NCF Nation: Justin Boren

Big Ten weekend combine recap

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
9:00
AM ET
All eyes were on Indianapolis this weekend as dozens of NFL prospects, including a large contingent from the Big Ten, went through the scouting combine.

My ESPN colleagues are all over the happenings in Naptown, so check out the combine blog and the latest Scouts Inc. combine notebook.

There's more testing and timing Monday with the defensive linemen and linebackers, but some results are in, so let's take a look. I'm breaking these down into top performers by position. I'll put together an overall top performers post once the combine is finished.

Wide receivers

  • Nebraska's Niles Paul finished second in bench-press reps (225 pounds) with 24
  • Paul tied for 14th in the 40-yard dash at 4.51 seconds
  • Indiana's Terrance Turner tied for second in vertical jump at 41 inches
  • Turner finished seventh in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
  • Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher finished second in 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds; Turner tied for 14th at 6.77 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished third in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Paul finished 12th at 4.14 seconds; Turner finished tied for 13th at 4.15 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished second in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Turner tied for ninth at 11.21 seconds
Quarterbacks
  • Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien tied for 13th in the 40-yard dash at 4.93 seconds
  • Stanzi finished ninth in the vertical jump at 32.5 inches; Tolzien tied for 12th at 29.5 inches
  • Tolzien tied for seventh in the broad jump at 9 feet, 8 inches; Stanzi finished 12th at 9 feet, 2 inches
  • Tolzien tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.84 seconds; Stanzi finished 12th at 6.95 seconds
Running backs
  • Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. finished sixth in the 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds; Ohio State's Brandon Saine finished seventh at 4.43 seconds;
  • Illinois' Mikel Leshoure tied for third in the vertical jump at 38 inches; Helu tied for eighth at 36.5 inches
  • Leshoure tied for fourth in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Helu finished 10th at 9 feet, 11 inches
  • Helu finished second in the 3-cone drill at 6.67 seconds; Leshoure finished sixth at 6.82 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.01 seconds; Penn State's Evan Royster tied for eighth at 4.18 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.07 seconds
Tight ends
  • Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks finished eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds; Michigan State's Charlie Gantt finished 11th at 4.93 seconds; Iowa's Allen Reisner finished 12th at 4.95 seconds
  • Gantt tied for first in bench-press reps with 27; Kendricks tied for third with 25
  • Kendricks finished sixth in vertical jump at 34.5 inches; Gantt finished 13th at 30.5 inches
  • Kendricks finished second in broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Gantt finished ninth at 9 feet, 4 inches; Reisner tied for 12th at 9 feet
  • Kendricks finished sixth in the 3-cone drill at 6.94 seconds; Gantt finished 11th at 7.15 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for second in 20-yard shuttle at 4.15 seconds; Gantt tied for eighth at 4.4 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for sixth in 60-yard shuttle at 11.9 seconds; Gantt and Reisner tied for 11th at 12.12 seconds
Defensive linemen
  • Wisconsin's J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
Linebackers
  • Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
Offensive linemen
  • Iowa's Julian Vandervelde tied for 10th in the 40-yard dash at 5.21 seconds; Indiana's James Brewer and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi tied for 14th at 5.27 seconds
  • Michigan's Stephen Schilling and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski tied for sixth in bench-press reps with 30; Carimi tied for ninth with 29; Ohio State's Justin Boren tied for 14th with 28
  • Carimi finished fifth in vertical jump at 31.5 inches; Vandervelde tied for sixth at 31 inches; Wisconsin's John Moffitt tied for eighth at 30.5 inches
  • Carimi finished fifth in broad jump at 9 feet, 1 inch; Vandervelde finished tied for 13th at 8 feet, 8 inches
  • Vandervelde finished seventh in 3-cone drill at 7.46 seconds; Wisniewski finished eighth at 7.51 seconds; Boren finished 11th at 7.57 seconds
  • Moffitt finished sixth in 20-yard shuttle at 4.53 seconds; Vandervelde tied for seventh at 4.59 seconds; Schilling tied for ninth at 4.62 seconds;
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Justin Boren is a 6-foot-3, 320-pound monster known as one of the Big Ten's best and nastiest offensive lineman.

But back in 2008, at that moment, Boren was absolutely terrified.

He had made the seemingly unthinkable transition from Michigan to archrival Ohio State, and he had no idea how he'd be received.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
AP Photo/Amy SancettaCoach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes have outscored Michigan 79-14 in the past two games at Ohio Stadium.
"I was so scared when I walked in for the first time," Boren recalled Saturday. "I had played 'em five months ago and I was coming in here like the new kid. I was more scared than when I went up to Michigan as a freshman. But they [welcomed] me with open arms. They've been awesome."

Boren didn't begin his career as part of one of the most successful classes in Ohio State history. But he's finishing it that way, and he couldn't be happier.

"I didn't want to look back and have any regrets," Boren said. "I didn't want to second-guess myself. And I can honestly say I've never done that. ... It's the greatest choice ever made."

It's hard to argue after Boren and his fellow seniors led Ohio State to its seventh consecutive win against Michigan, a 37-7 triumph that was essentially over by halftime. Ohio State claimed a share of the Big Ten title for a record-tying sixth consecutive season.

The Buckeyes' seniors improved to 43-8 in their careers. A bowl victory next month will tie them with their predecessors in 2009 for the most wins in team history. But perhaps most important, the class made it through without ever losing to Michigan.

"Five Big Ten rings and five pairs of gold pants," coach Jim Tressel said, referring to the large group of fifth-year seniors in the class. "That's a big deal."

Ohio State's seniors have contributed to The Game losing some serious luster in recent years. The Buckeyes have won each of the past four meetings by double digits, including the past two at Ohio Stadium by a combined score of 79-14.

Imagine what it would be like to be on the other side.

"I really can't," senior wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "It's got to be tough, but we work all year for this game, and we want to come out and execute. We can't really worry about what it would be like on the other end because we don't ever want to be on the other end."

Neither does Michigan, but the Wolverines had to endure another beating at the hands of their archrivals.

The buzz before and after the game centered on Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez, who continued to struggle against top-tier Big Ten opponents. Rodriguez fell to 0-6 against Michigan's two conference rivals -- Ohio State and Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/Amy SancettaRich Rodriguez is 0-6 as Michigan's coach against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
"I'm ticked," Rodriguez said. "Do you want me to go jump out there with all the Buckeye fans and sing 'Kumbaya?' I wish we'd played better. Our guys, they played hard, and that's to be expected, but I wish we'd executed better and as coaches, we've got to try and put them in positions so they can make some plays.

"I'm going to be mad for a while, and then we'll move on to the next one."

The next one likely will take place Dec. 28 at the Insight Bowl in Arizona. But will Rodriguez still be around to coach the Wolverines?

Speculation has mounted in recent days about Rodriguez's job security. Athletic director Dave Brandon on Saturday reiterated his stance that he'll evaluate the program at the end of the season.

"I'm going to work tomorrow as always," Rodriguez said. "I worry about my future every day. Before I took the job, after I took the job.

"But nothing's going to change how we work."

While Michigan stews in the midst of its slide, Ohio State's seniors emphasized the importance of keeping their streaks alive. They stepped in after an Oct. 16 loss to Wisconsin, which linebacker Brian Rolle said "bonded the team together even more."

Ohio State hasn't lost since, and several seniors finished the regular season playing their best football.

Rolle and fellow linebacker Ross Homan combined for 16 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble Saturday. Senior safety Jermale Hines broke up three passes. Sanzenbacher, without question the Big Ten's top receiver this season, caught three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.

The result: Ohio State's seniors maintained the status quo.

"I think people will look back and say we were a tight-knit group, a class with class and character," Rolle said. "When we come back for a reunion, I want guys to say, 'Man, those guys were great.' "

So what's left for Ohio State's seniors?

The Buckeyes continue to fight the negative perception stemming from their back-to-back blowout losses in the BCS title game. They should get a chance in January for a second consecutive BCS bowl victory, quite possibly against an SEC team (LSU or Arkansas) in SEC territory (New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl).

Not a bad way to go out.

"Getting a win this year in whatever game we go to would be great," Rolle said. "It'll show that this senior class, guys fought hard to bring tradition back to Ohio State."
Miami and Ohio State on Jan. 3, 2003 provided one of the most exciting and talked-about games in recent college football history. Ohio State's double-overtime victory in the Fiesta Bowl secured a national title and marked the beginning of a surge under The Vest (Jim Tressel). It also signaled the end of Miami's amazing run of success. The teams reunite Saturday in Columbus (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET), as Ohio State continues its push for the national title and Miami aims for another signature win to prove that yes, The U is back.

Bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich break down the matchup in Columbus.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio's Terrelle Pryor is a Heisman Trophy candidate this season.
Adam Rittenberg: HD, always a pleasure. Tough first weekend for the so-close league, I mean the ACC. Both Ohio State and Miami looked impressive against weak competition Thursday night. We've got to start this off with the two quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Jacory Harris. Both are Heisman Trophy candidates in my mind, and they're friends off the field who text each other from time to time. What are the big keys for Harris against an always stout Ohio State defense?

Heather Dinich: Ahh, Ritt, the pleasure is all yours. First, he has to get the protection he needs -- something he hasn't always had, but that appeared to improve in the season opener against Florida A&M. Second, Harris has to continue to play mistake-free like he did in the first half last week. Turnovers were a big issue for him last year -- 17 interceptions -- and Cameron Heyward and the rest of the Buckeyes' D are more than capable of getting him flustered. He’s got to stay on his feet and make smart decisions. What about Pryor? Miami's rushing defense is coming off its best performance in three years, with eight sacks against FAMU. Is Ohio State’s front ready to hold off the Canes and make Pryor look worthy of the Heisman Hype?

AR: Pryor looked much more comfortable with the offense in the opener, but he faced virtually no pressure from Marshall and could sit back and wait for wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey to get open. That should change against the Canes, and it'll be interesting to see how often Pryor takes off and runs -- his old method for dealing with pressure -- or stands in the pocket and makes a tough throw. Ohio State's offensive line finally seems to be coming together after several years of underachieving. It's a group filled with blue-chip recruits that boasts good experience now, especially at the guard spots with Justin Boren and Bryant Browning. A big key will be whether left tackle Mike Adams can protect Pryor's blind side.

Speaking of highly recruited offensive linemen and Ohio State, how is our pal Seantrel Henderson doing? Let's just say Buckeye Nation is waiting. Moreover, how do you see Miami's O-line matching up with Heyward, John Simon and Ohio State's front four?

[+] EnlargeJacory Harris
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireJacory Harris had three touchdowns and 210 yards against Florida A&M.
HD: Miami’s pass protection was pretty good against FAMU, giving up just one sack, and Mount Henderson got some snaps in which he swallowed up some smaller, less athletic players. He's still got a learning curve, though, and the truth is it's too hard to judge that group until it lines up against the Buckeyes. Some might have made too much of the power versus speed plotline in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, but I’m wondering if that won’t be a factor with Ohio State’s defensive front in putting the pressure on Harris. The Buckeyes' run defense is solid, but can they stop this deep backfield with or without Graig Cooper?

AR: Heather, I'm glad you brought up the Champs Sports Bowl. I know this is a different and supposedly better Miami team, but I have a hard time forgetting how Wisconsin outclassed the Canes in that game, and would have won by more points if not for a Garrett Graham fumble near the goal line. If Wisconsin's defense makes Harris look like that, I can't imagine what Ohio State's will do to him. You also bring up a good point about Cooper, who missed most of the Wisconsin game. He's a tremendous athlete and could be a big factor on Saturday if he plays. Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is another guy who looks better and better as time goes on and had a great performance in the opener.

OK, you're on the spot. What happens in this one?

HD: Well, one of two things: A.) Miami wins and is an instant surprise contender for the national title, or B.) The Hurricanes lose and ACC fans flip the channel to the Florida State game, clinging to desperation that somebody can represent on the national level. I think Miami is good, but I don’t think they're ready for Ohio State -- especially not in the Shoe. I'm still in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode with these guys when it comes to national relevance. Can they win the ACC? No doubt. But the Canes need to win the Coastal before they're in the same realm as the Buckeyes. Do you see any upset in the making?

AR: Miami certainly has the talent to win this game. The Canes must win the turnover battle, force Pryor into some bad decisions and hold the edge on special teams, which surprisingly might be Ohio State's biggest weakness this year. While I forecast a great game, I don't see the upset. Ohio State is simply too strong up front on both sides of the ball and wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State got over its big-game hump in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, and the Buckeyes aren't a slow Big Ten team, as they're often portrayed. The Buckeyes win this one by a touchdown.
The position rankings move to the offensive side of the ball, and the offensive lines are first up. Several Big Ten offensive lines are among the nation's best, while other units boast experience but must step up.

[+] EnlargeGabe Carimi
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Badgers' Gabe Carimi is entering his fourth season as a starter.
1. Wisconsin: If this group stays healthy, I don't believe there's a better offensive line in college football this season. Left tackle Gabe Carimi is a bona fide NFL prospect who enters his fourth year as a starter. The Badgers boast another All-Big Ten selection at guard in senior John Moffitt, who can play both guard and tackle. Josh Oglesby should be ready to take the next step at right tackle. All the injuries last season forced Wisconsin to use a lot of linemen, and Peter Konz's return makes this one of the league's deepest units.

2. Ohio State: The talent always has been there, and the physical play finally showed up late last fall. Ohio State's line finished 2009 on a very strong note and returns pretty much everyone for 2010. First-team All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren leads the group along with fellow guard Bryant Browning. Center Michael Brewster enters his third season as a starter, and right tackle J.B. Shugarts came along last year. If gifted left tackle Mike Adams effectively protects Terrelle Pryor's blind side, the Buckeyes will be extremely tough to stop.

3. Michigan: The Wolverines boast one of the Big Ten's best interior line tandems in guard Stephen Schilling and center David Molk, who returns from an ACL injury. When Molk was healthy in 2009, Michigan consistently moved the football. His return is a major boost. The Wolverines need to solidify the tackle spots but have experienced options in Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge. Michigan's offensive line recruiting also should pay off as redshirt freshmen like Taylor Lewan solidify the depth.

4. Penn State: The line had an average performance in 2009 and struggled against elite defensive fronts, but things should improve this fall. Stefen Wisniewski, who moves back to guard from center, is one of the nation's most experienced and polished offensive linemen. He leads a group that also features veterans Lou Eliades and Johnnie Troutman. Penn State needs big things from new starting left tackle Quinn Barham.

5. Northwestern: All five starters return from 2009, but there's competition at three spots in camp. I see this as a testament to Northwestern's strong O-line recruiting the past four seasons. While experience is great, the Wildcats need to be more physical in run blocking and could benefit from some new faces (or some old ones hardened by competition). Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are All-Big Ten candidates, and watch out for Patrick Ward, a heralded 2009 recruit who steps into the spotlight at right tackle this season.

Up next: Running back/fullback

More rankings ...
ESPN's NFL draft expert Mel Kiper recently addressed a question Insider I get all the time: Where does Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor project for the NFL?

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireTerrelle Pryor's draft stock should soar if improves his footwork and decision-making.
Kiper drops the dreaded name -- Tim Tebow -- but points out an important difference between the former Florida star and quarterbacks like Pryor and Vince Young.
"While Tebow was in a system that asked him to run and he liked to run, Young and Pryor don't need to run, but they can run. It's a big distinction. Part of Young's growth and value as an NFL quarterback is his knowledge of his physical skills allowing him to run, but he doesn't have to just to have value. What Pryor will need to prove is that he has footwork, not just good feet, an accurate arm, not just a cannon, and that he can read plays and deliver with anticipation, not just find open receivers."

As I've written before, Pryor likely never will have textbook mechanics. But if he can improve in other areas, namely footwork and decision-making, he can be a heck of a college quarterback, and possibly a great pro quarterback. This spring, I saw improved footwork from Pryor, and if he can make smart decisions -- and anticipate the right throws, as Kiper says -- he should have a great junior season.

Kiper also weighs in on former Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin, now at Delaware, as well as former Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, the first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

I also missed this from last week, but Kiper has come out with his position rankings (top 5) for the 2011 NFL draft Insider. These are seniors only, so draft-eligible juniors like Pryor and Wisconsin's John Clay aren't on the list.

Here are the Big Ten players who made it:

  • Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, No. 2 offensive tackle
  • Ohio State's Justin Boren, No. 2 offensive guard
  • Michigan's Stephen Schilling, No. 3 offensive guard
  • Wisconsin's John Moffitt, No. 5 offensive guard
  • Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, No. 2 center (note: Wisniewski practiced at guard this spring and likely will stay there this season)
  • Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, No. 2 defensive end
  • Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, No. 4 defensive end
  • Michigan State's Greg Jones, No. 3 inside linebacker
  • Iowa's Ryan Donahue, No. 1 punter

A solid list of players there. I was a little surprised not to see Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan or Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan, but the others look to be in the right places.

Kiper on Jones: "Jones is one of the purest tacklers you'll see in college football. His stock could rise next season on a potentially underrated Michigan State team, but he'll need to overcome questions about his size. I wouldn't be surprised to see him come into camp with 10 more pounds on that frame, which should help solidify his stock."

Kiper on Clayborn and Heyward: "Heyward came on strong this past season and should be an anchor of a top-five defense next season. Clayborn was a beast down the stretch, and it's huge for coach Kirk Ferentz to get him back as an anchor point for that defense, which loses significant talent elsewhere."

Kiper on Boren and Moffitt: "Moffitt is the only guy to be added to this list; Wisconsin should have an elite line next season with Moffitt and OT Carimi. RB John Clay will enjoy running behind them. Justin Boren isn't No. 1 here yet, but could jump [Rodney] Hudson with a dominant season for a Big Ten power."
Lindy's magazine has published its preseason All-America teams and preseason Top 25 poll for 2010, and the Big Ten is all over it.

Let's start with the All-America teams, which include nine Big Ten players:

First Team
  • Penn State offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski
  • Wisconsin offensive lineman Gabe Carimi
  • Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  • Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones
Second Team
  • Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward
  • Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren
  • Wisconsin offensive lineman John Moffitt
  • Iowa safety Tyler Sash

A pretty solid group of selections here. Heyward could have been a first-team selection. Wisconsin's John Clay has some tough competition at running back with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and West Virginia's Noel Devine. Although I would include Clay on my preseason All-America team, but those aren't bad choices.

Moving on to the Top 25, which includes four Big Ten teams
  • No. 3 Ohio State
  • No. 6 Wisconsin
  • No. 10 Iowa
  • No. 24 Penn State

There seems to be a debate among preseason pollsters regarding Wisconsin and Iowa. We've seen the Hawkeyes ranked higher in some polls, and the Badgers ranked higher in others. Wisconsin returns more starters, but Iowa brings back a lot of key players from a team that achieved at a higher level in 2009. The Hawkeyes have won their last two games against Wisconsin, but Iowa loses more key players than the Badgers. So you can see why people see these things differently. I'm pretty comfortable having Iowa ahead of Wisconsin in my power rankings right now.

This is the lowest I've seen Penn State ranked in a preseason poll. Clearly, the Lions' All-Big Ten loses, including quarterback Daryll Clark, have raised concerns among the Lindy's folks.
Before the Rose Bowl, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel met and discussed how the game marked the halfway point of Pryor's career.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewster
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIMichael Brewster has started the last 23 games at center for the Buckeyes and should be a Rimington Trophy candidate this season.
It was a midterm exam, in front of 92,000 proctors. And Pryor aced it.

But Pryor isn't the only member of Ohio State's decorated 2008 recruiting class to reach halftime in Columbus.

As Pryor delayed his college decision on national signing day in 2008, much of the buzz at Ohio State swirled around three decorated offensive line prospects: Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. All three players were ESPNU 150 selections. ESPN recruiting ranked Brewster and Shugarts as the nation's No. 2 and No. 3 offensive tackle prospects, while Adams ranked No. 8.

All three are now preparing for their junior seasons at Ohio State.

"They're at the midpoint of their careers, not unlike Terrelle," head coach Jim Tressel said. "You'd like to think that they can be real good leaders and good veterans."

Pryor's development in the second half of his career likely will determine whether Ohio State wins a national title for the first time since 2002, but equally as important, if not more so, is the progression of his classmates on the offensive line.

"Adams, Brewster and Shugarts have now all gotten their feet more than wet now for a couple years," offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman said. "Going into their third year, now it's time for them to really start kicking it in."

Brewster certainly has done so, having started the last 23 games at center for the Buckeyes. The 6-5, 293-pound junior from Orlando will contend for the Rimington Trophy this fall and serve as one of the line's leaders along with guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning.

Shugarts also saw the field as a true freshman but missed six games with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He earned the starting right tackle spot in 2009 and will start at either right tackle or left tackle this season.

Adams has battled injuries and spotty play his first two seasons, but enters the summer with a decent to strong chance of landing the starting left tackle spot.

"Those guys work extremely hard, those three," Browning said. "They've got kind of a brotherhood. You see those guys in the weight room together, watching extra film together, and I feel like they're close on and off the field. They're doing anything they can to be great offensive linemen."

Since Brewster is a proven player at center and Shugarts took a step in that direction last fall, Adams found himself in the spotlight this spring. Adams failed to grab the starting left tackle spot last year, forcing Ohio State to shift versatile veteran Jim Cordle to protect Pryor's blind side.

The Dublin, Ohio, native has been an enigma early in his college career. One look at the 6-8, 300-pound Adams reveals the obvious physical gifts he possesses, but entering spring practice, he had yet to produce consistent results on the field. Adams missed Ohio State's first two games last year -- sources said he was suspended for a violation of team rules, though Tressel never confirmed it -- and didn't see much action during Big Ten Play.

"There's competition at his position right now," Browning said, "but he's working hard, doing whatever it takes so he can get a chance to get out there."

This spring, the Buckeyes opened the competition at left tackle, as Adams, Andrew Miller, Marcus Hall and Shugarts all saw time. Adams seemed to make strides toward the end of the session and drew praise for his performance in Saturday's spring game.

Ohio State star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is doing all he can to help linemen like Adams, Shugarts and Brewster take the next step.

"It's a work in progress, it's not going to happen right away," Heyward said. "They'll have good days, and they'll also have bad days. And our guys are pushing them. We're not just going to let them sit back and enjoy it because it's going to be a rough battle.

"They were highly touted offensive linemen coming in, and they really want to step up and be great this year."

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
11:00
AM ET
A strong Big Ten bowl season leaves me with some tough choices for the All-Bowl team. We can certainly debate some of these, but here are my selections.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Harry How/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor acccounted for more Rose Bowl yards than Oregon's team did.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.

RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.

RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.

WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.

WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.

TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.

C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.

G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.

G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.

OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.

DEFENSE

DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.

DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.

DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.

DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.

LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.

LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.

LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.

DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.

DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.

DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.

DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.

SPECIALISTS

K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.

Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.

Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.

Video: Ohio State OL Justin Boren

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
10:00
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Adam Rittenberg talks with Ohio State OL Justin Boren about the Buckeyes' season and the upcoming bowl game.
LOS ANGELES -- Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and his Ohio State counterpart, Jim Tressel, had their final meeting with the media Thursday morning at the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott.

Here are some notable nuggets from what they had to say:

[+] EnlargeRose Bowl
Kirby Lee/US PresswireOhio State's Jim Tressel, left, and Oregon's Chip Kelly talked about their FCS roots on Thursday.

  • LeGarrette Blount remains Oregon's third-string running back entering the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET), slotted behind starting LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barber. Blount, who requested not to meet with the media this week, saw his first action since the season opener against Oregon State on Dec. 3, carrying nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown. Kelly said he doesn't have anything scripted for Blount, who will get more opportunities if James gets banged-up. "We've ridden No. 21 [James] for the whole season, and we're going to continue to do that," Kelly said. "But you'll see LG [Blount]."
  • Ohio State enters the game as healthy as it's been all season, particularly on offense. Tressel said quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee) is fine -- the coach didn't sound thrilled about Pryor's injury revelation Monday -- and the offensive line has gotten some continuity down the stretch. Ohio State will stick to its same starting lineup for the line: LT Jim Cordle, LG Justin Boren, C Michael Brewster, RG Bryant Browning, RT J.B. Shugarts. Marcus Hall and Mike Adams will be the first subs at right tackle and left tackle, respectively. Andrew Moses would be Ohio State's eighth lineman if they need him.
  • As they posed behind the Rose Bowl trophy, Kelly and Tressel briefly discussed their common roots in the FCS. Just three years ago, Kelly served as the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, his alma mater. Tressel built his reputation as a head coach at Youngstown State, where he won four national championships. "We were laughing over there that we didn't have that many flashbulbs when we played in the I-AA playoffs," Tressel said. Kelly stressed that "the big time is where you're at" and that it's important to enjoy coaching at any level. But he doesn't take his meteoric rise for granted. "I had absolutely no idea three years ago that I'd be sitting in front of a press conference at the Rose Bowl," he said.
  • Two of Ohio State's last three losses -- Sept. 12 against USC and the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas -- came in games where the defense allowed a late score and lost a lead. Fatigue likely played a role in both games, as USC ran 17 more plays than Ohio State (72-55) and Texas ran 23 more plays (87-64). Ohio State should win the time-of-possession battle against Oregon, but the Ducks' offensive pace could be tough to match. "When you leave your defense on the field that long against good football teams, there is going to be a wearing factor," Tressel said. "I know this: chasing Oregon around will make them tired, too, so it's going to be a great challenge."
  • Asked if Oregon is the nation's best comeback story after its disastrous opener against Boise State, Kelly took the opportunity to defend his players and trumpet Boise State's success. "Mark Twain once said, 'The news of my death was greatly exaggerated,'" Kelly said. "We lost 19-8 to the No. 6 team in the country, which hasn't lost a game in a long time. Chris Petersen and Boise State is an outstanding football team. The one thing about that night that bothers me is they got slighted."
  • And, finally, some words from each coach on the stakes on Friday.
    Kelly: "
    I want our players to savor the moment. That's what it's all about. They've earned this opportunity, and they're going to create memories. ... We have fun. Our staff has fun. This is what it's all about. It's not worrying about what's next. There is no next. This is it."
    Tressel: "Our seniors know that this is the last time out. But how deeply do you know that? Maybe not until that clock ticks to zero does it become very real. ... That's the beauty of the game of football. It's really what happens that day, not what you're capable of or what you could have done, what happens that day."

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
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Loyal blog readers out there know where I'm headed with several of these picks, though I had some tough decisions in the end. It's not easy to condense so many defensive standouts into 11 slots, while there's certainly more wiggle room on the offensive side.

For your reference, my preseason All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten's official all-conference squads.

OFFENSE

QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
WR: Keith Smith, Purdue
WR: Blair White, Michigan State
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OL: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Dace Richardson, Iowa
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

DEFENSE

DL: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DL: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
CB: Donovan Warren, Michigan
CB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Tyler Sash, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
K: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Ray Fisher, Indiana
PR: Ray Small, Ohio State

All-Big Ten selections by team: Penn State (5), Iowa (5), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (3), Michigan State (3), Michigan (3), Northwestern (1), Purdue (1), Indiana (1)

There were 16 selections who also made the preseason All-Big Ten squad: Clark, Royster, Clay, Bulaga, Wisniewski, Boren, Garrett Graham, Brandon Graham, Odrick, Jones, Bowman, Angerer, Coleman, Mesko, Swenson and Small.

Ohio State-Michigan pregame

November, 21, 2009
11/21/09
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Just got back from the field after watching warm-ups, and a few things stood out.

  • There are a ton of Ohio State fans here, certainly more than normal. It looks like a good number of Michigan fans sold their tickets to the enemy and made some cash.
  • As expected, Michigan fans were all over Buckeyes guard Justin Boren when he came out for warm-ups. The former Wolverine heard taunts of, "Watch your knees!" and some unprintable comments about his conditioning. Boren, to his credit, seemed extremely fired up and was animated as he talked to the other linemen.
  • Michigan's Troy Woolfolk is working as a safety today after switching to cornerback midway through the season. J.T. Floyd worked with the first-team defense at corner. Mike Williams, the team's normal starting safety, is out.
  • I don't mind Ohio State's throwback jerseys. The helmets take a little while to get used to, but the socks are awesome and the jerseys don't bother me. Several Ohio State offensive linemen are wearing their regular cleats instead of the new ones from Nike. Tackle Jim Cordle voiced some concerns about the new cleats earlier this week. Cordle and J.B. Shugarts worked as the first-team offensive tackles.

Reasons to get excited for The Game

November, 20, 2009
11/20/09
9:52
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Ohio State-Michigan doesn't matter.

That's the general sentiment around the country this week as college football's greatest rivalry gets ready to resume Saturday at Michigan Stadium (ABC, noon ET). One of my esteemed colleagues called this the "most uninspiring November weekend in recent memory." There are valid reasons for this belief, namely Michigan's 5-6 record, Ohio State's guaranteed BCS bowl berth and the likelihood that Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez will be safe no matter what takes place between the lines on Saturday.

I say let them thumb their noses at The Game. You and I know better. The Game always matters.

As I watched the end of the 1987 Ohio State-Michigan game (Earle Bruce's final triumph) and the start to the high-scoring 1988 contest on ESPN Classic during lunch Thursday, I started to get excited about Saturday's contest.

Here are some reasons why:

Throwback jerseys: Ohio State will don helmets and uniforms honoring its 1954 national championship team, a decision that drew mixed reviews from Buckeye Nation. The helmets certainly give the players a different look. Ohio State just hopes there won't be a different result after dominating Michigan under head coach Jim Tressel.

Justin Boren: Boren's departure from Michigan and his parting shot that the team's "family values have eroded" was in many ways the first of several public setbacks for Rodriguez. It didn't help when Boren transferred to archrival Ohio State. He now leads an improving Buckeyes offensive line into the Big House, where he figures to receive a rough reception from the crowd. I'm definitely excited to see Boren take on Michigan star defensive end Brandon Graham.

Last stand for Wolverines: A Michigan loss ends the season for the Wolverines, who seemed destined for a decent bowl game after a 4-0 start. The sense of urgency in this one certainly rests with the Wolverines, who try to end a five-game slide against their archrivals in most unlikely fashion. A win doesn't wash away a miserable Big Ten season, but it certainly eases the pain and allows Michigan the right to celebrate.

Terrelle Pryor and the spread offense: When Pryor sputtered midway through the season, people started buzzing about how the quarterback would have been better off in Rodriguez's offense at Michigan. Last year's Wolverines didn't have the trigger man to effectively run the spread, but freshman quarterback Tate Forcier fits the scheme. It will be interesting to watch how Pryor fares against Michigan's vulnerable defense and contrast that with how Forcier fares against Ohio Sate's D.

Ohio State vs. another young QB: It's hard to explain, but Ohio State's defense has performed much better against experienced quarterbacks than young ones this fall. The Buckeyes shut down Penn State's Daryll Clark, Minnesota's Adam Weber and Illinois' Juice Williams, but they struggled at times against USC true freshman Matt Barkley and Iowa redshirt freshman James Vandenberg, who made his first career start last week. Forcier comes off of a solid effort against Wisconsin, but he needs to have his best performance of the season to give Michigan a shot.

Ohio State aims for outright title: The Buckeyes already have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for the fifth consecutive season, but they want more. A victory Saturday clinches the Big Ten title outright for the third time in the past four seasons. An Ohio State loss means the Buckeyes might have to share the crown with as many as three other teams (Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin).

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
10:36
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Final week of conference play. Let's make it count.

1. Buckeyes try to bowl over Michigan: After a 4-0 start, Michigan looked like a sure bet for the postseason and possibly even a Jan. 1 bowl. But the Wolverines have been a mess in Big Ten play, especially on defense, dropping six consecutive league games. Now they must end a five-game slide against Ohio State merely to get bowl eligible. A win Saturday won't salvage the season, but it will put Michigan in a bowl game and momentarily turn down the heat on head coach Rich Rodriguez, who has been under siege both on and off the field.

2. Boren returns to the Big House: Michigan has bigger things to worry about than Justin Boren, like finally beating Ohio State, but the guard's return to his old stomping grounds should be interesting. Boren expects a rough reception from Michigan fans after leaving the school to play for its arch-rival. He didn't depart quietly from Michigan and caused a stir by dressing up as Rodriguez for Halloween last year. Boren leads an improved Buckeyes offensive line against Brandon Graham and the Michigan defensive front, so it should be an interesting matchup in the trenches.

3. It's Fiesta time at Kinnick Stadium: Iowa won't be going to the Rose Bowl, but the Hawkeyes still are well positioned for a BCS at-large berth, most likely to the Fiesta Bowl. To keep the door open for Glendale, they must take care of Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). Iowa comes off an emotional overtime loss to Ohio State and must regain its swagger on defense after allowing 229 rush yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg exceeded all expectations in his first career start. He needs to follow it up against a decent Gophers defense.

4. Penn State aims for double digits: Much like Iowa, Penn State remains in the BCS at-large mix but must take care of business Saturday to have any chance. The Lions visit Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), where they fell in 2007. Joe Paterno's squad hasn't lost on the road this season, but it has started slow the last few weeks, paying the price against Ohio State. It's important for quarterback Daryll Clark and his wide receivers to take advantage of an inconsistent Spartans secondary.

5. Hankwitz getting defensive: During his introductory news conference as Northwestern's defensive coordinator in January 2008, Mike Hankwitz mentioned Saturday's game, the first time he'd get a crack at Wisconsin. The Badgers surprisingly dumped Hankwitz after the 2007 season, as head coach Bret Bielema gave Dave Doeren full control of the defense. The move has worked out well for both sides, as Hankwitz transformed Northwestern's defense the last two years and Doeren is getting excellent results from the front seven this fall. But you can bet it'll be personal for Hankwitz as the Badgers visit Ryan Field (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).

(Read full post)

Jim Tressel may go on to win another national championship at Ohio State.

He'll likely win more BCS bowl games and more Big Ten titles. When he's finished coaching, he might enter politics or open his own sweater vest manufacturing company.

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is going for his sixth straight win against rival Michigan.



But when we look back on Tressel's place in college football history, he will always be remembered for this week. Michigan week.

No one does it better.

Head coaches of national powerhouses are judged primarily on their ability to win games in early January, and Tressel is no exception. But their records against archrivals aren't taken lightly, either. Tennessee's Phil Fulmer got the axe last year largely because of his struggles against rivals Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Florida's Urban Meyer wins national titles, but he also pleases fans by beating rivals Georgia, Tennessee, Miami and Florida State.

You can knock Tressel for his three-game losing streak in BCS bowls, his consecutive double-digit losses in the national title game, his management of quarterback Terrelle Pryor or his conservative play-calling. On those topics, swing away.

But when it comes to the Ohio State-Michigan game, Tressel is king. He boasts a 7-1 mark against Michigan, including wins in each of the last five games. He has beaten Michigan when Ohio State is the better team (2008, 2007, 2005, 2002) and even when Michigan might be the superior squad (2001, 2004). He beat Michigan in the most hyped regular-season game in recent years, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in 2006 at Ohio Stadium.

Tressel is one of the reasons Lloyd Carr no longer coaches the Wolverines. Carr went 1-6 against The Vest. In Rich Rodriguez's first game against Tressel, Ohio State spanked Michigan 42-7.

And it's not just the record. Tressel plays up this rivalry the right way. He makes it a big deal without inciting the opponent. He doesn't need unique circumstances -- like Justin Boren's transfer from Michigan or Pryor's flirtation with Rodriguez -- to get his players motivated.

"It's an exciting week," Tressel said last year at the start of Michigan week. "Our guys can feel the excitement on the campus and in the community. It's the reason many of them chose to go to Ohio State or to go to Michigan was so they could be a part of this game for four or five years and it's just a little bit different feeling. It's a hard one to explain unless you've been there."

You can feel it at Ohio State.

Seven months before The Game, you walk into the office of co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. On the wall, Heacock has a sign that reads, "No Ohio State team has defeated Michigan 5 times in a row."

The 5 is crossed out and replaced with a 6.

Tressel puts this game on a pedestal, and it trickles down throughout the rest of the program. Ohio State already has a Rose Bowl berth essentially locked up, but if you think the Buckeyes will come out with any less fire Saturday at Michigan Stadium (ABC, noon ET), remember who coaches them.

After Saturday's overtime win against Iowa, Tressel said his players could enjoy the win until midnight.

"When the clock strikes 12, we know what week it is," he said, "and that's exciting."

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