NCF Nation: Rodger Saffold

Welcome to National Depth Chart Day. No day on the college football calendar inspires more curiosity about depth charts than the Monday before the season, when most teams release their Week 1 two-deeps.

(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)

I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.

Here's what stood out:

INDIANA
  • Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
  • Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
  • The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
  • Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
IOWA
  • Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
  • James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
  • Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
MICHIGAN
  • Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
  • Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
  • True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
  • Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
  • Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
  • Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
  • Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
OHIO STATE
  • Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
  • Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
  • Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
  • Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
PENN STATE
  • Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
  • Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
  • Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
  • Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
WISCONSIN
  • After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
  • Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
  • The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.
It seemed only fitting that Saturday's East-West Shrine Game was decided on a touchdown connection between two Big Ten players.

The Big Ten contingent represented extremely well in Orlando, particularly in crunch time.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka capped an impressive two-minute drill by finding Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard touchdown with six seconds left in the game. The score lifted the East team to a 13-10 victory.

Kafka and Quarless were two of several Big Ten NFL hopefuls who played big roles in the win. Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, a defensive end-turned linebacker, had an interception in the first half and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark led two scoring drives for the East team.

Quarless, Clark and Penn State punter Jeremy Boone won at Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium for the second time in three weeks. Thankfully for all of the players in the Shrine Game, the field conditions were a lot better this time around.

Kafka, who earned Offensive MVP honors, completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 150 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Clark was extremely efficient as a passer, completing 7 of 10 attempts for 75 yards.

Michigan State's Blair White recorded game highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (93), while Quarless had three receptions for 20-yards, including an exceptional one-handed grab on the final drive. Boone averaged 46 yards on five punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line.

ESPN's Scouts Inc. singled out Kafka and Indiana offensive lineman Rodger Saffold for their strong performances in the game.

Needless to say, several players improved their draft stock on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see if the Big Ten can keep its postseason momentum going this week at the Senior Bowl.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Prognostication guru Phil Steele released his preseason All-Big Ten teams Tuesday, and fans of Penn State and Ohio State undoubtedly will be pleased.

Although both teams lost sizable and decorated senior classes, Penn State put six players on Steele's first team, while Ohio State has four. The big surprise is that Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, widely considered the league's best signal-caller, slipped to the third team behind Illinois' Juice Williams and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.

Steele also released his preseason All-America teams, and here's the breakdown for the Big Ten:

First team -- Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, Michigan P Zoltan Mesko

Second team -- Penn State RB Evan Royster, Iowa LT Bryan Bulaga, Minnesota WR Eric Decker, Penn State LB Sean Lee

Third team -- Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Ohio State PR Ray Small

Fourth team -- Ohio State LG Justin Boren, Northwestern DE Corey Wootton, Illinois LB Martez Wilson, Michigan State LB Greg Jones

Getting back to the Big Ten list, which was generally pretty solid but had some interesting notes and surprises:

  • There are clearly two elite wide receivers in the Big Ten in Benn and Decker. After that, it's a crapshoot. Purdue's Keith Smith was the third wideout named to Steele's first team. Unproven players like Minnesota's Hayo Carpenter (second team), Ohio State's DeVier Posey (third team) and Northwestern's Andrew Brewer (fourth team) also earned recognition.
  • I was a little surprised to see Purdue's Jaycen Taylor listed as a second-team running back ahead of Iowa's Jewel Hampton. Taylor comes off an ACL injury and never beat out Kory Sheets for the starting job when he was healthy. Hampton filled in very well behind Shonn Greene last year.
  • Michigan State running back Edwin Baker was the only incoming freshman to make Steele's list as a fourth-teamer.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for spring ball after receiving a DUI in February, is listed on the first team next to Odrick. Brent is a talented player, but Purdue's Mike Neal might have been the safer pick here.
  • The offensive line selections were interesting. Experience beat out potential as Wisconsin's John Moffitt earned the second-team nod over Ohio State's Mike Brewster. I was very surprised not to see Northwestern linemen Al Netter or Ben Burkett on the list. Indiana had two linemen selected (Cody Faulkner and Rodger Saffold) despite really struggling in that area a year ago, and Iowa surprisingly only had tackles Bryan Bulaga (first team) and Kyle Calloway (second team) on the rundown.

Big Ten internal affairs: Week 13

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
11:12
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa -- Kicker continues to be a question mark for the Hawkeyes with the re-emergence of junior Daniel Murray in recent weeks. Murray, who made the game-winning field goal against Penn State, connected on a 45-yard attempt last week against Purdue. Starter Trent Mossbrucker missed two extra-point attempts against the Boilers, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said the freshman needs a strong week of practice to reclaim a spot on the field Saturday at Minnesota. Mossbrucker had performed well entering the Penn State game, but Ferentz went with the more experienced Murray in the clutch. "He's been kicking a long time," Ferentz said of Mossbrucker. "He knows a lot more about it than I do or anybody here does. Yeah, just get back to what's made you a successful player. He'll be fine."

Michigan -- It will be interesting to see how head coach Rich Rodriguez uses his running backs Saturday at No. 10 Ohio State (ABC, noon ET). Junior Brandon Minor, the Wolverines' most productive back during the second half of the season, expects to return from a multitude of injuries against the Buckeyes. But junior Carlos Brown comes off his best performance, a 115-yard effort against Northwestern, and freshman Michael Shaw also is in the mix. Brown and Shaw likely will get the first opportunities against the Buckeyes, but Minor will be a factor. Michigan has racked up 170 rushing yards or more in five of its last six games.

Penn State -- Derrick Williams is playing his best football at the end of his career, and the Nittany Lions are doing all they can to get the ball to the talented senior. Two weeks ago, Williams took snaps at quarterback as Penn State used a Wildcat-like formation at Iowa. Last week against Indiana, he racked up 164 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, getting eight touches on offense to go with three returns. If quarterback Daryll Clark continues to struggle early against Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), don't be surprised to see Williams with the ball in his hands. Also, defensive end Josh Gaines (ankle) practiced Monday and is expected to play against the Spartans.

Illinois -- The days of removing Juice Williams from games to let him regroup appeared over after the Illini junior quarterback had a scorching start to the 2008 season. But after committing two turnovers last Saturday against Ohio State, the coaches replaced Williams with backup Eddie McGee. Williams has committed nine turnovers (8 interceptions, 1 fumble) in Illinois' last four games. He leads the Big Ten in both touchdown passes (22) and interceptions (15) this season. Still, head coach Ron Zook maintains confidence in Williams heading into the regular-season finale at Northwestern. "A lot of times he gets a lot of the blame that isn't necessarily his fault," Zook said. "That's part of it as well and it gets exaggerated when things aren't going right, particularly with a football team that was expected to play a little bit better and be a little bit more productive than we have been."

Indiana -- After dealing with a multitude of injuries all season, the Hoosiers appear to be getting healthy right at the end. Tackle Rodger Saffold returned to action against Penn State, and the other starting offensive linemen are all fine for Saturday's season finale at Purdue (ESPN2, noon ET). Head coach Bill Lynch isn't sure if backup running back Bryan Payton (ankle) will play, though Payton did more in practice Monday than he has in previous weeks. Running back Marcus Thigpen and wideout Mitchell Evans should be fine, and Indiana actually will have the option of playing either Kellen Lewis or Ben Chappell at quarterback. The Hoosiers previously had been forced to rotate the two because both have been banged up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State doesn't need Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma to beat lowly Syracuse, but both starting defensive linemen could be suspended for the second straight week. A source tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Musselman thatboth players will miss the Syracuse game, though their long-term playing status remains undecided.

No charges have been filed against either player at this time. 

Elsewhere:

"In the huddle, I mean, [Stanzi] is a little more calm and relaxed. Jake [Christensen] is more business focused, I think. Either way you look at them, they both have their positive aspects. You want a guy in the huddle that is going to be business focused and wanting to win, but, at the same time, you want a guy who is not riled up and every little thing doesn't get him excited."
Interesting stuff. Also, if you have time, check out the YouTube video with Stanzi's highlights set to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Hilarious music choice.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Indiana head coach Bill Lynch breaks down the team's personnel in the second half of my interview with him (for Part I, click here).

Does Kellen [Lewis] still have the respect of his teammates? I'm sure some were disappointed after his suspension. 

Bill Lynch: Yeah, I'm sure. But ever since he's been back, he's certainly earned it. And the players wanted him back. That was a part of the whole thing while he was gone, and I had told him that, 'I'm going to check with a lot of people and one of them is your teammates.' And they wanted him back. And he's done everything we've asked and he's practiced well, he's practiced hard, he hasn't missed a rep. So I'm not worried about that.

Did you feel like you were losing him at any point?

BL: The best word to use is I was hopeful through the whole thing. 

As far as the defense, you had some great individual performers last year, but does the unit need to take another step?

BL: I think so. We're in the same defensive scheme for the fourth year, and that's really important. The position coaches are the same. And this is a game of repetitions, it really is. The more you do it, the better you get and the consistency is so important. We've been able to develop that. But we've also developed depth and overall team speed on defense. Our linebacker play is the starting point. We really feel like we're two-deep with guys who fit the mold physically in terms of size and strength and speed, but experience now, as well. We have much more depth at d-line. We've got a name guy in [Greg] Middleton, but [Jammie] Kirlew and [Ryan] Marando and Greg Brown and Deonte Mack and the Burrus brothers [Keith and Kevin], we've got some depth. We've got solid safeties in Austin Thomas and Nick Polk. Chris Phillips is a very solid player. He played some good football for us. And then the other kids are coming along at the other corner. We haven't made a decision on that yet. 

As far as the quarterback decision, do you have a timetable?

BL: I'm going to sit down with [offensive coordinator] Matt Canada, our quarterback coach and coordinator, because we haven't done that. At some point, you make that decision based on not only what's best for the two kids involved, but also what's best for the football team. We're getting to the point where we need to sit down and have that conversation. We've really been through the grind of camp. Starting out, we talked about we would get through the camp and there was going to be 1 and 1A, but we really have rotated them a lot. The reps have been almost even. 

Is playing both of them in the discussion?

BL: We haven't talked about that. I'm not, at this point, thinking that's what we're going to do. They're both capable. We can win with both of them. 

Offensive line, any concerns there with depth?

BL: We've kind of missed our left guard and left tackle [Pete Saxon and Rodger Saffold] since before last weekend, but both of them, we feel like by game week, will be out there going. We're being smart this week. Those are our two most experienced guys, but what it's done is some young kids have gotten a ton of reps. So as a result of some injuries, we've been able to develop some depth. But [the offensive line] doesn't have the same depth as the d-line has.

Who have stood out among the freshmen?

BL: We've got a couple wideouts. [Damarlo Belcher] had a really good day today and he's been coming on. I still think Darius Willis, our running back, has got a chance. We haven't decided what we're going to do there, either, because we've got some older guys ahead of him. But he's everything we thought he was going to be, and he's going to be a complete back. It would probably take some injuries at the other places for somebody else to play.

Willis is a bigger guy. Is that a novelty a bit in this offense?

BL: Not necessarily. It's nice to have, but [Marcus] Thigpen has something to offer because of his speed and experience and ability to play to play wide receiver when we go into different formations. [Bryan] Payton's a tough, hard-nosed guy that has played.  [Trea] Burgess is a solid guy who has gained yards as a special teams guy. And [Demetrius McCray's] a little bit of a guy that we're anxious to see keep going because he's missed a lot of time with injuries, and he's been able to stay healthy through the whole camp. And then you've got Darius. It's really a matter of giving everybody work before we kind of decide which way we're going to go. 

You mentioned gaining national respect is a goal. Do you think you've gained some respect in the Big Ten?

BL: A little bit. If you look at the preseason picks, we haven't gained a whole lot. But it takes time. We're gonna earn it. That's our job to do that, not worry about it at this point. You've got to do it more than one year. I firmly believe that. We took a step last year and it was a start. We've got a lot more to do.

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