Thursday, July 19

2007 Ohio State Buckeyes Preview


Troy Smith may have been picked in the 5th round of the NFL draft by the Ravens (pretty low for a quarterback that led their team to the National Championship game), but what he left behind is so much more of a question. Between the three quarterbacks on the depth chart, none of them have starting experience. Todd Boeckman is currently listed as starter, but pretty much this position is wide open. None of the quarterbacks showed anything exceptional during the spring game, and it will only be due to the weak early schedule that whomever finally wins the starter spot will he gain the necessary experience to lead the team to a decent season.

Rob Schoenhoft is a promising sophomore who is more likely to battle for the starter spot than Anthony Henton, but truthfully the Buckeyes are banking on their current recruiting prospect in 2008 (Terrell Pryor from nearby Pennsylvania) to be the next star quarterback. This year the quarterback position is going to be the weakest link to the offense, and due to the lack of experience a good defense can rattle up the offense.


Chris "Beanie" Wells had a breakout season in 2006 working as Antonio Pittman's sidekick. Is the hype really true? Chris is much bigger than Pittman, with less acceleration but still a fast top speed to outrun most linebackers. He showed even as a true freshman that he will be the power player on the Buckeye's offense.

What's lacking at this position is depth. Maurice Wells is a speed back, and was mostly used as a receiving back last year. He has game experience, but doesn't have the power to go up the middle. And considering the fact that OSU doesn't stretch the field horizontally for their running as much (as say, Minnesota?) with zone blocking, Mo Wells will continue to be used for backup purposes. And then, will Brandon Saine really live up to the hype? A highly recruited freshman from Piqua, Ohio, and though he was never hyped as the next Chris Wells there's still a high expectation for him to take over as Beanie's Backup.

Wide Receivers:

Wow. When you lose both Ted Ginn (a fast, game changing receiver) and Anthony Gonzalez (speedy slot/possession receiver) to the NFL (both of them first round) you know that the current batch has big shoes to fill. Nobody will forget Gonzalez running a cross pattern, catching a bad pass from Smith and running up the sideline against Texas to get a crucial first down in the second half. Nobody will forget the NC opening kickoff, where Ginn just blasted through the Florida special teams.

Which brings us to this year's batch: Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and Ray Small. Ray (the fastest of the bunch) could become the next Ted Ginn, with the potential to break through slow secondaries to become a solid deep threat (if Boeckman or Schoenhoft, whomever starts, can throw it to him). Both Robiskie and Hartline played minor roles last year, but now they will be asked to step up. We will have to see if either of them have the hands of Gonzales - without a solid hand it's more likely the opposing secondaries will play their safeties on the run and leave the WRs in single coverage.

Tight Ends:

Let's just say that I don't have much to say about the OSU tight ends, because frankly they're glorified OL in the OSU playbook. There hasn't been a big play made by the tight ends since... well, the dropped touchdown in 2005.

Offensive Line:

This is the bedrock of this year's offense. Kirk Barton, Steve Rehring, and Alex Boone return, likely to shore up the LT, LG, and RT positions. Meaning, it's likely that Beanie will be running left a lot. And with solid Boone on the left side, the QB should have their backside well protected. The weakness here will be whether the center (all three are undersized) will be able to keep the big DT's from bowling them over off the snap.

However, you have to look at the numbers last year to see how well the coaches have done. Troy Smith attempted almost 100 more passes last year and was sacked only 4 more times than the year prior. This is a very solid O-line, probably one of the top 10 in the country with size and experience.

Offensive Outlook:

The Buckeyes are going to go back to their power running game. With the receivers untested, their quarterbacks with no playing experience, and a solid offensive line, it points back to a Woody Hayes type of football. But there is a star waiting to be born - can Ray Small be that serious deep threat? I believe that if the QB-WR can connect downfield it will open things up for Beanie up the middle, and there is enough talent for OSU to be the second best offense in the Big 10 straight out of the gate, and the best if they get the performances they need from the WRs.

Defensive Line:

Last year, they had Patterson and Pitcock down the middle, and Richardson and Gholston rushing the outside. With three of the four leaving for the big league, Gholston remains. They did, however leave behind some potentially great tackles in Worthington and Denlinger. They're a little undersized (you'd want them to be close to 300) and they had a poor showing in the Scarlet and Gray game. Against big offensive lines they will have some trouble, but we will have to see how well they are able to step up to the plate.


What else can you say when this crew was so maligned early last year? James Laurinitis came through HUGE last year, and is back anchoring a solid group of linebackers. Can Laurinitis continue the trend from last year? Will Larry Grant and Marcus Freeman keep things closed on the outside? I feel that of all the positions in the front seven, OSU has nothing to worry about at linebacker. They're fast enough to cover good tight ends, and Laurinitis has the ability to become as good as AJ Hawk. I know. That's scary.

Defensive Backs:

Malcolm Jenkins is probably the nations best shut-down cornerback. Yes, maybe I'm a little biased, and no, he didn't make many big interceptions, but rarely did you see anyone blazing past him in single coverage. Jamario O'Neal had playing time at safety, but missed some seriously important plays. On the other hand, OSU came through with some speedy defensive backs through recruiting this year, and so we'll have to see whether they come through and fight for starting positions.

Defensive Outlook:

They're solid at linebacker, and questions pretty much everywhere else. On the other hand, there is enough experience at each critical position and the schedule weak enough on the front end that they have the opportunity to meld before the important Wisconsin and Michigan games. Gholston, Laurinitis, Freeman, and Jenkins are crucial to making this defense be the best. They MUST step up their leadership and take the unexperienced through the process. If they are able to meld by the time Wisconsin comes to town, they have a good chance to be an 8-10 win team by postseason.

Special Teams:

Okay. Aaron Pettrey is no Mike Nugent, but the kid can kick it out of the end zone on the kickoff. AJ Trapasso is going to be okay as a punter. But the real questions here will be: who will take over the return jobs from Ginn and Gonzales? This is where I think Ray Small has the chance to shine. I put my money on him being named returner by the start of the season, and we'll get to see whether his speed can top Ginn.

Final Verdict:

Without a solid leader at quarterback, a lot more is riding on Chris Wells. With this in mind we're likely to see Tressel rely on Woody-ball until he gets to see whether the receivers will be able to step up their play. The defense has a lot less questions, however, with a solid core of them holding down the fort. In direct comparison to the competition in the Big 10, the only two questions all season will be Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which come in crucial November. Unfortunately we will never truly know whether they are a great team until then.