NCF Nation: Eric Peterman

Big Ten lunch links

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A little less to link this time of year. Bear with me. 

Paterno said that when he starts talking about this to the Big Ten folks, "They're polite, but they snicker." Anyone who has ever seen a 13-year-old kid humor his elders knows the snicker.

"They don't know I know they're snickering," Paterno said.

They also apparently don't know what they don't know. The Big Ten has lost its edge in football, partly because its best teams are sitting around, waiting for their bowl game while rival conferences such as the Southeastern and Big 12 are playing widely watched league championship games. 

  • Michigan's newest commit can be used in a lot of ways, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Speaking of recruiting, Penn State added another 2010 commit in running back Silas Redd, Philip Cmor writes in The Altoona Mirror.
  • Dismissals, defections and transfers contributed to Minnesota becoming the first Big Ten program to lose scholarships because of a low APR score, Dennis Brackin writes in the Star Tribune. 
"There's no doubt that some of the kids [from the 2007 class] were academically challenged," athletic director Joel Maturi said. "But we were trying to get a recruiting class at the end [after Tim Brewster's hiring in January] and we took some gambles, and lost on them."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.

Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.

Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.

Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.

Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.

Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.

Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.

Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.

Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.

Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern outplayed Missouri for most of the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Wildcats had a tremendous game plan, made big plays on both sides of the ball and kept Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman from lighting up the Alamodome scoreboard, which seemed like a guarantee entering tonight's contest. As the biggest underdog of the 68 FBS bowl teams, Northwestern has nothing to be ashamed about after a 30-23 overtime loss to the Tigers in a thrilling contest.

But when you're a massive underdog and you face a more talented opponent, you need to execute the little things. Details matter more than ever. For Northwestern, the little things came on special teams, and in that area, Pat Fitzgerald's team failed.

Northwestern had no business being tied with Missouri at halftime after dominating the opening 30 minutes. But a poorly executed punt, one that should have gone out of bounds, allowed Maclin to race 75 yards for the tying touchdown with a minute left before the break.

That's seven points right there. At worst, Northwestern should have been up 10-3 at the half.

The Wildcats then opened the second half with a brilliant scoring drive capped by a 46-yard Rasheed Ward touchdown catch. But in a scene Northwestern fans are all too familiar with, kicker Amado Villarreal missed on the extra point attempt. The conversion would have forced Missouri to score a touchdown in the closing minutes rather than settle for a field goal. Northwestern's defense did a great job of keeping Missouri out of the end zone, so the chances for a stop were likely.

Eight points on special teams likely doomed the Wildcats, and that's not even counting a missed field goal in the opening half. In a game where Northwestern did so many things right, the special teams details really stung.

The program's first bowl win since 1949 would have been huge, but Northwestern made a strong statement tonight, especially on the defensive side. The Wildcats held Missouri's offense to three first half points and picked off Daniel three times. Though Missouri ultimately made the plays when it mattered, Northwestern's defense was one of the bright spots in the Big Ten and should only improve in 2009.

Quarterback C.J. Bacher and wide receivers Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Ward played arguably their best games of the season, and running back Tyrell Sutton came off a wrist injury to rush for 114 yards. Northwestern's problems along the offensive line came back to haunt the team late, and some questionable play-calling gave Missouri the time to rally and force overtime.

The 34-year-old Fitzgerald has Northwestern headed in the right direction. It's critical that this program sustains success, something it did not do after Fitzgerald finished playing in 1996. Those who dismiss Northwestern because of its pre-1995 history are simply uninformed, but the program still needs to get over the hump in bowl games.

Fine-tuning the details on special teams is a good place to start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwestern has always considered itself a team that can respond to adversity. So far, the Wildcats are fulfilling their pledge.

Despite the injury losses of running back Tyrell Sutton (dislocated wrist) and quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring), Northwestern dominated the first quarter against No. 17 Minnesota.

Backup quarterback Mike Kafka led Northwestern to scores on each of the team's first two drives. The Wildcats utilized Kafka's running skills and also attacked the field while maintaining a conservative approach. Northwestern's decision to take the ball after winning the opening coin toss raised some eyebrows, but the choice looked genius after Kafka led the team 78 yards.

Kafka threw a 33-yard touchdown to Jeremy Ebert and set up a field goal with a 30-yard pass to Eric Peterman. He also had a 28-yard run.

But Minnesota is settling into a rhythm on offense. Adam Weber found tight end Nick Tow-Arnett for completions of 31 and 27 yards on consecutive plays, and the Gophers are threatening after doing nothing on their first two possessions. Expect this one to tighten up fast.

The injury bug continues to bite Northwestern. Defensive end Vince Browne is out after injuring his knee on kickoff coverage, and safety Brian Peters left with a leg injury.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
11:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from the Big Ten today.

Iowa RB Shonn Greene -- You could call today's 217-yard, four-touchdown effort against Wisconsin a breakout performance, but the fact is Greene has been doing this all season. OK, not the touchdowns part, but Greene had eclipsed 100 rushing yard in Iowa's previous seven games. He tied a school record with the four rushing scores.

Penn State RB Evan Royster -- He has been somewhat overshadowed by first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark and shares carries with speedster Stephfon Green, but Royster continued to produce at a ridiculous rate. The sophomore had a career-high 174 rushing yards and a touchdown on only 18 carries (9.7 ypg). It's interesting to think what type of numbers Royster would put up if Penn State gave him a full load of carries.

Ohio State's backfield -- Sure, the passing game looked better today, but Ohio State remains at its best with the ball in the hands of Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells. The freshman quarterback and junior running back combined for 212 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan State. Pryor also made the throws when he needed to, completing 7 of 11 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

Illinois RB Jason Ford -- The future looks bright in the Illini backfield as Ford, a true freshman, rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Indiana. Given the starting nod over Daniel Dufrene, Ford turned in the second best single-game rushing performance by a freshman in team history.

Northwestern WR Eric Peterman -- After a quiet first half of the season, Peterman provided the big-play spark Northwestern needed against Purdue. The Wildcats struggled in the first quarter before Peterman scored on a 45-yard pass. Three minutes later, the former high school quarterback then went back to his roots, throwing a 30-yard touchdown to Sidney Stewart.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm back at your service. Before turning the focus to Ohio State's incredible domination of Michigan State, here are some observations from the first two Big Ten games.

WISCONSIN-IOWA

College football fans need to know the name Shonn Greene. While Javon Ringer and Chris "Beanie" Wells get most of the attention around the Big Ten, no back has been as consistently effective as Greene. The Iowa junior had a huge day against hapless Wisconsin, racking up 217 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 38-16 win. He has 100 rushing yards or more in every game this year. Iowa is for real, people, and the Hawkeyes could make a serious push in the second half of the season.

Wisconsin might have let Clemson off the hook as the biggest disappointment in the country. The Badgers have dropped four straight games for the first time since 1996, and confidence has become a major issue. Dustin Sherer wasn't the answer at quarterback today, tossing two interceptions, and he didn't get much help from a defense that had no answer for Greene.

PURDUE-NORTHWESTERN

Big plays had been in short supply for Northwestern this season, but the Wildcats produced highlights on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback C.J. Bacher responded nicely from a first-quarter interception and accounted for four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) in a 48-26 romp against Purdue. But senior wide receiver Eric Peterman provided the biggest boost after a quiet first half of the season, hauling in a 45-yard touchdown and throwing for a 30-yard score. Northwestern continued to play opportunistic defense, collecting five turnovers for the second time this season. The Wildcats responded nicely after last week's loss to Michigan State and generate some momentum going forward.

Confidence has to be a major issue for Purdue after its fourth straight loss. Coach Joe Tiller pulled quarterback Curtis Painter in the first half but had to put him in again after Joey Elliott was shaken up. Purdue continues to put up a lot of yards (466) but not many points, and a defense that played admirably against Ohio State lost some steam today.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.

As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:

INDIVIDUALS

 
 AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack
 Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.

1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.

2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.

3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.

4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).

5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.

6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.

7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.

8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.

9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.

10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.

TEAM

1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.

2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.

3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.

4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.

5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.

6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.

7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.

8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.

9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.

10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.

11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

 
 AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
 Coach Pat Fitzgerald's offseason program includes competitions in academics, community service and other arenas.

Expect a full Q&A with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday, but I wanted to highlight a new feature of the team's offseason program.

When the squad reconvened in February following a disappointing 6-6 season, Fitzgerald had players split into 10 mini teams and kicked off a competition that would last until Aug. 4, the first day of preseason camp. The teams went through daily competitions in the weight room, winter conditioning and spring football practice as well as in academics, community service and other arenas. Points were accumulated and reported throughout the winter, spring and summer. The winning team will be excused from the vomit-inducing conditioning test Northwestern runs every year on the first day of camp.

"We wanted to create an environment of ownership, where our players took over ownership, completely, of the team," Fitzgerald said. "We're getting there. We're not there yet, to where players are working through their teams, not the coaching staffs, to set the goals for the year. I'm proud of where we're at right now."

The Wildcats voted on 10 leaders for the mini teams and held a draft before the competition. The leadership squad consisted of senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, senior wide receiver Eric Peterman, senior linebacker Prince Kwateng, senior guard Keegan Kennedy, junior safety Brad Phillips, redshirt freshman linebacker Bryce McNaul, junior cornerback Sherrick McManis, junior tight end Brendan Mitchell, freshman quarterback Dan Persa and senior defensive end Kevin Mims.

Fitzgerald allowed the leaders to draft who they wanted, but he wanted each team to include a cross-section of ages and positions. Bacher's team, for example, has a running back, a wide receiver, two offensive linemen, two linebackers and a defensive tackle.

"I wanted guys like C.J. to know more than just the quarterbacks, or more than just the guys on offense," Fitzgerald said. "That was the byproduct we were hoping to accomplish, and we did. The guys drafted that way."

As of Thursday afternoon, the Victorious Secret team led by Peterman, who is involved in every community service project known to man, held a sizable lead. But Bacher's squad might make a late run -- so that they don't run Aug. 4.

A lot of teams do similar things in the offseason, but this kind of competition speaks to Fitzgerald's personality as a coach, something he hasn't always put forth in his tenure. The 33-year-old is still finding his voice as a head coach, and this is a positive step.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 C.J. Bacher threw for 3,656 yards a year ago, but he isn't afraid to run with the ball.

It was a weird 2007 for Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher. He led the Big Ten and set a school record with 3,656 passing yards. He had an insane two weeks during which he combined for 990 passing yards and nine touchdowns in wins against Michigan State and Minnesota.

But the gaudy numbers were a bit hollow as Bacher ranked seventh in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and tied with Minnesota's Adam Weber for the league lead in interceptions. He finished with as many touchdowns (19) as picks, a fitting stat for a Wildcats team that ended up 6-6 and missed a bowl game.

Bacher heads into his senior season hoping to lead a talented Northwestern offense back to the postseason. The skill positions are well-stocked, but he's dealing with his third offensive coordinator (Mick McCall) in four seasons and a rebuilding line. I caught up with Bacher on Thursday afternoon.

What has been your mental preparation heading into your senior season?

C.J. Bacher: We have a new offense now, so things have changed a little bit. I'm trying to get really comfortable with the offense and make sure my teammates are getting comfortable. That's the biggest focus right now, working to get better with the intricacies of the offense.

How has the offense changed?

CB: It's a lot like what we ran before. It's just the terminology's different and the routes are different. Small things have changed. We just have to learn those little things and get used to each other in the offense.

At Bowling Green (McCall's former school), they ran their quarterbacks quite a bit. Do you expect to be on the move a lot more this fall?

CB: Coach McCall's all about plays. He's had Josh Harris, who was a good runner and he ran with him. And he had Omar Jacobs, who was a great passer and he threw the ball a lot with him. We'll see what he thinks of me, and we'll find out when the season starts.

What do you think of yourself as a runner?

CB: I think I can run. I like running. I'd rather be back there throwing the ball, but I enjoy running, too. If I can pick up 5-10 yards on a run, I'll be happy to get ready for the next play.

This is your third coordinator in four years. How does Mick compare, personality-wise, with Garrick McGee and Mike Dunbar?

CB: It's been interesting. You start to get comfortable with an OC and then you have a new one the next year. It's a little tough to adjust. Coach McCall has done a great job making us feel comfortable with the offense and with him. He's got a real live personality. He's one of those guys who's happy-go-lucky and then he has the ability to really bear down and be a disciplinarian as well. We really enjoy being around him. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Has he incorporated plays that you guys ran in the past?

CB: There's a lot of both. We have a lot of plays we're running now that we haven't run before, and we have a lot of plays that are very similar to plays that we've run before, maybe details that are a little different. That's what we're trying to get used to. It's going to be a little different, but we're still a spread offense. We're still doing the same things that we were recruited here to do. It should be a smooth transition.

Who has had the toughest adjustment?

CB: I'd like to say the quarterback (laughs). I'm sure the receivers would say the receivers and the running backs would say the running backs. It's a lot to learn, it's a lot to digest, but we're all smart kids at Northwestern. We're going to figure it out.

Speaking of the receivers, how confident are you with that group? You've got familiarity with guys like Eric Peterman and Ross Lane. Is that the strongest group you've worked with?

CB: I think we've got the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. Top to bottom, we have a lot of guys that can make plays, both running routes and making plays after the catch. I'm really excited. We've got speed guys, we've got possession guys, but everybody in our receiving corps can make plays. The four guys that are looking like the frontrunners to get most of the playing time -- Eric, Ross, (Andrew) Brewer and Rasheed (Ward) -- are really doing a good job this summer. I'm excited. It makes my job that much easier when I've got those guys around me.

Andrew has only caught one pass in college, but he's a guy that creates a lot of excitement with his speed as a former quarterback. What does he bring to that group?

CB: The biggest thing about him is he's bigger than anybody on the perimeter and he's faster than anybody inside. He's a mismatch for us inside. I don't know how defenses are going to be able to defend him. I'm just excited to be able to throw him the ball, see him juke a corner or run past a linebacker. We're all excited to see what he can do in game situations. He's had this amount of time at receiver under his belt, and he's picked up the route-running a lot. He really knows what he's doing as a receiver.

When you look at your season last year, did it mirror the team's?

CB: Last year was, obviously, a very up-and-down season for us and, personally, I felt it was kind of the same way. The main focus for me to stay more consistent is to take care of the football and really not take as many shots. In a lot of games last year, I was trying to do too much. Coach McCall has really pounded it into my head that we can compete with anybody. I don't have to make the spectacular play, just the smart one.

Pat Fitzgerald has talked about sometimes the best throw is in the fourth row. Is that hard for you because you want to make plays?

CB: A couple years ago, we were a little overmatched against some of these teams. I've just got to realize that our team is so stacked on the perimeter, there's so many guys that can make big plays after they catch it, so a 2-yard pass might turn into a 50-yard gain, whereas a 50-yard pass is pretty hard to complete.

Most of the concerns with your offense are about the line, wh
ich loses three starters. What have you seen from that group so far?

CB: I'm really excited about our additions to the offensive line. Keegan Kennedy's moved over from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He's been looking really good. I'm really excited about his progress. Ben Burkett, who was injured last year and redshirted, he's looking really good, too. And then we added Al Netter over at left tackle. It's a process to get these guys to mesh, but Coach (Bret) Ingalls is doing a good job so far. I expected improvement from last year. With Ben, Keegan and Al, as soon as they can come together and mesh, they're going to do a great job protecting me and opening up holes.

Do you take on an even greater leadership role as a senior quarterback?

CB: As a senior, you do feel a bit of a sense of entitlement just because you've been here so long. We've got so many seniors now. It's pretty easy to get those guys to help us out with the leadership. When you get older and you've been on the field, people really look up to you. We have a lot of young guys who can help us this year, so it's definitely made it easier having more seniors.

What have you sensed from running back Tyrell Sutton after an injury-plagued 2007 season?

CB: He feels a bit of a sense of urgency just because it's his last year. These last couple of years have been tough for him because of injuries. You can expect for him to be back and be stronger than ever. I'm excited to see what he can do on the field. It was such a layoff from being actually healthy. Now we've got him healthy and, hopefully, we can keep him that way. If he can stay healthy, I think he's the best running back in the Big Ten.

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