Spring Football Notes: Big Ten West
Between brand-new or re-shuffled coaching staffs, or a mostly new crop of star players, there's been plenty of upheaval in the Big Ten West. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Wisconsin announced right off the bat that Joel Stave would be the team's starting quarterback. Not only that, it took two back-up quarterbacks - Tanner McEvoy and Connor Senger - and promised to play them at wide receiver. McEvoy, who has experience at safety, will be a two-way player who might provide some athleticism on the outside.
On the offensive line, where Wisconsin has to replace three players, most of the answers are also already in. Ray Ball is ready to replace Dallas Lewallen, and Michael Deiter will be the other guard. If Paul Chryst can find a right tackle from a deep and mostly inexperienced group of players, then the line is ready to lock and load.
Some miles away, Minnesota is gushing over what Jeff Jones has done in spring ball.
"Jeff Jones was kind of amazing, that he could pick things up that quick, because he hasn't practiced with us one time," Jerry Kill said. Jerry Kill also called him a perfectionist, adding that Jones is still a little raw in some key areas, but is attacking those areas with zeal.
There are positive early returns from the tight end position, where Maxx Williams leaves a void for playing time, and linebacker, as Damien Wilson gets ready to be drafted. A more intriguing storyline is Matt Limegrover installing tempo; but that is something the players won't really practice in earnest until the summer.
Nebraska kicks off spring practice with a lot of learning to do, both from the players and the coaching staff. While fundamentals have ruled the day, the big question looming over everyone's head is a frightening lack of depth at linebacker. When there should be about 12 scholarship players there, Mike Riley has four.
"The good thing is," position coach Trent Bray said, "everyone's getting a lot of reps."
Mike Riley also seems intrigued by Tommy Armstrong, after making comments towards the end of his tenure at Oregon State that indicated he was looking for a little more athleticism from the position.
"I like how he plays, competes, makes plays," Riley told the media. "It's a little different skill set than I've been used to, but I'm kind of excited about that."
Iowa is the only team in the West that hasn't started yet, but they'll be looking to replace a lot of talent, especially up front. On top of the normal attrition, they will be replacing a heavy number of transfers, from Jake Rudock to talented and speedy wide receiver Derrick Willies, to linebacker Reggie Spearman.
Purdue is hoping to find some footing as well, and they have also shuffled some coaches around to do so. Purdue will need play-making and depth, but this is a team that's slowly plugging some of its weaknesses. Some junior-college transfers, plus Danny Anthrop returning from ACL surgery, will give the wide receiver position a new cast of faces. The running game has gotten more physical with the departure of hybrid tailbacks/pass-catchers Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. And, Darrell Hazell has emphasized more deep throws downfield to use off of play-action. If and when Purdue finds a starting quarterback, there may be a slightly different offense in West Lafayette.
Outside of a video series, Northwestern has kept mum about their spring practice. There were ten contributors who were going to limited, and that number has only risen since then to include star running back Justin Jackson. This comes after a season of injuries, a spring practice dictated by injuries, and a season before that where Northwestern was limited by injuries.
News has been more positive for Illinois, which started with four practices in a span of five days. The receiving corps looks a little deeper, and Wes Lunt is back healthy.
"Wes looks really good and really in command," said offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. "I talked to him the other day, and the game is really slowing down for him, which is natural in the second year of the offense."
The team has also gotten more physical. In fact, there have been a couple small skirmishes in practice between offensive and defensive players.
"I was yelling out to Teddy Karras that I miss him because I'd always go for him," said linebacker Mason Monheim with a smile, referencing the right guard who's sitting out with a knee injury. "Nothing serious. Just getting a little fire. I think it helps practice go a little bit. Obviously, we don't want to waste our time, but no hard feelings."
Hitting the Links Knows When to Walk Away
Urban talks about the lessons he learned - both personal and organizational - after health problems took him away from the game.
Williams was seen on campus brandishing a gun in an incident of road rage, and although he had a concealed weapons permit, and did not point it directly at the other driver, Dantonio has cut him off from all team activities. Under Dantonio, the Spartans have been refreshingly harsh with their own players, and this puts Williams in jeopardy of being kicked off the team.
This incident also comes a few weeks after Macgarrett Kings, Jr., a Michigan State wide receiver, was arrested for an altercation with campus parking enforcement.
Both NFL and CFB fans have been talking about Chris Borland's decision, and NFL players have sounded off on Twitter, as well.
In-state recruiting was key for Beckman, and Beckman has pushed for recruits to identify the Fighting Illini more closely with state pride. Illinois is still a state that other, more prestigious programs will 'raid,' but if Beckman can find a way to get some of the eleven 2016 players who are high-three-star recruits
Except for Campbell, all we can really glean from these hires externally is that they're winners and potentially dynamic recruiters. However, there's a lot more to a good program - especially on the administration side - than recruiting high school players. Obviously these guys have impressed Harbaugh, but we'll see how he uses them.
Northwestern has plenty to do already, from figuring out an answer on the offensive line, to training a good quarterback, to shoring up the secondary. The coaching staff will be under the microscope this year if some of those positions remain stagnant.
This is just slightly worrisome for Michigan, but Harbaugh should be able to find an elite QB regardless.
Derek Mason opened up about how he made mistakes handling Vandy's quarterbacks a year ago, and promised to find a leader much faster this time around.
Northwestern is doing a very cool thing with their media; there will be four episodes of the Foundation, covering their journey through spring practice. The second episode (which I found more interesting than the first) covers the defensive side.
This was a nice piece about a receiver that will probably see the field a lot this year.
This was great, in-depth, and easy to peruse. Indiana's offensive line has been underrated for a few years now, and they seem to like finding athletes to play there. Genuine, tall, heavy athletes.
Even without Damien Wilson, this group is in good shape to impress a lot of people this fall.
Harbaugh likes throwing talent and numbers at problems. It sounds like a good approach to me.