#4-Levi Brown-Penn State-Junior
#6-Stefon Wheeler-Michigan State-Senior
#8-Rob Sims-Ohio State-Senior
The number one spot is debatable given the contrasting style of the two leaders, Thomas and Strief. If you want a left tackle that will keep your quarterback's jersey clean in pass protection, Joe Thomas is your guy. Pro scouts I’ve talked to say his potential is off the charts given the fact that he has a nice frame to work with and he’s nimble for a big man. If you want an old school-smash mouth-run blocking right tackle, then Northwestern's Zack Strief is your man. Unlike Thomas, he’s not very mobile, but he’s the best run blocking tackle in the conference.
Jake Long quickly became a premium tackle as a red shirt freshman last season, earning Freshman All-American honors. He missed spring practice due to injury but the big man should be ready to go for the fall. Levi Brown has been overlooked on a bottom feeder offense at Penn State, but he’s a good one and has certainly caught the eye of NFL scouts.
Next on the list is Iowa's Mike Jones. The same Mike Jones that the Wolverines were one of the finalists for a few years back. Although he isn’t a household name outside of the Hawkeye State, Jones should challenge for all conference honors after moving from guard to tackle. Michigan State’s Stefon Wheeler gets overlooked quite a bit, but you won’t find too many pass-protectors better than him.
Another Mike, Mike Otto from Purdue, had a fantastic freshman season. However, I was rather disappointed in his play last season. As a freshman Otto played in shape and with a mean streak, something which he didn’t do this past year. That said, he has slimmed down and is refocused, so look for him to reestablish himself.
Rob Sims from Ohio State is another guy I’ve been waiting to see blossom. Sims may get moved to guard, but I think he has the potential to be a good one. I’m not sold on Adam Stenavich just yet. He was solid his sophomore season but played inconsistent last year and needs to pick up his game. With Mike Kolodziej pushing him, Stenavich could play up to his potential in this, his final year with the Maize and Blue. Mike Kolodziej is good enough to start, and would on many Big Ten clubs. He is the conference's best backup offensive lineman and could get the nod at left tackle this season.
This group has the ability to be pretty good this year. You have a lot of young guys like Thomas, Long and Jones that have grown quickly and have plenty of potential. There’s also the group of Otto, Stenavich and Sims, which could move up the list if they step up after disappointing 2004 campaigns. The third group of Strief, Brown and Wheeler may not have the upside of the others but they are some of most consistent lineman in the conference. Also look for Indiana’s Isaac Sowells to possibly make this list by mid season.
#4-Tyler Reed-Penn State-Senior
#6-Kyle Cook-Michigan State-Junior
#7-TJ Downing-Ohio State-Junior
#10-Doug Datish-Ohio State-Junior
Mark Setterstrom is best guard in a rather weak class that has to replace nine starters across the league. Setterstrom is more of a system player but he’s excellent at what he does. He’s a lot like fellow teammate Greg Eslinger because both are a bit undersized, quick and show excellent cohesion and timing in Minnesota’s zone blocking scheme. Setterstrom has a ton of experience and should be an All Big Ten performer. Matt Lentz gets the #2 by default. Physically he has it all but needs to become dominant in his final season. It will be key for Lentz to provide the team a reliable guy to run behind much like David Baas did.
Mike Elgin is a player I really enjoy watching. He’s not even 280 pounds yet he uses sound technique and smart play to beat defenders…both marks of great coaching. Elgin is a very quick guard and excellent in space. Tyler Reed has started the previous two years at Penn State and I like what I’ve seen out of him. He is best in a small area and plays with power.
Leo Henige, in my opinion, could be Michigan’s best guard if he heals up and stays healthy. The Chesaning native shows the nasty domination that Lentz needs to do more of and it would be huge if he can come back and lock down left guard slot. He isn’t a very nimble, but in a small area he’s a poor man’s David Baas.
Many pundits overlook Kyle Cook, but he is one of the best interior run blockers in the conference. TJ Downing is an athletic kid who in my opinion could really emerge this season. Martin O’Donnell was a highly rated recruit and has lived up to his hype thus far. O’Donnell is an athletic guy, who despite some lack of polish is one of best young interior players in the Big Ten. Adam Hines isn’t spectacular but combines with teammate Isaac Sowells to form a respectable combo. Doug Datish has a lot of upside and could have a breakout year.
Watch for Andy Kemp at Wisconsin. Kemp is a true freshman but will start at some point this year at guard. Everyone who has observed him comes away very impressed on how physically and mentally he is prepared after graduating early.
#2-Nick Mangold-Ohio State-Senior
#4-Chris Morris-Michigan State-Senior
This is a pretty deep and talented group of Big Ten centers led by the best one in the country in Greg Eslinger. Eslinger isn’t over big or powerful but his game is predicated on athleticism and technique. The Gopher senior has a ton of experience, and along with the league's best guard Mark Setterstrom, they form a duo that coaches dream of. Nick Mangold really came on late in the year for Ohio State and should carry that success into this year. Mangold should be a candidate for the Rimington award (nation’s best center) along with Eslinger at the season’s end.
Donovan Raiola is the leader of a rebuilding Wisconsin offensive line. Raiola doesn’t make it look pretty but he’s a mauler type that has experience and excellent awareness. Chris Morris is underrated and like all the other center’s ranked above him, he’s undersized but gets the job done because he can move so well and is excellent in space.
Purdue’s Matt Turner can switch between guard and center and is in the mold of Donovan Raiola. Turner is undersized but someone forgot to tell him because he fights like a pit bull in the trenches. Brian Ferentz showed me last season he didn’t get the job because of his last name. This kid can play. Ferentz saw time at guard last year after returning from injury and the team needs him in a big way at center this season. If he can stay healthy, Brian could move up this already talented list.
I really like what I saw from Rueben Riley this spring. Riley combines solid athletic ability, power, and technique and should take over the center position. Although the new position has it’s complications, Riley is one of most versatile lineman you will find and he has adapted well thus far.
Matt Maddox is a bright spot on an Illinois offensive line that needs all the help it can get. Trevor Rees plays very well despite his size limitations and earned Freshman All-American honors in 2003. Chris Mangiero is a decent returning starter for Terry Hoeppner and the Hoosiers.