Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 1, 2013
Spring football has kicked off in Big Ten territory, with Northwestern the first to take off the wraps this past Wednesday. Yesterday, we posted spring previews for the Leaders Division teams. Today, we take a look at the Legends Division, which is filled with many interesting story lines: How will Nebraska?s defensive front seven take shape? Will Michigan?s offense transition smoothly from the Denard Robinson era to a more conventional attack? How will the overhauled staff work at Iowa?
|2012 Big Ten Conference Standings – Legends
- The offense needs to continue to develop in Year Two under coordinator Greg Davis. The Hawkeyes will need to break in a new quarterback with James Vandenberg gone. No quarterback on the roster has taken a snap. The top contenders are sophomore Jake Rudock, former JC transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. And the receiving corps must step up under new coach Bobby Kennedy, who worked with Davis at Texas. Their chemistry should help the offense. But are there any playmaking wideouts? The offensive line needs to replace C James Ferentz and T Matt Tobin.
- The staff needs to bond, as Ferentz has hired six assistants over the past 14 months. After 2011, Ferentz replaced both coordinators (Greg Davis on offense; Phil Parker on defense), and changed his offensive (Brian Ferentz) and defensive line (Reese Morgan, who was o-line coach) coaches and hired a new linebackers coach (LeVar Woods). After 2012, Ferentz switched his running backs (Lester Erb), receivers (Erik Campbell) and defensive backs (Darrell Wilson) coaches.
- Keep an eye on the defense and second-year coordinator Phil Parker. Iowa hired former Virginia coordinator Jim Reid, who will bring plenty of experience to the table in whatever role he fills. The unit needs to develop some depth at linebacker and some playmakers off the edge up front.
- Life without Denard Robinson begins as the program moves forward without one of its all-time greats. No doubt, Michigan will miss his dynamic skills, leadership and personality, but the attack looks well-positioned with Devin Gardner at quarterback. The offense also figures to shift to a more conventional look with Robinson gone. Stud QB Shane Morris arrives in the summer.
- The Wolverines received big news when stud left offensive tackle Taylor Lewan announced he would return for his senior season. Right tackle Michael Schofield also is back, giving Michigan two bookends up front. But the interior must be replaced, as guards Joey Burzynski and Patrick Omameh and center Ricky Barnum are gone. Keep an eye on young studs like Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller.
- More production is needed from the running backs. Fitz Toussaint won?t take part in spring drills recovering from a leg injury. Michigan won?t get a look at freshman Derrick Green until the summer; he?s considered to be the nation?s top back and figures to play right away. Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes will get plenty of long looks this spring.
- The offense must replace RB Le'Veon Bell's production after he opted to turn pro early. This will be an important spring for Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill to establish themselves as viable options. If they don't, then look for the two incoming freshmen tailbacks-R.J. Shelton, Gerald Holmes–to make their presence known in preseason camp.
- This spring will be critical in terms of development for QB Andrew Maxwell, what with Jim Bollman reportedly taking over as coordinator after Dan Roushar left to coach running backs with the New Orleans Saints. Maxwell endured his ups and downs last year in his first year as the starter. Connor Cook could have a chance to make a move. No doubt, the quarterbacks would be helped if the receivers improve. The unit was maligned often in 2012. Players like Tony Lippett, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery, Bennie Fowler and Andre Sims, among others, need to step up.
- Three-year starting K Dan Conroy is gone. Who will step up? Kevin Muma, Mike Sadler, Evan Fischer and Kevin Cronin are the top candidates. It's an especially important spring for Muma, who has handled the kickoff duties for the last three years. If he doesn't create significant separation, then expect true freshman Michael Geiger, the No. 1-rated high school prospect, to join the competition in preseason camp.
- Minnesota needs to develop chemistry on the offensive line. The unit was banged up last season. How banged up? Three different players started at center-including once all in the same game at Illinois. Massive T Ed Olson is the only senior. The front probably will mix in a few mammoth redshirt freshmen who are filled with promise. Plus, Ohio State center transfer Brian Bobek is in the mix after sitting out last year.
- The staff needs to figure out who will play corner, as Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire are gone. Derrick Wells could move from safety to corner. Wells is a playmaker and maybe the best player on the defense. The staff has said that it really likes young safeties Eric Murray and Antonio Johnson, which would soften the blow of Wells moving to corner.
- The passing game needs to develop. Philip Nelson turned heads as a true freshman last season. But some insiders like Mitch Leidner, who redshirted last season. And true freshman Chris Streveler, who has the ideal skill set to run this offense, is on campus. The team seemed to lack a go-to wideout after A.J. Barker bolted the team. Marcus Jones, Andre McDonald, Devin Crawford-Tufts, K.J. Maye and Jamel Harbison, who is coming off a knee injury, among others, need to step up at some point.
- There is much work to do along the defensive front seven, which will be completely re-tooled. The Huskers have lost five fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year senior from the front seven. Players like Baker Steinkuhler, Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith are gone from up front. LBs Alonzo Whaley and Will Compton also have departed. Thad Randle is the lone vet at tackle. Keep an eye on players like JC transfer Randy Gregory, Avery Moss, Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine, Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams along the line. LB David Santos looks like a future star, and Zaire Anderson is good. LB Michael Rose also has promise, along with Thomas Brown.
- There is work to do in the secondary, as Nebraska looks to replace last year?s starting safeties in Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson need to play well this spring. And keep an eye on Charles Jackson and D.J. Singleton.
- No doubt, the staff will emphasis ball security. Nebraska led the Big Ten with 22 fumbles lost. And the Huskers paced the league in turnovers lost with 35. Add it up, and Nebraska?s turnover margin ranked 105th in the nation. Still, this team won 10 games.
- The Wildcats don?t have too much to work on coming off the school?s first bowl win ever, right? After all, this is a team that was just 5:03 from an unbeaten record in 2012. It says so on the shirts the players are wearing in spring drills. Seriously, the Cats need to work on the offensive line, which has three holes to fill. Guards Neal Deiters and Brian Mulroe are gone. Mulroe was the stud. Left tackle Patrick Ward also must be replaced.
- The departure of David Nwabuisi has created a void at weak-side linebacker. Not only was Nwabuisi good-but he was a leader. Speaking of linebackers, it will be fun to watch Ifeadi Odenigbo, who redshirted last season after arriving with a fat scrapbook. The guy could be a stud but is coming off shoulder surgery.
- The secondary needs to emerge. CB Nick VanHoose is sitting out spring drills with injury. And Quinn Evans and Demetrius Dugar are gone. CB Daniel Jones must set the tone and lead the way as the team?s most seasoned corner.
|About Tom Dienhart
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.
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