outlet ugg online Big Ten spring practice recap
The Big Ten has been wildly unpredictable over the last two years, which has allowed nine different schools (all but Indiana and Penn State) to reach a bowl game in that short span. And with relatively little experience at quarterback throughout most of the conference this season, almost every team has a legitimate chance to dream as big as the Rose Bowl. Will traditional powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State return to their places at the top, or is there another Cinderella story waiting to unfold?
Like Ward, Virgil is a local kid from the Champaign Urbana area. He redshirted last season but showed good hands and elusiveness in spring workouts. He also has good speed and could be used as a kickoff return specialist, as well. Virgil (5 foot 10, 195 pounds) is a good change of pace from the physical running style of Antoineo Harris, and Ron Turner has a history of using both backs when he has two good ones.
Strong hasn’t yet started a game at Illinois but has shown plenty of potential. As a backup to Terrell Washington last year, he made 33 tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks. A good sized frame (6 4, 250) and a quick first step make him a natural end. With significantly more playing time awaiting him this season, he has the talent to be one of the better pass rushers in the Big Ten.
Both receiver positions are up for grabs after the departure of Kahlil Hill and Chris Oliver. Jones, who made 34 catches last season after transferring in from a JuCo. He is competing at one spot with Ramon Ochoa, who has just two catches in his career, and Warren Holloway, who had one catch as a freshman last year. The other wideout spot is being contested by a pair of redshirt freshmen. Ed Hinkel stood out with six catches for 183 yards and a TD in the spring game and is battling Darius Butler. None of these players has yet shown the type of big play skills possessed by Hill, however.
Last season, Sanders led the team in tackles and interceptions and was named first team All Big Ten. At just 5 8, he is a big hitter in a small frame and has been an impact performer since breaking the starting lineup as a true freshman in the latter stage of the 2000 season. He is an on field leader, as well, and made 25 tackles in a win over Indiana last year. Sanders has worked hard to improve his pass defense skills, and that came in handy in the Alamo Bowl, when he intercepted a game winning pass attempt on the final play against Texas Tech. Askew moved back to fullback in the spring and will still be used in the one back set because of his versatility, but that opens the door for more playing time to several other tailbacks. Chris Perry is the biggest name of that bunch and has rushed for almost 1,000 yards over his first two seasons. He is a more physical runner than the others, but Tim Bracken and David Underwood can both be dangerous in the open field. Underwood saw some action as a freshman but has looked better on the practice field this spring. Bracken was held out of contact while he continues to recover from a broken leg. He would definitely be a contender for the spot if he returns to 100 percent.
Butler (6 3, 206) put on more size in the offseason and provides a big, strong target. He had only four catches for 99 yards last year, but that included a big 77 yard reception when the team was trailing late against Iowa. He also played on special teams and blocked a punt. Because he missed the 2000 season with an injury, he is still learning the position, but he has shown great potential and will be utilized more this year.
Budding star: LB Victory Hobson
If he can duplicate the steady improvement made by teammate Larry Foote as a senior last year, Hobson could be an All America performer. He started his final five games as a redshirt freshman and has been in the lineup ever since. He was second on the team in tackles last year and has made four or more tackles in every game over the last two seasons. Hobson has 30 career tackles for loss. He has twice been second team All Big Ten and is already a preseason candidate for several national awards. The Field will be composed of seven varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, which began growing in May of last year and will be inserted in modules this June. The jerseys also have a new look this season with colored panels on the sides and striping across the shoulders and down the sleeves. The words “MICHIGAN STATE” on the front of the jersey have been replaced with an arched “STATE” above the number.
The school’s all time leader in catches by a tight end, Chris Baker, has finally departed after starting the Spartans’ last 47 games at that position. There is a two man battle to replace him. Jason Randall backed up Baker last year but had no catches; he is competing against Eric Knott. Knott was recruited as a tight end but played defensive end in 2001 before returning to his natural position this year. He moved up the depth chart during spring drills but is still listed as No. 2 behind Randall.
For the first time in three years, there is no uncertainty at quarterback entering the season. Asad Abdul Khaliq is firmly entrenched as the starter after splitting time with Travis Cole over the last two years. He took over the job about a month into last season and started the final seven games. He closed strong, throwing six TD passes in the final two games. Khaliq’s play gave the Gophers some stability for spring workouts that allowed them to focus on other areas of the offense. And despite losing Ron Johnson, Khaliq still has plenty of options at receiver.
The early exit to the NFL by Tellis Redmon cleared the way for two other talented running backs to get more carries. Marion Barber III was the team’s second leading rusher last season with 742 yards and 7 TDs, and his 6.3 yards per carry ranked second in the Big Ten. He is competing with Thomas Tapeh, who was the Gophers’ No. 2 rusher the previous season but was passed on the depth chart by Barber while recovering from a foot injury last year. The coaches want to find ways to get both on the field together, and Tapeh will certainly play some fullback, as he did last year.
Eye catcher: DE Charlton Keith
Keith (6 5, 230) is a little undersized for an end, but then again, he has a similar build to Minnesota’s most recent star pass rusher, Karon Riley. Keith showed that type of potential in his first spring and hopes to carry it onto the field this fall. He signed as a linebacker last year and was moved to defensive end on the scout team toward the end of his redshirt season. He still hasn’t played an official down, but the coaches like what they have seen.
The offense has changed along with the coordinator. Mike Dunbar was H backs and tight ends coach last year and was promoted to coordinator after Kevin Wilson left for Oklahoma. The spread offense is not being phased out, but it is being altered to better accommodate the talent on that side of the ball. Expect to see more formations and use of the tight ends. The two best players are linemen Austin King and Jeff Roehl, so the ‘Cats will attempt to assert more power on offense, especially in short yardage situations. The defense also has a new coordinator with Greg Colby coming from Kent State. The base formation is a 4 3 with a lot of linebacker walkup to help stop the run.
A replacement must be found for Damien Anderson, and one of the top candidates to do so, Kevin Lawrence, was not able to practice in the spring. Lawrence, however, did average 5.1 yards per carry last season before injuring his knee against Iowa. Torri Stuckey took his place after that and ran for 127 yards in the final game versus Illinois. They are joined in the competition by redshirt freshman Jeff Backes, who was Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2000, and by Louis Ayeni, who has plenty of talent but is trying to evade the injury bug. Jason Wright also joins the fray after returning to running back from a stint at receiver.
Deryck Tolls returns as a starter at one outside linebacker spot but is limited to 30 something plays per game by an enzyme deficiency. Therefore, it is important to have plenty of depth behind him. Gino Capone and LaMar Stewart have both looked like solid options to also receive playing time at that position. On the other side, Derek Wake returns after taking a medical hardship redshirt last year. He tore an MCL in the first quarter of the opener versus Miami and missed the remainder of the season. He is now being challenged by Jimi Mitchell.
Ruhe played as a reserve defensive end last year, recording 10 tackles with three for loss. He was moved to inside linebacker for the spring and may have been the most pleasant surprise on the team. At 6 5, 264 pounds, Ruhe provided a real physical presence inside and took over the top spot on the depth chart at the position vacated by Shamar Finney.
Budding star: RB Larry Johnson
In addition to leading the team in rushing, Johnson also led the Big Ten in kickoff returns last year with a 26.7 yard average. He had a 97 yard TD return late in the game versus Illinois that almost propelled the Lions to a huge road win. That big play potential should surface more often this year with an increase in touches. Johnson has not yet gotten more than 75 carries in a season and has not reached the 400 yard plateau because of it.
What else is new? Running back Montrell Lowe is once again facing competition for his job. Joey Harris backed up Lowe a year ago and had 255 yards with three touchdowns. Also getting a look are redshirt freshmen Jerod Void and Brandon Jones. Production from the running game was way down last season, and it is difficult to say whether it was poor blocking, poor running or the diminished threat of a big play in the passing game.
Eye catcher: DB Marc Huddleston
Huddleston is a 2002 signee who graduated high school early and enrolled at Purdue in January. He had played several positions in his prep career, but coaches tried him at strong safety and were pleasantly surprised at his immediate impact. He made an interception and recovered a fumble in the spring game and has already put himself into position for playing time this fall.
Budding star: DB Stuart Schweigert
Big Ten players, coaches and fans know Schweigert well, but this could be the year he expands his popularity base. He has led Purdue in tackles and interceptions in each of first two seasons already tying the school record for interceptions that is co held by Rod Woodson. Schweigert was the only sophomore on the Thorpe semifinalist list last year and earned first team All Big Ten honors after having been named Freshman of the Year the previous season.