Big 10 Spring Practice Update

Marsh takes a look at how spring practices are going around the Big 10. <br><br> (AP Photo/Paul Vathis)

Wisconsin Coach Alvarez no Gambling Man

Barry Alvarez is not a gambling man to begin with, but this year he is going to added lengths to remove the risk of injury to his squad. Call Coach Alvarez a belt and suspenders type of guy, but he just doesn't want to see a repeat of what happened last year when star receiver Lee Evans suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year's spring game.

The Badgers will play their annual game this Saturday, but none of the projected starters for next season will be used, including Evans, tailback Anthony Davis and quarterback Jim Sorgi.

"We'll set a time limit and have a scrimmage with young guys and see if we can't find a few other players," Alvarez said.

The Badgers expect to have 16 starters return from last year's 8-6 team, which defeated Colorado in overtime in the Alamo Bowl. Evans is still recovering from surgery on his left knee.

"I anticipate him to be full speed when we start practice in the fall," Alvarez said. College Football News projects Wisconsin to have the best corps of wide outs in the nation this year with Evans, Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr and Darrin Charles. All of these receivers have big play potential at any time and from any place on the field.

The four wide receiver set should be a regular part of the Badger offense this fall, as will the split backfield set we have come to expect from Alvarez led teams, but don't count out the fullback position. The Badgers want to make sure Matt Bernstein gets a lot of work this year.

Bernstein is said to be an absolute load carrying the ball, and he is a road grading blocker coming through the offensive line in front of Davis. Wisconsin Insiders are saying that Bernstein has maintained his quickness while adding 20lbs. of muscle to get up to 270lbs.

Wisconsin surrendered 235.5 passing yards per game last season.  Jim Leonhard and Ryan Aiello, Wisconsin's two starting safeties, are working hard this spring to correct that.

The experience of Leonhard and Aiello should help to improve things at the safety spot. But things aren't so cut and dry at the cornerback positions. Junior Scott Starks has one side nailed down while the spot left vacated by the departed B.J. Tucker is basically up for grabs. According to Lee and Leonhard, two players, Brett Bell and Chuck Cowans are battling it out for that other spot.

Pennsylvania native Levon Rowan is hoping to work his way into the secondary rotation as well.

Can Tressel recapture that Scarlet and Grey Magic

At Ohio State this year the big question will be, does Jim Tressel still have the magic touch.

The Buckeyes, who lose no offensive starters and have a solid defense returning, have a chance to contend for back-to-back national titles, but Tressel knows it won't be easy.

"We're going to need to be significantly better in 2003," Tressel said, knowing that every opponent will be pointing to the Buckeyes more than ever. "The bull's-eye on our backs is going to be bigger than ever. That's just the reality of it."

Ohio State linemen TJ Downing, Shane Olivea, Darrion Scott and Simon Fraser have all missed some practice time with various injuries, but all are expected to be good to go this fall.

Look for freshmen Jay Richardson and Joel Penton to get on the field this fall at DE and DT respectively. Richardson was a kid I spoke about at Big33 last summer as being the best DE in their group. He's living up to that billing in Ohio State's spring drills as he has impressed several Buckeye veterans from the DE spot.

Joel Penton is doing at DT what Richardson has done at the perimeter. Interestingly, after senior Tim Anderson, Richardson and Penton have turned in the best combined numbers this spring in OSU's "power drills" lifting event.

Offensive linemen Adrien Clarke and Mike Stepanovich have dropped a lot of unnecessary weight. Apparently, they have taken notice of a new sign in the Ohio State weight room aimed at the linemen, which states "the leaner you get, the longer you stay", or something to that effect.

Returning starting ssOLB Robert Reynolds is practicing at MLB this spring and rumor out of Columbus says he will stay there this fall. Highly touted Mike D'Andrea and senior Fred Pagac look to play a back up role in the middle.

AJ Hawk at wsOLB and Bobby Carpenter at ssOLB appear to have those spots locked down in spring drills.

Iowa looks to rework Offense

Nathan Chandler, a 6-foot-7 senior, is the heir apparent to Iowa quarterback Brad Banks, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Chandler played in three games last season, and completed three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. He is the only other quarterback who appeared in a game.

Chandler has a strong arm but isn't nearly as mobile as Banks. Iowa ran more than 50 QB draw plays last year. Expect that call to disappear this fall with Chandler not being the same type of QB Brad Banks was last year.

"He's more of a prototype drop-back quarterback, but he also throws the ball well on the run," Coach Kirk Ferentz said of Chandler. "Obviously, he's not going to get to the corner as fast as Brad."

Perhaps of even more concern to the Hawkeyes will be trying to replace four of the five offensive linem

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