Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
The Big Ten Leaders division has been affected by graduation, players leaving for the NFL Draft and suspensions, leading to a whole new look for most of the teams.
Members of the division spoke with media Wednesday in a teleconference about these replacements and the retooled Big Ten Conference.
The Ohio State football team has completed eight practices this spring, and coach Jim Tressel said the coaching staff is pleased with the team’s effort so far.
Tressel said the eight practices have been solid and there has been a lot of competition throughout the spring at multiple positions.
Tressel addressed the progression of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his participation in spring practice following foot surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left foot.
“He’ll be back running around at the first of May and he can kind of stand still throwing the ball,” Tressel said.
He said Pryor’s development as a quarterback should help him get drafted at the same position in the NFL draft, disagreeing with ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who said he thinks Pryor will be an NFL tight end.
Tressel also spoke about the quarterback battle and said there is no pecking order for who will start for the Buckeyes in the first five games. Tressel said he wishes someone would jump out and take the job.
“I kind of vacillate each day,” Tressel said of the choices at quarterback.
Brewster said regardless of who starts at quarterback, the team’s play will not be affected.
Junior linebacker Jonathan Newsome was expected to play a part in the Buckeye defense this season. However, Tressel said Newsome has been in his doghouse throughout the spring.
“I don’t expect him to be in it long, but sometimes we have to do what we think will help a young person learn,” Tressel said.
Brewster said this was one of the best springs he has been a part of at OSU and that the team is staying focused on spring ball and not paying attention to outside distractions.
He has been working on making himself more of a complete player and has also been helping the younger guys on the team.
“It’s been great to get back on the field and get the feeling back,” Brewster said.
Tressel and players Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas will serve a suspension for the first five games of the upcoming season.
Indiana looking to compete under 1st-year coach
Kevin Wilson was named Indiana’s new coach in December after spending nine seasons as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and tight ends and fullbacks coach.
Former coach Bill Lynch was fired with one year left on his contract after earning a 19-30 record in his four seasons with the Hoosiers.
Wilson said the Hoosiers will have to replace standout quarterback Ben Chappell from last year’s 5-7 team, but he expects them to be competitive.
He said it is important for his players to start to have a more positive outlook and believe in themselves and their abilities for the upcoming season.
“This team is right in the mix,” Wilson said.
Senior offensive lineman Justin Pagán said he is excited for the new season and Wilson has helped bring a new attitude and a new culture to the team.
“The expectation is, we’re going to be better,” Pagán said. “We’re gonna do the work that we haven’t done before.”
Badgers looking for key replacements
Wisconsin finished the 2010 season on a sour note, losing to TCU in the Rose Bowl. However, it earned a share of the Big Ten title under coach Bret Bielema.
Bielema and his Badgers have to replace some key players, but they are still expected to compete in the Leaders division.
“I’m really excited for the buildup and race to the championship game,” Bielema said.
The Badgers must replace Scott Tolzien at quarterback after two years as the starter, and Bielema said they are looking toward sophomore Jon Budmayr as the replacement.
Budmayr is in his third spring with the team, and Bielema said his experience in the past has been beneficial to his progression.
The Badgers also lost defensive end J.J. Watt to the NFL Draft, and senior free safety Aaron Henry said that although they will miss Watt’s production, the defense should compete under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Henry will look to be a spokesman of the defense this season.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Henry said. “I’m still learning and I think I have some really good characteristics of becoming a leader.”
Henry also said he expects the secondary to become more involved in the blitz with Ash at his new position.
Young Penn State team looks to rebound
Joe Paterno has been on the Penn State coaching staff for 60 years, but it is unlikely that he has ever seen the magnitude of off-the-field problems in college football that we are seeing today.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s out of control,” Paterno said of the college game. “I do think, obviously, we’ve got some problems. How many, or whether they’ve been made to appear worse than they are because of the media exposure, I don’t know.”
But Paterno said he thinks the college game is as good as it ever has been on the field.
The Nittany Lions cycled through quarterbacks last season, and Paterno said he has been pleased with the quarterback situation this spring. He said junior Matt McGloin and sophomore Rob Bolden both have shown they have great ability.
“We’ll be in great hands with whoever coach decides to pick,” senior wide receiver Derek Moye said.
Paterno said he does not think he did a particularly good job last year, but he said his team’s success starts with the head coach and how much effort he puts into it.
“If it appears to the kids that I am working harder at it, then good, I’m glad to hear that,” Paterno said. “I hope I’m doing a better job than I did last year.”
Moye has to sit out this spring because of a concussion but said he hopes to be back by Saturday’s spring game. He said the rest of the receivers, including junior Justin Brown, have been progressing well throughout spring.
Moye said he looks forward to the chance to play in the first Big Ten championship game, and it makes him work that much harder because it is his senior season.
Boilermakers escape spring without injuries
Purdue, unlike other Big Ten squads, wrapped up its spring practice on Saturday as it held its spring game. Coach Danny Hope said he has seen improvements in all three aspects of his team’s game.
“I feel like we improved a lot as a football team in a lot of key areas,” Hope said. “We had a lot of fun and did a good job of keeping our team healthy.”
Health was a concern for the Boilermakers, as they lost senior quarterback Robert Marve to injury last season and junior running back Ralph Bolden to injury last spring. Neither played in Saturday’s spring game, but both are expected back in the fall.
In Marve’s absence, sophomore quarterback Rob Henry earned the No. 1 quarterback spot at the beginning of spring and kept it until the end.
“He has really improved a lot since last year,” Hope said. “We’re encouraged about him.”
Henry said he has used this spring to help improve his overall game as a quarterback.
“I’m just trying to improve as a quarterback and being able to sit back and throw and then escaping and making plays with my legs,” Henry said.
Henry said he has been doing everything he can to get his team to a bowl game and he has been really impressed this spring.
Bolden was held out of contact drills this spring, but Hope said Bolden’s return is huge for the team and that he looked good catching the ball and running during practice.
Illinois looking for new offensive identity
Illini coach Ron Zook said his team has been doing something a bit different this spring. The team has practic
ed in the morning to accommodate the different school schedules.
Zook said the players have enjoyed getting up and going to practice so that they can worry about being college kids when they are finished.
The Illini return their starting quarterback from last season, sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase, but they lost leading rusher Mikel Leshoure to the NFL Draft. Scheelhaase will take on a much larger role this season with the loss of the team’s star running back.
“He’s been able to take a little bit at a time and he’s gotten better every day,” Zook said.
Leshoure led the Big Ten in rushing yards in 2010, with 1,697, the third-best total in the nation. Senior running back Jason Ford, who had 480 yards in 2010, will look to fill in for Leshoure.
Illinois will look to improve its passing game this season, meaning Scheelhaase will need to throw more in 2011 than he did in his freshman season.
“As a quarterback, I really feel like I can make strides in the passing game,” Scheelhaase said. “If we make some big strides in the passing game, I think our offense can really do some damage this year.”