In a two part series, I plan to provide my own look and evaluation of our team so far this year. The first part will discuss the winter conditioning, and Spring ball. This time period sets the stage for the Fall session. The players are active during the summer but can’t by NCAA rules partake in university organized or sanctioned drills, conditioning, etc. They are left “essentially” on their own. Phase II will discuss what my very early anticipations will be for us in the Fall.
Part II - My Early Assessment for 2007:
What’s Will We Look Like in the Fall?
It is often my style to slowly creep up on a point I have to make. For me, it is just more fun to write it that way some times. However, I think I will dispense with this style for this article and get right to the point.
Here is what you will see this Fall: Tressel-Ball, Act 2.
I said earlier this spring I am not wringing my hands regarding our team for this fall. Certainly our prospects have been brighter, such as last year at this time, but we are going to be more solid than people suspect. I THINK this still holds true after the Spring Game. Think, as in “not completely sure” but kind of still think so. In other words, I am a little more tentative after attending the Spring Game. The reason I am a little guarded now where I was not before IS something I will save to the end of the article, for I feel a need to present my case. But first, let’s start with why I said I was NOT wringing my hands.
Personally, the biggest single person lost on defense and the toughest to replace is Quinn Pitcock. He was a man among boys and will be nearly impossible to replace just one-on-one. Other major contributors on the line that will be missing are Patterson and Richardson. This was one tough defensive line trio to replace. HOWEVER, I suspect we will end up in the fall actually seeing only a very minor drop off from last year on the defensive line.
Ready to step in are some serious understudies who saw some playing times themselves. These new linemen are going to possibly be better as a group. These players include; Lawrence Wilson, Vernon Gholston, Robert Rose, Dexter Larimore, and Doug Worthington. Lawrence Wilson, folks is MASSIVE, as in, like a small SUV. His speed and determination reminds me of Will Smith. He is VERY fast. Rose, Larimore and Worthington will all see considerable playing time and are much improved. Together, they are very, very quick and have Gholston returning as well. We lose only a very little in the front line.
At linebacker, we lose nothing and actually gain some. Marcus Freeman is much improved. Thadd Gibson is coming on strong as is Larry Grant (Grant had a huge day in the Spring Game) and Austin Spitler. Curtis Terry and Ross Homan will see considerable playing time this fall, all anchored by The Little Animal, All American James Laurinaitis. Enough said.
In the secondary, we return Malcolm Jenkins and Jamario O’Neal. And it appears Donald Washington has sewn up the other CB position across from Jenkins. Providing competition and depth (along with enough talent to start) are; Kurt Coleman, Tyler Moeller (both impressive in Spring Game), Aaron Gant and Grant Schwartz. Some guy named Chimdi Chekwa has had an impressive spring practice and was all over the field in the Spring Game. Again, we lose nothing here, and gain some. The defensive players almost to the person in the Spring Game, were extremely impressive, very quick and more attacking than in the last two years. VERY, very promising on D this fall!
The new rule change that requires kick offs from the 30 yard line is going to make everyone pay attention on kick offs again. At the Spring Game, I think the closest kick off to the goal line was caught and fielded somewhere around the 7-8 yard line.
All the kickers and punters from last year return. Another year, another winter conditioning and these guys are stronger and wiser. Again, we lose nothing and gain some here.
On the offensive line we lose TJ Downing, Doug Datish, Timmy Shafer (woo-hoo) and Ryan Hamby. Back is Alex Boone, Kirk Barton and Rory Nicol, who was hurt much of last year. The experience lost in Downing and Datish will be somewhat hard to replace. However, stepping in with some game day experience and equal talent is; massive Steve Rehring (much improved from last year), Ben Person, Jon Skinner, Kyle Mitchum and Connor Smith. I personally think Connor Smith, Rehring and Person will see a ton of playing time and have matured quite well. Of particular interest and someone specifically to keep your eyes on this fall is Jake Ballard at tight end. He has become a monster blocker with very good hands. This will give us some extra weapons at tight end we haven’t had since Ben Hartsock. Overall, I think we come close to breaking even from last year to this year. Certainly, no worse.
One problem exists though on the offensive line; at the Spring Game I saw a lot of pot bellies. Most of the guys who played had the porker look going again. I was quite surprised and disappointed. Hopefully they will lose some of this during the summer, yet they were just coming off of winter conditioning, so I don’t quite know what to make of this.
At wide out, you can shoot me now, but as heady as it is to say, I think we will lose almost nothing here. Sacrilege, you say? Maybe. Ginn and Gonzalez are a real load to lose, no question. Other than his family, I was the biggest Anthony Gonzalez fan at Ohio State. Ginn’s performance spoke for itself. However, back this year with playing experience and looking very good I might add, are Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, Ray Small (who was a terror in the Spring Game), and Devon Lyons (who also looked really good in the Spring Game). OK, we will lose something here, but not much in my own humble opinion. Certainly, not enough to have an impact.
At QB is one of those canyons we have to fill. Simply, there will be no one remotely close to stepping in for Troy. Nor, is there anyone on the recruiting horizons that will step in for him. There will however, be someone occupying the QB position. But the fall off from last year to this is going to look like a sheer cliff which drops off about 5,000 feet. The person who will be starting this fall, barring injuries is Todd Boeckman. Now, before you jump off a cliff, let me tell you this; Todd’s performance is VERY likely to mirror that of Craig Krenzel. Todd may not be headed to medical school, but he is smart, understands the offense well, tends to make few mistakes (which is critically important to Tressel) and is maybe a slightly better passer than Craig. He also has a stronger arm than Craig, which he displayed at the Spring Game, briefly. In any event, remember Boeckman is very green as he played very little last year and virtually none prior to that.
At first blush, Antonio Henton will remind you a lot of Troy Smith. He might eventually remind you a LOT of Troy Smith, but not yet, as he is young and green. VERY green. But, talented. Keep your eye on him, but he still makes a lot of youthful mistakes. It will be up to him to mature. Schoenhoft appears promising to me, but streaky. Perhaps he needs more reps or a lot of film study. As of now he should back up Boeckman, but I will be more than a little nervous if Todd goes down.
We are almost done. And some of you might be saying, “I still haven’t heard anything scary yet?” Well, I saved the worst for last. Tailback! Folks, we are in very serious trouble here in my opinion. I think the loss of Antonio Pittman is going to be huge. And I know the next thing you are going to say is, “We have Beanie coming back.” Yes, I know, and I couldn’t be higher on anyone than Beanie. But, he has a short-term ankle sprain and didn’t play in the Spring Game. I understand and have no problem with that. So, what’s my worry here? Simply this; after Beanie, this fall, for all practical purposes we will have NO ONE ELSE. NONE!
And before you say that you read nothing but great things about Maurice Wells this winter and spring, let me say I read the same articles. I was skeptical going into the Spring Game, but hopeful maybe he saw the light. He just simply doesn’t have IT – you know, the “IT” that makes the really good tailbacks from the decent ones. I don’t know if it is lack of heart, fear, size, attitude, strength, or whatever, but he simply doesn’t have it and never will.
Now, please do not write me and say I am down on the kid because I am not. I have met Maurice and he is as nice and sincere of a young man that there is on the team. I like him a lot as a person. But the drop off from Beanie to Maurice Wells is massive. So, if Chris Wells gets hurt, we will be in the same exact position that we were in 2002 when Maurice Clarett got hurt – up the creek without a paddle. We had to rely on Lydell Ross, who couldn’t run wide and would stop readily when running straight ahead. Maurice is the same way, just a little faster. Add on top of that a new QB and we have a very serious and fragile offense.
I know we have Brandon Saine and Daniel Herron coming in this fall at tailback, and both have upside potential off the charts. But every freshman has trouble picking up blocking schemes which seriously compromises offensive breadth. Maybe one or both of these guys will become great runners out of the chute, but might see lesser time due to the blocking issue.
So, it is THIS very issue, the Tailback position, that has me uncomfortable. For even if Beanie stays healthy, he still is only one TB and we need at least two good, productive ones that can contribute consistently. If he does stay healthy, and Todd Boeckman gets clicking, we have far less to worry about. However, that’s best case. Or, if Todd is iffy and/or if Beanie has durability problems (which we so far have no reason to believe so from last year at least) it will surely mean just one thing; IT’s BAAACCK. Tressel Ball!
I expect this fall to look a lot like 2002; a smothering, shut-down defense combined with superior special teams and an offense that has the possibility to be pretty good on some days but might sputter on other days. We often make good natured fun of Tressel Ball, and many of the games that year were the cause of increased cardiac failure throughout BuckeyeLand, but don’t forget what it lead to on January 3 of 2003.
So like I said, not as comfortable as in previous years and a few positions make me nervous. But I for one, am NOT wringing my hands. Allow time to work its magic once again, and Trust in Tressel.