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March 27, 2006

Spring Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Georgia Sports Blog continues its Spring Practice look around the country by venturing beyond the SEC to look at other top ranked preseason programs. Today, we spend some time with the guys at Buckeye Commentary talking about Ohio State. As always the photos and captions are from Westerdawg.

PWD: Many of the pre-pre-season pubs have you guys in the Top 3-5. How realistic is it that OSU will finish that high?

-Buckeye Commentary (BC): I believe it’s a pretty accurate assessment. It’s important to note the keyword in the question is “finish.” Our schedule is strong especially early on with road trips to Texas and Iowa, but we have Penn State and Michigan at home. Factor in our Michigan and Bowl Game success under Coach Tressel, it’s very possible we could find ourselves in the Top 5 at season’s end.

Replacing Hawk & Co. will be no easy chore.

With OSU success always seems to start with the defense. Yet, it looks like you lose more front line talent on defense than any other elite team in the country. How does Tressel keep the defense rolling in '06?

- BC: The defense will be a work in progress. We have lost a lot of defensive talent – potentially 3 first rounders - and there are several holes to fill. Coach Tressel will give almost complete control to second year defensive coordinator, Jim Heacock. Fortunately for Ohio State and Heacock, 8 players return who have starting experience.

The front four, in particular, should be very good with DT’s Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson returning. Former starter at DE, Jay Richardson is also back hoping to break out in his senior campaign as well. I see the key to this defense being how we adjust to losing our back 7. Expectations will have to be curtailed when you lose players like AJ Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Ashton Youboty, Donte Whitner, but the young players waiting for their shot are supremely talented. If they take root quickly, this defense, by the end of the year, could be extremely good once again.

Although, if you're going to replace Hawk, doing it with Animal's son makes it easier.

In the Notre Dame and Michigan games, it looked like you guys finally started to open the offense up. What sort of offense should we expect from the Buckeyes in 2006?

- BC: Our offense will be very similar to what you saw versus Michigan and Notre Dame. Because our defense isn’t as strong, Coach Tressel will keep the throttle open to compensate. One of the big positives is there will be no QB controversy. The flip-flopping of QB’s the nation saw in the Texas game will not happen this year. Troy Smith, who is 13-2 as a starter, finished 4th in the nation in passing efficiency and the QB job is his alone. We will continue to feature 1 Back and Shotgun sets. Gone, for now, are the days we line up mostly in I-Formation. Antonio Pittman returns to anchor the RB duties and many feel true frosh Chris Wells will serve as a very good complement to Pittman’s running style.

Ginn Jr. in action

Ted Ginn, Jr. is back and looks to become a more complete WR. Ask most Buckeye fans and they’ll tell you Santonio Holmes was our go to guy last year as he was the most polished WR in the Big Ten 10. Ginn has focused this off-season on becoming stronger and faster (amazingly) so he can tap into his full potential. Defenses will continue to game plan against Ted, but they run the risk of being beat by any number of weapons this offense possesses.

In all, a total of 9 starters return from an offensive unit that averaged 33 points and 425 yards. I look for those numbers to increase as Troy becomes even more comfortable running the offense and Antonio continues to blossom as a RB. But, make no mistake, we’ll still play ball control and field position when we have a sizeable lead. Defenses will still get a healthy dose of the ground game and QB draws.

Ohio State's offense gives Tressel the O-Face

What is the off-season story that the mainstream media hasn't written yet about Ohio State? What should they be writing about?

- BC: For me, there are two stories/angles that are being missed. The first I touched on already and that is the number of players returning on the defensive side of the ball that have some starting experience. And, in most cases, the “starting experience” consists of more than just one game.

Some examples: Brandon Mitchell used to be the starting safety in 2003 before Nate Salley came on strong. Malcolm Jenkins was basically a starter from mid-season onward last year as a true frosh. LB Mike D’Andrea used to start in the middle before a knee injury. I’ve already touched on Pitcock, Patterson and Richardson above. There’s no question we’ll have some growing pains but a lot of talented players return who have played significant minutes.

The other story that really hasn’t been documented enough is the emergence of RB, Antonio Pittman. I’m convinced he put up the quietest 1350 rushing yards in Ohio State history. Outside of Columbus, he gets very little publicity and most only know him from his game clinching TD run vs. Notre Dame. Antonio Pittman is one of the best backs in the country and he’ll be running behind a veteran offensive line.

At least Vince won't be there for the return trip to Austin

What are you looking for / hoping to see addressed this Spring?

- BC: After enjoying several years of wonderful field goal kicking, we now must find and break in a brand new place-kicker. There are several candidates and my hope is that someone commands the job before spring practice wraps up.

I am also looking for one of our young defensive ends to enter the defensive line rotation. Of our players last year, we lacked a devastating speed rusher. I think we may find one among Vernon Gholston, Robert Rose or Doug Worthington.

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Big thanks to the crew at Buckeye Commentary for their thoughts on the upcoming season.

Note: Spring previews for Tech, Tennessee, Florida, West Virginia and Texas are also available. More on the horizon.



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