Big Ten Roundup

In the first of a two-part series we will take a look at how training camps have been going for each of the Big 10 teams. Like the Irish, all the Big 10 teams are in the middle of camp preparing for the kickoff of their seasons. Here's the latest from around the conference.

Ohio State has emerged as the top-ranked team in the country in both major polls. Jim Tressel has to replace a number of starters on defense but has plenty of depth to draw upon. It's no surprise that one of the early standouts in camp has been true freshman running back Chris Wells. Somewhat surprising has been the fall from grace of former starting quarterback Justin Zwick. He hasn't been healthy through camp and has been passed on the depth chart by Todd Boeckman .

Defensively the Buckeyes are counting on junior college transfer Larry Grant to help out at linebacker and he's performed well in camp thus far. That is important as highly-touted linebacker Mike D'Andrea hasn't been healthy through camp and Tressel doesn't sound optimistic that he will be anytime soon. At defensive end youngsters Doug Worthington, Robert Rose and Lawrence Wilson are fighting for a starting spot. Another player whose performance has been watched closely is un-touted cornerback Antonio Smith. But so far in camp Smith has done nothing to relinquish his standing as a starter. The early season schedule includes the rematch of last year's monumental game against national champion Texas. But the Buckeyes also can't afford to get caught looking past their season-opener against Northern Illinois and the nation's leading rusher, Garrett Wolfe.

In Happy Valley Joe Paterno has been watching his Penn State Nittany Lions struggle with injuries, both at running back and on the offensive line. In their most recent scrimmage the defense dominated the offense, due mostly to the ineffectiveness of the offense line. Add injuries to running backs Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw, along with the need to break in new starting quarterback Anthony Morelli, and there is clearly work yet to be done.

However, the defense has many people encouraged and has looked completely dominant in practice almost from the opening of camp. With the linebacking corps led by all-american Paul Posluszny, the defense was expected to be strong. Young players such as Justin King and Tony Davis have filled in for heavy losses in the secondary and that has helped make the defense take on its dominating look. A tough early season schedule includes the much anticipated game in South Bend against Notre Dame on September 9.

At Illinois, Ron Zook looks to improve on his winless conference season from last year. The Illini return 18 full or part time starters from last year, but even that isn't enough to convince most observers to believe they won't again be at or near the bottom of the conference standings. Early standouts in training camp have been true freshmen tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Jeff Cumberland. After getting a look at Cumberland in action, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley compared him to a player he coached at Maryland, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Speaking of Davis, his younger brother Vontae Davis has caught many eyes in camp as a true freshman playing in the secondary. Like his older brother, Vontae has standout athletic ability, something the Illini have been sorely lacking. Illinois has a favorable early season schedule. The toughest game shapes up to be a visit to Rugters, a team the Illini beat at home last year for one of their only two victories on the season.

In Madison, Wisc., new coach Bret Bielema inherits a team built around its strong offensive and defensive lines. All-american tackle Joe Thomas is healthy again after suffering an ACL tear in last year's Capital One Bowl and has picked up squarely where he left off. He is the nation's best offensive lineman and will be the cornerstone of the Badgers offensive unit. Losing fullback Chris Pressley possibly for the year from an injury suffered on Monday was a blow. Bielema has praised the performance of running backs P.J. Hill and Dywon Rowan in camp. The Badgers defense should be solid. Safety Roderick Rogers has been a standout in practice and scrimmages so far. He has had numerous interceptions and seems to be around the ball on nearly every play. Linebacker Mark Zalewski missed part of camp with an injury but has returned full strength. Injuries have also hit the defensive line, though at this point nothing serious to any player. Wisconsin's early season schedule is light (first three games against Bowling Green, Western Illinois and San Diego State) and should allow Bielema to get his career off to a good start.

Joe Tiller is coming off his first non-bowl season during his tenure at Purdue. He is banking on quarterback Curtis Painter to invoke the memories of former Purdue greats like Len Dawson, Mike Phipps and more recently Drew Brees. Last season the Boilermakers struggled all season to run the ball effectively. Tiller hopes Kory Sheets will help solve that problem. Sheets has been impressive in camp thus far, as have all of the offensive linemen. Defensively camp got off to a rough start with the loss of linebacker Dan Bick to a shoulder injury and cornerback Brandon King to academic short comings. King's absence will be especially harsh as the Boilers have little depth in their secondary. With an unprecedented schedule that has Purdue playing thirteen games with no week off it is imperative that the Boilers get off to a fast start. The first three games of the season are all of the lesser variety (Indiana State, Miami of Ohio and Ball State). Purdue has to win all three before hitting the Notre Dame and Big 10 conference part of their schedule. The health of the team playing thirteen straight weeks will be a major concern for the coaching staff as it reaches the latter part of the season. Top Stories