NCF Nation: Nick Polk


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Indiana defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton don't shy away from responsibility.

 
 AP Photo/Getty Images
 Greg Middleton (92) led the country in sacks (16) in 2007, and Jammie Kirlew racked up 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2008.
They want to carry the burden for an improved Hoosiers defense. And who better to take on such a task?

No defensive end tandem in the FBS has combined for more career sacks than Kirlew and Middleton (40). Middleton had his breakthrough in 2007, leading the nation with 16 sacks and finishing as a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award. Kirlew followed last fall with a huge season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after finishing second in the league in sacks (10.5) and third in tackles for loss (20).

Like his teammate the year before, Kirlew was named a Hendricks Award finalist.

"Just thinking about it, it’s amazing having two very talented defensive ends on the same team at the same time," Kirlew said. "We should definitely be doing damage. We expect it of ourselves. We have to have big games to help our team do well."

The tandem needs its best game Saturday against Michigan, which has surged offensively in its second year under head coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines lead the league in scoring through three games (38 points per game) and boast a ton of speed at all the skill positions.

While Indiana's defense has made obvious strides from 2008 -- the Hoosiers rank among the top four in the Big Ten in rushing defense (76 ypg), sacks (9), scoring (17.7 ppg), total defense (312.3) and opponent third down conversion percentage (29.4) -- Michigan provides a much bigger challenge than any of the teams IU has faced.

To have a shot at the upset, Indiana needs both Kirlew and Middleton to apply steady heat on freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.

"They’ve got great speed and their quarterbacks are playing very well," Indiana head coach Bill Lynch said. "It certainly helps to have Jammie and Greg, the experience they bring and the way they’ve been playing the first three weeks. They’ve really set the tone for the defense.

"They’ve been a force, particularly in some key situations, in the first three games.”

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching, and so is spring practice. Fellow bloggers Heather Dinich and Ted Miller passed out roses to teams in their leagues earlier Friday.

I'm not too big on flowers (neither is my fiancée, thankfully), so here are five Valentine's Day gifts for prominent Big Ten figures.

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Coach Rich Rodriguez would love some improved quarterback play.

1. A quarterback for Rich Rodriguez -- Any improvement Michigan makes must start at the quarterback position, which was a disaster for most of 2008. Whether freshmen Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson step up or holdovers Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan elevate their play, Rod deserves a quarterback who can run the spread offense without tripping over his feet.

2. A wide receiver for Daryll Clark -- Clark, the Penn State quarterback, loses top targets Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Butler finished as Penn State's all-time receptions leader, and Williams was a unique talent. Clark is a smart, efficient quarterback, but he needs a capable target to emerge in spring ball. Another offensive lineman would be nice, too.

3. A magic healing potion for Bill Lynch -- The Indiana head coach saw his roster completely depleted by injuries last season. Indiana isn't at a point where it can survive a rash of injuries, and Lynch needs his key contributors healthy, particularly in the secondary and along the offensive line. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk remain out for spring ball, but Indiana should get a few players back in the mix.

4. An offensive identity for Minnesota -- There were a lot of changes in the Twin Cities this winter, as the Gophers hired new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run-game coordinator Tim Davis. The spread is dead and Fisch wants to run a pro-style system, but Minnesota must improve its run game. There will be an adjustment period for players, but they need to get on the same page fast.

5. A quarterback for Bret Bielema -- The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and another competition is coming this spring. Game managers have worked at Wisconsin before, but Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr are solid recruits who can do more. Wisconsin must demand bigger things from its quarterbacks going forward.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

In addition to the big news that Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker will miss Saturday's game at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), here are some other injury updates from around the Big Ten.

MICHIGAN
Head coach Rich Rodriguez said quarterback Steven Threet (concussion) is improving and should return to practice today. If Threet practices, he will split first-team snaps with Nick Sheridan. Threet made eight consecutive starts before sitting out last week as Sheridan helped Michigan to a 29-6 win at Minnesota.

Running back Brandon Minor (shoulder, wrist, ribs) also is improving but won't practice today. Rodriguez hopes Minor can practice later this week, though it's unlikely the junior will start Saturday against Northwestern (ESPN2, noon ET).

"Obviously he's very questionable for this weekend," Rodriguez said. "We'll see how he responds [Wednesday] and Thursday. He's definitely not going to practice today. He's a tough guy and I'm sure if he's able to go at all in practice this week, he will."

INDIANA
Quarterbacks Kellen Lewis (ankle) and Ben Chappell (head) both should be fine for Saturday's game at No. 8 Penn State after leaving last week's loss to Wisconsin with injuries, head coach Bill Lynch said.

Linebacker Will Patterson (knee) will miss the Penn State game, while cornerback Richard Council (ankle) is questionable and likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by Donnell Jones. Indiana already has lost three starters in the secondary -- cornerback Chris Phillips and safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk -- to season-ending knee injuries.

WISCONSIN
Starting middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden (concussion) has been cleared and will practice today. Right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel will undergo an MRI on his lower right leg and could return to practice Wednesday.

PURDUE
Fifth-year senior quarterback Curtis Painter (separated throwing shoulder) is improving and should return to practice today. Painter told head coach Joe Tiller that he threw about 50 passes Monday -- the team is off that day -- and experienced minimal pain.

Tiller said Purdue likely will start redshirt freshman Justin Siller for the third consecutive game but could rotate Siller and Painter from series to series against Iowa.

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
11:50
AM ET

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

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I've arrived safely in Columbus and it's still early enough to call this a morning briefing, so it is. I'll be heading over to Ohio State for interviews this afternoon, but first here's what's going on around the Big Ten as training camps wind down.

  • A major renovation of Memorial Stadium is almost complete, and Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther will turn his attention to other matters, including whether to continue playing the annual football game with Missouri in St. Louis or switch to campus venues, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune. Illinois-Missouri used to be just a basketball rivalry, but both teams are on the upswing. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Loren Tate takes a look at most hyped games in the series history.
  • Jerimy Finch gives Indiana's defense another playmaker and requires the coaches to be creative with their lineup, possibly pairing Finch with Nick Polk at safety or using the Florida transfer at linebacker, the Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog. Indiana got some more good news Thursday as talented freshman wideout Tandon Doss is cleared to play after being sidelined by an academic issue.
  • Here's a closer look at the Iowa depth chart, which includes two starting quarterbacks and no Shonn Greene, who still is expected to play a major role. Greene wasn't as much of a couch potato last year as roommate Albert Young indicated, but his exile from the program took a toll, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
  • An injury to a right guard rarely spells doom, but Michigan's offensive line looks thinner without Cory Zirbel, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Michigan State's coaches have a new $15.5 million recruiting tool, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Spartans star running back Javon Ringer, one of four team captains announced Thursday, will face a new look from Cal's defense in the opener, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Minnesota shuffled its defense, going big at middle linebacker with Lee Campbell moving over from defensive end, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. The shift creates an interesting competition at outside linebacker between veterans Deon Hightower and Steve Davis.
  • Ohio State senior linebacker Marcus Freeman loves the pub -- and the double teams -- teammate James Laurinaitis receives, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises checks in with former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith. Why was a Division III swimming coach talking to the Ohio State football team, especially since he's not a fan? Because he wins national championships.
  • Quarterback isn't the only starting spot in Penn State's offensive backfield not yet determined. Here's a look at the running backs, courtesy of The Altoona Mirror's Todd Irwin. Joe Paterno didn't say much during an interview with the Big Ten Network, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane writes in his blog. Penn State has stayed relatively healthy during the preseason, Bob Flounders writes in The Patriot-News.
  • Ultra-confident Kory Sheets might tick off Purdue's coaches at times, but he's ready to carry the load at running back, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The Boilers' lack of linebacker depth forced the team to move Joe Holland from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
  • Jaevery McFadden is the man in the middle for Wisconsin's defense, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Offensive line depth is a concern for the Badgers entering the season, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.

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