The Buckeyes took the field on Thursday for the first day of spring practice. There were Many subplots... new starter spots.. Duron Carter and Jonathon Newsome's academic status... Pryors' surgically repaired knee... Tyler Moeller's return to the practice field....
With high-expectations, comes high scrutiny.... escalated media attention...
The Buckeyes will likely sit @ #2 in the pre-season polls. No other team, besides the Crimson Tide, returns this much firepower from their succesful, strong finishing predecessors.
If the building block of a good team is the offensive line - then Ohio State's 'block-O' could be the foundation to build another Championship run. Only two contributors are gone. Versatile long-time starter Jim Cordle(C,G,T) is lost to graduation, as is TE Jake Ballard. The top candidates to replace them are Junior LT Mike Adams(6'7 320), and one of the more athletically gifted TE's that Ohio State has groomed in sometime in TE Jake Stoneburner(6'5" 239). The rest of the workhorses return, intact. Center Mike Brewster is poised to be the next great centerpiece to come from Ohio State. Senior LG Justin Boren(6'1" 315) looks to improve on his impressive Junior campaign, and upstart RG Bryant Browning(6'5" 315) is one of the most improved players(signing to graduation) in Ohio State's history. Browning went from total obscurity, from being penciled-in as a permanent back-up, to now entering his senior season as an experienced team leader and fan/media favorite. RT seems to be locked up with mammoth J.B.Shugarts(6'8" 315) returning. It's not just the core 4 of 5 that makes the line so imposing - it's the promise of the once #1 rated Adams, the athleticism of Stoneburner, and the sheer depth provided from players like Marcus Hall(So/6'4" 305), Jack Mewhort(rFr/6'6" 300), Andy Miller(Sr/6'6" 285) Corey Linsley(So/6'2" 290), and Connor Smith(6'4" 320). This O-Line group could be atop my unit rankings in August, and like Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the only possible solution to stopping this juggernaut could be loading 8 in the box. Stoneburner's back-up at TE will be Reid Fragel(6'7" 250). Bottom Line - This is an incredible line... VERY BIG and well distributed weight on these fellas. This may very well be the best OL in the country in 2010. You will forget my bias after you see them play. THis is the strongest part of a very good football team in 2010. Biggest Mover - Corey Linsley
If you like a physical brand of football - then you're going to like this years Ohio State offense. It's been years since we've seen a team that could dominate the LOS with such regularity that it incited chuckles and excitement from fans as they watched DL and LB corps get displaced 12 yards downfield.... since Nebraska>? The wait may be over.
Providing the punch behind that offensive line is a running back unit that is as deep as Buckeye fans can remember. Daniel 'Boom' Herron and Brandon 'Zoom' Saine will anchor a ship that is literally overloaded to the point of sinking. There are 5, count'em, 5 talented running backs vying for time behind Boom and Zoom. All Jordan Hall did was look spectacular in limited time last season(5.2ypc). Jamaal Berry was the #1Rb in the state of Florida, but redshirted last season with a nagging hamstring inury. Carlos Hyde is another florida kid who comes in after one year at Fort Hargrave. He's big(6'2" 240), and has exceptional feet. Roderick Smith will arrive in the fall as one of the biggest movers on the entire Rivals board at 6'3" 223 with speed. Not to mention Jermil Martin, who in his only significant time of last season, went for 75 yards on 7 carries(10.7ypc) against Minnesota. That's 7 viable running back options. As Tress stated in the post-practice interview Thursday, and I'm paraphrasing here, 'you're only a few injuries away from having no depth', but it appears that nothing short of the apocalypse could raise concerns about Ohio State's depth at running back. Bottom LIne - Saine pulled in front of Boom with last years performance. His ability to catch those wheel routes and his physical presence and determination make him the #1 guy. I like Herron, but I think he has some limitations and could lose time to someone stepping up... like Hyde or Berry. Biggest Mover - Jamaal Berry
So as we continue to look for a weakness in this offense - we head to the WR position.
The top two WR's return in the steady, sure handed Dane Sanzenbacher(6' 180), and the emmensely talented Devier Posey(6'3" 200) from Cincinnati. Sanzenbacher is fearless. Not afraid to trade in his lack of athleticism for quickness, smarts, and hands that appear to have more stickem than Harold Carmichael. Posey had some issues last season with dropped balls. It was evident in the Rose Bowl when he dropped a perfectly placed deep-out pass from Terrelle Pryor. He's progressing though, and it showed later in that game when he caught the same pass for the game sealing touchdown. Posey, like Sanzenbacher, is smart. He's a bright kid who let's his character drive his effort and determination. These are two solid receivers.
The third WR spot is in limbo as last years shareholder is miring in academic trouble. You would think that a legacy like Duron Carter(6'2" 180) will get his head screwed on straight, and fix the problems before the fall, but you never know. The frontrunner for the spot at this point of the off-season is Senior Taurian Washington(6'3" 200). Speed-demons James Jackson(5'10" 180) and Chris Fields(6' 185) will both provide big play capability - filling the void left from the recently transferred Lamaar Thomas. Senior Grant Swartz(6'1" 190) is also in the mix. There are a number of underclassmen who are vying for time, but Chris Fields is probably the player to watch in terms of 'breakout'. Bottom Line - Not much depth here but Sanzo and Posey are solid receivers. We're still waiting for that 'speed guy' to break out. Now that Lamaar Thomas is gone who will fill that role>? James Jackson>? Chris Fields>? Ricky Crawford is a solid back-up with size and hands, but Ohio State needs that deep threat that it has lacked since losing Ted Ginn. Biggest Mover - Chris Fields
The fullback spot seems to be locked up for the next three years by Zach Boren. Zach put both of Penn State's highly acclaimed linebackers on their butts last fall, and garnered all-big-ten honors as a true freshman. At 6'3" 245, Boren is a road-grating lead blocker, and capable of catching balls out of the backfield if necessary. On outside runs he has proved more effective than your average pulling guard - even when it's his brother. Boren is a joy to watch - easily the biggest surprise from the '09 recruiting class. Bottom Line - Zach Boren is entrenched and intimidating.
Obviously, the Qb position is solid with Terrelle entering his junior season. Let's hope the Rose Bowl was just a sign of his progression. He had minor knee surgery to repair a partially torn ligament. According to doctors and coaches the surgery was a complete success, and Pryor will have no problem competing in the normal non-contact spring stuff, and should be 100% in the fall. Joe Bauserman(6'1" 220) Surprised this fan by NOT transferring. This was huge for Ohio State because he is a smart guy with a decent arm and good leadership qualities. Ken Guiton(6'2" 190) and Justin Seims(6'3" 215) will compete for the three-deep. Bottom Line - Even though there's a huge dropoff from #1 to #2 - Tressel did an excellent job of not changing the system so much that a 'not-so-mobile' back-up couldn't step rt into the mix. Let's face it - if Ohio State is going to win it all they'll need Pryor to stay healthy and improve at the normal rate.
At the beginning of last year, the defensive tackle positions were shared by three players: Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore, and Todd Denlinger. Denlinger and Worthington are gone. Larimore must stay healthy for Ohio State to hold up on the inside. He's big(6'1" 305) and nasty. He might have been well on his way to all-bigten honors if not for a mid-season knee injury. One player appears to be the obvious frontrunner for the vacant DT spot - John Simon. Simon possesses a rare blend of speed and strength. He is 6'3" 287(up about 10 lbs from Nov), and has amazing straight-line speed. You would be hard pressed to find any DT with the sideline to sideline capability of this kid. Basically overlooked by ESPN recruiting insiders(including Columbus' own Bill Conley/not even in the top 250), Simon came in as a freshman looking the part, but nobody knew if his play would meet the expectations set by his zen-like physique. He exceeded expectations - playing effectively throughout the season, and earning more time as the year went on. By the Rose Bowl he was sharing equal time with the Seniors. Simon has benched pressed 250/48times... He may just be the strongest Buckeye since Mike Kudla. If his Dad is any gauge - then John the 4rth has room to grow. Dad is 340 with a bigger chest, neck, and arms than his son. However, it's that running ability that has me excited. This kid is fast, and he plays with an endless motor. John Simon's ceiling is up in the stratosphere, and he's my player to watch on this defense in 2010. The back-ups for the DT positions are inexperienced, and depth at DT may be the single biggest concern for Ohio State in 2010. So. Garret Goebel(6'4" 279), and Rfr.Adam Bellamy(6'5" 290) are penciled in, but Heyward's ability to move inside will help, and hopefully frosh bigman Jonathon Hankins(6'3" 325) can come in and provide some depth early. Bottom Line - the back-ups need to improve and the starters need to stay healthy for this unit to be as strong as it was last season. John Simon could be a budding superstar, and Dex Larimore might have been the best interior man we had last season.
On the outside Rob Rose and Thadeous Gibson are gone, but All-world Cam Heyward is back. Ironhead Jr. was the #2 DE on Mel Kiper's board, but he decided to return for his senior campaign. Perhaps it was his degree, or perhaps it was the possibility of winning a National Championship - either way, Heyward will be an unstoppable force at DE. Thad Gibson will be replaced by a simliar Hybrid speed end with experience in Nathan Williams(6'4" 250). Williams is explosive, and beats OT's off the edge with a rare combination of speed and strength. Despite limited playing time, Williams has 12 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in his first two seasons. Two young players to watch for reside here at DE. One is rFr.Melvin Fellows(6'5" 260). The other will be true freshman Darryl Baldwin(6'5" 255). Baldwin is similiar to John Simon last season in that he is physically ready to play NOW - there is no curve for this kid. Keith Wells, a junior, is struggling to move up the depth chart in a position recruited better than any other in recent years. Pencil him in three-deep. Bottom Line - Nathan Williams needs to take the next step into double digit sack #'s. Cam Heyward may be the best DE in the country in 2010. Biggest Mover - Melvin Fellows
At the linebacking corps we have two experienced players in Ross Homan(6'1" 240), and Brian Rolle(5'11" 229). Honestly, either could end up at MLB. Rolle started there last year, but Homan's added size(up 25 lbs in two yrs) has the staff considering the move. There are three players that will compete for the last starting spot vacated by Austin Spitler. The first on that list would have to be Etienne Sabino. Sabino(6'3" 235) is probably in a dead heat with Andrew Sweat(6'2" 225), but Sweat is out due to injury at this point in the spring, and it may be hard for him to recover the spot from the highest rated LB recruit of '08. The third player who will compete for a starting spot is So. Storm Klein(6'2" 227). Also, keep your eye on MLB Jordan Whiting(6'3" 240), and OLB Dorian Bell(6'1" 225). Both have the physical attributes to step in if anyone gets injured. Homan may be the most underrated Lb in all the country. His instincts are second to none. Ross had 108 tackles(57 solos), 5 interceptions, 5 TFL, and 2 sacks in 2009. As usual, the linebacker unit is not a concern in 2010. Bottom Line - if the opposition doesn't bring out the best in this unit, then the competition within the unit certainly will. Homan is an all-american candidate, and Rolle has great quickness to the ball. The only concerns are inexperience among the back-ups, and Rolle's lack of size should he stay inside. Biggest Mover(s) - Etienne Sabino/Jordan Whiting
The quarterbacks of the defense, the safeties, both have to be replaced this season. Former 'Star' or Nickle Back Jermale Hines(6'2" 225) will move to SS. He has all the tools and experience to pick-up where Kurt Coleman left off. Free Safety does not have the same luxury. Chances are an inexperienced player will be in that position this fall. The favorite is Orhian Johnson(6'3" 200). Johnson was a reknown playmaker on the practice field, but now has to translate that in front of 105,000 critical Buckeye fans. They could also flip-flop with Johnson at SS and Hines at FS. Two other players will push that duo, Jamie Wood(6'2" 205), and Aaron Gant(6' 195). C.J. Barnett(6'1" 190) could also push the two deep. Right now the status of former OLB Tyler Moeller is still in question. It seems like he will be ready for full contact come September, but with a head injury it is hard to determine. If he is ready by fall - expect Tyler to be the favorite at the 'Star' position, but Nate Oliver and Jamie Wood could have something to say about that. We won't be able to determine Moeller's possible contribution to the team until he bangs heads for the first time(that's not going to happen for sometime). Zach Domicone(6'3" 210), Nate Oliver(6' 215), Aaron Gant, and Jamie Wood will all fight, not only for the two deep, but for actual playing time. Ohio State is LOADED at safety considering they're replacing both. CJ Barnett, another emmensely talented guy, is probably three deep at both CB and FS. Bottom line - replacing safeties is difficult, but Ohio State has more capable players at these positions than any team in the country. Gant has some experience and talent, and he won't start. Woods is an incredible athlete, and he won't start either. Even with new starters - the third stringers may have more talent than the average D-1 safeties. Biggest Mover - Orhian Johnson/Jamie Wood
Both corners return in speedburner Chimdi Chekwa, and Devon Torrence. Both were excellent last season. Expect more of the same. Depth will be provided by Donnie Evege, Travis Howard, and a host of talented youngsters. The three-deep will likely be manned by the speedy Dominic Clark, and Corey Brown. While the corner spots are locked up - the team is only an injury away from serious experience issues. No other CB's on the roster have seen significant time like Chekwa and Torrence.... as a matter of fact... almost no time at all. Biggest Mover - Donnie Evege
The extra-point duties will go to Devin Barclay. Barclay and Buchanan will compete for kickoff. Buchanan will punt. Frosh Drew Basil is in for spring to provide depth. Bottom Line - Barclay improved as the season went on last season, but he still doesn't strike me as having the a-typical big-leg for an Ohio State kicker. We might see something similiar to what we saw late last season with Aaron Pettrey(now graduated) - Barclay handling 45-in and Buchanan handling kick-offs and long distance FG's.
quick thoughts -
This team looks as strong as '02 and '07 on paper. They may have more overall talent than those two teams top to bottom. Anyone hates to put all their eggs in one basket, but let's face-it, Ohio State needs to make a run at the National Championship THIS YEAR. In 2011, Ohio State will lose the bulk of their offense, and the leaders of their defense(Heyward, Rolle, and Homan). Let's hope the leadership of this team takes advantage of every opportunity between now and September to get better. The schedule is favorable with Miami,Fla and Penn State coming to 'The SHoe'. The biggest test could be in Madison. All eyes will be on Pryor to make more plays with his arm - but it might not be necessary for success as this teams' strengths will be defense and the running game.