Big Ten football: Expectations for 6 local players in the conference this season

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Big Ten is home to more than a handful of football players from the area, and the conference’s annual media days offered a chance to find out what many of them are up to.

Erick All, a returning starter at tight end for Michigan, held court with reporters for an hour and confirmed he is looking to build on his breakout 2021 season and hoping for another win over Ohio State.

He was the only area player in attendance, but coaches and teammates offered some updates on others:

1. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck thinks Michael Brown-Stephens can play in the NFL some day — and he can sing, too.

“He’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster. He’s matured at a rapid rate,” Fleck said of the junior receiver from Springfield who was second among Golden Gophers with 23 catches for 392 yards last season.

“I think he’s really developed into more of a well-rounded wide receiver than just a deep threat. Deep crossers, deep posts, go routes, and he has the opportunity and I think he has the potential one day to play the National Football League, especially with his speed.”

Fleck also confirmed Brown-Stephens has some of the musical talent that has made his uncle, Springfield North grad John Legend, a multi-time Grammy winner.

“I don’t know if it’s John Legend talent, but he has talent,” Fleck said with a smile. “He’s a very gifted individual. He’s got a great personality. He’s really smart, intelligent. He’s a great football player, but he’s an better person, and I’m glad to have him on our team.”

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

2. Indiana coach Tom Allen likes the experience Connor Bazelak brings to the quarterback room after transferring from Missouri.

“You know, he’s played a lot of football,” Allen said of Bazelak, an Alter grad who started 20 games for the Tigers and will be part of a QB competition in Bloomington this preseason.

“Threw for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns in the SEC, a pretty good league with a lot of tough football teams. I would say he brings a calmness, a coolness. Doesn’t get frazzled. Not real emotional. But just the thing that jumps out to me is he is experienced. Been there, played in the big games, played in the big venues. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2020, so that’s definitely something that really sticks out to me. Excited to have him as part of our program.”

3. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said linebacker Jestin Jacobs could see more playing time this fall.

A Northmont grad, Jacobs had 53 stops as the team’s nickel linebacker last fall, but Ferentz said he could expand his role by playing more at one of the interior spots for the Hawkeyes, who return top tacklers Seth Benson and Jack Campbell there.

“Not sure how that’s all gonna play out,” Ferentz said. “We feel like we have three starters returning at linebacker, except when we only have two starters (on the field based on the package).

“We’ll probably play him a little bit more in the box.”

4. Hamilton grad Kaleb Johnson is a candidate for early playing time at Iowa.

With leading rusher Tyler Goodson gone, Iowa has an opening at running back, and Ferentz has a more open mind about playing freshmen.

“I’m looking to just handle today today,” Ferentz said. “Not as worried about redshirting guys, maybe outside of the linemen, as we used to be because it’s rare for a guy to stay five years. So if we can do it in a way it’s gonna help our team and help them grow, I think it’s realistic to think we’re gonna need three or four backs.

“We’ve got an open mind right now. We have two established backs, at least two guys we know real well and have confidence in. After that we’re wide open.

“He’s one of two running backs that are coming in, and being around him now on a routine basis for two months, Kaleb is a tremendous young guy. Really tremendous young guy.”

4. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is excited to see what Markus Allen can do this preseason.

The veteran Badgers’ mentor described Allen, a sophomore from Northmont, as coming into his own this offseason after catching three passes for 65 yards last season.

“Markus is talented,” Chryst said. “I like Markus, and I think football is important to him. I’m excited for fall camp and it was good he got a ton of reps in spring and summer. He’s done a good job this summer. He’s lost some weight. I’m excited about him.”

5. D.J. Turner is looking for bigger things from Rod Moore at Michigan.

Another Northmont product, Moore entered the starting lineup at safety late in the season and finished with 32 for the Big Ten champions.

Turner, a senior cornerback for the Wolverines, said Moore brought the right mindset to Ann Arbor last year.

“Always stayed prepared, and now he’s going into this season hungry,” Turner said. “He’s gonna make some noise this year.”

6. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is optimistic Jaiden Cameron can become a contributor at defensive end after battling injuries the last two years.

“That’s really our hope is that he can get healthy,” Fitzgerald said of the Northmont grad. “Great kid, great student. He’s been close. We’ve just got to get him over the hump injury-wise, and once we do, the sky’s the limit.”

With a verbal commitment from Thunderbolts senior defensive standout Nigel Glover, Fitzgerald confirmed he appreciates the program being run by Tony Broering (even if he can’t talk about Glover by name until he signs a letter of intent in December).

“It’s our kind of program,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s tough, physical, blue collar, and they play an outstanding brand of football.”

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