Spring look around the Big Ten
With spring practices in full swing, our Big Ten notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Can Iowa improve its running game? Is Michigan set at quarterback? Who will take over at QB for Northwestern? Our Big Ten notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Illinois has replaced Central Michigan with Ohio University as its seventh home opponent on the 2006 schedule. The Bobcats will play at Illinois on Oct. 14, a date on which Central Michigan developed a scheduling conflict. Quarterbacks coach Ed Zaunbrecher left town for the same job at Purdue, where he coached under Jim Young from 1977 to 1979. Zaunbrecher had been with Illinois coach Ron Zook the past four seasons -- three at Florida and one at Illinois. His departure forces offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to coach the Illinois quarterbacks this spring.
The Hoosiers have plenty of quarterbacks, with returning starter Blake Powers, senior Graeme McFarland, and redshirt freshmen Kellen Lewis and Dustin Hass. That didn't scare off recruit Ben Chappell of Bloomington South High School, though. Chappell signed with IU in February and, while still in high school, is taking in spring practice every day in hopes of making inroads in the fall. "It's great," quarterbacks coach Matt Canada said. "He is in the meetings just like any of the other recruits are that have come by. We allow them into meetings. Obviously, Ben is here every day because he is in town. He wants to learn and is taking notes. He is in there soaking it all up. There is no way to minimize the fact that he will be ahead of the game next fall because he sat in, listened and learned."
Tailback Albert Young led the Big Ten with 125 yards per game in conference play last season, but Iowa finished a lowly seventh in that category in the team standings. The hope is that moving senior Mike Elgin back to center might trigger a rebirth in that department, particularly as Iowa can surround him with three other experienced linemen. It would be a bonus if Lee Gray, who sat out 2005 because of knee surgery, is allowed to return. He has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.
The Wolverines are set at quarterback with Chad Henne, but coach Lloyd Carr is always thinking ahead. He has given a preferred walk-on spot to Lee Mondol of Ventura, Calif. Mondol passed for 35 touchdowns this past season but didn't attract offers from other schools. He'll compete to be Michigan's No. 3 quarterback behind Henne and Jason Forcier.
Sir Darean Adams, who started at rover last season, is running No. 2 at safety behind sophomore Otis Wiley. Right now, Adams' job belongs to Cole Corey, a backup safety in 2005, although coach John L. Smith doesn't rule out moving Adams back to rover. Tailback Javon Ringer, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry in gaining 822 yards as a freshman has changed jerseys from No. 39 to No. 23.
The typical backfield worry at Minnesota isn't depth, it's keeping all the capable ball carriers happy. Not so this spring. With Laurence Maroney off to the NFL a year early and Gary Russell not in school -- but still with the summer to regain his eligibility -- Minnesota has only Amir Pinnix with any experience at its most important position. "The last couple of years, we were rotating three or four guys in there," coach Glen Mason said. "We don't have that luxury right now." The Gophers have produced a pair of 1,000-yard rushers each of the past three seasons -- an NCAA record. If Russell can't get readmitted, Pinnix will get the most work this fall. Fullback Justin Valentine and junior college transfer Brylee Callender also could get a look.
The illness that sidelined redshirt sophomore quarterback C.J. Bacher last week has kept him out of Northwestern's first five practices. That's allowing redshirt freshman Mike Kafka to get significant snaps, which could give him the edge in the fall. Both players, and redshirt freshman Andrew Brewer, are competing to replace four-year starter Brett Basanez.
Offensive tackle Alex Boone's citation for DUI won't result in a suspension from spring practice. Coach Jim Tressel, through a spokesman, said Boone's punishment will be handled within the team. The sophomore, who started five games last season, is No. 1 at left tackle this spring. The departure of wide receiver Santonio Holmes to the NFL one year early will mean more opportunities for Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. It also might open a spot for sophomore Brian Robiskie, whose father, Terry, was the Cleveland Browns' interim head coach in 2004 after Butch Davis' firing.
Penn State has experimented with three defensive sets in its first week of spring practice. The Lions have used a standard 4-3 formation, another with a stand-up defensive end and a 3-4 alignment. Jerome Hayes, Tyrell Sales and Dontey Brown have rotated at stand-up defensive end. Tight end Brennan Coakley and linebacker Paul Posluszny are not participating in contact drills because of knee injuries.
The Boilermakers remain hopeful that wide receiver Kyle Ingraham will make the necessary grades in junior college to rejoin the team this fall. "Kyle is at home (in San Antonio) taking classes, so he can get squared away academically," offensive coordinator Bill Legg told the Lafayette Journal and Courier. "We hope that, when it's all said and done, he gets healthy, that he stays on track academically and that he'll be here in the summer to work out with us. He's a very important part of this team." Ingraham has led Purdue in receiving each of the last two years, catching 51 passes for 624 yards and seven touchdowns in 2004 and 41 passes for 500 yards and zero touchdowns last season, when he was bothered by shoulder and ankle problems. Defensive back Torri Williams (back) will be limited this spring. That complicates Purdue's effort to solidify its shaky secondary.
The Badgers won't have defensive ends Jamal Cooper and Matt Schaughnessy while they recover from knee surgery, but Kurt Ware and Brandon Kelly have been impressive this spring. Defensive tackle Justin Ostrowski also has shown promise, convincing coach Bret Bielema that Wisconsin can rotate two-deep on the defensive front. Bielema toyed with moving free safety Shane Carter to wide receiver, where Wisconsin lost both starters from 2005. Then Carter intercepted two passes in a scrimmage. Now, he's staying on defense, even though wideout Jarvis Minton (foot) is out for the remainder of the spring.
Bruce Hooley has covered the Big Ten for 18 years and now hosts a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.