COLUMBUS: Football coaches throughout the Big Ten are taking stock of their teams as spring practices end for some, wind down for others and crank up for a few more.
Here’s a look at some developments in the Legends Division:
Michigan: The Wolverines are dealing with the loss of linebacker Jake Ryan, who suffered a torn knee ligament during practice and won’t play this season. Another expected vacancy, however, has created the most change.
The departure of Denard Robinson opened the quarterback spot for junior Devin Gardner, allowing coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges to return to more of a pro-style offense that they prefer.
“Coach Borges is more familiar running this [pro] style of offense, so it’s going to be easier for him,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “I’m excited about it. The tradition of mauling people up and down the field is really cool.”
Gardner started the final five games of the 2012 season, including an Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina in which he threw three touchdown passes, after Robinson suffered an elbow injury.
“The leadership and effort you’re seeing [Gardner] put forth every day has really separated him from a year ago,” Hoke said.
Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini concluded spring practice optimistic about replacing eight starters from a defense that was awful at times in 2012, including a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
“We have talent [on defense],” Pelini said. “We have a lot of guys I believe are on the come, and we should hopefully have more depth there than we’ve had in a while.”
Michigan State: The Spartans are so intent on creating competition at quarterback that coach Mark Dantonio is risking injury by allowing his defense to hit the quarterbacks in practice.
“That has been a big change, and I think a positive change,” Dantonio said. “When things are live, there is more of a sense of urgency, and when things break down, you have to create.”
Andrew Maxwell is the incumbent starter, but backups Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor are getting a close look to supplant him. “Andrew is being pushed,” Dantonio said.
Northwestern: Optimism reigns among the Wildcats because of 15 returning starters, but they have 13 players not practicing this spring while rehabilitating from injuries. Four of them are offensive linemen.
“We’ve really had to tweak the way we practice due to depth because of the injuries on our offensive line,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Because of the lack of depth, Fitzgerald decided not to have a spring game this year. Instead, Northwestern will have a practice and youth clinic open to the public on Saturday.
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz prepares for his 15th season as Hawkeyes coach after suffering his first losing season (4-8) in 12 years, and James Vandenberg is gone after taking every snap at quarterback last season. No leader has emerged among freshmen Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, and junior Cody Sokol.
“It’s still a three-horse race,” Ferentz said. “We came into it with no preconceived notions. I’m pleased with all three of them. They’re doing some good things out there and some things they need to work on.”
Minnesota: Coach Jerry Kill is pleased by the physical progress his players have made as they prepare for their third season under him.
“We’ve got some kids who have developed in the weight room,” he said. “We’re a little bigger and stronger than we were a year ago. The biggest thing for our team is growing up and physically being able to compete in the Big Ten.”