NCF Nation: Darryl Stonum

Earlier this week, we took a look at five players in the Leaders Division with something to prove this fall.

Let's now turn our attention to the Legends Division.

Ready, set, go ...

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireThe pressure is on Taylor Martinez, who enters his third year as Nebraska's starting quarterback.
1. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: To say it's all about the quarterback sounds a bit cliché, but the line truly applies to Nebraska this season. The Huskers return eight starters on offense and look strong at most of the positions, particularly running back. Nebraska's defense could replace star power with greater depth and a more detail-oriented approach. So in many ways, the Huskers' season comes down to Martinez, their third-year starter at quarterback. Martinez struggled with his passing in 2011, completing just 56.2 percent of his attempts and often looking uncomfortable in the pocket. He spent the offseason working on his footwork and drew good marks from the coaches this spring. Martinez will be operating in the same offensive system in consecutive seasons for the first time in his football career (college or high school). He's also fully recovered from the injuries that slowed him in 2010. Bottom line: his time is now.

2. Will Campbell, DT, Michigan: Wolverines fans see Campbell's size and potential as a space eater and continue to wait patiently for the big man to take the next step. There's no better time than this season as Michigan must replace standout defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The Wolverines could be very good in the defensive back seven, particularly in the secondary, but there are questions up front and Campbell is one of them. Campbell has been better in getting his weight under control, but the senior needs to show he can consistently display the effort and technique needed to make a difference in the interior of the line. A former five-star recruit, the 6-5, 322-pound Campbell has one final opportunity to shine. Michigan needs a big season from No. 73.

3. Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State: There's little doubt Michigan State will have one of the nation's best defenses for the second consecutive season. But the Spartans lose almost all of their key offensive skill players from 2011, and the biggest void is under center, where three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins departs. In steps Maxwell, who has spent years preparing for this moment in practice but lacks game experience (51 pass attempts in nine career games). Maxwell learned a lot from Cousins and has a personality that some liken to his predecessor. But after missing the second half of spring practice with a knee injury, he needs a strong summer as he builds chemistry with his mostly unproven receivers and tight ends. While Michigan State will be a more run-heavy team this fall with lead back Le'Veon Bell and a more seasoned offensive line, the Spartans need Maxwell to establish himself if they intend to return to Indianapolis.

4. Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa: Iowa's yet-to-be-named top running back could be listed here, but the Hawkeyes likely will be a pass-oriented team because of their uncertainty at tailback as well as the return of senior quarterback James Vandenberg. While Vandenberg seems to be adapting well to new offensive coordinator Greg Davis and the new system, he lacks many proven targets, especially after the departure of the Big Ten's top wide receiver, Marvin McNutt. Davis started 12 games last season and finished second on the squad in receptions (50) and receiving yards (713). The big question is whether he can take the next step and become a true No. 1 wide receiver. Coach Kirk Ferentz admitted Davis had an "up and down" spring, and missed the latter part of the session with an injury. Davis needs to show he can stay on the field, make consistent catches and give Vandenberg a reliable top target.

5. Roy Roundtree, WR, Michigan: The Wolverines return arguably the Big Ten's most dynamic offensive backfield in quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. The offense could be very dangerous this fall, but Michigan will need a bounce-back season from Roundtree. Michigan lacks depth at receiver following Junior Hemingway's departure and Darryl Stonum's dismissal. Roundtree flourished in the spread offense in 2010, leading the Wolverines with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns, and earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. But his production dropped off sharply last fall in the new offense (19 receptions, 355 yards, 2 TDs). Michigan gave Roundtree the No. 21 jersey worn by Hemingway in 2011, and Roundtree will step into Hemingway's role in the offense. He's the obvious No. 1 target for Robinson, but he has to show he can get it done in this offense.
If Al Borges had his preference, Michigan would be running more of a pro-style offense. That's clearly the future for the Wolverines and the type of players they have been recruiting.

But Borges is no dummy. He knows he has Denard Robinson at quarterback for one more year. Michigan wisely did not try to cram Robinson into an ill-fitting system last year, as Borges adjusted his offense to his star player's unique talents. That worked out pretty well, as the Wolverines went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl.

So the full-fledged movement to a pro style can wait another year.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson will need to improve his accuracy and cut down on his interceptions in 2012.
"We have pieces of our offense that are still very pro style, like our passing game," Borges told ESPN.com. "But we're still very much a spread because of Denard, and we'll continue to be because that is the best thing that suits his skill set. We'll have some plays under center at times, and we were very productive at those last year. But because of Denard's running ability, that will never be a prominent part of our offense."

The most frequent and often tiresome question around the Michigan offense is how much Robinson will run the ball. Borges found a nice balance last year, using it as a weapon but also keeping his quarterback mostly healthy. He sees no reason to alter that formula.

"I don't see his role changing any," Borges said. "We may up the ante a little bit with him throwing a couple more times a game. But any change will be subtle and hardly noticeable."

Robinson completed only 55 percent of his passes last season and threw 15 interceptions, the most in the Big Ten. That obviously has to improve. Borges said he's been working on Robinson's footwork and hip placement. Another year in the system should also help.

"He's probably at the top of the list of guy who just understand better," Borges said. "Last year at this time, he couldn't call the play. Now he can call the play with no problems at all. We're still working hard on his fundamentals to get him better that way, but his understanding is so much better than it was a year ago."

Borges also knows he has another strong option in the backfield in running back Fitz Toussaint, who emerged as a star midway through last season and finished with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

"He didn't really come on until the fourth or fifth game of the season," Borges said. "Now he'll be in there from the beginning and show his worth from Day 1. If he stays healthy, he can have a hell of a year."

Michigan has good depth at running back with Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins and Thomas Rawls returning. Borges said the coaching staff is taking "a hard look" at redshirt freshman Justice Hayes this spring.

Wide receiver isn't quite as deep with Junior Hemingway gone and Darryl Stonum dismissed from the team. Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are the returning veterans, and Borges said redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson has looked very good early on in spring practice. Some incoming freshmen will likely have a chance to contribute as well.

Roundtree might hold the key to the group. He had 72 catches for 935 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore but caught just 19 balls for 355 yards last season. Borges has moved Roundtree to flanker, which was Hemingway's spot a year ago.

"Playing flanker, I think you'll see Roy's numbers go back up," Borges said. "He's in great shape, running well and catching the ball right now in our first couple of practices. He's playing as well as he's played since I've been here. He's learned how to run the routes and read the coverages, and he has a big-play dimension to him. If he stays in one piece, I look for him to have a big year."

Just don't look for Michigan to change too much else this year on offense.

Spring previews: Legends Division

February, 17, 2012
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The 2012 Big Ten season doesn't kick off for six-and-a-half months, but spring football is just around the corner. All 12 Big Ten squads will hit the field next month for the first of 15 spring practices. There are plenty of new faces, as the winter months brought an unprecedented number of coaching changes to the Big Ten. Should be a fun and exciting spring around the conference.

Let's take a quick look at the Leaders Division:

IOWA

Spring practice start date: March 24
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New coaching flavor: For the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa will welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Phil Parker isn't exactly new, having served as Iowa's defensive backs coach throughout Ferentz's tenure, but he now takes charge of the defense for the first time. Will he continue running Norm Parker's scheme or shake things up? Iowa also will have a new offensive coordinator (yet to be named) and several new position coaches, including Reese Morgan, who moves from offensive line to defensive line.
  • Running back auditions: Iowa once again needs to identify a featured back after Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook in January. Coker basically was the team's rushing attack in 2011, accounting for 77.3 percent of the rushing yards and 61.9 percent of the carries. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will compete with several other unproven players this spring. The good news is Iowa has had little trouble developing backs. Keeping them is another story.
  • Reloading the defensive line: The running backs might get more attention, but defensive line is Iowa's most pressing need entering the spring. The Hawkeyes lose three starters from last season's squad, including NFL prospect Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. While D-line historically has been a strength for Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't had so much uncertainty in quite some time. Morgan, who hasn't coached on the defensive side, has his work cut out this spring.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice start date: March 17
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Defensive line rotation: It's a good thing coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison focus so much on the defensive line. The unit needs some extra attention this spring after losing standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The defensive tackle spot will be particularly interesting. A lot of eyes will be on Will Campbell to see if the big man can finally blossom. Quinton Washington and others are in the mix.
  • Receiving orders: Michigan needs to develop more options in the passing game this spring. The team loses top wideout Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the squad in January following another legal issue. Roy Roundtree needs a big spring as he looks to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 wideout after a production drop-off last season. Tight end Kevin Koger also departs, creating an opportunity for others.
  • Al Borges' offense, Take 2: The new offense had some highs and lows in Year 1, and Michigan will be looking to establish greater consistency this season. It'll be interesting to see how a full year in the system impacts quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson must cut down on his interceptions after tossing 15 last season. The Wolverines also are looking for an offensive line anchor following the departure of All-American center David Molk.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Take it to the Max: Andrew Maxwell's time has arrived as he steps in for three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It's a tall order, but Maxwell has been groomed for this moment and has shown good potential in practices. He'll be working with a new set of leading receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who hopes to be cleared to play for the upcoming season. Maxwell must establish himself as a team leader this spring.
  • We're not Worthy: All-American Jerel Worthy is gone, and Michigan State needs a replacement for the standout defensive tackle. While Anthony Rashad White returns at the other D-tackle spot, the Spartans don't have much overall depth at the position. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Micajah Reynolds, who has bounced between defensive line and offensive line during his career. It's a big spring for Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge and a host of players who redshirted last season, including Damon Knox.
  • Receiving orders: Arnett seemingly would be Michigan State's No. 1 receiver if he's ruled eligible by the NCAA, but there are no guarantees and the Spartans must identify other options this spring. Bennie Fowler showed promise in 2010 before being slowed by a foot injury last season. He needs a strong spring. Michigan State also is moving Tony Lippett back to receiver from cornerback, where he started several games last season. Lippett is an excellent athlete who can provide a boost on the edge. The Spartans also will be looking for more from tight end Dion Sims.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice start date: March 22
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The search for a pass rush: Minnesota should be improved on offense in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era, but the team could sink or swim depending on the defense. It starts up front with a defensive line that hasn't generated much pressure for several years. Coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to be aggressive, but can he find difference-makers? The Gophers haven't had an elite pass-rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008.
  • Supporting cast on offense: Although quarterback Marqueis Gray had his ups and downs last season, he accounted for most of Minnesota's offense, leading the team with 966 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gray needs more help if the Gophers intend to take the next step this season. Minnesota will be looking for a featured running back this spring, as Donnell Kirkwood and others are in the mix. The Gophers also need more options at receiver after losing Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire turned heads last spring with some big hits from the cornerback spot. After receiving an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA in January, he'll look to deliver more punishment. Minnesota desperately needs leaders and playmakers to emerge in the secondary, and Stoudermire's return could be huge after he missed most last season with a broken bone in his forearm.
NEBRASKA

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Star search on defense: No Big Ten defense loses more star power than Nebraska, which must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the league's top performers at their respective positions. David's departure is especially critical, as Nebraska lacked depth in its defensive midsection last season. Although Nebraska played most of the past season without defensive tackle Jared Crick, it needs some difference-makers to emerge in all three levels of the defense this spring.
  • Papuchis takes over: Like Iowa, Nebraska promoted a position coach to defensive coordinator, as John Papuchis takes control of a unit that fell short of expectations last season. Papuchis is young and energetic, and his rapid rise mirrors that of his boss, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini. Although no system overhaul is expected, it will be interesting to see how Papuchis puts his imprint on the defense this spring.
  • Taylor Martinez's maturation: Despite two years as the starter and the support of his coaches, Martinez enters a pivotal spring. Although Martinez remained healthy last season and showed improved decision-making at times, he also completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and didn't break off as many long runs. A full year in Tim Beck's offense could pay off for Martinez this spring, but he needs to continue to make strides. It will be interesting to see if the coaches even entertain the possibility of a competition, or if backup Brion Carnes gets more reps.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Colter and the QB race: Northwestern will have a quarterback competition this spring as it looks for Dan Persa's replacement, but the hope among many is for Kain Colter to take control. Colter stepped in for Persa last season and emerged as the team's best all-around offensive weapon. But he needs to improve his arm strength and his accuracy and show he can be a more complete quarterback at this level. Although Colter will be on the field no matter what in the fall, he has the opportunity in spring ball to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.
  • Young defenders: The defense has been a big problem for the past year and a half, and Northwestern needs to identify more playmakers before September. The good news is the Wildcats played a lot of young players last season, particularly late in the season. Northwestern needs its youth to mature, beginning in the spring. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Tyler Scott, safety Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis and cornerback Daniel Jones. Northwestern needs several of them to take the next step.
  • Spotlight on the secondary: Few Big Ten units struggled more than Northwestern's secondary did last season. Making matters worse, the Wildcats lose three starters, including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, a four-year starter. If Northwestern ever intends to turn the corner as a program, it needs to build better depth in the secondary, whether it's through recruiting or from moving players from other positions. It'll be interesting to see how the group performs this spring.

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 31, 2012
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Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.
The folks at ESPN Recruiting stepped into the rewind machine Wednesday and looked back at the ESPNU 150 from 2008 Insider to see which heralded recruits panned out and which did not.

From a Big Ten slant, this exercise is essentially a referendum on Ohio State's class, which ranked sixth nationally that year Insider and featured eight ESPNU 150 prospects, headlined by quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Several other Big Ten squads had prospects in the 150 as well.

Overall, the results are mixed. Some players matched their hype, like Ohio State center Mike Brewster and, when healthy, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Others did not or have not, once again proving that recruiting rankings should be viewed with caution.

Here's a look.

Prospects ranked from 1-25 Insider

No. 4: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State -- Helped Buckeyes win three Big Ten championships and two BCS bowls before departing in June because of multiple NCAA rules violations.

No. 18: Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State: -- Started the 2011 season after redshirting in 2010. Hasn't been a difference-maker for Buckeyes, but ended with a strong performance in the Gator Bowl and could be a key player in 2012.

Prospects ranked from 26-50 Insider

No. 42: Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State -- Four-year starter undoubtedly paid off for Ohio State. Brewster earned All-Big Ten honors and was an All-America candidate his final two seasons.

No. 48: Andrew Sweat, LB, Ohio State -- Sweat had a solid but unspectacular career for Ohio State. He was the team's top linebacker in 2011, and Ohio State missed him late in the season.

Prospects ranked between 51-75 Insider

No. 56: J.B. Shugarts, T, Ohio State -- Started the final three seasons at right tackle but never earned All-Big Ten honors.

No. 58: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State -- Plagued by knee problems, but very effective when healthy. He turned in a strong 2010 season and entered 2011 as an All-America candidate before tearing his ACL in September. He'll be back in 2012.

No. 69: Dann O'Neill, T, Michigan -- Redshirted as a freshman before transferring to Western Michigan, saying Michigan wasn't the right fit. He earned third-team All-MAC honors in 2011.

No. 71: Darryl Stonum, WR, Michigan -- Turned in a nice year in 2010, but found himself in off-field troubles throughout his Michigan career. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday dismissed Stonum after his latest infraction that resulted in jail time.

Prospects ranked 76-100 Insider

No. 88: Mike Adams, T, Ohio State -- One of the Big Ten's top offensive linemen during his final two seasons, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2010 and second-team honors in 2011 despite playing in only seven games. He had some off-field issues with the Buckeyes and was part of the Tat-5 with Pryor.

Prospects ranked 101-125 Insider

No. 107: Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State -- An excellent weapon when used in the Ohio State offense. He recorded a team-high seven touchdown receptions in 2011, but had only 14 overall receptions. He returns in 2012 and should have a bigger role in a more wide-open offense.

No. 115: Brandon Moore, TE, Michigan -- Moore has two receptions in three years as a reserve tight end for the Wolverines. He could see a bigger role in 2012 as Kevin Koger departs.

No. 119 Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska -- Started the past two seasons on the Huskers' defensive line and recorded 40 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks, during the 2011 season. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and will be called upon to take a leading role for Big Red in 2012.

Prospects ranked 126-150 Insider

No. 128: Patrick Nixon-Youman, CB, Illinois -- Hip surgery a few years ago slowed Nixon-Youman's progression, but he appeared in 11 games in each of the past two seasons in a reserve role. He could play a bigger role in 2012.

No. 130: Keanon Cooper, LB, Minnesota -- Started in 2011 for Minnesota and recorded 77 tackles, including six for loss, as well as two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He enters his third season as a starter in 2012 and will need to be a big contributor for the Gophers' defense.

No. 135: Travis Howard, CB, Ohio State -- Took on a bigger role in 2011 and recorded 44 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups for the Buckeyes. He'll enter the 2012 season as a projected starter and could end his career with a flourish.

No. 141: J.B. Fitzgerald, LB, Michigan -- Started only three games in his career, but appeared in 50 contests and was a valuable reserve and special teams performer for Michigan in 2011.

No. 148: Tyler Westphal, DE, Wisconsin -- Had a serious shoulder injury following his redshirt year in Madison and eventually transferred to North Dakota State.

Minnesota linebacker Brendan Beal, who has yet to play for the Gophers after transferring from Florida, is No. 133 in the rankings.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said earlier this month he was still gathering information on wayward receiver Darryl Stonum's latest run-in with the law and would make a decision on Stonum's status.

Today, that decision came down, and it was really the only one to make: Hoke has dismissed the troubled Stonum from the team.

"I love Darryl and wish him nothing but the absolute best," Hoke said in a statement. "However, there is a responsibility and a higher standard you must be accountable to as a University of Michigan football student-athlete. That does not and will not change. It's unfortunate because I believe he has grown a great deal as a person since the beginning of the season. My hope is that maturing process continues."

Stonum's maturation process was severely called into question yet again when he was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Jan. 6 for violating his probation. Stonum was arrested for drunken driving as a freshman in 2008, then spent three days in jail in the summer of 2010 for violating probation. In the latest incident, he was stopped for driving on a suspended license while going to a probation meeting, and then lied to his probation officer about how he got there. At least he doesn't lack for nerve.

As Hoke mentioned in this statement, there is a standard for playing at a program like Michigan and others in the Big Ten, and having a guy who has now spent nearly two weeks in jail on probation violations alone falls short of this standard. Hoke inherited the Stonum mess, but cleaning it up was his first major disciplinary litmus test as Wolverines coach. He has set a good tone by not allowing Stonum to come back, proving he doesn't value winning over everything.

Stonum has started 25 games and played in 36 during his career, catching 76 passes for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned 62 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and holds the single-season kickoff return mark with 39 returns for 1,001 yards in 2009. He redshirted this past season in response to his legal troubles.

"I appreciate everything the University of Michigan, Dave Brandon and Coach Hoke have done for me," Stonum said in the school's release. "I look forward to continuing my football career down the road, but more importantly, right now I'm focused on graduating from Michigan this spring. I understand only I am responsible for my actions. I'm sad about how all of this turned out, but I completely understand. I love this school and my team and will miss them all greatly. But I'll always be a Wolverine. I know I have grown and matured as a person over the last nine months, and I will continue to learn and grow every day. I want to thank everyone for all of their support, and I hope they will support me in the future."

We sincerely hope Stonum views this as a wake-up call and stops making poor choices. Perhaps he can transfer to a lower-level NCAA school and finish his college career, or take his chances as an NFL free agent. He could have been an important playmaker for the Michigan offense next season, especially with productive receiver Junior Hemingway graduating. Jeremy Gallon had a nice sophomore season but is a slot guy at 5-foot-8. The Wolverines will have to hope that Jeremy Jackson continues to improve, that Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a better senior season and that some youngsters come through at wideout, a position that looks a little shaky heading into spring ball.

But there are some things that are more important than experience and talent on the depth chart. Stonum earned his way out of the Michigan program, and good for Hoke for recognizing that.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke told reporters Thursday that there's no change to Darryl Stonum's status at this time following the wide receiver's latest legal issue.

Stonum, who is on probation for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired, was stopped by Ann Arbor police Thursday morning for driving on a revoked license. He will appear in court Friday for a regularly scheduled probation hearing, and Thursday's incident, described in one report as a probation violation, could be addressed.

Hoke indefinitely suspended Stonum following his drunken driving arrest in May and eventually redshirted the wide receiver. Stonum, the team's second-leading receiver in 2010, has one year of eligibility remaining.

Stonum has had several missteps at Michigan. As a freshman in 2008, he was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. He spent three days in jail in summer 2010 because he didn't comply with terms of his probation.

Despite the latest issue, Hoke said Thursday he's not concerned with Stonum's decision-making.

When is it time to get concerned?
Al Borges won't get a true gauge on Michigan's offensive players until they put on the pads.

But the Wolverines' offensive coordinator is seeing players grasp his system better than they did in spring ball. Borges told me Wednesday night that quarterback Denard Robinson is making strides, and no particular position group is lagging behind so far in preseason camp.

"They're basically all on schedule," Borges said. "Nobody in the first couple of groups looks completely confused anymore. In the spring, we were suffering through a lot of growing pains. Now it's good play, good play, bad play; where in the spring it was good play, bad play, good play, bad play, two good plays, two bad plays. We've ironed out a few of those bad plays.

"We haven't arrived, but all the kids know more than they did in the spring, which they should."

Borges is using the first five or six practices to reinstall what he did during the 15 spring workouts. He wants the players to gain confidence in a simple package of plays before throwing anything more at them.

"The system is not ingrained yet," he said, "so you've got to be careful."

Michigan's running back competition will take time to sort out, as true freshmen Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes are competing with veterans like Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith, among others. But Borges likes what Michigan has at receiver despite the decision to redshirt starter Darryl Stonum.

"Junior [Hemingway] is a productive player when he stays healthy," Borges said. "Roy [Roundtree] caught a ton of passes a year ago. [Martavious] Odoms has got speed and is definitely a threat, whether you line him up within the slot or outside. [Kelvin] Grady is a real good athlete with good lateral quickness and good hands. Jeremy Jackson is a tall, rangy type kid.

"We're not bad out there."
Talented wide receiver Darryl Stonum will have a chance to suit up for Michigan again.

Just not this year.

Wolverines coach Brady Hoke announced Sunday that Stonum will redshirt the 2011 season as part of his discipline for a drunken driving arrest in May, Stonum's second such offense during his college career. Stonum, who has been indefinitely suspended following his May 6 arrest, pleaded guilty in June to operating while visibly impaired as part of an agreement.

The team's No. 2 receiver in 2010 will have one season of eligibility remaining in 2012.

Hoke never ruled out Stonum's return to the team, but a significant playing-time suspension seemed likely because of Stonum's previous legal problems (another DUI arrest early in his career, probation violations leading to a three-day jail term). Still, it's never easy for a coach to sit a key player for the entire season. Hoke made a good call here, but it probably wasn't an easy decision.
"While it would be great to have Darryl on the field this season, we feel it is in his best interest and the best interest of our program for him to redshirt," Hoke said in a prepared statement. “Darryl will continue to be an important part of our team and family. He has done everything we have asked him to do, but our number one priority is to help Darryl grow as a person."

Hoke also announced Sunday that punter Will Hagerup is suspended for the first four games and wide receiver Terrence Robinson is suspended for a game for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Stonum's size and athleticism will be missed, although Michigan has decent depth at receiver with Roy Roundtree, Junior Hemingway and others. Hagerup's absence could really sting because Michigan has no other punters on the roster. Incoming freshman Matt Wile, a strong candidate to take over the place-kicking duties, also most likely will punt for the first four games. Wile could be a huge factor for Michigan as it tries to clean up its shoddy kicking game.

Michigan opens preseason practice Monday.

Big Ten personnel nuggets

July, 28, 2011
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CHICAGO -- A few personnel nuggets from around the league as Day 1 of media days is in the books.

  • Michigan coach Brady Hoke hasn't made a decision on the status of senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum, suspended indefinitely in May following a drunken driving arrest, his second since coming to Ann Arbor. Hoke said he wanted to wait "all the way through the summer and see how he's handling all the things he needs to do." Hoke said Stonum is making progress, and a decision could come before Michigan opens preseason camp Aug. 8.

  • Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said standout quarterback Dan Persa is 100 percent healed from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Persa now must work on getting into football shape and shaking off the rust from a long layoff. "It's going to be a little bit different because his body is going to operate a little bit different," Fitzgerald said. "Now it's about adding the strength, getting the conditioning level up, getting back to having fun."

  • Kevin Wilson didn't have much of a chance to evaluate Indiana's running backs this spring because they were all injured. Fortunately, he'll get a better gauge when the Hoosiers open camp. Junior Darius Willis likely is the front-runner to start, although the competition certainly should be open. "We are all healthy," Wilson said. "That's exciting. A lot of those young men in spring, that was the position that was a little bit in flux. That position concerned me more than quarterback."

  • Purdue coach Danny Hope said running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve both are on track to return from their respective knee injuries. Bolden likely could have practiced full-go this spring, while Marve is "where he needs to be" after dealing with his second ACL tear since 2009. "Getting Ralph and Robert back will be huge for our football team," Hope said.
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.
Some bad news for Michigan on Saturday as senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum has been indefinitely suspended from team activities.

No reason was given for Stonum's suspension, but coach Brady Hoke said in a statement that Stonum must "fulfill all his commitments he has to the legal system and our program" before he could have a chance to be reinstated. Stonum was arrested for DUI in September 2008 and spent three nights in jail last June for probation violations.

Officials for University of Michigan police and Ann Arbor police reported no known incidents involving Stonum when reached by ESPN.com on Saturday.
"Darryl made a poor decision that is unacceptable and won't be tolerated," Hoke said in a statement released Saturday. "He will be disciplined for behavior that is unbecoming of a Michigan football player. This is a serious situation. We are disappointed and any athletic department discipline will be handled internally. We will provide the appropriate support and counseling in order for him to learn and grow from this mistake."

Stonum was the team's No. 2 receiver in 2010, racking up 49 receptions for 633 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He would be missed if he's not reinstated for the season, although Michigan still boasts All-Big Ten candidate Roy Roundtree, Junior Hemingway, Kelvin Grady and Martavious Odoms.
I've already taken a look at the Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushing candidates and likely sack masters in 2011. Now it's time to put the spotlight on the quarterbacks.

Who will pass for 3,000 yards this season?

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireNorthwestern's Dan Persa has the weapons and experience to reach 3,000 passing yards this season.
Only two Big Ten quarterbacks, Indiana's Ben Chappell (3,295 pass yards) and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi (3,004), eclipsed 3,000 pass yards in 2010. Northwestern's Dan Persa was on pace to do so before rupturing his Achilles tendon in mid November. Three Big Ten signal callers -- Northwestern's Mike Kafka, Penn State's Daryll Clark and Purdue's Joey Elliott -- reached the milestone in 2009.

Let's look at who has the best chance to become Mr. 3,000 this fall. Several Big Ten signal callers operate in systems that don't emphasize the pass enough, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor would be on the list if not for his five-game suspension.

1. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: As stated above, Persa would have eclipsed 3,000 pass yards last fall if not for his injury. If he stays healthy for the entire 2010 season, he should reach the milestone. Northwestern is loaded at wide receiver/tight end and has an offensive line that seems to fare a lot better in pass protection than in run blocking. Although the Wildcats will try to spark their struggling ground game, the pass remains their top option and Persa's accuracy and precision should fuel the offense.

2. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Although new offensive coordinator Dan Roushar wants to emphasize the run, Cousins' experience combined with a deep group of wideouts and tight ends should make the pass a big part of the plan. Cousins racked up 2,825 pass yards in 2010 and operates in an offense that can stretch the field with players like Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Bennie Fowler and spring sensation Tony Lippett.

3. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Robinson's record-setting season as a ball-carrier attracted the most attention, but he also racked up 2,570 pass yards in an offense that mostly emphasizes the run. The junior now enters a system where he likely will be passing the ball more. Plus, he'll be working with a talented receiving corps led by Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Although Robinson has some work to do between now and Sept. 3, he certainly could reach 3,000 pass yards this season.

4. Iowa QB James Vandenberg: The Hawkeyes want to establish the run with Marcus Coker and take some pressure off of their first-year starting quarterback. But with limited depth at running back, Vandenberg might need to take to the air. He'll be working behind one of the league's best offensive lines and boasts a good No. 1 target in receiver Marvin McNutt. If others can emerge at receiver/tight end -- Keenan Davis, Brad Herman, C.J. Fiedorowicz -- Vandenberg could challenge the 3,000 mark.

5. Penn State's starting QB: If Penn State sticks with one quarterback for the entire 2011 season, he could become a 3,000-yard passer. Either Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden would have to become more accurate, but Penn State averaged 12.7 yards per completion and returns some talented receivers, led by All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. If the run game can't get going, Penn State will be forced to pass more.

Also keep an eye on these potential 3,000-yard passers from the Big Ten:
I'll continue the series Wednesday with a look at the Big Ten's top interceptors (4 or more).
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke has spent his head-coaching career dressed like he's going to a funeral.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireNew coach Brady Hoke has been loyal to Michigan at all of his coaching stops.
Hoke's first stop as a head coach took him back to Ball State, his alma mater. Ball State's official school colors are cardinal and white. Hoke showed up to games looking like this and this.

He then moved on to San Diego State in 2009. San Diego State's school colors are red and black. It made Hoke's choice easy. Johnny Cash and Darth Vader would have loved the coach's game-day getup.

Hoke worked tirelessly for both schools, recruited for them, won games for them. But he wouldn't wear red for them.

"I never have," Hoke said. "People understood. They got the message, I guess. Right, wrong or different, that's me."

Hoke's red rejection had nothing to do with Ball State or San Diego State. It had everything to do with Michigan and its archrival, the school Hoke refers to only as "Ohio."

Ohio State wears scarlet on Saturdays, and a Michigan man like Hoke, a Wolverines assistant from 1995-2002, would be damned if he'd enter the same color palette.

"All his guys at San Diego State would give him crap because he wouldn't wear red," Michigan senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "He wore a black shirt on game day. His red never came out because he still had the Michigan roots and you never wear red because that's Ohio's color. For him to maintain that passion and that fire, even when he wasn't associated with the program or playing against us or anything, that means a lot.

"It's personal for him, what we do."

Hoke's personal connection to Michigan and his desire to restore the program to powerhouse status has reverberated throughout Schembechler Hall this spring. Players know this is the 132nd year of Michigan football. They know about the 42 Big Ten championships. They know about the tradition, the legacies and the expectations. Most important, they know what it all means to their coach.

"They know my love for Michigan," Hoke said.

Players also know about Michigan's recent downturn. In announcing the firing of Rich Rodriguez on Jan. 5, athletic director Dave Brandon cited the program's struggles in "red-letter games," contests against Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin.

"If you want to be successful at Michigan, you better win more than your share of those red-letter games," Brandon said that day. "Those red-letter games, over the last three seasons, we've been 3-15."

Hoke understands. And to him, one red-letter game always will stand out from the rest.

"Today is 2,699 since we've beaten Ohio, and that’s important to remember," he told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "It hurts, but it's the truth and you've got to do something about it. That's why you're at Michigan."

Hoke has hammered it home by placing reminders around Schembechler Hall.

Countdown clocks to Michigan's upcoming games against Michigan State and "Ohio" are everywhere around the football complex. Outside Hoke's office. In the area outside the Commons room. In the locker room. On either side of the entrance to the indoor practice facility.

"I can appreciate that," Van Bergen said. "When everything in the weight room is based around beating Ohio and everything on the practice field is based around beating Ohio, you're going to get better because you realize how good they are. That emphasis makes everybody work harder."

Hoke's refusal to add "State" to "Ohio" also seems to be catching on.

"I don't know if it's a rule or not," Van Bergen said, "but he's not going to do it, so obviously that's making a statement and I'm not going to, either."

Rodriguez often took heat for what some felt was a failure to fully grasp Michigan's traditions and rivalries. His lack of success against Ohio State and Michigan State -- he went 0-6 -- didn't mitigate the criticism.

Although Hoke has yet to face Ohio State or Michigan State as the Wolverines' head coach, he likely won't be questioned about playing up the rivalries.

"Both of them embraced it, but coach Hoke, he's been here before so I guess he'll know more than coach Rod," quarterback Denard Robinson said. "[Hoke] says, 'Ohio,' so that's different for me. But I guess that's how it used to be."

Asked about the countdown clocks, Robinson smiled.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, you're ready for that," he said. "Coach Rod took an approach like that, too, but you can't compare those two coaches."

Hoke is using more than clocks and colors to revive the Michigan way. After three years of the spread offense and (mostly) the 3-3-5 defense, Michigan is getting back to its roots from a schematic standpoint.

Greg Mattison returned to Michigan from the Baltimore Ravens and brought his trademark 4-3 defense with him. Al Borges came with Hoke from San Diego State and installed a more traditional offensive system.

"Michigan's always been known for its pro-style offense, power running, set up the pass with the run," wide receiver Darryl Stonum said. "It's been known for its dominant defense. That's just been Michigan. We got back to the pro-style offense. Our defense is out there playing hard.

"It just feels like Michigan's back."

Older players like Stonum and Van Bergen have taken to the changes because they were recruited to play in similar systems by former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Michigan has seen little attrition during the coaching change, and players seem to be responding to Hoke's veteran staff, led by Mattison and veteran offensive coordinator Borges.

"There's not much on-the-job training going on here," Borges said. "We’ve all done this for a long time."

Borges has made previous stops at Auburn, Oregon, UCLA and California, among others. But he senses a difference this time, not only because of the program but because of the man leading the way.

"Brady had a lot of passion at San Diego State, but this is the job when you’re a little kid you grow up dreaming of having," Borges said. "The people who love Michigan football are excited about Brady being here because Brady's excited about being here. And he has hired a staff that is as excited as he is."

Hoke wasn't a big-name hire at Michigan. He carries a losing record as a head coach (47-50) and hasn't led a team in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.

There were flashier coaches out there, more accomplished coaches. But arguably no coach cares more about restoring Michigan at this critical juncture than Hoke does.

"He's made it real easy for us to buy into what he's teaching and what he's doing because he loves Michigan and he loves football," Stonum said. "We love Michigan and we love football, so it’s easy to get on the same page with him."

Notes from Schembechler Hall

April, 13, 2011
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It has been a productive day here on Michigan's campus as I visited with new Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, coordinators Greg Mattison (defense) and Al Borges (offense), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson and others.

I enjoyed re-connecting with Hoke, who remembered me from my early ESPN.com freelancer days as we visited on the Mid-American Conference weekly coaches' calls. The new coach seems to be well received by his new players and most Michigan alumni, but as he knows better than anyone, he needs to win games to maintain the good will.

A few notes before I make the drive north to Sparta:

    [+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan will continue to use Denard Robinson as a rushing quarterback.
  • Robinson is aware of the need to stay on the field this fall, but he'll be fighting his natural aggressiveness at times. The quarterback never felt seriously injured last season, though he was banged up enough to miss stretches in several games. "That's something I have to start doing, just going out of bounds, sliding, which I don't like doing," Robinson said. Sliding? Robinson hasn't been practicing it this spring, and Borges isn't going to keep his quarterback from doing what he does best. "I can tell him to [slide], and he won't do it anyway," Borges said. "We're still going to be very running quarterback oriented. We still have maintained anywhere from five to seven plays in our offense that still feature the quarterback as a runner."
  • So "Shoelace" -- who was unlaced during our interview Wednesday -- will still be on the move this fall, but Michigan wants to put more of the rushing load on its running backs. No position group could be impacted more by Borges' offense than the backs. Borges made it clear that he wants a bell cow in the backfield, but none has created separation this spring. And while Michigan wants to have a downhill running attack this fall, the coaches don't necessarily need a prototypical power back to carry the rock. That's good news for a guy like Vincent Smith, who checks in at 5-6, 180. "They don't give you any more yards because you weigh 20 more pounds," Borges said. "Whoever can gain the yards is the guy who will play. We're cognizant of how big they are, but when we watch video of high school backs, the thing we're interested in, assuming they're not teeny, is if they can gain yards. If they look like they can break tackles and make people miss in the open field and have some acceleration, size is important but secondary to that."
  • One area where size matters -- both this season and in future recruiting -- is along both lines. Michigan needs to get bigger up front, especially along the defensive front, to hold its own in the Big Ten. Defensive end Ryan Van Bergen told me that several Big Ten teams "outmanned us because of their size." Having an extra defensive lineman on the field this fall should help -- defensive tackle Will Campbell, at 335 pounds, will beef up the front -- but Michigan is definitely trending toward bigger players. "There's some body composition that we've got to continue to change and strength gains that we need to make," Hoke said. "On both sides of the ball, that will be an emphasis in this year's [recruiting] class."
  • It's hardly a secret that Hoke spends most of his time in practice with the defense, and specifically the linemen. "It's important," he said, "and it also is my sanity because I'm a teacher, first and foremost, and love to teach the game." The linemen aren't starved for attention this spring with Hoke, Mattison and D-line coach Jerry Montgomery attending to them. "I have 38 years of coaching and 28 of them are defensive line," Mattison said. "Brady's coached defensive line 28 years, I think, and Jerry Montgomery is an excellent young defensive line coach."
  • Some of the players recognized by the coaches for their spring performances include cornerbacks Courtney Avery and Greg Brown, safety Carvin Johnson, linebackers Cam Gordon and J.B. Fitzgerald, and wide receivers Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Both Borges and Hoke really like what they have at receiver, and Borges noted that Roundtree has really stood out this spring.

The strongest theme that came across Wednesday was Michigan getting back to its roots. Whether it's stressing rivalry games with "Ohio" -- Hoke isn't the only one who leaves off "State" -- or embracing the defensive tradition or reflecting the values Hoke and Mattison saw here in the 1990s, Michigan players and coaches sense a need to re-establish their identity.

I'll have more Michigan coverage later this week and especially early next week, so stay tuned.

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