NCF Nation: Jack Ramsey
Now the Fighting Illini will try to stop Blaine Gabbert and co. without two projected starters.
Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne will miss 3-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, Illinois head coach Ron Zook said today. Hawthorne had a screw inserted after dealing with the injury in his fifth metatarsal.
"He had [the injury] as a junior in high school, and he didn't practice for a week," Zook told ESPN.com. "He's such a tough kid, he doesn't complain about anything. It bothered him a little bit during camp, but he never said anything, so he kept going. You love him because he doesn't ever complain, but if he would have said anything, maybe we would have been able to get away with just giving him a few days off. But he'll be fine and we'll be fine."
Hawthorne's injury comes just days after Illinois lost junior Supo Sanni, the projected starter at strong safety, for the season with a ruptured right Achilles' tendon.
Hawthorne was one of few bright spots for Illinois in 2009, starting five games as a true freshman and recording an interception and five pass breakups.
The recent losses will put defensive backs like Tavon Wilson, Travon Bellamy, Trulon Henry and Miami Thomas in the spotlight. Justin Green recently moved from running back to defensive back, and receivers Steve Hull and Jack Ramsey also could see some work in the secondary.
"You get concerned in the depth department," Zook said, "but Travon Bellamy's had a great camp and really has done well. We have Tavon Wilson playing at both places, corner and safety. And we're taking a look at Justin Green, who really has a chance to be a special player for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.
Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.
Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.
Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.
Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.
Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.
Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.
Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.
Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.
Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
- Michigan solidified its safety spot for the future with 2010 commit Marvin Robinson, Josh Helmholdt writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State starting defensive tackle Doug Worthington has been fined for a DUI last July. Buckeyes offensive lineman Jim Cordle fills in wherever he's needed, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The crew from Dallas' Skyline High School looks to boost Minnesota's fortunes this fall, Marcus Fuller writes in the Pioneer Press.
- Former Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King is waiting for the call on draft day, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- With questions looming, Purdue's linebackers stepped up this spring, Mike Carmin writes in The Journal and Courier.
- After some academic speed bumps, Jack Ramsey adds another capable target to Illinois' receiving corps, GateHouse News Service's John Supinie writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
In case you missed it, Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells took another step toward playing Saturday. We're rolling right along as game day approaches.
- Big Ten coaches realize what's at stake this weekend, The New York Times' Mike Ogle writes in The Quad blog.
- After being right in the mix at this point last season, Illinois backup quarterback Eddie McGee is waiting his turn behind the surging Juice Williams, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune. Illini freshman wideout Jack Ramsey has been cleared academically to play, but he's still filling an invaluable role this week in practice, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald.
- The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens blogs about Indiana's sagging attendance at home games. Maybe a quality opponent or two would help the Hoosiers.
- A wide receiver corps besieged by injuries and inconsistency has become a strength for Iowa, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times. Ricky Stanzi's newfound popularity hasn't affected the Iowa quarterback, the Iowa City Press-Citizen's Andy Hamilton writes in his blog.
- Both teams are struggling on offense, but Michigan and Notre Dame historically shine late in games, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. This is nothing like what's happening on the Gulf Coast, but weather could play a factor at Notre Dame Stadium, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- The pass rush has become a priority for Michigan State, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press. Spartans center Joel Nitchman is a political junkie, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Trey Davis got off to a rocky start as Minnesota's center but will have plenty more chances Saturday, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. Gophers coach Tim Brewster remembers Montana State's last major upset, Scott Mansch writes in the Great Falls Tribune.
- Are the Buckeyes holding back on offense? Coordinator Jim Bollman won't tell, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Wideout Brian Hartline thinks so, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Wells likely won't be 100 percent Saturday, and cornerback Donald Washington might not reclaim his starting job.
- A report says Penn State defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma will remain suspended Saturday, but Koroma doesn't know his status, The Daily Collegian reports. The Penn State-Syracuse rivalry has lost its luster, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- Purdue's David Pender has faced Oregon quarterback Justin Roper before and recognizes the challenge the Boilers will face Saturday, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier. Coach Joe Tiller isn't concerned about Purdue's all-time wins record, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- P.J. Hill's early fumbles don't worry his Wisconsin coaches, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Badgers get a big boost Saturday when linebacker Jonathan Casillas returns, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.