NCF Nation: Greg Brown
The Buffaloes are going to be young next fall on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense. Lots of freshmen will play -- guaranteed. And that is by design. Defensive coordinator Greg Brown and head coach Jon Embree made something clear during spring practices to the returning players: "Impress us now, or get replaced by incoming freshmen."
If Colorado is going to move up in the South Division pecking order during the program's second year in the conference, those numbers need to improve.
Colorado finished spring drills last weekend, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Brown to look back and look ahead to the fall.
First off, last year your official depth chart was a 3-4 scheme. This spring, you guys started out with a 4-3. Can you give me a Cliffs Notes version of your base scheme?
Greg Brown: It's really still the same. We're like last year but like most teams can play either, kind of multiple up front.
When you went over film from last year, what stood out to you as issues with the defense?
GB: Too many big plays were given up. Too many points were scored. We had a laundry list of a lot of things. Too many injuries. The roster was thin. It was one of those years we'd like to see not repeated.
The Big 12 is hardly an offense-poor conference. You've coached there and the Pac-12. Were there any adjustments for your players moving from the Big 12 to Pac-12?
GB: Absolutely. Not to take anything away from the Big 12. That's a terrific league that stands on its own merits, that's for sure. But you just have some unique offensive minds in the Pac-12, different styles of attack that we had not seen in the Big 12. There's nobody in the Big 12 that plays the same style as Oregon. Nobody plays the same style as Stanford or Washington. They are all unique and were tough styles to contend with. We've got a lot of offensive-minded head coaches and very innovated offensive coordinators.
You guys were heavy on D-linemen in the recruiting class. How many first-year players do you anticipate playing next fall?
GB: We brought eight (defensive linemen) in. We're thinking at least half that amount, probably higher. Between the defensive line, which is eight-slash-nine because we've got a guy who could go either way, and we've got five cornerbacks, and the great majority of those guys are going to play. They won't redshirt. We're not counting on anybody redshirting. We'll see if they can't do it yet, then they'll have to. But other than that, we have no numbers. Spring ball was a feat to get accomplished. Because of our lack of numbers, we ended up doing so much seven-on-seven because we didn't have the D-line to do it [full scrimmage]. We really didn't have the secondary to do much seven-on-seven,either. It was largely a battle of walk-ons this spring at Colorado. We're welcoming with open arms all the incoming troops because they are going to play.
Give me a couple of names of standouts this spring? Who impressed you?
How about linebacker?
GB: Linebacker-wise, our best player is Doug Rippy. He's our captain, a team leader. He ended up missing, from the Washington game on last year, missing the season. He tore his ACL in that game and he was held out of spring ball and can't do anything yet. But we're looking to get him back. Jon Major is another 'backer who is back, has a lot of experience. He's a jack of all trades for us, can do a lot of things. Smart, can rush the passer, cover. He makes plays. He's good. Linebacker is where the most numbers are back. After that, you've got some guys who have played. Derrick Webb has played. He can run and hit. Then there's a smattering of younger kids who have some ability. They just haven't proven anything yet. They're up and coming.
And then the secondary?
GB: We've got one returning guy. That's Ray Polk; he's a safety. Good player. Big kid who can run and hit. Been starting here a long time. Good future in front of him. Ray's issue was he could only do non-contact stuff during spring. He had surgery on a torn ligament in his wrist. So he did seven-on-seven and that was probably it. The next one to talk about back there would be [cornerback] Greg Henderson. He came in as a true freshman and won a starting job. He took advantage of the opportunity and won a job and he kept it all year. He continually progressed every week. This spring, he got better as you'd expect. They come in as freshmen and just look to survive, which he did more than ably. But we're looking for improvement this year and looking for him to be a guy. He's athletic. He can run, he's smart. And he's tough. And as much as anything, he stayed healthy. After him, a guy who is a good player for us, is Parker Orms. He plays nickel, safety and corner. He plays all three. Good athlete, tough kid. He missed quite a bit of the year. He only played five games for us. And he got hurt this spring, which is unfortunate. He tore his hamstring. He played three days of spring then tore that thing. In the five games he played for us last year, we either won or had a chance to win because he allowed us to do things on defense we could not do when he was not in there.
So the freshmen will be in the mix pretty quickly in the secondary, too?
GB: Oh, no question. We told all the kids on defense this spring, particularly on the D-line and in the secondary, "OK, all you guys, here is your chance. This is your chance. We don't want to hear anything in the fall about, 'Hey, I'm not getting any reps.' Here is your chance now! Because believe it or not, in the fall with those kids coming in, they are going to get all those reps. We'll see what you guys can do now.' And here come the new kids. We know who has helped us in the past. For the rest of the spots? Hey, we're plugging in brand new kids and let's go.
How much can this defense improve in 2012?
GB: You can. All these 15 defensive players who are coming in that we're looking to help us, you wish you could snap your fingers and be two years in the future, matured and bigger, strong, faster, eating on the training table, learning how to play. That would be nice. But the reality of it is there are going to be growing pains. These guys have some talent, but they also are going to be true freshmen and will make their share of mistakes. But, sure, we can improve. We have to manage what we're doing. We have an outstanding coaching staff on that side of the ball with Kanavis McGhee and Mike Tuiasosopo. They are great tacticians. As is linebackers coach Brian Cabral. We're looking for improvement.
Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.
2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.
3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.
4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.
5. Iowa State — Leonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.
6. Missouri — E.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.
7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.
8. Baylor — K.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.
9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.
10. Kansas — Greg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.
Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.
Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.
2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.
3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.
4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.
5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but Eryon Barnett and A.J. White will be on the field, too.
6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.
7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.
8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field, and Romie Blaylock offers some experience as a senior under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.
9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.
10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.
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:
- 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.
Brown, who's beginning his third stint in Boulder after spending the 2010 season as Arizona's co-defensive coordinator, said this when asked about the Buffaloes move into the new conference.
For example, Brown said this about the Wildcats 48-29 loss at Oregon, which came after both teams had a bye week.
"They did more with their bye week and came up with more innovative schemes that we had not seen," he said. "My hat is off to Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, their offensive coordinator. They put in things we hadn't seen. It was a hard go playing those guys up there."
This seems to be a common rhetorical path among the Colorado folks -- coaches and players -- by the way: Lots of praise for the new conference, sometimes at the expense of the old one. As linebacker Jon Major said, the Pac-12 has no "cupcakes." This may be tweaking the Big 12 on the way out or celebrating the Pac-12 on the way in. Perhaps a bit of both.
As for Brown's decision to bolt Tucson after only one season, his answer is fairly straight-forward.
This is is home. He was born in Denver and his father, Irv, a long-time Denver radio personality, is a a former baseball coach and football coach at Colorado. Being back in Boulder means his two young daughters get to see their grandparents regularly. He loves the town and knows new coach Jon Embree well.
"I knew what he would bring to the table as a head coach and I wanted to be a part of it," Brown said.
Oh, and there's no "co" at Colorado. This will be his defense. At Arizona, he not only shared the job with Tim Kish but he coached the secondary, which is coach Mike Stoops' specialty. And Stoops, you may know, is not a laid-back, hands-off head coach.
Considering Brown was the Buffaloes' secondary coach from 2006-09 under Dan Hawkins, he's fairly familiar with his talent. While he uses terms like "hungry" to describe his players, it's clear that there are some areas that concern him, starting with the departure of cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, who will be early-round NFL draft picks.
"That's going to be tough to replace," Brown said. "There is nobody on the horizon that looks like they are going to be able to step into those shoes immediately. We've got young guys who need to develop. It's going to take some time to do that."
And Brown suspects his defense is going to have to take some chances to pressure opposing quarterbacks, which often means a high-risk, high-reward scheme.
"If you don't have the automatic four guys who can rush the passer without help, then you obviously need to be creative and bring some extra guys and pick and choose your poison," he said. "Because the more guys you bring, the more you're exposed out there. And as I just stated, we've got a lot of young guys back there feeling their way."
Or to be more succinct, Brown said: "Somebody's band is going to play, either their band or our band."
Still, don't see this as Brown fretting about his players ability to compete. While he acknowledges that Oregon and Stanford have separated from the conference a bit -- at least based on 2010 and the 2011 preseason perception -- he sees 10 other teams with legitimate hopes to move up the pecking order.
Said Brown, "After the those two, the rest of the league is so balanced. Anybody can beat anybody."
Oh, you have a pretty good idea that guys such as running back Rodney Stewart, offensive guard Ryan Miller, receiver Paul Richardson, defensive end Josh Hartigan and nose tackle Will Pericak -- among others -- are good bets to earn starting jobs.
But new coach Jon Embree is hoping to challenge returning starters and reserves alike with what figures to be a tough, physical spring that might weed out a few pretenders, starting Friday and running through the spring game on April 9.
And, really, considering that no first- or second-team All-Big 12 player is back, it's not like anyone should feel comfortable as the Buffaloes prepare for Pac-12 play.
What did Embree see when he watched the Buffaloes on film? Well, consider this rather stark pre-spring quote from the Boulder Daily Camera.
"What shows up to me on tape was we didn`t play hard," Embree said. "That`s really what showed up on tape. We let the scoreboard affect how we played way too much. Instead of focusing on the next play. You can`t look at the scoreboard. Your job is to beat the guy across from you that play no matter what happened good or bad before it."
Is there anything worse a football player can do than not play hard? The answer is no.
Some guys won't be able to play hard due to injury. Here's the list Embree provided reporters, per the Denver Post: offensive linemen Blake Behrens (shoulder), Mike Iltis (knee) and Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (knee); defensive back Anthony Perkins (knee); fullback-tight end Matt Bahr (shoulder); and defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe (toe). Tailback Brian Lockridge (ankle) and DB Parker Orms (knee) will be limited. Iltis started at center and Bahr was the No. 1 utility back in 2010.
It doesn't appear that spring will be much about X's and O's. Scheme can wait. Embree wants to figure out who can play.
Here are some thoughts before things get started.
Quarterback: Tyler Hansen, who is coming back from a ruptured spleen that ended his 2010 season, is the front-runner because he's got experience and has been productive at times. His competition, JC transfer Brent Burnette and redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman, have no experience.
Running back: The big question is what's the pecking order behind Stewart, who rushed for 1,318 yards in 2010. At 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, it probably wouldn't be good for Stewart to get 25 carries per game over a 12-game season. A power-back complement would be a good thing. One possibility, redshirt freshman Trea' Jones, quit the team.
Receiver/tight end: The Buffaloes are in pretty good shape here, with four of their top-five receivers back. UCLA fans might remember Paul Richardson. As a true freshman, he caught 34 passes and was second on the team with six TD receptions (both numbers would have led UCLA). Tight end Ryan Deehan earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after catching 25 passes, and there are some young guys who bring athleticism to the position.
Offensive line: Tackle Nate Solder is gone but four starters are back from a group that was fairly mediocre in 2010. The Buffaloes gave up 21 sacks, which would have ranked fourth in the Pac-10, and rushed for 137 yards per game, which would have ranked eighth. The 3.65 yards per carry is pretty uninspiring.
Defensive line: The Buffaloes will be using a base 4-3 after using a 3-3-5 in 2010, so there's a need to add bodies up front. Eight of nine players listed on the final depth chart are back, including Pericak, who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, and Hartigan, who led the defense with seven sacks.
Linebacker: Leading tackler Michael Sipili is gone as is B.J. Beatty, but Liloa Nobriga's work filling in for middle linebacker Jon Major, whose season ended after seven games with a knee injury, boosts experience at the position. The spring "depth chart" lists only eight lienbackers.
Defensive back: This will be an area of hot competition, though injuries -- Perkins, Orms -- will be an issue this spring just like they were in 2010. Two cornerbacks spots are open due to the graduation of standouts Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, and the play at safety wasn't exactly stout last fall. You'd expect new coordinator and secondary coach Greg Brown -- formerly of Arizona -- to do some mixing and matching this spring.
Roy Finch has arguably been Oklahoma's most electrifying ballcarrier this season, but they'll be without him in the Fiesta Bowl after the freshman running back suffered a stress fracture in a non-contact drill during practice last week. Finch will be missed most in Oklahoma's "diamond" formation that featured three running backs surrounding quarterback Landry Jones, and he'll finish the year with 398 yards and a pair of touchdowns, just missing my Big 12 All-Freshman team.
Senior Mossis Madu will fill Finch's void, so it's not a pressing concern for the Fiesta Bowl's heavy favorites.You'll remember, he missed the first five games of the season after fracturing his left ankle on the same foot that suffered this most recent injury. The Sooners can take some comfort in the injury taking place in the same foot, and Finch will take 6-7 weeks to heal before returning for spring practice.
But moving forward, one more injury, especially one that's unrelated to the 5-foot-8, 180-pound speedster's left foot, is going to cause some legitimate concerns about Finch's durability. He's unquestionably emerged in 2010 as the future of Oklahoma's running game, beating out guys like Jermie Calhoun, Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller, but he can't do any good on the sidelines. Moving through spring and fall camps, Oklahoma fans and coaches will be able to sleep a lot better if he can stay healthy through next August.
And consider also: For all the flack that DeMarco Murray gets for being "injury-prone," he got a high volume of carries in all four seasons as a Sooner.
Through just one season, Finch has already missed the same number of games (6) as Murray did throughout his entire career.
New Colorado coach Jon Embree officially finalized his staff, and it's clear what his priorities were. Outside of defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, every hire had ties to Colorado, either the state or program. You definitely foster a very specific attitude in doing so, but we'll see if that results in wins after a move to the Pac-12 next year. He sacrificed experience for ties to the program in a couple of these hires, but no one will care if the wins come with them. If they don't, however, that fact will definitely be brought up as a criticism very quickly.
Here's Embree's latest staff hires, with more on the entire staff here:
Greg Brown - defensive coordinator/defensive backs
J.D. Brookhart - special teams coordinator/offensive passing game coordinator/tight ends
Kanavis McGhee/Mike Tuiasosopo - defensive line
Steve Marshall - offensive line
Former Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy, who also interviewed for the head coaching job and was hired at the same time as Embree, will serve as Embree's offensive coordinator.
Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is headed to Indiana to take over as the Hoosiers defensive coordinator under new coach Kevin Wilson. Most notably, he'll be the first assistant under Bo Pelini to leave for a different job during Pelini's three seasons in Lincoln.
Wilson worked with Ekeler at Oklahoma when Ekeler was a graduate assistant in 2003-04 and Wilson coached the offensive line. Ekeler must have made an impression on Wilson during those years and again in the Big 12 Championship game. First-year linebacker Lavonte David also leads the Big 12 in tackles, including 17 in the Big 12 title game.
Indiana and Nebraska aren't scheduled to meet in Big 12 play until the 2013 season.
I DVR'd the Teas Class 5A Division II state championship and got my first good, long look at a couple possible future Big 12 stars headed to the conference in 2011.
Texas running back commit Malcolm Brown and Oklahoma State quarterback and cornerback commits J.W. Walsh and Josh Stewart faced off in Cowboys Stadium. Brown's Cibolo (Steele) team took down Walsh and Stewart's Denton (Guyer) squad, 24-21.
It's tough to tell a lot definitively in one look at a pressure-filled game, but all three had their moments. Brown doesn't have a ton of straight-line speed, but he's a smart, powerful runner with a good sense of holes and looked pretty skilled at reading his blocks. The physical talent is obvious, but if he carries that to Austin next fall, my guess is it's something that sets him apart from his competition. He's not one to shy away from contact, and he showed up every time Steele needed a big run. He finished with 107 yards on 28 carries and the game-winning touchdown.
Though Walsh's release is quick and his accuracy is good, he's still got plenty of room for improvement as a decision-maker. That said, he's a dangerous dual-threat guy that, if he ends up becoming the heir apparent to Brandon Weeden, would be pretty fun to watch in Oklahoma State's spread system, a la Zac Robinson.
He finished with 123 yards rushing and 9-of-17 passing for 91 yards with a pair of picks -- including one late that sealed the game. He had just four interceptions in Guyer's first 15 games, and averaged more than 200 yards passing.
His one touchdown pass was a 43-yard strike to Stewart, who also plays receiver.
Salave'a, 35, who played nine years in the NFL, lettered at Arizona as a defensive tackle from 1994-97, serving as team captain in 1996. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 1995, second-team honors in 1996 and was a first-team selection in 1997.
Salave'a has been out of coaching and football for the past year, living in Las Vegas, but was San Jose State's defensive line coach in 2008 and 2009.
"I'm really excited to have him join the staff," coach Mike Stoops said in a statement. "He fits what we're doing very well. He has a solid history and comes highly recommended. Joe built a legacy here and in the NFL that will have an immediate impact on our players and in recruiting."
A couple of things to like about the hire: 1. Salave'a's recent NFL pedigree will get players' attention, both in recruiting and as a coach; 2. Salave'a, a native of Leone, American Samoa, will keep the Wildcats Polynesian pipeline open in recruiting, just as Tuiasosopo did.
Stoops said his 2011 staff won't be complete until sometime in January. He also needs to replace Greg Brown, the Wildcats' co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach, who also left for Colorado.
Salave'a will start Monday and help prepare the Wildcats for their Dec. 29 appearance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Stoops will take over for Brown in the secondary.
For more, click here. And here.
Turning point: Missouri and Kansas' opening drives. Kansas scored on its opening drive last week to take an early lead against Oklahoma State, and that game remained competitive for most of the first half. This time, Missouri marched down the field easily for a touchdown, and Kansas went three-and-out with two sacks and gave up another score, giving Missouri an early 14-0 lead that has this game ... not so competitive.
Stat of the half: Kansas is 0-of-6 on third downs. Missouri is 5-of-9. Guess which team has established some offensive rhythm and a big lead? To their credit, the Jayhawks have converted 1-of-2 fourth downs.
Best players in the half: Missouri's offensive line. The running backs have had holes. Blaine Gabbert has had time. Missouri's offense hasn't been rushed, and the play up front has allowed Missouri to establish good early balance, with 124 rushing yards and 126 passing yards.
What Missouri needs to do: Keep its foot on the gas, but don't force plays on offense or take chances on defense and special teams. Turnovers or a big play on offense or in the return game are the only things that are getting Kansas back into this game.
What Kansas needs to do: Work more screens and swing passes. Throwing downfield has been ineffective against a Missouri defense that's playing well, like its usual self. Daymond Patterson on short hitch routes and James Sims on the edge are going to be the best bet for Kansas to find some offense in the second half. It has been outgained 250-72, and the scoreboard shows it.
"I haven't seen any of these fly across the meeting room yet. Does that answer your question?" he said, drawing laughs.
Kish was specifically addressing how coaching life might be different with the Wildcats now that the notoriously hot-headed Stoops brothers -- head coach Mike and former defensive coordinator Mark -- won't be fussing at each other this season, but the gesture also seemed meaningful for coming to terms with Mike Stoops' admittedly "unorthodox" decision to enter spring practice with four coordinators and no designated playcallers.
"I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it could work," Mike Stoops said.
Stoops lost his brother, now at Florida State, on defense and Sonny Dykes on offense. Dykes became Louisiana Tech's head coach.
The vacancies were filled by two men on both sides of the ball: line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs/tight ends coach Seth Littrell on offense and linebackers coach Kish and secondary coach Greg Brown on defense. Bedenbaugh, Littrell and Kish were promoted from within. Brown was hired away from Colorado.
Moreover, Kish noted that Mike Stoops will always play a major role with the defense, while new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo also is a possible playcaller.
Stoops said that deciding who ultimately has the final word on play calls will be "a process that will be on-going as we go through spring."
"It's probably a little bit unorthodox, but I think our players are as confident as they have ever been in our staff," he said. "I think they have a great feeling of continuity. That's the biggest thing. There's not a lack of trust there."
While there may be skepticism about how well the arrangement will work outside the program, all coaching parties were preaching a party line of jovial collaboration heading into spring practices.
"There's no egos between Greg and I," Kish said.
Said Bedenbaugh: "Everything up to this point has been great and it's going to continue to be great. ... We've been in this offense. We know what we want to do. We think alike. We want to run the same things."
Wildcats players also were -- not unexpectedly -- positive about the coaching situation. An obvious benefit for them is familiarity and continuity. There's no plan for wholesale scheme changes on either side of the ball. On offense, in particular, with 10 starters back, the transition should be fairly smooth.
But quarterback Nick Foles at least admitted that he's really not sure how everything will go down in practices and games.
"I am curious because it's something different. When there's something different that you're not used to, you're going to be curious," he said. "I know I'm going to hear a lot of voices, but these guys have a lot of great knowledge so I'm looking forward to them critiquing all of us and getting us better."
The initial task is fairly simple: coaches will coach their positions.
Foles' early focus with Scelfo is improving his footwork. Kish has to find three new starting linebackers. Brown has two holes in his secondary. Bedenbaugh's line has a chance to be one of the best in the Pac-10. Littrell has experience all over the field at the skill positions.
But at some point somebody has to be first-among-equals on both sides of the ball, other than Stoops. The collaboration will face a stress test as a pecking order is established this spring.
"That's what we'll do during scrimmages," Bedenbaugh said.
While there's consensus now, it remains to be seen among the coordinator quartet whether any helmets will be hurled to punctuate an opinion during future staff meetings.
That is a conversation-stopper in Tucson. Bring up the Wildcats 33-0 Holiday Bowl drubbing at the hands of Nebraska, and everyone around the program just shakes their heads.
"It was kind of a meltdown of major proportions," Stoops said.
The Wildcats, who started spring practices on Friday, are a combined 16-10 over the past two seasons. Nine of those defeats came by 10 or fewer points and four by three points or fewer. Suffice it to say, Stoops has built a competitive team that is much different than the crew he inherited.
Oh, but that Holiday Bowl. It was so ugly -- Arizona was outgained 396 yards to 109 -- that it seemingly doused much of the momentum for a program on the rise.
"We lost a lot of respect in that game and that's just how it happens -- it can happen pretty quickly," Stoops said. "I think our players are excited to regain their stature."
That's the rub. The embarrassment of the Bawliday Bowl represents a challenge: Move forward and up or sink back down into Pac-10 and national irrelevancy.
There are plenty of challenges ahead that have nothing to do with the bowl game dismantling. Both coordinators -- Mark Stoops on defense and Sonny Dykes on offense -- are gone. The younger Stoops is now running Florida State's defense and Dykes is Louisiana Tech's head coach.
Mike Stoops opted to fill those vacancies with co-coordinators: line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs/tight ends coach Seth Littrell on offense and linebackers coach Tim Kish and secondary coach Greg Brown on defense. Bedenbaugh, Littrell and Kish were promoted from within. Brown was hired away from Colorado.
Toss in Stoops' interest in defense and new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo on offense -- he might end up calling the plays; Stoops has yet to assign the duties -- and that's a lot of chefs in the kitchen.
On the players' side of things, there's plenty of continuity on offense with 10 guys with significant starting experience back. The defense is another story, with seven starters gone, including all three linebackers and both defensive tackles.
Still, to avoid taking a step back as a program, the first step forward might be coming to terms with the, well, you know.
What the heck happened?
"We made some tactical mistakes," Stoops said.
Stoops wasn't happy with some of the bowl preparation and his team's frame of mind on game day. And Nebraska surprised the Wildcats with their schemes on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Wildcats "just couldn't get open," Stoops said.
Cornerback Trevin Wade offers his own theory.
"People wanted to go home for Christmas and see their families," he said. "I know it's all business and everything, but we're still college kids and people wanted to go home. Had they given us a couple days, people would have come back happy and ready to go."
Hmm. Asked about that, quarterback Nick Foles said, "He might have something there but I don't know. I really have no comment on that."
Foles' ultimate diagnosis seems the most popular: "It was one of those games when it seemed like nothing could go right. I really can't explain it."
Foles was 6-for-20 for 28 yards with an interception, and that performance is perhaps the main reason he still has to look over his shoulder at backup Matt Scott this spring. Scott started the first three games last year before Foles took over.
Foles said the game should operate as a "chip on our shoulders" during spring practices.
"It makes your stomach hurt watching that film. It really humbles you," he said. "But I don't think you burn the tape. You want to. But to become a great player, you've got to experience things like that and learn from it."
Stoops accepts the ultimate responsibility for the Holiday Bowl, but it's also clear that he's just a bit irked at how it has obscured what his team accomplished in 2009 and how the team has gained steam the past two seasons.
And he knows that the meltdown will fuel skeptics who believe the Wildcats will fall back into the pack in 2010.
"A lot of people don't think we're going to be this or that. They didn't think that last year. That's fine with us. The proof will be in the scoreboard and in the wins and losses," he said. "We had a lot of good wins. Everyone forgets about Stanford. Everyone forgets about Oregon State. Everybody forgets about USC. You don't beat those teams without having a good program. You just can't do it."
Doing it again will be the best way to make everyone forget about the, er, thing that happened in San Diego.
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.
The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.
Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.
O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.
The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A
What to watch:
Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?
Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.
RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.
The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.
Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.
Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.
The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.
Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.
Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.
Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.
Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.
The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA
What to watch:
Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.
Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).
Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.
Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?
The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.
O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.
Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A little less to link this time of year. Bear with me.
- Joe Paterno might be the old guy, but the Big Ten is well behind the times with its resistance toward expansion, Bob Hunter writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
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."
- Bob Sanders and Robert Gallery top the list of the 15 best players in Kirk Ferentz's tenure at Iowa, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. No Aaron Kampman?
- Former Indiana defensive tackle Greg Brown worked out for the Chicago Bears this weekend, while former Northwestern teammates C.J. Bacher and Eric Peterman balance NFL dreams with academic responsibilities, the Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite writes in his blog.
- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus wants to see if Devin Smith can push Niles Brinkley for a starting cornerback spot at Wisconsin.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Indiana head coach Bill Lynch breaks down the team's personnel in the second half of my interview with him (for Part I, click here).
Does Kellen [Lewis] still have the respect of his teammates? I'm sure some were disappointed after his suspension.
Bill Lynch: Yeah, I'm sure. But ever since he's been back, he's certainly earned it. And the players wanted him back. That was a part of the whole thing while he was gone, and I had told him that, 'I'm going to check with a lot of people and one of them is your teammates.' And they wanted him back. And he's done everything we've asked and he's practiced well, he's practiced hard, he hasn't missed a rep. So I'm not worried about that.
Did you feel like you were losing him at any point?
BL: The best word to use is I was hopeful through the whole thing.
As far as the defense, you had some great individual performers last year, but does the unit need to take another step?
BL: I think so. We're in the same defensive scheme for the fourth year, and that's really important. The position coaches are the same. And this is a game of repetitions, it really is. The more you do it, the better you get and the consistency is so important. We've been able to develop that. But we've also developed depth and overall team speed on defense. Our linebacker play is the starting point. We really feel like we're two-deep with guys who fit the mold physically in terms of size and strength and speed, but experience now, as well. We have much more depth at d-line. We've got a name guy in [Greg] Middleton, but [Jammie] Kirlew and [Ryan] Marando and Greg Brown and Deonte Mack and the Burrus brothers [Keith and Kevin], we've got some depth. We've got solid safeties in Austin Thomas and Nick Polk. Chris Phillips is a very solid player. He played some good football for us. And then the other kids are coming along at the other corner. We haven't made a decision on that yet.
As far as the quarterback decision, do you have a timetable?
BL: I'm going to sit down with [offensive coordinator] Matt Canada, our quarterback coach and coordinator, because we haven't done that. At some point, you make that decision based on not only what's best for the two kids involved, but also what's best for the football team. We're getting to the point where we need to sit down and have that conversation. We've really been through the grind of camp. Starting out, we talked about we would get through the camp and there was going to be 1 and 1A, but we really have rotated them a lot. The reps have been almost even.
Is playing both of them in the discussion?
BL: We haven't talked about that. I'm not, at this point, thinking that's what we're going to do. They're both capable. We can win with both of them.
Offensive line, any concerns there with depth?
BL: We've kind of missed our left guard and left tackle [Pete Saxon and Rodger Saffold] since before last weekend, but both of them, we feel like by game week, will be out there going. We're being smart this week. Those are our two most experienced guys, but what it's done is some young kids have gotten a ton of reps. So as a result of some injuries, we've been able to develop some depth. But [the offensive line] doesn't have the same depth as the d-line has.
Who have stood out among the freshmen?
BL: We've got a couple wideouts. [Damarlo Belcher] had a really good day today and he's been coming on. I still think Darius Willis, our running back, has got a chance. We haven't decided what we're going to do there, either, because we've got some older guys ahead of him. But he's everything we thought he was going to be, and he's going to be a complete back. It would probably take some injuries at the other places for somebody else to play.
Willis is a bigger guy. Is that a novelty a bit in this offense?
BL: Not necessarily. It's nice to have, but [Marcus] Thigpen has something to offer because of his speed and experience and ability to play to play wide receiver when we go into different formations. [Bryan] Payton's a tough, hard-nosed guy that has played. [Trea] Burgess is a solid guy who has gained yards as a special teams guy. And [Demetrius McCray's] a little bit of a guy that we're anxious to see keep going because he's missed a lot of time with injuries, and he's been able to stay healthy through the whole camp. And then you've got Darius. It's really a matter of giving everybody work before we kind of decide which way we're going to go.
You mentioned gaining national respect is a goal. Do you think you've gained some respect in the Big Ten?
BL: A little bit. If you look at the preseason picks, we haven't gained a whole lot. But it takes time. We're gonna earn it. That's our job to do that, not worry about it at this point. You've got to do it more than one year. I firmly believe that. We took a step last year and it was a start. We've got a lot more to do.