Breaking Down the Buckeyes
Gone are Ben Person, Alex Boone, and Steve Rehring. Let's be honest, Rehring and Boone weren't the most agile guys on the roster. Boone never lived up to his 5star billing. Appearantly, a steady diet of Adriaticos pizza(he told me that was his favorite) and beer doesn't help you block the edge. He and Rehring were effective in the running game but struggled in pass protection. Person may be gone, but in comes Michigan transfer Justin Boren, who appears to be an upgrade over Person and Rehring. Boren instantly becomes the strongest lineman. He brings the nasty on every play. Bryant Browning had started at RT last year but has now been moved to his more natural position at RG. Browning has exceeded expectations. He didn't come in as a highly touted recruit and also arrived at a hefty 365. He's shed about 55 pounds since arriving on campus and was singled out by Tressel(along with Brewster) as an OL that has really stepped up in camp this year. Browning gets better every snap and should be a solid contributor this season.Everyone expects Mike Brewster to be improved after being thrust into a starting role as a true freshman. He looks like the next great Center to come out of Ohio State(datish/mangold etc). Jim Cordle(6'4" 300) starts at his third position in as many years. The former ambidextrous Center was moved to guard last season and now moves out to RT for his senior campaign. I feel comfortable with Cordle at RT as he has the size, agility, and experience to play the position. The biggest question mark has been at left tackle. Most fans anticipated that the job would go to Mike Adams(6'7" 310), a local product who was ranked as a top 3 OL by the two major recruiting sites. For one reason or another Adams has been taking reps with the third string while fellow Sophmore J.B. Shugarts and Senior upstart Andy Miller fight it out for the starting spot. Miller, a converted tight-end, weighs in around 285. That's a bit small for a tackle, but it is clear that Jim Bollman is putting a premium on pass protection. Miller is stronger than he looks and has held his own against all the great defensive ends in camp. J.B. Shugarts is another converted tight-end(in HS). Shugarts is big(6'8" 295) and will push Miller for time all season. Either player could land the starting role by week 3. TE Jake Ballard is on the preseason Mackey Award watch list.
I believe that the O-Line is a strength and not a weakness in 2009. The only issue here is depth. Three freshman(Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall) are listed in the two-deep for Navy. The line, despite being 'all shook up', appears to be talented and strong up the gut where they'll pound Herron on a regular basis. They'll need to prove they can guard the flanks with two new starters at the tackle positions, but it's hard to imagine that the unit could be any worse than last season in that aspect.
Speaking of Herron - Daniel 'Boom' Herron is going to be another diamond in the rough for Jim Tressel. Last year Herron flew under the radar behind the multi-talented Chris 'Beanie' Wells, but still managed 5 yards a carry and showed a great deal of explosiveness down the stretch. He packs quite a punch for a 5'10" 200 pounder and hits the hole as hard as anyone. I think Boom is primed for a breakout season as his confidence is at an all-time high. He may lack break-away speed, but he has fantastic accleration, good vision, and great instincts. Brandon Saine, the fastest HS player in Ohio History, is finally healthy. The 6'1" 220 pounder has incredible straight line speed and is a home-run threat. He's also very adept at catching the ball out of the backfield and will play a major role in both long and short yardage situations. If Saine is back to form this could become the best 1-2 punch in the conference and one of the best in the entire country.
Coming into camp the depth at the Rb position looked like a concern. Carlos Hyde did not qualify academically and it was hard to speculate on Berry's off the field situation. There was also a concern with Saine - as he hadn't made it through a camp unscathed until this year. Saine's' health, and the emergence of freshman Rb, and former Terrelle Pryor running mate, Jordan Hall, has solidifed the Rb position. Hall has been spectacular in camp and has snatched the 3rd spot from Berry going into theNavy game. Hall arrived at camp about 10 pounds of muscle heavier than expected(5'10' 190) and averaged 9 yards a carry in the jersey scrimmage. There's reason for both optimism and skepticism as the unit loses it's breadwinner(Wells) but boasts an explosive player(Berry), 4 deep in a position that appeared to be a concern only a month ago.
I think it's obvious that 6'6" 240 pound Qb's with 4.33 speed - don't grow on trees. Pryor is the biggest running threat from the Qb position since Michael Vick dawned maroon and orange for Virginia Tech. He's capable of rushing for 1,000 yards this season. Last season Pryor was efficient, but didn't have as many big plays downfield as the coach and fans would like. He also struggled with his throwing motion as it, occasionally, looked like a state shot-put effort by back-up guard Corey Linsley. He'll have to work on his mechanics and on his decision making in the passing game. Pryor showed flashes of brilliance and improvement in the spring game and should be a better passer in 2009.
Joe Bauserman is a capable back-up with a high football IQ, strong arm, and competitive nature. Kenny Guiton is a project dual threat at #3 but is nowhere near ready to play. The difference between this unit being good and being excellent rides on the throwing arm of Pryor. A 2,000 yard season in the air could mean a Heisman invite and a trip back to the National Championship but can Pryor show significant improvement and acheive those numbers with a rebuilt wr corps?
The quarterback position appears to be a strength dependent on Pryor's developement as a passer. While the back-up is solid, losing 2 quarterbacks would mean disaster for the Buckeyes -as for most teams in the country(see Oregon).
How do the SEC detractors feel about Brian Hartline now? Slow? Wouldn't play for an SEC team? That slow, terrible receiver is going to start as a rookie in the NFL. The Bucks also lose Brian Robiskie. The cupboard isn't bare though. Dane Sanzenbacher will be depended on more than any other receiver. Sanzenbacher is a 'do-it-all' in the vein of Anthony Gonzalez. Undersized at 5'11" 180, Sanzo runs precise routes and has great hands. He's not the kind of player to run past corners on a streak, but his ability and tenacity does seem to sneak up on oppenents. Last year Sanzenbacher took a few too many big hits - some sideling him with head injuries. Hopefully he can avoid Jay Valai of Wisconsin and make it through the season without injury. Devier Posey's numbers won't turn any heads but Posey looks like the prototypical NFL Wr. He's 6'3" 205 and possesses 4.4 speed. Posey needs to step up big-time if this unit is going to exceed last years' numbers. Four other players will see significant time at WR: Senior Ray Small, Junior Taurian Washington, Sophmore Lamaar Thomas, and Freshman Duron Carter. Small is a speed-burner that highlights as one of the top punt returners in the country. Washington is a 6'3" Wr that reeks of promise but has yet to perform in any game other than the spring game - where he's dominated two years in a row. Duron Carter has exceeded expectations. The prodigy catches everything and has every intangible, he blocks, he runs precise routes, and he just makes plays. Known as 'flash' by his teammates - Lamaar Thomas provides the biggest home-run threat amongst the Wr corps and will certainly see his share of misdirection opportunities.
Read the previous entry, 'Line of Defense' for a more in depth analysis. Defensive tackles Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore, and Todd Denlinger are experienced and talented. As upperclassmen you would expect all three to play better this season. Their back-ups will be rFr. Garret Goebel and true frosh John Simon. This is the best defensive line since '02/'03. The defensive end position is stinking rich with depth and talent. Thadeous Gibson is a budding superstar rush end and Cameron Heyward is a big, experienced playmaker that can move inside. Nathan Williams is perhaps the best raw athlete on the roster(Pryor?) and could become as big of a force as Gibson in the pass rush. Williams is also getting a look at Sam and MLB as it seems almost incomprehensable that a player with as much talent and athleticism as WIlliams will not start. Wherever it may be, you'll see #43 on the field at least half the time when the Silver Bullets are on defense. If WIlliams moves around it would only allow more time for another talented DE, Solomon Thomas, to get some reps. Over the last two years the d-line has lacked the sack numbers and that marquis 350(terrance cody type)lb DT. Gibson, WIliams, and Thomas should change the sack totals and look for improvement in areas across the front.
In my honest opinion, James Laurinaitis is the hardest player to replace from last years squad. He was as smart, as dependable, and as tough as they come. The unit must also replace Marcus Freeman. Ross Homan is the next in a long line of great OSU lb's. Homan, the lone returner starter, is an active, if not down-right pesty, weakside linebacker. The only statistic that you need to know about his instincts are his 750, yes, seven-hundred and fifty, tackles in high school. Ross has packed on 10 more pounds of muscle - now weighing in at an agile 240. Homan is the glue that will try to hold the back seven together. There is no other player as irreplaceable on this years team than Ross - and YES that includes Terrelle Pryor. If Homan goes down this team is in trouble! Replacing Laurinaitis on the inside is Brian Rolle. Rolle isn't your a-typical MLB at 5'10" 228. What Rolle lacks in size, he makes up for with smarts and physicality. He hits like a 250 pounder. Austin Spitler is another physical Lb that will man the Sam linebacker position. Austin, like Rolle, is known for his hitting prowess and not his experience. Another Lb that will see loads of time in '09 is So. Etienne Sabino. Sabino is perhaps the most athletic of the returning linebackers and could push for time at both MLB and Sam.
Defensive End Nathan Williams practiced with the linebackers last week but there's no update as to if he's still with that unit entering Navy Week. Williams, at 6'4" 245, played a mean MLB in high school and could be a wild card to see significant time at Sam or MLB. The staff probably considered the move due to the lack of depth at Lb and the endless depth at DE - a move I predicted 3 weeks ago. I love Homan, and the prospect of Williams playing Lb has to be 'too good to be true'. There is a clear lack of big-game experience with this unit. Rolle is an over-acheiver but can a 5'10" 228 pound MLB hold up against the elite of CF? Can Tressel fit all the little pieces together into a productive, dependable unit? This is an unknown.
This is the biggest area of concern for Ohio State. They lost two Cb's to the NFL draft(Washington and Jenkins). The unit also allowed Colt McCoy to pick them apart to the tune of 400+ yards in the bowl game. When Terrelle Pryor hooked up with Taurian Washington for a 50 yard strike in the spring it was against a badly burnt Chimdi Chekwa - our only CB with any experience. Chimdi will man one side while two players, Andre Amos and Devon Torrence, will fight for the other. The strong safety is, literally, the strongest with captain and ever improving Kurt Coleman locked in. Anderson Russell has 17 starts over the last 2 seasons at Free Safety but does have room for improvement on his open field tackling and coverage skills. The Nickle or 'Star' DB will be Jermale Hines. At first glance you would wonder why Hines doesn't start at one of the safety spots - but Hines, a former Lb, is very comfortable at the nickle spot where he has expereince and will see loads of time in a conference that is featuring more and more spread sets every year. #7 is one of the best unknown players on this team and a player to watch.
The units biggest questions are out on the islands - and that's a major concern going into the season. Ohio State needs a corner to step up ala Antonio Smith in 2006.
Aaron Pettrey is a solid kicker with a big leg. He needs to continue to work on elevating his kicks, but Pettrey is one of the best kickers in the BigTen. John Thoma is the incumbent at Punter. AJ Trapasso was a fantastic punter who also brought a significant amount of athleticism to the position - so replacing him won't be easy. We'll save judgement at a position that has always been a strength in the program. The kick-off coverage team will be stellar. In the return game Ohio State boasts one of the best punt returners(Ray Small) in the country, and a kick-off returner that is primed for a breakout season(Lamaar Thomas). I'm not sure if Lamaar will be out there for the opening kick against Navy as he's been in and out of practice with some nagging injuries but Thomas is, unquestionably, one of the best KOR specialist since Ted Ginn jr. Ben Buchanan provides OSU with a solid back-up at kicker and punter.