"football" tag

Big Ten’s lunch links

Make up your mind, Mother Nature. Connor Cook now has the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage for Michigan State, another sign of confidence in the quarterback heading into his second season as the starter.

If the problem for Michigan last season was a lack of chemistry, Brady Hoke has a feeling that won’t be a problem this fall he leaves spring.

Penn State showed off a Wildcat package in its spring game, but James Franklin won’t reveal how much he’ll use it — or whether it’s got a unique nickname.

Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz isn’t usually one for hyperbole, so he means it when he calls Brandon Scherff the best player at his position in the country.

The Ohio State defense is leaving spring practice with a much better feeling than it did when it left the field after the Discover Orange Bowl.

After a long, difficult road, Rutgers offensive lineman Bryan Leoni is pushing for a starting role and a happy ending for his journey.

The Purdue offense has undergone a transformation this spring, and the roster has also added some talent to run the system.

The union seeking to represent Northwestern football players offered its response to the school’s appeal, calling the university’s case a “castle built on sand.”

No matter how big the league gets, the Big Ten is keeping its name.

The rebrand of Illinois athletics appears to be a hit, writes Loren Tate.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming. Tags:Purdue Boilermakers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Morgan Burke, Brady Hoke, Connor Cook, Brian Ferentz, James Franklin, Bryan Leoni

Meyer keeps talented Buckeyes under wraps

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines. The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

+ EnlargeAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn’t say much about Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall. “There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, Ohio State sports information director Jerry Emig hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“… We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend — aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month. …

Buckeyes add another transfer big man in Thompson (The Associated Press)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Virginia Tech’s Trevor Thompson, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, says he’s transferring to play at Ohio State.Thompson will have three years of eligibility remaining, most likely sitting out a year to begin playing in the 2015-16 season.On his Twitter account, Thompson posted, ”Well it’s official I’m a Ohio State Buckeye.”Thompson is the second big man to transfer to Ohio State recently. Anthony Lee, a 6-9 forward, said late last month that he would graduate from Temple to transfer to Ohio State to play his final year next season.Thompson, the son of former major-league baseball player Ryan Thompson, played in 29 games last season for the Hokies, starting in 10 while averaging 5.0 points and 4.7 rebounds.An Indianapolis native, he had also considered Indiana and Purdue.Trevor ThompsonRyan Thompson

Big Ten spring notebook: East Division

Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday. Here’s a closer look at the East:

INDIANA

Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he’s starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn’t changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there — and Wilson’s seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: “They’ve for sure held their own on a daily basis — and, in some ways, probably even better — against the offense.”

Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it’s also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA’s top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he’s hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.

At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers’ leading returning receiver, and he’s transitioning to playing the outside. It’s been a little different for Wynn, who said he’s had to watch more film as a result. He’s reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.

MARYLAND Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can’t focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. …

Michael Thomas again shining in spring

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The spring season’s star was back on a familiar stage, again stealing the show. A few thousand fans crowded into Ohio State’s indoor practice facility on Saturday, and, as he’s done three camps running, Michael Thomas gave them all something to remember and rave about.

The redshirt sophomore stuck out one hand in the corner of the end zone, plucked a pass out of the air as if the football and his glove were made of velcro and started a team-wide celebration with yet another entry on his spring highlight reel.

+ EnlargeAP Photo/Al BehrmanMichael Thomas is doing his spring thing again. He made a memorable catch during a scrimmage on Saturday.For now, Thomas has almost nothing of note on his résumé after the month of April in his career with the Buckeyes, failing twice in a row to build on head-turning workouts and jaw-dropping glimpses of his athleticism at wide receiver. But in the midst of a third productive camp and coming off a surprising redshirt season, though, Thomas might finally be ready to carry over some of his springtime success into the fall. “I just took last season like a developmental year,” Thomas said. “That motivates me more, motivates me every day.

“We’ve been waiting for spring to come around since we knew we were probably going to redshirt. Now it’s here and we’re going hard and competing every day.”

Thomas has had a knack for winning those battles in the spring, and it has only made his lack of production when it really counts all the more puzzling.

As an early enrollee in 2012, Thomas dominated the spring game with a team-high 12 catches, a number that was even more notable with the Buckeyes coming off a season in which no player made more than 14 receptions.

Last spring, Thomas seemed to always have the edge on the practice field during open workouts, using his 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame to overpower defensive backs on intermediate routes or flashing his speed and ball skills to make plays deep down the field.

But his first season in 2012 ended with just three receptions. Last fall, a disappointing training camp in August prompted the coaching staff to bench him for the opener, a decision that ultimately sent him down the path to a season on the sideline.

“He didn’t have a great fall camp,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “So, I didn’t play him in the first game, mainly because I wanted him to realize that we’re not going to go a whole season with him preparing the way he prepared, performing the way he performed in practice. That’s just not what we expect here. After that game, kept going, he kept growing, but we didn’t want to waste a year on Mike just to catch 12 balls or 15.

“We weren’t going to put him in the game unless we had to, so we saved a year, but he got a year of experience preparing to play.”

That extra year might come in handy down the road for the Buckeyes when or if Thomas does end up tapping into his outsized potential, and he certainly had plenty of chances to build himself into a dangerous target while working against future NFL cornerback Bradley Roby on the practice field last season.

Ohio State has been able to put up prolific, historic offensive statistics in the past two seasons while leaning heavily on its rushing attack and not getting quite as much balance from the passing game as the coaching staff would like, an issue Urban Meyer has made well known he’d like to fix heading into his third season with the program. A lack of depth at receiver isn’t solely to blame for that, much like a rough training camp that produced a redshirt for Thomas wasn’t the only factor that limited some of the options and production on the perimeter. But Thomas has the ability to help solve both problems at the same time. He’ll just have to move his next encore performance up to the fall.

“I just had to reach out a little bit, extra effort, one-handed catch, it hit my glove and stuck to it,” Thomas said after adding another spring touchdown catch to his collection. “There are still a lot of things I have to work on, but we’re getting better every day.”

Small crowds have had a chance to see that improvement in the spring…

Ohio legislative panel clarifies bill that says student athletes wouldn’t be considered employees

Updated: April 8, 2014, 12:54 PM ET By Austin Ward | ESPN.com COLUMBUS, Ohio — The ongoing battle for labor rights and unionization shifted to a new state, as an Ohio legislative panel changed a budget bill to clarify that student-athletes would not be considered employees of a state university. The proposal comes in response to the ruling from the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that football players at Northwestern could form a union, which the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee could prevent in its state if the amendment passes. A committee vote is scheduled for Tuesday and could be voted on by the full House on Wednesday. “I think this is a statement of what we all thought was obvious,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz said, according to Cleveland.com. “Athletes are not employees of their university.” Amstutz added that the change could have little impact, according to The Associated Press, “but if it ever comes up, it will be in the law for clarification.” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer last week indicated that he hadn’t been closely following the Northwestern case, but he echoed the sentiments of the proposal and doesn’t consider his players to be employees. “I don’t feel that at all,” Meyer said. “What I do feel, I’ve always been pro-student and students should get more than what they get, but it gets so complicated. I’m so focused on our team, I’ve read a little bit of it, I’ve watched it when it comes on, but to say I’ve immersed myself in that situation, I haven’t. “To say that they could go out and get their own shoe contracts or those kinds of things, you know, I start hearing that and I wonder what that would do for this great sport. And really, what would that do for college athletics as a whole?”Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming.

Big Ten lunch links

How long is too long to wait for free pizza? Michigan’s new offensive coordinator might be “insane” according to Devin Gardner, but Doug Nussmeier’s might be just what the program needs.

Michigan State backup quarterback Tyler O’Connor has no plans to transfer, even with Connor Cook ahead of him on the depth chart.

Penn State moved a pair of defensive tackles to the offensive line, a sign of confidence in the players already on hand in the defensive trenches.

The Ohio State offensive line has a bunch of new faces, but the guy leading the unit remains the same. Ed Warinner’s presence continues to give the Buckeyes confidence they can reload up front.

After a year away from football, Maryland receiver Marcus Leak has returned humbled, more mature and looking to make an impact.

Brandon Scherff has always been known for his ability to look ahead, and that trait is a big part of the reason the star left tackle elected to stay at Iowa for another season.

The tackles at Purdue are under intense scrutiny this spring, but the program has been pleasantly surprised with the play of sophomore J.J. Prince so far.

Vincent Valentine had his body right ahead of spring practice, but the Nebraska defensive tackle realized quickly he needed to make some technical improvements to have a big sophomore season.

Tanner McEvoy has played well elsewhere, but the Wisconsin junior made clear he’d prefer to stick around at quarterback.

The latest twist in the drama unfolding at Northwestern: Trevor Siemian opposes forming a union, and the quarterback indicated “a lot” of teammates feel the same way.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming. Tags:Purdue Boilermakers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Maryland Terrapins, Devin Gardner, Trevor Siemian, Brandon Scherff, Connor Cook, Ed Warinner, Tyler O’Connor, Vincent Valentine, Tanner McEvoy, Doug Nussmeier, Marcus Leak, J.J. Prince

Buckeyes dialing up pressure at cornerback

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The cushions are gone in the Ohio State secondary. For the spring, that figuratively applies to a group of defensive backs being challenged and pushed to the limit on a daily basis, removing their personal comfort zone in order to to improve on the disaster that was last season’s pass coverage.

By the fall, it will literally mean the spaces that used to be open to opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage will no longer exist, replaced instead by a relentless barrage of nonstop press coverage.

The goal both now and later is for the Buckeyes to make an opponent uncomfortable when the ball is in the air, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is more than willing to do his part to take out the buffer and dial up the pressure to make sure that happens.

“We’re playing a style of defense that is very appealing to me as a corners coach,” Coombs said. “Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that’s the way we’re going to learn it. Then we’ll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around.”

+ EnlargeSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsArmani Reeves and the Buckeyes will be in press coverage more often in 2014.The Buckeyes came up woefully short on the measuring stick last fall, and its beleaguered pass coverage was arguably at the top of the list of reasons they fell short of their goal of playing for the national championship as the secondary unraveled down the stretch. Ohio State survived a shootout against rival Michigan despite allowing 451 passing yards, but even its high-powered offense wasn’t able to keep trading punches against Michigan State and Clemson as those teams combined for 682 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in those two losses. Collectively the Buckeyes allowed 250 yards or more eight times as they sank to No. 110 in the nation in pass defense, and coach Urban Meyer has made it well known that he believed the defense was too conservative.

That message has clearly been delivered to returning assistants such as Coombs, and a fresh voice in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has echoed it as he helps install a much more aggressive system that will bring the cornerbacks up to the line of scrimmage to force the issue in man-to-man coverage.

“It takes practice to play that way,” Coombs said. “Football is made up of a myriad of different schemes. There are lots of different things, and it’s not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.’ It’s the scheme; it’s how everything fits together.

“I’m not blaming that on anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times, but it wasn’t our base concept — it was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment, and we will adjust off of that. …

Big Ten lunch links

Sure looked like Eddie Johnson was onside to me. I’ll count it as another rivalry win. Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner joined in the tradition of poking fun at a rival during a fundraising event with fans. Should anybody be offended by his canned jokes?

Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded to Warinner’s comments with a bit of humor of his own.

Mark Dantonio doesn’t usually hold press conferences to talk about one player, but the recruitment of Malik McDowell called for some discussion of how it all went down for Michigan State.

Penn State tight end Adam Breneman will be on the shelf for the rest of spring practice thanks to a bone bruise in his knee.

Nebraska wide receiver Sam Burtch is a no-nonsense guy, and his businesslike approach could be a boost for the offense this fall.

Mark Weisman saw plenty of room to grow after reviewing every carry from last season, and the Iowa running back might need to improve to keep getting most of the carries in a crowded backfield.

Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert’s speed isn’t up for debate based on his times on the track. The next thing he has to do is prove he can be physical on the football field.

Illinois is looking for more team speed on defense, and the early returns from spring practice suggest the unit might be getting faster.

Yet another Big Ten tight end is currently stuck on the sideline during spring practice, and like the others, Tyler Kroft is trying to make the most of it.

Deon Long is now “90 percent” healthy, but he’s well on the way to getting back and helping Maryland at wide receiver.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming. Tags:Purdue Boilermakers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Brady Hoke, Mark Dantonio, Raheem Mostert, Ed Warinner, Adam Breneman, Malik McDowell, Mark Weisman, Sam Burtch, Deon Long, Tyler Kroft

Ash working on effort before scheme

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The changes to Ohio State’s defensive scheme will have to wait. For now, Chris Ash is only focused on how the Buckeyes go about their business, regardless of the schemes the new co-defensive coordinator might install to fix a unit in need of repairs.

More man coverage and a new package of aggressive blitzes were part of the promises that accompanied Urban Meyer’s hiring of Ash in the offseason. But at least through the first half of spring camp, there has been no deep dive into the playbook. At this point, Ash has largely stayed on the first few pages, keeping the approach as simple as possible in the first phase of the rebuilding job, focusing on effort above everything else.

“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically,” Ash said. “We’re going to have a philosophy; we’re going to have a system, an identity for what we’re doing. But really, it’s about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.

+ EnlargeGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTyvis Powell and Ohio State are focusing on effort in the defensive backfield so far in spring practice.“What I’m happy about so far is the effort that guys are giving. The guys have bought into what I’m coaching, what I’m teaching and they’re coming out here and practicing extremely hard. That’s all I care about right now. With the changes from the past, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know what it was like before.” Ash might not have any baseline with which to compare Ohio State’s practices this spring compared to the last couple of seasons, but the returning players certainly do. And the differences have not gone unnoticed at the midway point of spring practice.

The coaching staff has kept a running tally of loafs in practice, pointing out when players are coasting or failing to meet the oft-repeated standard of giving “4 to 6 seconds” of relentless effort from “Point A to Point B.” The Buckeyes are picking up every loose ball and trying to duplicate “scoop-and-score” scenarios. Every interception is supposed to be returned at least 10 yards at full speed, though safety Tyvis Powell has taken it upon himself to double that when the football comes his way, trying to build his case as a potential leader for the revamped secondary.

That type of gesture and work ethic won’t go unnoticed by Ash, mostly because it’s exactly what he’s looking for before adding wrinkles to a pass defense that finished last season ranked No. …

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