NCF Nation: Kendell Davis-Clark
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
It's time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.
Illinois -- Judging solely by his size -- 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- Jeff Cumberland should be a tight end. But after seeing the junior struggle with blocking and other trench duties in 2007, Illinois coach Ron Zook moved Cumberland to wide receiver. The switch worked last week as Cumberland, who missed time earlier this season with a foot stress fracture, had a 77-yard touchdown on his first reception of the fall. "He just wasn't doing the job down in the briar patch like we wanted him to do in terms of blocking and so forth," Zook said. "He's a very athletic guy that we knew we needed to get on the field so we talked to him about moving to the outside."
Iowa -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Marvin McNutt is auditioning at wide receiver, a spot where his athleticism could be better utilized this year. McNutt wasn't a major factor in the quarterback competition ultimately won by Ricky Stanzi, but he continues to take some snaps should an emergency arise. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound McNutt welcomed the change but has taken time to adjust. "His legs are trying to catch up a little bit," Ferentz said. "He's been through two years of inactivity as a quarterback, so he's got sore feet, sore knees, sore everything else right now."
Michigan State -- The Spartans likely will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker against Northwestern, but their secondary gets a big boost with the return of cornerback/safety Kendell Davis-Clark. Boasting 15 career starts, Davis-Clark has been out of action since sustaining a shoulder injury in the season opener at Cal. A major key Saturday will be the health of safety Otis Wiley, the Spartans' defensive catalyst who left last week's game against Iowa with a lower leg injury. Wiley leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and ranks second in punt return average (11.9).
Northwestern -- The bye week gave the Wildcats a chance to get healthy, particularly on the offensive line. Right tackle Kurt Mattes will return from a knee injury, and guard Keegan Grant also could return from an ankle injury. Both players were projected starters heading into the season, and offensive line coach Bret Ingalls will have some playing-time decisions to make for Saturday's game against Michigan State (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET). Junior Desmond Taylor has played well at both right tackle and right guard, and Northwestern is tied for fifth nationally in fewest sacks allowed (two in five games). Then again, the Wildcats aren't running the ball like they'd like to and could benefit from a greater rotation of linemen.
Penn State -- Head coach Joe Paterno hoped to play speedy junior A.J. Wallace at both cornerback and as a reserve wide receiver before the season, but a hamstring injury before the opener changed the script. For Wallace, the setback might have been a blessing in disguise, as he started at right cornerback last week at Purdue and has been elevated to a co-starter with Lydell Sargeant on this week's depth chart. "Sargeant, [Wallace] and [Tony] Davis, they're three good corners and they all should play, keep them fresh," Paterno said. "Nowadays, when you have to be ready for a lot of spread, you need that extra defensive back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.
Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). LinebackersRussell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy , who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safetiesKevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."
Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety afterRoderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).
Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."
Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.
Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for the late start today. Had to make a quick trip to downtown Chicago and got caught in some morning traffic. The good news is, I got to hear Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on Mike & Mike in the Morning. He reiterated that running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is doubtful for Saturday night's game against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). He added that the decision likely will be to play Wells sparingly or not at all. So it's unlikely Wells will play a major role in the game, even if he gets off the sidelines.
Let's start the links with the game everyone's talking about:
- Former Ohio State running back Eddie George knows how much Wells wants to play Saturday, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Buckeyes star James Laurinaitis will be on the field for a linebacker showcase, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. USC expects to see Wells on Saturday, Adam Maya writes in The Orange County Register. The numbers don't look promising for Ohio State in a must-win game, the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine writes in his blog.
- Louisiana-Lafayette's athleticism concerns Illinois coach Ron Zook, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune. Juice Williams is pulling for the Big Ten in the Ohio State-USC game, while teammate Rejus Benn sides with the Trojans, Bob Asmussen writes in The News-Gazette.
- Indiana's defense needs to keep the momentum going for next week's clash with Nate Davis and Ball State, LaMond Pope writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Ricky Stanzi's poise under pressure and Iowa's line play will be put to the test against Iowa State, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Iowa State appears to have the edge on Iowa in facilities, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Despite inconsistent results as Michigan's starting quarterback, Steven Threet is staying relaxed, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Michigan's John Ferrara and Notre Dame's Eric Olsen have a close connection to the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy, Michael Rothstein writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Michigan State cornerback-turned-safety Kendell Davis-Clark will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. The Spartans plan to run a lot against Florida Atlantic's vulnerable defense, Steve Grinczel writes.
- Takeaways have sparked Minnesota's transitioning defense early on, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Northwestern linebacker Malcolm Arrington can thank his father for steering him toward defense, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Anthony Scirrotto is no longer part of the off-field problems at Penn State, and the senior safety spoke up in a big way last week, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane takes a look at the relationship between Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier.
- Joe Tiller grew up in a neighborhood that hated Purdue because of the success coach Jack Mollenkopf had. Here's a in-depth look at the man Tiller is trying to pass on Purdue's all-time coaching wins list, courtesy of Jeff Rabjohns in The Indianapolis Star.
- Wisconsin's defenders better not loaf around coordinator Dave Doeren, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Badgers star tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas are expected to start against Fresno State, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Injuries are cropping up around the league, and coaches are shuffling pieces to try to find the right fit. Here's a look at five key issues in the Big Ten.
Minnesota -- Just when the Golden Gophers found a viable running threat, they received news that Duane Bennett tore his ACL against Bowling Green and will miss the rest of the season. Coach Tim Brewster will audition three players -- junior Jay Thomas and freshmen Shady Salamon and DeLeon Eskridge -- at the running back spot in hopes of identifying a featured back. The Gophers need more than one capable runner, but Brewster doesn't want a rotation there. Though Thomas has by far the most experience, Eskridge and Salamon are listed behind Bennett on this week's depth chart.
Michigan State -- The Spartans apparently no longer have cornerbacks or safeties, just general defensive backs. Before the season, coach Mark Dantonio moved starting corner Kendell Davis-Clark to safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took a leave of absence. Dantonio now is considering switching another starting cornerback, Ross Weaver, to safety after Davis-Clark sustained a shoulder injury against Cal and missed last week's matchup against Eastern Michigan. Davis-Clark is listed as day-to-day but didn't appear on this week's depth chart for Florida Atlantic.
Ohio State -- Cornerback Donald Washington returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), but the two-year starter might not retain his job. Ohio State likely will platoon Washington and sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, who has started the first two games. Coach Jim Tressel also seems intent on keeping Jermale Hines in the mix, possibly at nickel back. Hines should get decent playing time Saturday because the Buckeyes don't know whether linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller will be able to play after suffering an injury.
Michigan -- Redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein likely will make his season debut as the Wolverines' starting left tackle Saturday at Notre Dame after Mark Ortmann dislocated his elbow last week. Dorrestein previously had backed up Stephen Schilling at left tackle. Michigan already is without two guards who went down with injuries before the season. Coach Rich Rodriguez expects Bryant Nowicki and true freshman Patrick Omameh to fill in behind Dorrestein on the left flank.
Penn State -- The still-unresolved suspensions of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and the season-ending injury to Jerome Hayes leave the Nittany Lions in a bit of a bind. Both the end and tackle positions have depth issues, and end might be a greater concern as Penn State doesn't have much behind Josh Gaines and Aaron Maybin. One possibility would be moving true freshman Jack Crawford from tackle to end, though Paterno is leery about Crawford's inexperience. If Crawford switches, it puts more pressure on keeping Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Tom McEowen healthy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Saturday scrimmages fill up your daily diet of links. Here's a look at how teams fared.
- Illinois quarterback Juice Williams looks ready to take the next step after a strong scrimmage, Mark Tupper writes. The Illini are also pleased with their new digs as a renovated Memorial Stadium gets set to open. If you have some time, check out this lengthy feature on Phil Macklin, a decorated Illinois recruit serving a 24-year prison term for armed robbery.
- I'd still be stunned if Kellen Lewis doesn't start for Indiana, but the quarterback competition remains very much alive, Pete DiPrimio writes in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) News-Sentinel. Senior Chris Phillips seems to have locked up one of Indiana's vacant cornerback spots, but the other is still open, LaMond Pope writes in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Journal Gazette.
- Iowa's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage, which confirmed the doubts many have about the team's offense, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A bigger problem for the Hawkeyes could be a lack of desire in competing for playing time, Pat Harty writes. Coach Kirk Ferentz certainly wasn't pleased, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Michigan won't name a starting quarterback any time soon, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan are the top candidates, with freshman Justin Feagin still adjusting to the college game. Feagin likely will play at some point, given his skill set, but Rich Rodriguez is looking to the two (slightly) older players:
"I think they understand what we want as far as our concepts go. They both need to work on making quicker decisions and not forcing things. Sometimes the big play may be there, but it's a little bit of a gray area and they should take the safe thing. It's typical things you'd have with a young quarterback. Just be patient, take what they give you. You don't have to make big plays all the time."
Michigan Stadium's massive construction will alter game-day routines, Dave Gershman writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- Defense ruled the day at Michigan State's scrimmage, though starting running back Javon Ringer and two offensive linemen sat out, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. A defensive note: cornerback Kendell Davis-Clark scrimmaged at safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took an indefinite leave from the team.
- Minnesota also saw strides from its much-maligned defense Saturday, though three starting offensive linemen sat out with injuries, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber admits two-a-days are beginning to take a toll, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Northwestern came away from Saturday's scrimmage pleased, as quarterback C.J. Bacher and the first-team defense both performed well, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but the Wildcats' defensive backs are stepping up, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Ohio State knows Terrelle Pryor can run and emphasized the passing game in Saturday's scrimmage, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Pryor seemed to meet the challenge.
"I think he's going to surprise a lot of people with how well he can throw the ball," senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's doing a good job with his reads and his progressions and not being so quick to run like everyone expected him to."
Though Ohio State plays one marquee nonconference game a year, the Buckeyes, like most Big Ten teams, take heat for their schedule, Ken Gordon and Tim May write in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Get ready for the Stephfon Green show at Penn State, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Defensive line depth is becoming a bigger concern in Happy Valley after tackle Devon Still sustained a broken leg, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Linebacker is rarely a problem at Penn State, and despite injuries and graduation losses, the position looks solid to coach Ron Vanderlinden.
- Purdue coach Joe Tiller looks more relaxed heading into his final season, The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier's Tom Kubat writes in his blog.
- Allan Evridge still looks like the starting quarterback at Wisconsin, but none of the signal callers impressed Saturday, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Also, starting linebacker Jonathan Casillas will miss 1-2 weeks after spraining his MCL at Saturday's scrimmage. A position switch helped tight end Travis Beckum reach his potential.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Malcolm Jenkins had four interceptions last season.|
The rankings return with the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties later. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis top the list, but things get a little bit cloudy after those two. Just a reminder that the rundown is only cornerbacks, so if you're looking for names like Anderson Russell, Anthony Scirrotto and Austin Thomas, check back in a bit.
1. Malcolm Jenkins, Sr., Ohio State -- It's a tight race with Davis for the top spot, but Jenkins gets the nod. He enters the fall as the Thorpe Award frontrunner after passing up NFL millions. The back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection had four interceptions last season and can shut down one side of the field.
2. Vontae Davis, Jr., Illinois -- His pro stock is skyrocketing and Davis soon will join his big brother Vernon in the NFL. Last season the Thorpe Award semifinalist had four interceptions, eight pass breakups, nine tackles for loss and two blocked punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
3. Lydell Sargeant, Sr., Penn State -- With Justin King gone, Sargeant moves into a featured cover role and has the tools to step up. In his first season as a starter he led Penn State defensive backs and ranked third on the team with 70 tackles. And Sargeant isn't afraid of big stages -- in March he was one of the introductory speakers at an on-campus rally of 22,000 people that featured presidential candidate Barack Obama.
4. Donald Washington, Jr., Ohio State -- His two-game suspension at the start of the season could hurt, but Washington has plenty of experience to readjust. Often overshadowed by Jenkins, Washington has big-play potential, as he showed by returning his lone interception last fall 70 yards for a touchdown.
5. Donovan Warren, So., Michigan -- One of the top young defensive backs in the league, Warren earned several freshman All-America distinctions last fall. He recorded 52 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against Notre Dame. Like most Wolverines players, Warren improved his conditioning level this summer and should turn in a strong sophomore season.
6. Morgan Trent, Sr., Michigan -- The team's most experienced player has made 29 career starts in the secondary, collecting 108 tackles [92 solo] and 19 pass breakups. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. Trent has been burned at times by elite receivers, but he brings leadership to the secondary and complements Warren.
7. A.J. Wallace, Jr., Penn State -- Wallace turned heads as a freshman, playing on both sides of the ball and dazzling on kickoff returns and reverses. Hopes remain high for his progress at cornerback, as he moves into the spot vacated by King. After a superb Alamo Bowl performance [five tackles, interception, fumble recovery], Wallace should do big things this fall.
8. Bradley Fletcher, Sr., Iowa -- Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada had Iowa's starting cornerback spots on lockdown, but Fletcher still contributed with 53 tackles and two interceptions last fall. With those two gone, Fletcher steps into a featured role this fall. He has played a lot the last two seasons and should step up as a senior.9. Allen Langford, Sr., Wisconsin -- How Langford responds following ACL surgery is critical, but he brings plenty of experience to a suspect Badgers secondary. He has six career interceptions and 19 pass breakups, including seven in 10 games last fall before the injury. If healthy, the fifth-year senior provides a big boost in the back half.
10. Kendell Davis-Clark, Sr., Michigan State -- Davis-Clark ranked second on the team in tackles  in his first season as a starter and should continue to progress this fall. He had eight pass breakups and was effective on blitzes with four sacks in 2007. Davis-Clark's next step is making more plays for a takeaway-starved Spartans defense.