Spring Primer: Big Ten Leaders

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Leaders is the one with Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.

Leaders is the one with Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Spring Primers: ACC Coastal | ACC Atlantic | Big 12, Part 1 | Big 12, Pt 2 | Notre Dame | Big East, Part 1 | Big East, Pt 2 | SEC West | SEC East | Big Ten Legends | Big Ten Leaders | Pac-12 North | Pac-12 South

Illinois Fighting Illini

2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 29 – April 23

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Spring storylines facing the Illini:

1. The front seven has some major holes to fill up the middle – at both linebacker and defensive tackle. Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey combined for 195 tackles, 20 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. Wilson blossomed in 2010 and was a major playmaker for this defense. Ian Thomas, Jonathan Brown, Ashante Williams and Brandon Denmark will all see plenty of time. Thomas’ spot is likely the only one that is set.

2. At defensive tackle, the loss of Corey Liuget leaves a huge void on the line. End Clay Nurse has moved on as well. Michael Buchanan returns to the outside while Justin Staples and Whitney Mercilus should step into bigger roles. Up the middle, Akeem Spence comes back after a solid 45 tackle 2010. Glenn Foster also has some experience. Sorting out the defensive line, and backers for that matter, will likely be the top issue for this team.

3. Fantasy players out there knew all about Mikel LeShoure and his ability breakout in 2010 (I had him on both my 120 and BCS-only teams). His 1,697 yards and 20 TDs will be tough to replace, but Jason Ford has loads of experience and ability. He needs to prove that he can be as good as we all think he can be. Troy Pollard and Bud Golden should provide him some blows.

4. With a maturing quarterback returning in the form of Nathan Scheelhaase, protecting the quarterback and providing running lanes will be key without two starters from last year’s offensive line. Randall Hunt and Ryan Palmer have gone, but a pair of potential all-conference blockers return in the form of Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic. Hugh Thornton and Jack Cornell need to build on what were solid but limited 2010’s.

Redshirts to watch: CB Jonathon Mincy, LB Houston Bates, OL Shawn Afryl, OL Michael Heitz

Fantasy tip: Scheelhaase improved dramatically in the second half of the year last fall. He will be entering his redshirt sophomore season, so the sky could be the limit for his 2011 production. Keep an eye on the running game and O-line, as these two areas will have a major impact on his fantasy value this fall.

Indiana Hoosiers

2010 Record: 5-7, 1-7 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 8 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6

Spring storylines facing the Hoosiers:

1. Ben Chappell has his rightful spot in IU quarterbacking history with 7,251 yards and 45 career TDs. New head coach Kevin Wilson and offensive coordinators Rod Smith and Kevin Johns have a serious decision to make. Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker return after completing a total of nine passes last season – with nearly as many interceptions (3). Look for Wright-Baker’s athleticism to give him an edge in this battle, but it should be a good one to watch all summer long.

2. Four defensive backs with at least 21 tackles have moved on, including leader Mitchell Evans. Free safety Donnell Jones returns after a solid 2010, along with corner Greg Heban. The return of Chris Adkins from injury should help, but names like Lenyatta Kiles and Andre Kates need to step into bigger roles this spring.

3. It won’t help either signal caller that all-league receiver Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner are no longer on campus. The two combined for 130 receptions and 10 scores last season. The good news is that Damarlo Belcher is back after another strong season, as is tight end Ted Bolser. Finding a few complementary pieces will go a long way to help smooth over the quarterback transition.

4. The offensive line looks to be a strength of this team, and the defensive line could be as well. Otherwise, replacing all-conference linebacker Tyler Replogle, and his 87 stops, will be key. There is some experience here, though, as Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum return. Chad Shere, Brandon McGee and Damon Sims should compete for that third backer spot this spring.

Redshirts to watch: LB Matt Zakrzewki, WR Tim O’Connor, LB Ishmael Thoms

Fantasy tip: Belcher could provide some fantasy value for owners in 120 or BCS-only formats, but the quarterback situation is a major concern.

Ohio State Buckeyes

2010 Record: 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 31 – April 23

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4

Spring storylines facing the Buckeyes:

1. This one is easy. Find stop-gaps on offense to fill the void left by the suspended Buckeyes. That means quarterback, running back, wide receiver and left tackle will all need to addressed this spring. Games against Miami and Michigan State fall in those first five weeks and having names to plug into those spots could mean the difference between a national championship and a Capital One Bowl.

2. With three of the most important players on offense suspended for the first half of the season, filling holes left by Bryant Browning and all-everything blocker Justin Boren up front on offense is magnified. It's not like Columbus is hurting for players, however, so look for any number of talented back-ups and youngsters to step in and provide support this spring.

3. And the offense was supposed to be the unit without any question marks this fall, because the defense is in total rebuilding mode. At least, reloading mode. Five first- or second-team All-Big Ten performers are gone from this defense at every level. Ends Nathan Williams, Adam Bellamy, Darryl Baldwin and Solomon Thomas (also suspended) will need to fill the void left by Cam Heyward. Andrew Sweat, Etienne Sabino, Dorian Bell, Jon Newsome and Storm Klein – all elite recruits minus Newsome – will help out where Ross Homan and Brian Rolle were a year ago. Tyler Moeller and C.J. Barnett are back after seeing their seasons cut short by injury. Nate Ebner, Jamie Wood and Orhian Johnson will compete at safety as well. Christian Bryant, Dominic Clarke, Travis Howard will try to fill the gapping hole left by Chimdi Chekwa and Deon Torrence – one of the best corner tandems in the nation last season. Needless to say, there is a lot of work to be done by this defensive staff.

Redshirts to watch: RB Rod Smith, WR James Louis, DE Darryl Baldwin, WR T.Y. Williams, LB Scott McVey

Fantasy tip: Look to snag names like names like Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith at running back and Corey Brown and Chris Fields at wideout late in the draft. These names should get plenty of early action against the likes of Akron, Toledo and Colorado while the starters are sitting on the sidelines.

Penn State Nittany Lions

2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 18 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Spring storylines facing the Lions:

1. Decide on a quarterback. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden will both get reps with the first team this spring. Redshirt freshman Paul Jones might figure into the mix as well. Bolden showed flashes of maturity and leadership – along with talent – last season but McGloin seemed to be more productive. That might have simply been inexperience on Bolden’s part. This should be a good one to watch all summer long.

2. Replacing two starters on offensive line in Stefen Wisniewski and Doug Klopacz - and to lesser extent Lou Eliades. After years of this unit being a major strength, the past few seasons have been average as far as PSU standards are concerned. Quinn Barham and Johnnie Troutman return with loads of experience and Chima Okoli got eight starts a year ago. So there is talent here, but names like DeOn’tae Powell need to elevate their game to make up for the losses along the front.

3. The secondary returns intact and should be a major strength of this unit. But up the middle of the front seven has to be addressed this spring. Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are gone at linebacker while Ollie Ogbu is no longer manning the defensive tackle spot. There is loads of talent at Linebacker-U, so fans shouldn’t be worried about the Michael Mauti’s, Khairi Fortt’s and Mike Hull’s of the world taking over. But nose guards Devon Still and Jordan Hill need to take the next step in their development with Ogbu gone.

4. Evan Royster’s best season might have been his sophomore campaign, but he was a consistent presence in the backfield for all of his career in State College. Silas Redd has the makings of a elite back and needs to prove he can handle the load. Stephfon Green – and all that speed – maybe on the career complimentary path. His game plays well on third and long and to give Royster a breather. But Redd is much better suited to play between the tackles 25 times a game.

5. This really isn’t a story line, but few teams will have as many elite recruits as redshirt freshmen as Penn State will this spring. Jones will enter the quarterback mix. Evan Hailes, Dakota Royer, Hull and C.J. Olanyian all will see time in the defensive front seven and Miles Dieffenbach joins the O-line. What a luxury for PSU.

Redshirts to watch: QB Paul Jones, DT Evan Hailes, OL Miles Dieffenbach, DE C.J. Olanyian, LB Mike Hull, LB Dakota Royer

Fantasy tip: Redd has the makings of a special player. If the offensive line and quarterback positions can be solidified before summer camp, Redd will one of those players who slowly creeps up my board all summer long.

Purdue Boilermakers

2010 Record: 4-8, 2-6 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 1 – April 9

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 9

Spring storylines facing the Boilers:

1. Picking a quarterback will be key. The good news is all three options appear to be healthy and ready for the season. Robert Marve, Rob Henry and Sean Robinson could all get the call come the fall. Marve may have the most raw ability but can never seem to stay on the field (for a variety of reasons). Henry provided a spark with his running ability. Robinson is the long-shot. Look for the Robs to battle it out this spring – and summer – for the starting job.

2. The pass catchers were a stacked group a year ago, but Keith Smith, Cortez Smith and tight end Kyle Adams are all gone now. Interestingly enough, a running back and quarterback could end up as Purdue’s top receiving threats as dual-purpose athlete Antavian Edison and former QB Justin Siller will be in line for starting jobs. O.J. Ross and Gary Bush need to step up, as does tight end Gabe Holmes.

3. The defense does not lose much at all, but the most important defensive name in the league is gone. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan has moved on to the NFL. Justin Kitchens came back from spring break an offensive tackle, so the staff must feel comfortable with Gerald Gooden, Robert Maci, Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short manning the D-line.

Redshirts to watch: OL Jack De Boef, WR Charles Towudzo, S E.J. Johnson, CB Antoine Lewis, LB Joe Gilliam

Fantasy tip: Its tough to point to one player on this offense who will be a steady weekly fantasy play. Whoever wins the quarterback job will be an interesting option, however. Edison and Siller might have the most play-making ability. Those two might be worth a late look in drafts.

Early Enrollees: TE Sterling Carter, LB/S Jalani Phillips, LS Jesse Schmitt, RB Akeem Shavers

Wisconsin Badgers

2010 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 22 – April 23

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 7

Spring storylines facing the Badgers:

1. Replacing Scott Tolzien is going to be much easier said than done. There are solid options on the roster, most notably the oft-injured, but physically gifted dual-threat Curt Phillips and the pocket-passing, prep gunslinger Jon Budmayr. Phillips will be limited this spring – again due to an ACL injury. This will be Budmayr’s third spring and he might actually have the most experience of any signal caller on the team. Look for Budmayr to place himself atop the competition heading into the summer. Joe Brennan and Joel Stave will also be in the mix for snaps this spring as well.

2. This was arguably the best O-line in UW history. So replacing stalwarts Gabe Carimi, John Moffit and Bill Nagy will not be easy. Look for right tackle Ricky Wagner to shift to the left side. Casey Dehn should fill in for the injured Josh Oglesby at right tackle with two returning starters in center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler. Look for an open competition at left guard. Replacing tight end Lance Kendricks, who is a much better blocker than his press clippings and size would indicate, will hurt as well. However, UW seems to plug in the next guy at TE with ease.

3. The other line of scrimmage lost its star as well when end J.J. Watt, who single-handedly beat Arizona State (literally), bolted for the NFL. Louis Nzegwu returns to one spot and will need to step up his game. Pat Muldoon and David Gilbert will likely battle for the other spot. The good news is that the interior of the D-line is well-stocked thick and burly Badge-Air Warriors. The full-strength return of Chris Borland and Mike Taylor should easily fill the gaps left by Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen at linebacker.

4. In the secondary, Wisconsin lost more bodies than talent, but replacing senior leader Jay Valai and coverman Niles Brinkley will be tough. Aaron Henry returns as the free safety and first-team All-Big Ten corner Antonio Fenelus is back as well. Look for Dezmen Southward, Shelton Johnson and Devin Smith to step into larger roles.

5. As almost a side note, losing former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay largely means nothing. Zach Brown is back from redshirting, while James White and Montee Ball return after 1,000-yard seasons (fine, Ball had 996 yards). The running game should be fine if the O-line works itself out.

Redshirts to watch: DB Frank Tamakloe, OL Rob Havenstein, DB Jameson Wright, TE Sherard Cadogan, DB Michael Trotter, WR Marquis Mason

Fantasy tip: Pick a back, any back. The lawfirm of Brown, White and Ball will likely each find themselves drafted. This offense provided three fantasy plays last season, but the offensive line and quarterback were as good as they get in Madison. Even with those questions marks, this team won’t deviate from its plan – which is trying to run the ball downhill. Just don’t go too early on any these Badger backs.

Early Enrollees: QB Joel Stave

Spring Primers: ACC Coastal | ACC Atlantic | Big 12, Part 1 | Big 12, Pt 2 | Notre Dame | Big East, Part 1 | Big East, Pt 2 | SEC West | SEC East | Big Ten Legends | Big Ten Leaders | Pac-12 North | Pac-12 South

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<p> Athlon continues its Spring Primer series with a look at the Big Ten Leaders Divison.</p>