A little self-scouting
The Big Ten season opens Saturday with three teams in the Associated Press Top 25 (No. 5 Penn State, No. 13 Ohio State and No. 23 Michigan) and just one other team receiving votes (Iowa).
Since the schools aren't exactly on the fast track to the BCS title game, we thought we'd find out what makes some of the league's best upperclassmen tick.
When asked to describe their skill sets as ESPN's Mel Kiper might do, here's what seven of the Big Ten's finest said. Interestingly, most of them focused on their weaknesses before addressing their strengths:
Greg Jones, Michigan State
Who he is: The Big Ten's preseason defensive player of the year. The middle linebacker leads the league and ranks sixth nationally in tackles with 38. He also owns 4.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
NFL draft scout says: No. 3 ILB in junior class. Projected as a second-round pick.
Jones on Jones: "I feel like I need to improve in the pass a whole lot. I can take a leadership role on the defense. I'm very vocal. Very good communicator. I just feel like I still have a lot of room to improve, though. I feel like I haven't reached my climax at all. I can get faster and definitely improve my tackling. I feel like I had a lot of shoestring tackles (last year). (I'm good at) just being creative against the run and the pass. When I see a run coming at me, I feel like I'm pretty creative at going around guys and going through guys and making the stop."
Sean Lee, Penn State
Who he is: Fifth-year senior weak-side linebacker. Ranks third in Big Ten in tackles (32) and tied for third nationally with 7.5 TFLs. On pace to become the third-leading tackler in Penn State history.
NFL draft scout says: No. 2 inside linebacker among seniors. Projected as second-round pick.
Lee on Lee: "I think I still have a lot of room to improve. That's the thing I think I've done well each year; I've improved each year. But I still want to be a step quicker. I still want to be stronger at the point of attack. I still want to read offenses better. Make better breaks on the ball.
"I know I dropped interceptions in my junior year that were right in my hands. I have to catch the ball better. I think I'm pretty good at sensing the game. I can read plays. I have pretty good instincts. I'm able to get to the ball. I've been coached really well, so I think I use my hands well in certain situations. Have good fundamentals in certain situations. I do well at pass rush."
Mike Neal, Purdue
Who he is: A 6-4, 302-pound senior defensive tackle who owns 17 TFLs and 7.5 sacks for his career.
NFL draft scout says: No. 14 DT in senior class. A fifth- or sixth-round pick.
Neal on Neal: "Mel Kiper would say he's a big, strong, physical kid. Needs to use his hands a little more. Needs to be able to bend the corner a little bit more. Work on his flexibility a little bit more. But overall he's a big, powerful kid. He can rush the quarterback and he can play the run.
"I don't think there's anybody stronger than me. That seems to be my God-given gift. But that really doesn't mean that much. If you play with good technique with a little bit of strength, you can overcome people being stronger than you."
Jammie Kirlew, Indiana
Who he is: Senior defensive end who shares the Big Ten lead with 21/2 sacks in 2009. Owns 43.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks for his career.
NFL draft scout says: No. 23 DE. Seventh round or free agent.
Kirlew on Kirlew: "I would say probably the biggest thing about myself is I'm resilient. I never take a play off. I know how important every play is. I always chase down the running back, the quarterback, wherever they may be. I have great handwork. I'm a leader. I have great explosion off the ball. I'm very strong, built. I like to use that to my advantage.
"And I'm smart. That's probably the thing I use most to my advantage. I study a lot of film, which obviously helps. I've got a pretty good array of moves. When I get off the ball, I go with what the offensive lineman gives me, but I like to have at least two different moves for every situation.
Because if you give him one thing a lot, he's going to cheat on it. So if you throw something else in, then, "What was that? Uh-oh!"
Pat Angerer, Iowa
Who he is: Senior middle linebacker who led Iowa with 107 stops in 2008. Preseason all-Big Ten pick by several publications owns 22 tackles this year.
NFL draft scout says: No. 4 ILB in senior class. Third- or fourth-round pick.
Angerer on Angerer: "Athletic. I think I work very, very hard. I'm kind of a product of the Iowa defense: just a hard-nosed kid who's going to do what the coaches say and play with discipline.
"I don't think I'm the best at anything. There's a lot that I need to work on, a lot that I need to improve on. The thing that gets me out of a lot of trouble is my athleticism.
"I like to think I have a good pro-agility, a good 40 (yard dash), a good vertical (leap). I'd like to think I can compete with the best."
Stevie Brown, Michigan
Who he is: Six-foot, 211-pound senior linebacker/safety hybrid who's second on Wolverines with 20 tackles and leads team with 3.5 TFLs. Forced key fumble in win over Notre Dame.
NFL draft scout says: No. 17 strong safety. Likely free agent.
Brown on Brown: "I feel like I bring speed, I bring leadership, I bring experience, I bring toughness. Just a lot of intangible things. What I need to work on is my tackling and my angles.
"I like to feel like I'm good at a lot of things. Like, with the new position change now, whenever I get into man coverage, I just feel a lot more confident after going against (Michigan receivers) in practice all the time."
Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
Who he is: Senior tight end who boasts 81 career catches for 1,010 yards and 10 TDs.
NFL draft scout says: No. 1 fullback/tight end hybrid in senior class. Projected third-round pick.
Graham on Graham: "I'd say I'm a complete tight end. I work very hard. Off the field, I'm a good guy. No problems or anything like that.
"You're not going to find anything in a background check. I think I run good routes and have good hands. Good teammate.
"In high school, I was pretty much like a wide receiver. I came here and I was on scout team for two years before I finally got my opportunity. Coach (Bob) Bolstad really started working me hard on blocking drills and being a tough player.
"Coach (Joe) Rudolph pretty much carried that over. He's a guy who was a hard-nosed Wisconsin FB player back in the day. I would say receiving came naturally to me."