NCF Nation: Michael Brewster
Jim Tressel’s resignation as Ohio State coach rattled the program for several days.
"It was a big blow," All-Big Ten center Michael Brewster told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "Just more hurt for him than anything. We knew how much he loved this place, how much he loved us. But once we got over that, we realized it’s time to move on."
Despite so much uncertainty, a season is on the horizon, and Brewster has seen his teammates attack the offseason with renewed vigor.
"Guys are working their butts off, harder than ever, not backing down," he said. "It really has been a good thing to see.
Ohio State's internal leadership will be instrumental in steadying the ship this fall. While Brewster takes his role as a team leader seriously, the task hasn't been too challenging so far.
"Everyone's been getting closer and more pissed off and more ready to go," he said. "We've really embraced the challenge, and that has been awesome.
"I'm really not worried about next year. I know we're going to be ready."
Ohio State tried to maintain a sense of normalcy in spring practice, and succeeded for the most part. But it was before Tressel resigned, starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor left the program and the NCAA investigation into the program heated up.
The increased attention on players' off-field activities has resulted in more meetings with compliance officials in recent weeks.
Fickell, Tressel and team officials are scheduled to meet Aug. 12 before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. The program could be hit with severe penalties at some point during the season.
How do the Buckeyes deal with the uncertainty?
"It's something that's so out of our hands that we're not really worried about it," Brewster said. "We don't know what's going to happen, whether it's going to be in August or if it's going to be next year and so on. We're just worried about getting ready for the first game."
Ohio State players are used to winning Big Ten titles and earning BCS bowl berths, but the unique circumstances surrounding the coming season would make success even sweeter.
"I know we're going to come out on top in this challenge," Brewster said, "and I think it will be so satisfying at the end of the day when we do. Our backs are against the wall, but we're working very hard."
Brewster weighed in on a few other topics during our chat:
- On Pryor's departure: "Guys were surprised and bummed, but he had to move on and we know we've got to do the same. We still love him, he's still our teammate and our friend. That's not going to change just because he can't play here anymore." Brewster talked to Pryor shortly after the quarterback decided to leave, but the two haven't spoken since.
- On quarterback Joe Bauserman: "He knows the game well, he knows how to manage the game, manage the offense. Those are all things that make you feel very confident in him to take care of the game plan."
- On Fickell: "He's not going to try to be somebody he's not. He's not going to be try Coach Tress. He's going to make sure we get to where we want to be, and you've got to respect him for that. Everything has been very normal around here because we know our goals haven't changed."
Rather than list the top 10 across the three position groups, I've decided to go a different route: top five players at each spot. Despite losing standout linemen like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, the Big Ten returns several of the nation's top players at their positions.
Center might be the Big Ten's deepest position, while the league also boasts several standout tackles. The guard spot is a bit thin.
Let's take a look.
2. David Molk, Michigan, senior -- Molk is right up there with Brewster among the nation's truly elite centers. If not for some injury trouble, he could be at the top of the list. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in 2010 and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. Molk has made 29 career starts and displays top-notch blocking skills and leadership.
3. Peter Konz, Wisconsin, junior -- Konz is a big reason why Wisconsin's line shouldn't take a step back despite losing Carimi, Moffitt and Bill Nagy. He has made 20 starts at center in the past two seasons and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. After missing most of spring practice with an ankle injury, Konz's health this fall is a big key for Wisconsin.
4. Mike Caputo, Nebraska, senior: The Huskers' line has a few question marks entering the season, but center isn't one of them. Caputo is the undisputed leader of the group after starting every game in 2010. The former walk-on earned consensus honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and helped Nebraska eclipse 200 rushing yards in 10 of 14 games.
T-5. James Ferentz, Iowa, junior: Ferentz has emerged as an All-Big Ten caliber lineman and will lead one of the league's better groups this season. He started every game in 2010 and showed impressive durability, playing every offensive down in nine contests. Iowa needs an elite offensive line this season, and Ferentz will be leading the charge.
T-5. Graham Pocic, Illinois, junior: Along with Jeff Allen and others, Pocic leads an Illinois line that punished opponents at times last season. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter. Pocic solidified a line that helped Illinois lead the Big Ten in rushing and rank 11th nationally (246.1 ypg).
1. Riley Reiff, Iowa, junior: Reiff has put himself in position to become the next truly great Hawkeyes offensive lineman. He started every game in 2010 and 11 of 13 contests in 2009, earning consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. Already projected as a potential top-15 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Reiff should be in the mix for the Outland Trophy as he anchors the Iowa line.
2. Mike Adams, Ohio State, senior: The Buckeyes will be counting the days until Adams returns from his suspension to open the season. After some ups and downs early in his career, Adams blossomed last season and started to meet the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of high school. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. If not for the five-game suspension, he would be a top contender for the Outland Trophy.
3. Jeff Allen, Illinois, senior: One of the league's best and most experienced offensive linemen, Allen will lead a strong Illini line this fall. He has started 34 games in his first three seasons at Illinois, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media last fall. Allen is a bona fide NFL prospect who should challenge players like Brewster, Molk and Reiff for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors.
4. Al Netter, Northwestern, senior: Besides star quarterback Dan Persa, Netter is the only player coach Pat Fitzgerald considers an undisputed starter entering the fall. Perhaps it's because Netter has started each of the past 39 games. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 and should be primed for a big senior season. Northwestern needs him to help spark its rushing attack.
5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin, junior: We'll get a full read on Wagner after he switches from right tackle to the left side to replace Carimi, but the expectations are high. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after stepping in for the injured Josh Oglesby at right tackle. Wisconsin really likes Wagner's potential, and he'll have a chance to blossom at the more prestigious tackle position.
1. Joel Foreman, Michigan State, senior: An easy pick here as Foreman enters the season as one of the nation's top left guards. He has earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons and started 36 games at left guard, including each of the past 22. Offensive line is a huge question mark for the Spartans, so Foreman's play will be huge.
2. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, senior: Zeitler will be a leader this fall for a Wisconsin line looking to continue its tradition of excellence. He has started 22 games at right guard in each of the past two seasons and helped Wisconsin rank among the nation's top rushing offenses. Zeitler earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010.
3. Hugh Thornton, Illinois, junior: Thornton has played a lot of football in his first two seasons and could take another step in his development this fall. He started eight games at weak-side guard in 2010 after starting seven games at tackle in 2009. Illinois expects the offensive line to be its strength, and Thornton is a big part of the group.
4. Ken Plue, Purdue, senior: This pick is a bit risky after Plue worked his way into the coaches' dog house in spring practice. But he has the size, the skills and the experience (28 starts) to become one of the Big Ten's top guards this fall. If the 6-7, 358-pound Plue can work out his issues, look out for him and the Boilers.
5. Patrick Omameh, Michigan, junior: After starting all 13 games for a record-setting offense in 2010, Omameh is a reason why hopes are high for the Wolverines offensive line. He has started 16 consecutive games and has the ability to contend for All-Big honors. Omameh must get a little more consistent this fall, but I like how he projects for 2011.
It's Valentine's Day, and the celebration is on here at ESPN.com. As some of you scramble for those last-minute gifts, I'm going to pass out Valentine's Day cards to each Big Ten squad.
The cards represent a reason why each team should feel warm and fuzzy heading into the 2011 season.
INDIANA: A demanding coaching staff led by Kevin Wilson. Mediocrity no longer will be tolerated in Bloomington, and while it might take some time to get things fully on track, Wilson is going to change the culture around the program. He comes from a big-time program (Oklahoma), has orchestrated a big-time offense and carries big-time expectations for the Hoosiers.
IOWA: Young playmakers on both sides of the ball. Iowa didn't win the Insight Bowl because of its seniors. It won because of a record-setting performance by freshman running back Marcus Coker and a pick-six by sophomore cornerback Micah Hyde. Quarterback James Vandenberg returns to the spotlight after impressing a lot of folks in 2009. Outside expectations likely will be tempered, but the future looks promising for Iowa.
MICHIGAN: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Coach Brady Hoke hit a home run with his choice to rebuild an historically bad defense. Mattison boasts an impressive track record at the college and pro levels, and his recruiting prowess speaks for itself. Although Michigan's defense faces significant challenges in 2011, it no longer will be held back by coaching.
MICHIGAN STATE: A restocked offensive backfield. Most Big Ten teams lose their top quarterback or running back from 2010, but the Spartans bring back all of their leading men. Kirk Cousins enters his third season as the starting quarterback, making him the league's second-most experienced signal caller. He'll be joined by talented running backs Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper.
MINNESOTA: Quarterback MarQueis Gray. Not only is Gray back at his preferred position of quarterback, but he'll be operating in an offense that best suits his talents. It likely will take some time for things to click, but Gray should eventually thrive in a system that values a dual-threat quarterback.
NEBRASKA: The return of three key defenders. Sure, the Huskers lose their share of defensive standouts, but to get defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard all back for their senior seasons is huge. Crick will be the Big Ten's most decorated defensive tackle heading into 2011, and he and the other two form a very solid nucleus for Carl Pelini's unit.
OHIO STATE: No juniors departing to the NFL. The silver lining in the suspension saga is Ohio State returns all of its juniors for the 2011 season. If the Buckeyes can survive the first chunk of their season, they'll welcome back some of the league's more proven offensive performers. Ohio State also got a big boost when center Michael Brewster, who isn't among the suspended players, opted to return for his senior season to anchor the offensive line.
NORTHWESTERN: Dan Persa's work ethic. It's not easy to recover from a ruptured Achilles', but no player will work harder in his rehab than Persa, who already is well ahead of schedule. The quarterback had established himself as the team's hardest worker before the injury, and although time will tell if he reclaims his All-Big Ten form, you have to like his chances.
PENN STATE: A stockpile of offensive skill players. Whoever emerges as Penn State's starting quarterback will be surrounded by plenty of weapons in 2011. Derek Moye leads a receiving corps filled with playmakers, and Silas Redd and Stephfon Green give Penn State two home-run threats at running back. Devon Smith and Justin Brown both should see increased touches this coming season.
PURDUE: An offseason to get healthy. No college football team in America needed a healing period more than Purdue, which could be extremely explosive on offense if several players return at full strength. Quarterback Robert Marve, running back Ralph Bolden and receivers Keith Smith and Justin Siller are among the Boilers on the mend. Reserve quarterback Caleb TerBush also is expected to be back this fall.
WISCONSIN: Running backs Montee Ball and James White. Normally, a team losing its starting quarterback, its most experienced running back and two All-American offensive linemen would have reason to be concerned. But the emergence of both Ball and White plus tremendous depth along the offensive line should put Wisconsin in good shape entering the fall. The quarterback question is a valid one, but the Badgers will be able to run the ball effectively.
Long and relatively lean at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Adams has a body that makes line coaches salivate. Some 300-pound offensive linemen carry their weight poorly. Adams looks fit and boasts tremendous athleticism.
You look at Mike Adams and you immediately think four-year starter, All-Big Ten performer, All-America selection and first-round NFL draft pick. He came to Ohio State as a decorated high school prospect, rated as the nation's No. 1 tackle by one national recruiting service and the No. 8 tackle by ESPN Recruiting in 2008.
Adams still could earn All-Big Ten and All-America honors, and he has time to climb the NFL draft boards. But in many ways, his college career is just getting started.
It took two seasons for Adams to overcome injuries, maturity issues both on and off the field, and the expectations to finally claim the starting left tackle spot for the Buckeyes. He was named Ohio State's Offensive Lineman of the Week following his performance in last Saturday's win against Ohio.
"The game's slowing down for me," Adams told ESPN.com this week. "It’s been a nice little battle I’ve got going, trying to get the mental part of the game together. A lot of guys, when they come in, they either pick it up quick or it might take a little bit longer."
From the moment Adams set foot on campus, he was pegged as a guy who would pick it up quick. Just look at him!
But his development was delayed, partly by injuries. He needed shoulder surgery before his freshman season, played four games that fall and then dealt with a foot injury. Adams missed three games last season because of a knee problem.
The homegrown product from nearby Dublin, Ohio, also had some off-field issues. In March 2009, Adams had a possession of drug paraphernalia charge against him dropped for insufficient evidence after police found a pipe in his car during a traffic stop. Adams also was suspended for Ohio State's first two games in 2009 for undisclosed reasons.
The Buckeyes junior has put those issues behind him and grown up on the field as well.
"He gets better and better all the time," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He's got a lot of ability and he really seems to have grown to understand what it takes to play that left tackle [position]."
Adams was one of three elite offensive line prospects in Ohio State's 2008 class, joining J.B. Shugarts and Michael Brewster. The three met fairly early in high school and have remained close in Columbus.
Brewster became Ohio State's staring center as a true freshman, and Shugarts solidified himself as a starter last year. Adams' status wasn't clear until preseason camp, when he took control and claimed the starting left tackle spot.
"It’s something that really helped me out in the long run," Adams said of the competition. "When you come to college, there are high expectations and you have people coming at you from all angles, saying this, saying that. I'm just trying to live up to it now and get better and take this thing to the next level."
The physical tools are there, and if Adams continues to win the mind game, quarterback Terrelle Pryor should stay clean and the Buckeyes should go a long way this season.
"The more sure you are of everything in and around you, the better you’re going to be," Tressel said. "He's got height, weight, speed, he's got good feet, he's got good technique. He's got some outstanding challenges in front of him here, but I think he can be very good."
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 ...
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."
Here are some notable nuggets from what they had to say:
- 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."
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
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams as they prepare for the start of league play on Saturday.
Illinois -- The defensive line might finally be taking shape for the Illini after some illness/injury issues. Sophomore Josh Brent is back in the fold at defensive tackle, which has allowed standout Will Davis to move back to his natural position of defensive end. Freshman Cory Liuget also has emerged at defensive tackle, a spot vacated when projected starterSirod Williams tore his ACL during training camp. "It's important that we can [rotate] guys in there and keep us fresh," head coach Ron Zook said. Zook called the defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group will need to elevate its play Saturday night against Penn State's powerful rushing attack, which ranks eighth nationally (274.3 ypg).
Indiana -- When the NCAA cleared Florida transfer Jerimy Finch to play this season, Indiana's secondary looked like one of the deepest groups on the team. That depth will be tested Saturday against Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). The Hoosiers will be without at least one starting safety (Nick Polk, knee) and could miss their other starter, as strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury. Coach Bill Lynch announced that starting cornerback Chris Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So the Hoosiers could be replacing three starters against the Spartans. Finch figures to see plenty of time.
Michigan -- A bye week allowed Michigan's offensive line time to heal, though a knee injury to tackle Perry Dorrestein last week in practice clouded things a bit. Mark Ortmann is expected back from a dislocated elbow and should rotate at left tackle with Dorrestein if Dorrestein can play. Left tackle is one of three offensive line spots that have an "OR" listed between potential starters on the depth chart. Converted defensive linemanJohn Ferrara could start at right guard in place of David Moosman, who is listed at both guard and center on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Huyge also should be back from an ankle injury, so the coaches have some decisions to make up front.
Minnesota -- True freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has stepped up in the two games after Duane Bennett's knee injury, but coach Tim Brewster isn't quite ready to call Eskridge his featured back. Brewster said Eskridge, freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas all will play Saturday at No. 14 Ohio State, and Minnesota will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The coach admitted that identifying a clear-cut starter has become less of a concern than it was after Bennett went down. Eskridge has 192 rushing yards and five touchdowns the last two games.
Ohio State -- Quarterback isn't the only offensive position where youth will be served Saturday against Minnesota. Freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center on this week's depth chart after playing a prominent role last week against Troy. The Buckeyes movedJim Cordle from center to left guard after Steve Rehring injured his foot against USC. Rehring will miss "another week or so," coach Jim Tressel said, so that means more time for Brewster, one of several heralded freshmen in Ohio State's recruiting class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
When Ohio State selected its four captains last month, left tackle Alex Boone didn't seem too disappointed to not be among them. Boone pointed out that he joked around too much to sit at the captain's table. The 6-foot-8, 312-pound senior is definitely entertaining, but he's also brutally honest, making him a media favorite. Boone didn't hold back Tuesday, ripping Ohio State fans for booing quarterback Todd Boeckman last Saturday against Troy.
|Alex Boone knows the Buckeyes still have a lot to play for.|
I spoke to Boone later that night and he sounded off on several topics, including Terrelle Pryor's rapid rise, Ohio State's subpar offensive line play, the USC aftermath, the possible return of running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and whether he regrets passing up NFL millions to stay another year in Columbus.
Terrelle's been named the starter now. What has been the reaction on the line? I know a lot of you guys are close to Todd. Has it been easy to embrace Terrelle so far?
Alex Boone: Absolutely. We would never not embrace him. He's our quarterback. Whoever's back there, we'll take care of them. That's our thing. We've got to protect, and that's one thing we need to work on and do a little bit better, protecting. Him back there, he's another quarterback, he's a great person and we'll follow him.
Was it obvious to you right away that there wouldn't be a rift in the locker room? Sometimes people side with one quarterback over the other.
AB: A lot of the guys were more surprised to see [Terrelle start] last week. But coach [Jim Tressel], whatever he wants, he does, and we'll block for whoever's back there.
You mentioned the protection issues up front. As a line, how would you grade yourselves at this point in the season as a group.
AB: I'm going to be completely honest right now. I'm going to say this and I'll probably get in trouble, but we would probably get an 'F' if I were to grade myself and the line. We need to step up and we really need to start straining and holding that line of scrimmage and start giving guys time. We have great wide receivers, but they don't have time to get open. We have a great quarterback, and he doesn't have time to throw it. So we really have to push ourselves to hold for another second.
Is there any explanation for that? You're veteran linemen, you know each other, you've played next to each other for a while.
AB: It would probably be sometimes our technique is off or sometimes we're not off the ball right away. A lot of times it's just being lazy. And that's so terrible to say because it's a football game and you should always be up for it, but sometimes it just doesn't happen like that. So I think we really need to get a fire under our rear and kick it into high gear and start blocking.
Do you think it was maybe that you had done it so long, that you look to your experience maybe too much, you don't have the same fire you had as a freshman?
AB: Oh, absolutely. Sometimes you sit back there and you're like, 'Oh, I can muscle this guy. I can manhandle this guy. This is my fourth year. I can do whatever I want.' But that's not the case. There's guys out there. They're young, they're excited, they're strong, they're fast. You always have to show discipline and respect for the other player and you've got to play fast.