The kickoff of spring practices in Big Ten territory is the signal the worst is over for those of us in the Midwest. Sure, we may still face an untimely snowfall, or some frost on the windshield. However mid-March in our neck of the woods usually sees the end of the "Death Storms" that are forecasted on local news, and this is a very good thing.
There are fewer question marks heading into Spring Ball: 2010. All coaches from 2009 return for another go-around, though gentlemen named Zook, Brewster and Rodriguez may want to keep that resume saved on the desktop. And though there are few high-profile position (quarterback) battles on tap, thus the next month or so will see more fine-tuning than overhauling.
Here are some key questions for each team, and a shot at some answers.
Question: Eddie McGee or Jacob Charest? Which running back should we watch?
Answer: Charest should emerge as the clear #1 guy, and I've loved Mikel LeShoure's potential since watching his high school video.
Question: Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher or Terrance Turner?
Answer: All will be factors, though Turner will miss spring ball. Belcher is a red zone nightmare, and Doss is Bloomington's answer to Golden Tate, only three inches taller.
Question: Can we learn anything from the position battles on the offensive line?
Answer: Probably not. The Hawkeyes need to retool their o-line, but it'll be difficult to gauge how things are going. However keep in mind that Kirk Ferentz expects to have about nine guys competing for spots. And recruiting big boys has never been an issue for the Hawks. So due to such depth a position of "weakness" could be a deep position of strength by early September. Keep an eye on Jewel Hampton's spring touches as well.
Question: Any chance that a running back emerges and becomes the man?
Answer: No, this should be a by-committee approach. We've deemed incoming freshie Austin White our sleeper and we're sticking with it.
Question: So this offense now belongs to Kirk Cousins?
Answer: Just like Kansas moved Kerry Meier out to receiver when it became clear that Todd Reesing was the guy, Mark Dantonio has recommended that Keith Nichol head out wide. Cousins made some poor end-of-game decisions in 2009, but he may be the best pure passer at Michigan State since...ever. The is his team.
Question: Does MarQueis Gray have a shot at unseating incumbent Adam Weber.
Answer: Yes. Weber has had his moments, but he's also struggled to avoid throwing the ball to the other team. Don't be surprised to see MarQueis Gray starting by the time USC comes to town.
Question: How will the Northwestern offense look without Mike Kafka?
Answer: A little different. Expected starter Dan Persa is not the passer of his predecessor, thus we may see Zeke Markshausen's numbers take a tumble. Never thought I'd deem Kafka a "passer."
Question: Who should we monitor this spring?
Answer: Watch what redshirt freshman tailback Jaamal Berry does with his spring carries. He could hurt the value of both Brandon Saine and Daniel Herron.
Question: Will Kevin Newsome and freshman Paul Jones get too much of a head start on Robert Bolden before this youngster graduates from high school?
Answer: Bolden and Jones face an uphill battle. Newsome is the clear man to beat.
Question: Robert Marve, Robert Bolden and Keith Smith...is this the best team triumvirate of fantasy stars in the Big Ten?
Answer: It's could emerge as a #2 to Tolzien, John Clay and Lance Kendricks at Wisconsin. The Boilers are very intriguing, but it'll all depend on Marve's maturity, on and off the field.
Question: What is now the spring priority for Bret Bielema and the Badgers?
Answer: Keeping Scott Tolzien healthy. The Badger offense will be very impressive in 2010, but with backup Curt Phillips out for the year, it's time to put Tolzien in a protective bubble.