten had five defensive linemen, all from different teams, selected in the first round of April's NFL draft: Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Iowa lost three starting D-linemen to the draft, and almost every Big Ten squad has to replace major contributors.
The personnel losses make the preseason D-line rankings both tricky and fun. The first three groups look very good, while there's not much difference in the middle of the league.
Let's take a look:
2. Ohio State: Heyward's leadership and versatility will be missed, but Ohio State always finds ways to fill the gaps up front. Junior John Simon should be primed for a breakout season. Like Heyward, Simon can play both line spots but might see more time on the edge this fall. Nathan Williams adds experience at end, and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins could wreak havoc on the interior this fall.
3. Michigan State: Like several Big Ten teams, the Spartans build their line around a potential superstar tackle in Jerel Worthy. The junior already is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 draft after recording four sacks last fall. Anthony Rashad White emerged this spring as a nice complement to Worthy. Michigan State needs a better pass rush from the end spots, and hopes are high for William Gholston and Tyler Hoover.
4. Wisconsin: Watt is a huge loss because he contributed in so many ways, but Wisconsin could account for his production with greater depth. Ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert both have played a lot of football, and junior Brendan Kelly came on strong toward the end of spring practice. Senior tackle Patrick Butrym has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Wisconsin needs young tackles like Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen to help Butrym.
5. Michigan: This is a projection pick, but I think Michigan's defensive front takes a significant step forward this season. Senior tackle Mike Martin is a bona fide NFL prospect and will lead the way, and players like Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh should be among the primary beneficiaries of the new defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan needs to build depth with Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and others, but there's great potential here.
6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes face a tough task in replacing multiyear starters in Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Senior tackle Mike Daniels is ready to lead the group after recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. The biggest key is getting Broderick Binns back to his 2009 form. Iowa also needs to build depth with Lebron Daniel and others, and avoid major injuries.
7. Purdue: Defensive tackle is a major strength for Purdue as Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston Jr. form one of the league's top tandems. Short quietly turned in an extremely productive season last fall (12.5 TFLs, 6 sacks). The big unknown is how Purdue replaces Kerrigan. The Boilers need veteran Gerald Gooden to stay healthy and others to emerge alongside him.
8. Penn State: Much like Purdue, Penn State looks strong at tackle and has question marks at end. Devon Still could contend for All-Big Ten honors after a terrific performance in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Still and Jordan Hill should lock up the middle, but Penn State needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to get healthy at the end spots. If not, the Lions will turn to unproven players to spark their pass rush.
9. Illinois: Liuget is a significant loss in the middle and Illinois also must replace veteran end Clay Nurse. The Illini will rely on Akeem Spence to step in for Liuget, and Spence showed some good things this spring. There's talent on the edges with Michael Buchanan, Whitney Mercilus and others, but Illinois needs more consistent production.
10. Northwestern: This group took a step back last fall and got manhandled down the stretch as Northwestern hemorrhaged yards and points. Senior end Vince Browne is a playmaker who put up impressive numbers (15.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) in 2010. He'll need help from tackles Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, and Tyler Scott could provide a lift at the other end spot. The Wildcats need their line to regain the edge it displayed in 2008.
11. Indiana: It wouldn't surprise me to see Indiana's front four rise up these rankings during the season. There are some nice pieces back, namely senior end Darius Johnson, who can be a force when healthy. Junior Adam Replogle has been productive at defensive tackle. There's plenty of competition at the other two spots as Indiana tries to turn a page on defense.
12. Minnesota: The Gophers' pass rush was practically invisible in 2010, as they finished last nationally in sacks (9). The good news is new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will turn his linemen loose more often, giving players like Brandon Kirksey chances to make plays. We've heard a lot about Minnesota's talent up front but haven't seen nearly enough production on Saturdays.
The Illini scrimmaged for about 90 minutes Saturday, and all players were involved in contact aside from starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
- The offense prevailed in the scrimmage and gashed the defense for several big runs. Troy Pollard took most of the reps at running back as Jason Ford sat out with a sore knee, and Pollard helped his cause with 110 rush yards on 19 carries. Scheelhaase completed 7 of 12 passes for 53 yards and added 58 yards on the ground, while backup Miles Osei had a 63-yards pass to Fred Sykes and finished the day with 165 yards through the air.
- Coach Ron Zook singled out linebacker Houston Bates for his play in the scrimmage. Bates had a sack and a quarterback hurry. He saw increased playing time after Jonathan Brown was kicked out of the scrimmage after throwing a punch and drawing a personal foul penalty.
The Hoosiers held their second scrimmage of the spring Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Check out coach Kevin Wilson's thoughts as well as some highlights.
- The offense got the best of the defense Saturday after the D shined in Indiana's previous scrimmage. Receivers Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes stood out in the highlights Indiana showed on its website, as Hughes had a long touchdown reception and Wilson was forced out just shy of the goal line. Both players have been impressive this spring and should complement top wideout Damarlo Belcher in the fall.
No official information from Iowa's scrimmage Saturday, but here's a photo gallery and some recent player interviews from the team's website.
No official information from Michigan's scrimmage Saturday, but here are video interviews with defensive tackle Mike Martin and offensive lineman Patrick Omameh. Running backs Vincent Smith, Michael Cox and Stephen Hopkins had some nice runs in the video highlights.
The Spartans held their first jersey scrimmage Friday and the defense prevailed 55-45 in a modified scoring system. The defense had 18 ways to score points, while the offense had 11 ways to score, including touchdowns and field goals.
- The defense dominated the scrimmage, holding the offense without a first down on the first five possessions and without points for the first 13 possessions. Michigan State's D recorded three sacks and two interceptions during the stifling stanza. The only two touchdowns scored came during the goal line and red zone portions of the scrimmage.
- Defensive ends William Gholston and Tyler Hoover combined for nine tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup. Sophomore linebacker TyQuan Hammock recorded an interception. "The defense played well -- tackled effectively, pressured the quarterback and came away with some turnovers," coach Mark Dantonio said in a news release.
- Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins had a rough day (6-for-16 passing, 41 yards, INT), although he didn't get much help from his receivers, who dropped three passes. Backup Andrew Maxwell completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards with an interception.
- The touchdowns came from Edwin Baker (22-yard run) and Le'Veon Bell (6-yard run). Receiver Keith Mumphery caught a 43-yard pass from Maxwell.
The Gophers scrimmaged Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium and ran about 120 plays.
- Minnesota's defense held the upper hand as the offense struggled to gain a first down early in the scrimmage. The defensive line had a very good day as tackles Brandon Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey both stood out. Jacobs sacked No. 1 quarterback MarQueis Gray and Kirksey recorded a blocked field goal attempt. Ends D.L. Wilhite and Ra'Shede Hageman also made some plays. "The defensive line got up the field a lot more than we have been. [It was] a lot more aggressive," coach Jerry Kill told reporters. "And we need that. We need more push. We had nine sacks last year, and that can't happen."
- Gray and top receiver Da'Jon McKnight hooked up on receptions of 45 and 20 yards. McKnight also recorded a punt block in the scrimmage.
- Reserve quarterback Tom Parish threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap. Moses Alipate ran a few series at quarterback and led a scoring drive.
The Huskers ran about 150 plays in a scrimmage Saturday in Lincoln. Quarterbacks Brion Carnes, Cody Green and Kody Spano took most of the reps and drew praise from coach Bo Pelini.
- The coaches limited reps for quarterback Taylor Martinez after the sophomore hurt his toe in a recent workout. Running back Rex Burkhead participated in the scrimmage and "looked great," according to Pelini, although Burkhead's reps were limited as well.
- Nebraska had two false-start penalties and one fumble during the scrimmage. "That's not bad," Pelini said. "Most of it is with the young guys. It shows me the emphasis is working and there's progress, but one's too many as far I'm concerned."
The Wildcats scrimmaged Saturday in Evanston in preparation for this week's spring game.
- Top running back Mike Trumpy had runs of 33 and 25 yards, while Tyris Jones added a scoring run. Jones has had a really nice spring for the Wildcats, who are looking for more options in the backfield.
- Trevor Siemian and Evan Watkins took the reps at quarterback as Kain Colter was held out of the scrimmage. Siemian completed 8 of 12 passes for 86 yards with an interception, while Watkins, victimized by dropped passes, completed 8 of 21 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown strike to Charles Brown.
- Defensive end Tyler Scott picked off Siemian on the second play of the scrimmage. Siemian later responded with a 36-yard pass to Rashad Lawrence. Demetrius Fields led the receivers with five receptions, while walk-on Torin Dupper had three catches for 46 yards.
The Buckeyes held a special-teams scrimmage followed by a full jersey scrimmage Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The team went through about 20 possessions and the offense prevailed 56-45.
- Receiver DeVier Posey recorded two touchdown receptions, a 33-yarder from Joe Bauserman and an 8-yarder from Taylor Graham. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller had the only other touchdown of the scrimmage on an 11-yard run.
- Bauserman completed passes of 33 and 16 yards and also threw an interception on a pass tipped by defensive lineman John Simon. Graham completed 10 of 20 passes for 80 yards, while Miller hit on 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards and looked impressive on the touchdown run. Kenny Guiton struggled at quarterback, leading the offense to only one score (field goal) in six possessions.
- Posey recorded five receptions for 83 yards and two scores, while the other scholarship wideouts combined for only five receptions. Think Ohio State will miss No. 8 in the first five games?
- Senior running back Dan Herron didn't get much work Saturday, and Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith stood out among the backs with several nice gains.
- Defensive linemen Adam Bellamy and Melvin Fellows both recorded sacks, while other defensive standouts included cornerback Travis Howard and linebacker Etienne Sabino.
The Lions scrimmaged Saturday, but there's not much info out there aside from this ($$$).
The Badgers held a scrimmage Saturday, running more than 120 snaps, and coach Bret Bielema shares his thoughts here.
- Sophomore linebacker Conor O'Neill had a big day with interceptions on back-to-back plays, picking off Joe Brennan and Joel Stave. Wisconsin auditioned O'Neill at safety last year, and his experience defending the pass is paying off.
- Bielema said center Peter Konz will miss the rest of the spring because of ankle and knee injuries. Konz will undergo minor knee surgery and should be fine for fall camp. Versatile sophomore Ryan Groy is seeing time at center and can play all three interior line spots.
- Remember Zach Brown? The running back is still around in Madison and hopes to enter a crowded backfield this fall. Brown had a 17-yard touchdown reception and an 8-yard scoring run Saturday. "Zach is an angry running back," Bielema told reporters. "Everybody wants to talk about those other guys. People forget he ran for 200 yards [in a game] as a freshman, and he has won some games for us."
1. JoePa goes for No. 400: The all-time coaching wins leader in major college football can reach another milestone if Penn State beats Northwestern on Saturday. Joe Paterno can join John Gagliardi and Eddie Robinson as the only college football coaches to record 400 career victories, and he can become the first man in Division I-A/FBS history to do so. This is a moment likely never to be seen again, as the 83-year-old Paterno, in his 45th year as Penn State's coach, is truly one of a kind. A win Saturday also would make Penn State bowl eligible.
3. Endgame in West Lafayette: Two of the front-runners for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year meet Saturday at Purdue's Ross Ade Stadium. Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan has been simply unstoppable this season, cementing himself as a first-round draft pick in April with 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Kerrigan leads the Big Ten in both categories, but not far behind sits Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, who boasts five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with six pass breakups, five quarterback hurries and two blocked kicks. There's plenty of mutual respect between the two stars. Kerrigan goes up against Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi, another likely first-round pick.
4. Spartans rushing to rebound: Despite what he called an "embarrassing performance" at Iowa, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio maintained that "the sky is not falling around here." He's right, too, as the Spartans still are very much alive for the Big Ten title and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl. Michigan State can get well Saturday against last-place Minnesota, and it would be well served to reignite a rushing attack that has gone cold the past three weeks. Minnesota allows a league-worst 201.8 rush yards a game and will miss starting defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey because of a suspension. Spartans backs Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper need a big day.
5. Iowa faces trap game: Everyone in Iowa City wants to fast-forward to Nov. 20 and the Ohio State game, but the Hawkeyes first must take care of business on the road against two teams that give them trouble. Up first is Indiana, which dominated Iowa for the better part of three quarters last year and picked off Ricky Stanzi five times before the Hawkeyes rattled off 28 fourth-quarter points. Indiana beat Iowa in 2006 and 2007 and boasts a passing attack that will challenge the Hawkeyes' secondary. It's important for Iowa to keep the pedal down in Bloomington.
6. The joy of six: Three Big Ten teams -- Michigan, Illinois and Penn State -- enter Saturday's games with five victories, needing one more to become bowl eligible. One team will reach the magic number in Ann Arbor as Michigan and Illinois lock horns. The Wolverines would remove a lot of pressure by beating the Illini and virtually ensuring the end of their postseason drought. Like Michigan, Illinois hasn't been to a bowl since after the 2007 season and can continue its surprising surge with a victory. Teams like Indiana and Purdue also can inch closer to bowl eligibility with upset wins Saturday.
7. Persa back in Pennsylvania: Dan Persa was a high school star in Pennsylvania, but he barely got a sniff from Penn State in the recruiting process. He landed at Northwestern and has been the biggest reason for the Wildcats' 6-2 start. Persa, whose mother and sister went to Penn State and who grew up attending Nittany Lions games, heads back to his home state to try and spoil Paterno's 400 party. The Northwestern junior is cleared to start after suffering a concussion last week. While Persa heads home, Northwestern is at its best on the road, winning six consecutive games stretching back to last season. The Wildcats also fare well in November under coach Pat Fitzgerald, compiling a 9-4 record, including a 6-1 mark the past two seasons.
8. Scheelhaase takes aim at shorthanded secondary: Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has put himself in the mix for Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, and he gets another chance to shine Saturday at the Big House. Scheelhaase, who last Saturday completed 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, faces a struggling Michigan secondary that lost starting cornerback J.T. Floyd to a season-ending ankle injury this week in practice. True freshman Courtney Avery starts in Floyd's spot opposite James Rogers, the Wolverines' lone non-freshman cornerback. Illinois is a run-first offense, but don't be surprised if Scheelhaase takes to the air against the vulnerable Wolverines.
9. Penn State's quarterback situation: Freshman Rob Bolden might be Penn State's future, but sophomore Matt McGloin has been on the field at the end of back-to-back Nittany Lions victories. Bolden has fully recovered from a concussion suffered Oct. 23, and the coaches let the two quarterbacks compete for the starting job throughout practice this week. McGloin performed well in his first career start last week against Michigan, but quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno indicated after the game that Bolden still held the top job. Joe Paterno mentioned he might play both quarterbacks against Northwestern, so it'll be interesting to see how things play out.
10. Purdue turns to Robinson: Purdue expects to start its third quarterback this season as true freshman Sean Robinson gets the nod against Wisconsin. Robinson played most of the Illinois game last Saturday, completing just 7 of 20 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. The Boilers will use Rob Henry if his throwing hand improves, but Robinson is their top option. "If he was an immature freshman, didn't have some of the same intangibles, we could be in some real trouble," coach Danny Hope said. "This guy can come over and make a commitment from a maturity standpoint to become a quarterback we can win with."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a noticeable buzz around Minnesota football right now, with a new on-campus stadium opening this fall and plenty on the agenda for spring practice, which began Tuesday. The Gophers welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a new offensive system, which will look more what fans are used to in the Twin Cities.
|Jeff Gross/Getty Images|
|Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is excited about the depth he has coming back this season.|
Head coach Tim Brewster saw the team improve its record by six games last fall, but the Gophers ended on a five-game slide, including a 55-0 thrashing at the hands of archrival Iowa. With 10 offensive starters back and several playmakers on the defensive side, Minnesota hopes to take another step forward this fall, but will negotiate what appears to be a much tougher schedule. Here are Brewster's thoughts on the squad as spring ball gets under way.
It seems pretty ambitious what you guys are doing this spring, with the new guys, the scheme tweaks and changes. Is it one of the more ambitious spring practice sessions you've been a part of?
Tim Brewster: I just don't think it's quite as ambitious as you think. We installed quite a bit of the offense before the bowl game. To me, what's exciting about where we're at is we've got some depth, we've got some experienced players, but more importantly, some really talented players coming back. And then when you add to the mix guys like [linebackers] Keanon Cooper, Spencer Reeves and Gary Tinsley, some of these guys particularly on defense, that's really an exciting thing for us.
You said you wouldn't trade [quarterback] Adam [Weber] for anybody in the country. You also think highly of MarQueis Gray. Do you envision MarQueis just sitting and waiting the next two years?
TB: No, no. We're going to incorporate MarQueis into every game. We'll go in with a plan on how we're going to utilize him. I brought [Texas offensive coordinator] Greg Davis up here from Texas, and I talked to Greg about how they incorporated Vince [Young] into the game plan in Vince's redshirt freshman year. He played every game, but what was the real thought process that went into it. We really had some good conversations on how to do that. It's a tough thing because of the flow of the game. You say, 'I want him to play the third series.' Well, something may dictate that the third series, you want to keep Adam in the game. But he'll make a contribution. Heck, MarQueis could play wide receiver. MarQueis could be a running back. There's a lot of different ways to utilize a player of his ability.
Does it help to have that reference point with Vince Young?
TB: Very strong similarities between the two. But the biggest challenge is this: We've been really lucky. Adam Weber's taken every snap. At some point, injuries happen. Is MarQueis Gray ready to step in and drive this car and run this offense? That's the biggest challenge that [new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch] has, making sure MarQueis Gray is ready to be a full-time quarterback. He's the No. 2 quarterback at worst right now, so that's a real challenge.
It seems like line play is going to be a focus on both sides of the ball.
TB: Yes, and I think we're going to be much better up front. It really helped moving [left tackle] Dom Alford inside. Ryan Wynn is a very talented guy who was playing right tackle. He doesn't need to be a right tackle. He'll play at center, possibly at guard. Matt Carufel, also [at guard]. And then you look at the development of [left tackle Matt] Stommes. Stommes' measurables, shoot, the NFL people who have come in here have said, 'Who the heck is that?' It's kind of like the guy's come out of nowhere. And [right tackle Jeff] Wills' development is going to be big. Is he putting himself in a position where he can be a starter?
Some people would look to the secondary and say look what you guys did there last year, but it sounds like you're almost more excited about the D-line and the linebackers.
TB: I really am. The front seven for us has got a chance to be really good. I think we'll be good on the back end, too. We're just a little thin. A kid like [cornerback] Michael Carter coming in, Michael's going to have to play as a freshman. And we've got some other guys. Today it's so hard to find defensive linemen, and particularly the young inside guys, Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey, they've got a chance to be really good. And then you've got [Eric] Small and [Garrett] Brown. So we've got four inside guys. And then I think we'll be better on the edge. D.L. Wilhite's a kid who redshirted last year and has got really good speed. And with [Cedric] McKinley, [Derek] Onwuachi, we've got some guys there.
The spring gives you a chance to find some playmakers, too, especially with Weber limited and Eric Decker playing baseball.
TB: Eric Decker's going to be ready to play. What I'm concerned about is somebody else being ready. That's how you've got to look at it, a positive thing and not a negative thing.
You mentioned last year's team was significantly improved. Is that the same goal for 2009?
TB: This year, we want to make the same improvement, but it's a tougher step, a much tougher step, particularly with a much tougher schedule.