NCF Nation: Ned Tavale
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.
Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.
Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.
Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.
Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.
Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.
Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.
Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The hire didn't make waves around the country and barely registered on the Big Ten radar.
When Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster replaced offensive line coach Phil Meyer with Tim Davis on Nov. 25, it was deemed a solid and necessary move for a struggling unit. Earth-shattering? Not quite. That's what happens when head coaches or coordinators are hired and fired.
How much impact could a new position coach possibly have, especially with a bowl game only a month away?
Minnesota is about to find out.
"This is no exaggeration," junior guard Ned Tavale said. "We have changed our whole identity. Right when he set foot, he made his name known. He basically came in, took us all by the collar and just told us, 'This is how it's going to be. Whatever you learned in the past, take it off because I'm going to teach you guys from square one.'"
The Golden Gophers likely won't be a finished product when they face Kansas on Wednesday in the Insight Bowl, but the front five will have a decidedly different look, thanks to Davis, who also will oversee Minnesota's running game.
The West Coast offense is being reduced, while the power run is back at Minnesota. The two-point stance is out, and Tavale and his linemates will have their hands in the turf against the Jayhawks. Outside runs are being phased out, in favor of between-the-tackles power plays. Tavale and his fellow guards are constantly on the move, occasionally two or three at a time.
Minnesota football is starting to look a lot like ... Minnesota football.
And Davis is just getting started.
"To think, we had all our calls for the entire year, two years, and then within a matter of days, he basically said, 'You know, forget that. This is what you've got to do,'" Tavale said. "He wasn't being unreasonable. He was just being honest. We know where we want to go. We've all got to buy into the system."
After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (105.8 ypg) this season, the Gophers had no choice. Brewster admitted his team got beat up down the stretch, when it lost its final four games, and a new philosophy up front was necessary.
Minnesota had to return to its roots and Davis, who has coached offensive lines at USC, Wisconsin, Alabama and in the NFL, became the obvious choice.
"He's made an unbelievable impression," Brewster said. "He's got so much experience. His energy, his enthusiasm; he's a perfect fit for me."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to take a look inside five Big Ten teams:
Indiana -- After two cakewalk victories, the Hoosiers face their first test of the season Saturday against Ball State and need a solid effort from their secondary, which might be without a big piece. Strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury sustained last week at practice. Coach Bill Lynch said Thomas, the team's leading tackler last fall, won't practice much this week leading up to the game. If Thomas can't go, heralded Florida transfer Jerimy Finch would get the nod. The matchup with Nate Davis and the Cardinals would give the Hoosiers a great chance to evaluate Finch, considered arguably the nation's best safety coming out of high school.
Iowa -- The Hawkeyes still don't have a definitive starting quarterback, but coach Kirk Ferentz reiterates that the situation under center looks much more stable than it did a year ago because the team boasts two players (Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi) capable of running the offense. Stanzi started the last two games, but Ferentz is leaning toward Christensen for Saturday's game at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET). Throughout the competition Ferentz has given Christensen every chance to cement himself as the starter. If the junior steps up against the Panthers, Iowa could finally decide to stick with him.
Minnesota -- There could be some shuffling on the offensive line after tackle Dom Alford sprained his ankle last week. Coach Tim Brewster is holding out hope Alford can return Saturday against Florida Atlantic, but junior Ryan Ruckdashel or backup right tackle Jason Meinke likely will get the nod. Redshirt freshman Trey Davis will start at center, but Brewster thinks there's a chance Jeff Tow-Arnett can return from a knee injury. Ned Tavale should return after an ankle injury and is expected to share time with Chris Bunders at right guard.
Ohio State -- Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will continue to see increased playing time Saturday against Troy and could split snaps 50-50 with senior Todd Boeckman for the second straight game. Pryor impressed coach Jim Tressel with the way he handled the spotlight last week against USC and made no major mistakes, while Boeckman threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Tressel won't name a starter until later in the week. Though the coach is usually partial to seniors, he doesn't tolerate turnovers and admits he's surprised at how quickly Pryor has grasped the system after getting far fewer reps than Boeckman during the preseason.
Penn State -- A rapidly evaporating group of defensive linemen forced Joe Paterno to move Mike Lucian from offensive guard to defensive tackle last week against Syracuse. The switch might have backfired as Lucian sustained an ankle injury, but Paterno expects the senior to be ready for Saturday's game against Temple. Paterno remains "very concerned" about the depth on the defensive line, and more moves could be on the way if Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma remain suspended. The Lions can't afford injuries to reserve tackles Tom McEowen and Chima Okoli.