NCF Nation: Chris Carlino

It's time to jump back into our preseason position group rankings. We've made our way through the offenses and the front line of the defenses. Now it's time to take a look at the linebackers.

As always, this is a ranking of the entire position group, so depth matters in addition to individual star players.

Away we go:

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Lavonte David led the Big 12 last season with 152 tackles.
1. Nebraska: Lavonte David set the school record with 152 tackles last year, best in the Big 12. He also added 15 tackles for loss and six sacks on his way to second-team All-America honors. David was a one-man wrecking crew last year but should get more help this year. Will Compton returns after an injury-shortened season, and Sean Fisher is back after a broken leg cost him all of 2010. With an excellent defensive front leading the way, the Cornhuskers' linebackers should make plenty of impact plays.

2. Penn State: Is this the return of Linebacker U? The Nittany Lions technically only return one starter at the position but have plenty of talent. The unit got hit by injuries last year, including one that knocked Michael Mauti out of the lineup for several games. He's one of the best in the Big Ten when healthy, which he should be in 2011. Senior Nate Stupar led the team in tackles last year. Sophomores Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt are among the skilled youngsters battling for playing time. This could wind up as the deepest linebacking corps in the league.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost two starters, including leading tackler Brian Rolle. But the Silver Bullets usually reload at linebacker. Senior Andrew Sweat should emerge as the unit's leader, and hopes are high for Etienne Sabino after he took a redshirt year in 2010. Sabino showed promise this spring and locked down a starting job. The battle is on for the third starting position. Incoming freshman Curtis Grant could make a sudden impact.

4. Wisconsin: Much depends on the health of Chris Borland, who missed nearly all of 2010 and sat out the spring with a shoulder injury. The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year will move to middle linebacker and should anchor the unit if he's sound. Mike Taylor finished second on the team in tackles for loss and interceptions last year, and Kevin Claxton is expected to take over at the strongside spot. The Badgers like what they have seen from redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter.

5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost a lot of experience from the 2010 team, including leading tackler Jeremiha Hunter. While there's some concern about the leadership void, Iowa has good young building blocks here. James Morris was pressed into service as a true freshman and was terrific; another year of development should only make him better. Tyler Nielsen was missed down the stretch when he suffered a neck injury, and the senior provides a veteran presence. Players like Bruce Davis, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens need to take on bigger roles.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesReplacing two-time All-American Greg Jones will be a tall order for the Spartans.
6. Michigan State: It would be difficult to overstate how much the Spartans will miss two-time All-American Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, who combined to start 95 games in their illustrious careers. But life goes on. The lone returning starter, Chris Norman, is a dependable veteran. The Spartans hope Max Bullough and Denicos Allen build on their potential, and TyQuan Hammock inspired confidence with his play this spring.

7. Minnesota: An experienced linebacker group could be the strength of the Gophers defense this season. All three starters -- leading tackler Gary Tinsley, Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis -- are back. Rallis needs to stay healthy after only appearing in 12 games the past two years because of injuries. Florida transfer Brendan Beal should provide a boost.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers are led by senior Joe Holland, who has 35 career starts under his belt. Junior Dwayne Beckford finished second on the team with 85 tackles a year ago. Will Lucas could break out after an excellent true freshman campaign. Senior Chris Carlino adds veteran depth.

9. Michigan: The Wolverines struggled defensively last year, and the linebackers shouldered some of the blame. They lost Jonas Mouton to the NFL. Cam Gordon moves down from safety and adds some playmaking ability. Kenny Demens had 82 tackles last year at middle linebacker. Freshman Jake Ryan should contribute right away. This group still has a lot to prove.

10. Illinois: The Illini have to rebuild after losing a pair of NFL draft picks at the position in Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey. Senior Ian Thomas now becomes the veteran leader. Sophomores Johnathan Brown and Houston Bates -- who had a strong spring -- will be counted on to step forward.

11. Indiana: Fifth-year senior Jeff Thomas could be the centerpiece of the Hoosiers defense. Another fifth-year senior is Leon Beckum, though he lacks top-end speed. Overall, there isn't a lot of depth here.

12. Northwestern: Linebacker play was a sore spot last season, and starters Nate Williams and Quentin Davie are gone. Bryce McNaul needs to recover all the way from shoulder surgery and has to stay healthy. Pat Fitzgerald thinks he has some talented young players at the position; they'll need to grow up fast.

Spring game recap: Purdue

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
11:00
AM ET
Purdue wrapped up spring practice Saturday with the Black and Gold Game, the first spring game in the Big Ten this year. The Gold team prevailed 14-3 behind touchdown receptions by Justin Siller and Normando Harris.

Let's take a closer look at the game.

Game coverage: Here and here and here.

Quotable: "We're not going to have great talent sitting on the sideline. Rob Henry is a great talent. Robert Marve is a great talent and Caleb TerBush is a great talent. We're going to find a way for all three of those guys to help us win, regardless of how it shakes down on the depth chart." -- coach Danny Hope on his quarterbacks

Highlights
  • Top quarterback Rob Henry had a decent day for the Gold squad, completing 8 of 12 passes for 76 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and adding 27 rush yards. Caleb TerBush called signals for both teams and completed 16 of 27 passes for 172 yards with a score and an interception. Receiver Antavian Edison capped a strong spring with five receptions and two rushes for 26 yards.
  • Purdue's defense was the more dominant unit for much of the scrimmage. Linebacker Antwon Higgs and safeties Logan Link and Jarrett Dieudonne all recorded interceptions, and the teams combined for seven "sacks," including two apiece by defensive ends Robert Maci and Ryan Russell (Black team).
  • It's rare when a kicker steals the show at a spring game, but Carson Wiggs isn't your typical specialist. The bionic-legged Wiggs, who kicked the nation's longest field goal (59 yards) last season, put on a display just before halftime. He kicked five field goals, including a 67-yarder that would have been good from 75. Wiggs also connected from 57, 52, 47 and 42 yards and missed from 62. That's called range, people.
  • Purdue on Friday announced six team captains for 2011: Henry, Wiggs, defensive tackle Kawann Short, offensive tackle Dennis Kelly and linebackers Joe Holland and Chris Carlino. The most significant selection is Henry, just a sophomore. Although Purdue's quarterback race isn't over as Robert Marve will rejoin the mix this summer, Henry separated himself this spring and clearly has the support of his teammates. It'll be an interesting decision for Hope, who has a lot invested in Marve but has repeatedly praised Henry's progress.

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