Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 22, 2012
Took a spin around the Internet and found a few solid pieces. With spring ball here, it?s time to rearrange the puzzle at Wisconsin; at Michigan, offensive coordinator Al Borges would like more depth on the Wolverines' offensive line. Who will win the Penn State quarterback job? What's new on the Iowa defense? And MarQueis Gray is the starting quarterback at Minnesota ?right now.?
ON WISCONSIN: With spring ball here, it?s time to rearrange the puzzle at Wisconsin, writes Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal.
?We are going for our third consecutive Big Ten championship, that?s what it is,? said Badger coach Bret Bielema. ?That?s unprecedented in the school?s history and it?s something that?s an exciting challenge for all of us.?
But many issues loom as Bielema enters his seventh season in Madison. He has six new assistants, and also must replace six starters on offense and five on defense. The biggest issue is quarterback with Russell Wilson gone. Sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave are the only healthy signal-callers for spring drills. Senior Curt Phillips, who has had three knee surgeries, will be limited in his participation. Junior Jon Budmayr will miss the spring recovering from an elbow issue. The position could get a boost if Danny O?Brien opts to transfer from Maryland. Still, this is a team with a long to-do list.
The good news: The Leaders Division is filled with questions. Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois have new coaches-and the Buckeyes aren?t eligible for the conference championship; Indiana is in just its second year under Kevin Wilson; Purdue remains a work in progress.
LINE 'EM UP: Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges would like more depth on the offensive line, says this story in the Detroit Free Press. Two starters must be replaced, with David Molk being the biggest loss after winning the Rimington Trophy as the nation?s top center.
?We have enough guys to compete," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "You always would like more numbers, offensive line-wise particularly, because we're not very deep at the position. We've got a couple kids–Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller, I think will be good centers. Ricky has a good profile for the position, probably even more so than when he played guard."
BACK IN ACTION: AnnArbor.com has a good story on Michigan's Fitz Toussaint-who last year became the school?s first 1,000-yard rusher since Mike Hart in 2007. And Vincent Smith is a known commodity, but he figures to be a third-down back. But who else will tote the rock? This is a key spring for redshirt freshman Justice Hayes and sophomore Thomas Rawls to step up and bolster a position that needs a good No. 2 option.
QB DERBY: Bob Flounders of the Patriot-News asks Who will win the Penn State quarterback job? Matt McGloin? Rob Bolden? Paul Jones? The Nits also are in the sweepstakes for Maryland transfer Danny O?Brien. If all else fails, there may even be a chance for incoming freshman Steven Bench to win the job at some point in 2012. Bottom line: Penn State needs better play from the position if it wants to contend in the Leaders Division. The arrival of Bill O?Brien should help, as he is known as a coach who can develop quarterbacks as he most recently worked with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
FRESH FACES: And Marc Morehouse at the Cedar Rapids Gazette notes the newness all over the Iowa defense. The biggest key: developing a line.
?I have a real confidence level with everyone on staff,? said Kirk Ferentz. ?It?s kind of invigorating for everybody. It?s not ?the same old thing, on 2.? It?s a little different challenge. Guys are out researching and getting with people who are really good in their profession.?
That?s good, because the unit needs work. Iowa ranked No. 8 in the Big Ten in total defense (378.9 ypg). The run defense ranked No. 7 (156.0 ypg) and the pass defense was 11th (222.9 ypg). Norm Parker has stepped down as defensive coordinator; Phil Parker was promoted to take over a staff that underwent other changes and tweak. The line is the most critical area. Reese Morgan was moved from offensive line coach to defensive line coach to take over a unit that saw every player who started in the bowl game depart. The 61-year-old Morgan has his work cut out for him. And his job this spring is exasperated by the fact key players Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis will be limited because of knee issues.
PRESENT TENSE: From The Pioneer Press we find out that MarQueis Gray is the starting quarterback ?right now? says Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.
?There's competition because, first of all, you don't know what's going to happen,? said Kill. ?You never want anybody to get comfortable. If you're working with anybody at your job and you've got somebody comfortable, then you're going to get fired.?
Gray showed promise last season, when he started 10 games after splitting time between quarterback and receiver earlier in his career. Gray ran for 966 yards last season, the most ever in a season by a Golden Gopher quarterback. But he needs to improve his passing to become a better signal-caller. The senior was only the 11th-rated passer in the Big Ten last year, completing just 50.7 percent of his passes for 1,495 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. If Gray doesn't take the next step, Minnesota will be hard-pressed to make the postseason in 2012. This is a key spring for him.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com and will post his Daily Links on weekdays. You can subscribe to the Daily Links RSS here, find Dienhart?s work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.