Spring look around the Big Ten

With spring practices getting started, our Big Ten notebook addresses the big questions facing each team.

Updated: March 21, 2007, 1:02 PM ET
By Bruce Hooley | Special to ESPN.com

Who showed up at Minnesota's practice as a special guest? Why doesn't Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio have a depth chart? Which Wisconsin defensive lineman has decided to call it quits? Our Big Ten notebook addresses those questions and much more.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Kurt Beathard, the son of former Redskins and Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, has been hired as Illinois' receivers coach. Beathard was the offensive coordinator at Eastern Kentucky.

Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana's spring practice is underway without head coach Terry Hoeppner, who announced at the start of the week that he was taking the spring off to attend to "personal health matters." Hoeppner asked reporters to respect his family's privacy and not seek further details. He has had two brain surgeries, the first to remove a cancerous tumor in December, 2005. Hoeppner missed two games last season for a second surgery that, he said at the time, showed no evidence of additional cancer cells.

Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will resume spring workouts on Thursday after taking two weeks off for spring break. Head coach Kirk Ferentz held two practices before spring break. … Ferentz's critics, if they exist, won't be able to take their complaints to FireKirkFerentz.com. Iowa's athletic department purchased rights to seven Web sites that school officials hope will head off or curtail negative Internet chatter regarding Ferentz, men's basketball coach Steve Alford, women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder and athletic director Gary Barta. Iowa paid $675 for the sites.

Michigan Wolverines
Mike Hart will sit out spring practice because of arthroscopic surgery. Head coach Lloyd Carr wouldn't specify the injury. Michigan is also likely to hold receiver Mario Manningham out of most drills. He had midseason knee surgery in 2006.

Michigan State Spartans
New head coach Mark Dantonio won't formulate a depth chart until at least a few weeks of spring practice are completed. "To sit here and say we have a first-team quarterback or first-team linebacker, at this point in time, doesn't send the right message to our football team," Dantonio said. "Every position is up for grabs. Certainly, there are some guys who have proven their worth. We've watched the game films and there are certain people you know are going to be in the lineup, but there are other aspects of the program that are still really up in the air."

Minnesota Golden Gophers
First-year coach Tim Brewster summoned his former boss, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, to practice Tuesday to address the Gophers. Brewster was Shanahan's tight ends coach before taking over at Minnesota.

Northwestern Wildcats
The Wildcats should be primed for any 11 a.m. Central Time kickoffs this season, given that their mid-week spring practices commence at 7:25 a.m. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald gives his players a little longer to sleep in on Saturdays, when he starts practice at 9:15 a.m.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Taver Johnson quit his job with the Oakland Raiders after just three weeks to take over as Ohio State's secondary coach, replacing Tim Beckman. Johnson had been Miami of Ohio's defensive coordinator before leaving to join the Raiders' staff. While at Miami in 2002, Johnson was suspended for two weeks after damaging a press box at Marshall following a last-minute defeat.

Penn State Nittany Lions
The Lions have won 22 of their last 27 games as they enter Joe Paterno's 42nd season as head coach. Five of their seven home games in 2007 will be against bowl teams from 2006, including all four Big Ten opponents (Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa) coming to Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions also play host to Notre Dame (Sept. 8). Michigan (Sept. 22) is the only opponent Penn State must play away from home that played in a bowl last season.

Purdue Boilermakers
Kevin Nesfield, who started all 13 games at defensive end in 2003, has returned to Purdue as a graduate assistant coach. He will work with the defensive line.

Wisconsin Badgers
Junior defensive lineman Justin Ostrowski, who played in only two games last year and five in 2005 because of knee injuries, has opted to end his football career. Ostrowski suffered his final injury in Game 3 of last season. He will remain on scholarship. "I've invited him to remain as much a part of our program as he is comfortable with," coach Bret Bielema said.

Bruce Hooley has covered the Big Ten for 18 years and now hosts a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.

ALSO SEE