- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
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Starter Ryan McDonald and backup Mike Nabolotny are both seniors. And though Illinois signed four offensive linemen of note last year, we project three of them to play offensive tackle and one to play offensive guard. Keeping that in mind, Illinois needs to make this position a recruiting priority.
The situation here mirrors the one at center; starter Brit Miller and backup Sam Carson are seniors. There is young depth on the outside, so the Fighting Illini may address this need by moving an outside linebacker inside. However, they should still be in the market for at least one traditional inside linebacker this year.
Illinois added true freshman Jacob Charest out of David W Butler High School in North Carolina last year, but starter Juice Williams is a junior, and inconsistent sophomore backup Eddie McGee may not be the long-term answer. As a result, adding at least one more quarterback capable of competing for the starting job somewhere down the line makes sense.
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Starting SLB Geno Johnson is a senior, starting WLB Will Patterson is a junior and backup Justin Carrington is a junior. Although the Hoosiers added true freshman Chad Sherer out of Hamilton Heights High School in Indiana last year, he's a mid-level prospect at best; he is vastly undersized for the position.
On one hand, Indiana did well to sign Kyle Kozak out of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia last year. On the other hand, it needs to continue to address this position because Ryan Marando is a senior and Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton are juniors.
Starter Nick Polk is a junior and backup Joe Kleinsmith is a senior. True freshman Peter St. Fort out of Golden Gate High School in Florida has the range and a frame to develop into an excellent starter, but the Hoosiers would be wise to add depth and competition here.
Iowa's failure to sign any true freshmen defensive tackles of note last year is a head-scratcher, because Matt Kroul, Mitch King and Anton Narinsky are all seniors. In addition, the backups are all undersized, so the Hawkeyes should be in the market for some beefier defensive tackles.
Iowa added true freshman Casey McMillan out of Central Catholic High School in Montana last year, but one senior and two juniors occupy three of the four top spots here. As a result, look for the Hawkeyes to target offensive guards on the recruiting trail this year.
The good news is sophomore Bryan Bulaga should capably man the left tackle position for the next three years if he stays healthy. The bad news is a shoulder injury prevented him from participating in spring drills. In addition, starting ROT Kyle Calloway is a junior and backup Wesley Aeschliman is a senior.
True freshman Justin Feagin out of American Heritage-Boca-Delray High School in Florida may be a better fit for new head coach Rich Rodriguez' offense than sophomore Nick Sheridan and freshman transfer Steven Threet. But the bottom line is none of them bring the same kind of playmaking ability to the table that QB Pat White brought under Rodriguez at West Virginia. The hope had been that Terrelle Pryor would fill this role, but he opted to sign with rival Ohio State. Keeping that in mind, the Wolverines will be in the market for a blue-chip quarterback.
There is some promising talent among the reserves here, and Michigan signed Brandon Smith out of New Brunswick High School in New Jersey last year. However, the ranks still need to be replenished, because starting SS Brandon Harrison and backup Charles Stewart are seniors and Stevie Brown is a junior.
True freshmen Sam McGuffie out of Cy-Fair High School in Texas, Michael Shaw out of Madison High School in Ohio and Mike Cox out of Avon Old Farms School for Boys in Connecticut have injected youth and talent into the position. So why is running back still a need? There are also three junior backs on the roster, and Rodriguez should look to continue to add playmakers here.
Michigan State signed true freshmen Charles Burrell out of Southeastern High School in Michigan and Brynden Trawick out of Sprayberry High School in Georgia last year. It's a good start, but the Spartans need to continue to address this position because starters Otis Wiley and Kendell Davis-Clark are both seniors, as is reserve Mike Bell. Additionally, reserve Danny Fortener is a junior.
Starter Joel Nitchman is a junior, and backup Mike Bacon is a senior. Making matters worse, the Spartans failed to sign any true freshmen centers of note last year. And while the Spartans may try to move an offensive guard over to fill this need, there are more questions than answers concerning the current depth along the interior offensive line.
Adding true freshman Trenton Robinson out of Bay City Central High School in Michigan helps, but three out of the top four spots here are occupied by juniors. Bringing in at least two corners this year would allow the Spartans to bring them along for at least one year before asking them to making substantial contributions.
With four juniors, including JUCO transfer Cedric McKinley and two senior defensive ends on the roster, the Gophers clearly need to get younger here, and to their credit, they have already started to do so. They signed true freshmen D.L. Wilhite and Terrell Combs, both out of Bryan Station High School in Kentucky, last year. Now they need to continue the rebuilding process.
Minnesota did an excellent job of addressing its needs at outside linebacker last year, and now it would be wise to turn its attentions to the inside. The reason is starter Lee Campbell and backup Nate Triplett are both juniors.
Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Michael McKelton are all juniors. So even though the Gophers signed true freshmen Troy Stoudermire out of Skyline High School in Texas and Tim Dandridge out of Highland Park Community High School in Michigan last year, look for them to target corners again this year.
New offensive coordinator Mike McCall has implemented his version of the spread offense, and it should be a relatively smooth transition because of Northwestern's depth at receiver right now. However, the starting four here consists of three seniors and one junior. In addition, the reserves include three juniors and one senior. So even though the Wildcats signed three true freshmen receivers of note last year, their work here isn't done.
Starters Joel Belding and Keegan Kennedy are both seniors. And though the Wildcats have capable sophomore Keegan Grant providing quality depth, there are two walk-on reserves here. Look for them to infuse some youth as well as talent, with that in mind.
Northwestern added true freshman Alex Daniel out of Roswell High School in Georgia, but starter Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh are both seniors. As a result, look for the Wildcats to add at least one more back this year.
It should come as no shock that Ohio State had yet another strong recruiting class last year, and it did well to add two tight ends. Nic DiLillo out of Madison High School in Ohio and Jake Stoneburner, who is listed as a receiver but can play tight end, out of Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio. Both have great upside. However, Rory Nicol, Brandon Smith and J.D. Larson are seniors and Jake Ballard is a junior.
Adding true freshman Travis Howard out of Dr. Krop High School in Florida last year is certainly a step in the right direction, but Ohio State should continue to target corners and here's why: Malcolm Jenkins and Shaun Lane are seniors, and Donald Washington and Andre Amos are juniors.
Starter Brandon Smith and backup Ryan Lukens are both seniors. True freshman Jermil Martin out of Glenville High School in Ohio could be the heir, but true freshman Spencer Smith out of Colerain High School in Ohio projects as a career backup/special teams player. As a result, the Buckeyes should add some depth and competition here.
Penn State should have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the nation this year. Problem is starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood are all seniors. In addition, three juniors provide depth and A.J. Price out of South Lakes High School in Virginia is the only true freshman receiver of note on the roster.
Penn State signed DeOn'tae Pannell out of Groves High School in Michigan last year but it needs to continue to get younger here. Why? Gerald Cadogan is a senior and Dennis Landolt is a junior. In addition, reserves Nerraw McCormack and Ako Poti are both seniors.
Starters Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis are seniors and Nickel back A.J. Wallace is a junior. Behind these three is some promising young talent waiting in the wings, but the Nittany Lions failed to sign any true freshmen corners of note this past year. With that in mind, look for Penn State to aggressively target corners during the recruiting process.
Purdue signed three receivers last year, but two of them are JUCO transfers with limited eligibility. Considering there are five senior receivers on the roster, that's more than just a little unsettling. Look for the Boilermakers to pick up multiple receivers, including at least two capable of competing for a starting job in the near future as a result.
Purdue returns one of the premiere quarterbacks in the country in fifth-year senior Curtis Painter. Another senior, Joey Elliot, who has backed up Painter for the past two seasons, provides solid depth heading into the 2008 campaign. Waiting in the wings behind those two is redshirt freshman Justin Siller. With Painter and Elliott moving on at the end of this year, expect the Boilermakers to make quarterback a recruiting priority.
Four seniors take up the top four spots on the depth chart, with the talented Alex Magee headlining the unit. Purdue did sign junior college transfer Kris Cooke this past year, but he's already a junior. So even though the Boilermakers added true freshman Kawann Short out of East Chicago Central High School in Indiana, look for them to target defensive tackles again this year.
Starters Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk are both seniors, and reserve Jeff Stehle is a junior. And though there is some promising young talent on the roster, injuries have marred the backups, and the Badgers failed to sign any true freshmen defensive tackles of note last year.
Wisconsin added Sam Spitz out of Whitney Margaret High School in Illinois, but starter Chris Pressley and backup Bill Rentmeester are both seniors. Considering the Badgers' offense needs a powerful lead blocker at fullback to be truly effective, look for them to target this position on the recruiting trail this year.
The Badgers added true freshmen Kevin Claxton out of Boyd Anderson High School in Florida and Shelton Johnson out of Hebron High School in Texas this year. Even so, look for them to continue to target this position, because three of the top four safeties on the roster are juniors.
Notre Dame signed three true freshmen that could line up at safety or corner, making this position tougher to evaluate. But Danny McCarthy out of Cardinal Mooney High School in Ohio is the only one of them that's listed as a safety at this point. And even if the Irish move Jamoris Slaughter out of Tucker High School in Georgia and/or Robert Blanton out of Butler High School in North Carolina they will still need help here. The reason is the top four on the depth chart consists of three seniors and one junior.
It's important to remember that Notre Dame runs a base 3-4 scheme when evaluating this unit. While sophomore Brian Smith appears poised for a breakout season, Maurice Crum Jr., who starts opposite Smith, and backup Steve Quinn are both seniors. In addition, Smith's backup Toryan Smith is a junior.
Notre Dame did well to sign true freshman Trevor Robinson out of Elkhorn High School in Nebraska last year but it needs to continue to inject youth into this position. Why? Starters Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen are both juniors and reserve Paul Duncan is a senior
Steve Muench played four years of Division I-AA football before joining Scouts Inc. in 2002. He has evaluated both NFL and college players for Scouts Inc., but his current focus is on the NFL draft.