Big Ten Football: Preseason Position Battles

All across Big Ten country preseason camps are about to begin, and we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the position battles that could help decide the conference divisional races.

We picked through the cliches and platitudes on of Big Ten football media days in Chicago to bring you something you might really be able to use: position battles.

There are plenty throughout the conference, some that could shape the races for the first-ever Big Ten East and West Division titles. We take a look at a few here.

Wisconsin QBs

The team that has been the best in what is now the West lately enters preseason camp with a veteran signal caller but not a defined starter.

Joel Stave was an All-Big Ten honorable mention pick as a sophomore last season after completing 208 of 336 passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he also tossed 13 interceptions. A 6-5, 220-pound drop-back passer, Stave is 13-6 as a starter in his Wisconsin career, but his status as the No. 1 QB could be in jeopardy for as much as what Tanner McEvoy brings to the table as anything else.

A 6-6, 222-pound junior from Arizona Western College, McEvoy started three games at safety last season and finished with 27 tackles with four pass breakups and an interception, but his original position was quarterback. He moved back there this spring and impressed the coaching staff with his athletic ability.

"Any time you look at a young man that is a quarterback and has never played safety in his life, breaks his hand in camp, turns around, learns the scheme, understands it, he's very smart, he's intelligent, he had to learn how to tackle in a couple-week period and got better and better as the year went on," Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said. "I would say he's an elite athlete, but the way he moves around in his size, his ability to -- the speed he runs with, I think he runs very, very well. He's elusive and he's smart. He's got the ball in his hands. So he's a very talented athlete, allows you to do some things offensively to force defenses to understand that if you make a mistake, he's more than willing to take off and make you pay."

Though Stave was limited by a shoulder injury originally sustained in the Badgers' bowl game, Andersen said the battle in the spring was "a great competitive battle" and that it continued to grow in the summer.

"The kids are handling it very well amongst themselves and they're also handling it very well amongst the team," the coach said.

Although he understands the interest is greater in the quarterback position than any other on the field, he said he has no timeline for announcing a decision on his starter.

"Everyone wants to talk about it. I understand it. I get that. But it's no different than the battle that may be taking place at a wide receiver position or what have you. Works itself out," Andersen said. "The kids on the team will understand it, the coaches will understand it, and at that time we'll make a statement and have a starting quarterback. It may not be until we jog off the sidelines for the first snap at the LSU game, though."

Nebraska QBs

Head coach Bo Pelini mentioned three players who have a shot to be the starting quarterback for his team this fall with sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. the leader heading into preseason practice thanks to his eight starts last season. The 6-1, 220-pounder posted a 7-1 record after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez and there for 966 yards and nine touchdowns, though he also tossed eight picks and completed only 51.9 percent of his passes.

He'll have to hold off redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and sophomore walk-on Ryker Fyfe in camp to resume as the starter when the regular season kicks off.

"I think it's going to be an open competition," Pelini said. "Like I said, I think when we line up day one, Tommy will walk out there take the first snap because he has the most experience. He kind of earned that right through the spring, but I think the competition is, gosh, very good. I think it's going to make all three of those guys better.

"And like I tell our guys at every single position, nobody has a guaranteed spot ever, and you gotta put it on film every day. You've got to go out there, compete on a daily basis and work hard. And when you have that attitude, that makes everybody around you better. And that's going to make them better."

Wisconsin WRs

While the Badgers have a proven player at quarterback, the same is not true of the wide receiver position. Jared Abbrederis was not only an All-Big Ten performer last year, he was also the only wide receiver to catch more than 12 passes (tight end Jacob Peterson and running back James White caught 39 passes apiece while WR Jeff Duckworth had the aforementioned dozen) on the year. Abbrederis' 78 grabs are a school record for a season, and they figure to be hard to replace. Duckworth is gone, too, after using up his eligibility, leaving Andersen with no choice but to identify the position as a big question mark.

"We need a couple young men to step up, some in our program and have been in our program for the years past, but (veterans) Kenzel (Doe) and Jordan (Fredrick), quite frankly, need some help as far as moving ourselves forward," Andersen said. "Alex Erickson has done a nice job. He's back off his injury, but we have Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright in our program (and) they need to be ready to step up and play this year if we're going to be a factor at the wide receiver position. And we have some young men that came in, three young men that are with us, feel good about all three of them. Two of the three need to get on the airplane and fly to the LSU game for us. So we'll see how all that boils down."

Michigan OL

The biggest source of frustration for the Wolverines last season remains a question mark heading into 2014 as the offensive line remains young and is now without long-time starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.

Head coach Brady Hoke said he would expect to see the starting unit at the start of preseason camp look a lot like it looked at the end of spring, which per was (from left to right) Mason Cole, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden.

"I think we'll start camp with a lineup that we've come out of spring with, and that will be based some things on what has been done during the course of the summer and when you see the work ethic and all those things, but a lot of it will be based on coming out spring football obviously," Hoke said.

Erik Magnuson, who started seven games at guard last season, is also expected to join the mix, and Graham Glasgow should be involved after serving a one-game suspension to start the year. Cole, a true freshman, and redshirt freshman David Dawson could also work their way into the mix, but Hoke hopes to have found a lineup no less than two weeks into camp to let the unit begin to jell.

"We'll go through that lineup, but at the same time what will change it up every day a little bit to see where the pieces fit," Hoke said.

Indiana RBs

It may not be a competition per se, but head coach Kevin Wilson said he would like to find some support for standout junior Tevin Coleman, who was fifth in the Big Ten last season with 106.4 yards rushing per game. The only players to average more all-purpose yards per game were Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde.

"Will Tevin be the featured guy? He kind of was the featured guy last year, but I do think we're going to have to play with more than one back," Wilson said. "I think, you know, most teams, whether it be -- I mean, Adrian Peterson has a complementary guy in the NFL and did when we had him at Oklahoma. I mean, we're going need to complement Tevin, whether it be with D'Angelo Roberts, Myles Graham, Laray Smith, guys in-house. And I really like Andrew Wilson and Anthony Davis as some walk-on thick kids. I'm telling you, better than you think.

"And then two signees, Tommy Mister and Devine Redding -- we got eight guys in the running back court coming into our preseason 105, and they're all pretty good. And no one like Tevin. I think Tevin can be as good a back -- and there's some tremendous backs in this league. I think he's one of the best backs in this league. I think we've got a line that can back it up. We got a quarterback that can spread it around and get the ball out in space.

"I'm looking forward to Tevin having a solid year, a strong year. And whether we want to call it breakout or can he handle the load, I think he's going to be one of the better offensive players in this conference, and looking forward to coaching him next week again."

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