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Big Ten Spring College Football Practice Update

College football players started reporting for spring practices over the past few weeks, meaning it’s time to take a look at the programs and see what we can expect in the fall. Let’s start by taking a look at the teams in the Big Ten and then be sure to take a look at our 2010 NCAA football preview. See something you like or dislike in the Big Ten spring update? Be sure to discuss it on one of the many great Big Ten forums listed in our NCAA message board directory.

 

Illinois

  • Cornerback Terry Hawthorne, recruited as one of the country’s top wide receivers, will officially remain on defense full-time in 2010 after establishing himself as one of the country’s most promising cornerbacks in the second half of 2009.

  • The Illini have added a new position on their defense called the ‘bandit’, which is expected to be a defensive end/linebacker hybrid. Sophomore Justin Staples is considered the early favorite to fill the role.

  • While head coach Ron Zook will likely refrain from naming a starting quarterback until some point in the fall, freshman Nathan Scheelhaase appears to have moved ahead of sophomore Jacob Charest in the battle to replace Juice Williams. Scheelhaase’s mobility and productivity in scrimmages were impressive throughout the Spring.

  • Speaking of quarterbacks, longtime backup Eddie McGee is now one of the Illini’s top wide receivers. McGee’s most notable play in 2009 was a 42 yard catch that helped clinch a win over Minnesota and he is widely expected to be one of Illinois’ starting wide receivers.

Indiana

  • A major point of emphasis this Spring was to improve the run attack and it didn’t appear to be successful. Starting tailback Darius Willis had injury issues and the Hoosiers combined for negative 38 yards in the first half of their Spring Game.

  • Early enrollee Antonio Banks was impressive in a special teams role and is expected to contribute in 2010 at tailback and on kick returns

  • The Hoosiers announced a uniform change for 2010, debuting jerseys that harken back to their 1967 Rose Bowl team, the only squad in school history to make the trip to Pasadena.

  • Quarterback Ben Chappell and wideout Tandon Doss should make up one of the most dangerous combinations in the Big Ten this fall as both showed strong chemistry all year. But Charles Love III could become a viable second option after a strong Spring that culminated with a winning TD catch in the Spring Game.

Iowa

  • Iowa’s biggest position of concern heading into 2010 will be on the offensive line thanks to three open positions but head coach Kirk Ferentz was very positive about the development along the front. It appears that Markus Zusevics will join returning starter Reilly Reiff at tackle and Adam Gettis will join returning starter Julian Vandervelde at guard atop the depth chart.

  • The final position available on the line, center, features a competition between Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz, the coach’s son. If the younger Ferentz wins the competition, which is sure to stretch into the fall, he would be the second Ferentz child to start on Iowa’s line during father Kirk’s tenure as head coach.

  • After winning 11 games in 2009 despite losing four tailbacks along the way, Hawkeye fans will be relieved to know that Iowa looks very healthy in the backfield this Spring. Sophomore Jewel Hampton, who was expected to have a big 2009 before injuring his knee in the preseason, has been 100% healthy (though he’s been held out of contact drills) and should be ready to play a big role in Iowa’s backfield in 2010.

  • Iowa didn’t hold a proper Spring Game this season as coach Kirk Ferentz preferred to run a sparsely attended event that functioned as a glorified practice. With the injury issues that his team ran into in 2009, can anyone blame him for forgoing putting his players in position to get hurt when he’s returning such a veteran team?

 

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Michigan

  • The Wolverines are expected to unveil a 3-3-5 defense as their primary set in the fall. The explanation is that the switch is to take advantage of Michigan’s young talent but more cynical Wolverine fans will tell you it is a way to mask their shortcomings at linebacker.

  • There was an open competition at quarterback all Spring between sophomores Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson and early enrollee Devin Gardner. While it is tough to believe that Forcier won’t eventually get the nod, all three QBs were given a shot for the duration of practice and Robinson showed a significantly stronger grasp of the offense and was compared favorably with Pat White at this stage in his development by Coach Rodriguez.

  • Roy Roundtree has become Michigan’s unquestioned #1 receiving target. After putting together two solid years and showing flashes of greatness, Roundtree will enter 2010 coming off of a strong Spring practice that saw him catch a 97 yard touchdown bomb in the Spring Game and generally set the tone for Michigan’s wideouts.

  • Redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon was declared the leader heading into fall camp at both kick and punt returns by Rodriguez after the conclusion of the Spring Game. Gallon appears to have worked hard during his development year to improve his strength and speed.

Michigan State

  • Keith Nichol, last season’s backup quarterback, impressed in an expanded role at wide receiver during the Spring after acquitting himself well at the position in the Alamo Bowl. Expect Nichol to enter the season as one of the team’s starting wide receivers and only serving as an emergency option at quarterback.

  • Redshirt Freshman Andrew Maxwell is expected to fill Nichol’s place as the backup quarterback to junior Kirk Cousins this fall after a solid spring. The Spartans appear to have one of the strongest quarterback situations in the conference heading into 2010.

  • The Spartans made headlines as their defense began to install a 3-4 scheme. While head coach Mark Dantonio says that it won’t be their primary look, MSU has certainly recruited enough linebacker talent (including 5 star freshman William Gholston) to make the switch an effective move.

  • Another reason that a 3-4 might get a bit of run is the lack of depth at defensive end. In a 4-3 set, it appears very unlikely that the Spartans will be able to effective rush the QB without blitzing, making the exotic blitz schemes of a 3-4 set very appealing to Dantonio.

 



Minnesota

  • The Gophers entered Spring with the expectations that their safety play would be one of the strengths of the team. However, the status of both starters will be up in the air this fall as Kim Royston (broken leg) and Kyle Theret (DUI suspension) had negative spring outings, leaving Minnesota with a huge question mark at safety.

  • Perhaps the brightest spot of Spring was Minnesota’s development at the Offensive Line positions. After blocking for the 104 th and 111 th ranked rushing attack the last two years, a newly simplified scheme has allowed the line, which returns all five starters from 2009, to return to basics. Expect a much improved running game this fall.

  • That should be music to the ears of 4 th year starting quarterback Adam Weber, who appears to have withstood a challenge from sophomore MarQuis Grey for the starter’s role. Weber will be operating under his 4 th different offensive coordinator in as many years and will benefit from a scaled down scheme.

Northwestern

  • Northwestern announced that this year’s game against rival Illinois will take place at historic Wrigley Field on November 20 th, making the in-state showdown the first football game to take place at the home of the Cubs since 1970.

  • Defense will always rule the day with former All-American linebacker Pat Fitzgerald running the show and that was the theme of the Spring Game as the Wildcats clamped down the still-learning offense and didn’t allow a score.

  • Junior Dan Persa was named the starting quarterback over redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, a decision that came as no surprise after Persa played well in limited action last fall. Expect Persa to favorably compare to last year’s starter, Mike Kafka, in both style and productivity.

Ohio State

  • Quarterback Terrelle Pryor appeared to be fully healthy after undergoing offseason knee surgery after playing the 2 nd half of 2010 and the Rose Bowl with an injured PCL. Coach Jim Tressel believed that Pryor made significant progress in improving his footwork and it showed in Pryor’s brief but excellent appearance in the Spring Game.

  • Linebacker Ettiene Sabino appears to have taken the reins at strong side linebacker and will replace departed senior Austin Spitler as the Buckeyes’ 3 rd starting ‘backer next to Ross Homan and Brian Rolle

  • Sophomore Tight End Jake Stoneburner spent much of the Spring functioning as a major pass receiving threat, a departure from recent tradition at the position in Columbus. While there is still doubt that the tight end will play a major role in the offense, there is no doubt that Stoneburner is more than capable of being a major player in 2010.

  • Left tackle, an area of concern for all of 2009, appears to have been nailed down by junior Mike Adams, a former 5* prospect. If Adams can avoid the off-field issues that have plagued him the past two seasons, Ohio State could have one of the country’s best O-Lines.


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Penn State

  • While the Nittany Lions signed two elite quarterbacks in February, don’t expect either to start for PSU this fall. Joe Paterno said "Do you want to go down to Tuscaloosa with freshmen?" in reference to an early season game with Alabama. Expect sophomores Kevin Newsome or Matt McGloin to be under center in the fall.

  • Paterno was also displeased with his team’s progress, saying “We’re not a very good team right now.” Areas of particular annoyance for the living legend included the offensive line and quarterback positions.

  • DT Tom McEowen decided to forgo his 5 th year of eligibility and will move to his non-football career after graduating this spring.

  • Starting Safety Drew Astorino, linebacker Michael Mauti and potential #2 tailback Brandon Beachum all missed the spring, slowing the development of three players expected to make a major contributions in 2010.

Purdue

  • Defensive End Ryan Kerrigan, who injured his foot in the season finale victory over Indiana, re-injured the foot early and missed the rest of spring practice. Boilermaker fans should hope for a quick recovery as he Purdue’s best D-Lineman.

  • Kerrigan’s injury might not have been the worst one that Purdue suffered. Tailback Ralph Bolden, who was widely believed to be on the verge of a breakout season, might miss the entirety of 2010 due to a non-contact knee injury. If Bolden is lost then redshirt freshman Al-Terek McBurse is the favorite to start but the Boilermakers will sorely miss Bolden’s explosive talent.

  • Speaking of injuries, perhaps no team in the entire country suffered more health issues than the Boilermakers. At one point, Purdue had ten starters sidelined and coach Danny Hope pushed back two practices until after the Spring Game to allow his players time to heal.

  • Quarterback Robert Marve, a Miami (FL) transfer, is widely expected to be the starter in the fall. He made headlines by refusing to do interviews without his Offensive line and looked strong throughout practice.

 

Wisconsin

  • The Badgers will be hoping for full health from starter Scott Tolzien because #2 QB Curt Phillips will miss the 2010 season due to a knee injury suffered in an early practice.

  • Tailback Zach Brown, expected to be the 3 rd string option in the fall, impressed while top starter John Clay and backup Montee Ball missed the Spring. Expect the Badgers to have exceptional backfield depth in 2010.

  • Few schools place more of an emphasis on the tight end position than Wisconsin, making the battle to replace Garrett Graham one of the most intriguing in the entire conference. Junior Jake Byrne has a small lead over redshirt freshman Brian Wozniak but don’t expect a starter to be named until the fall.

  • With the most veteran team in the Big Ten returning in 2010, Wisconsin focused largely on staying healthy and individual improvement. After the Spring Game, Junior DE J.J. Watts said that his only area of concern on defense was to get a better push up the middle. Expect the Badgers to be an improved team from their ten win form a year ago, making them legitimate National Championship contenders.

 

By Matt Baxendell
CollegeSports-fans.com Staff Writer

 

 


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