Thoughts Turn To Spring (And Questions) For Ohio State
1. Can the offensive line play better than in 2008?~ Heading into the 2008 season, Ohio State looked at its offensive line as a position of strength, with the return of seniors Alex Boone, Steve Rehring, Ben Person, and junior Jim Cordle. The only position of concern was reserved for ORT redshirt sophomore Bryant Browning.
Lackluster offensive line performances in the running game against Youngstown State, Ohio University, and then a blowout debacle loss to USC, forced Ohio State to adjust the offensive line combination. True freshman Michael Brewster was inserted at center, moving Cordle to left guard. For the remainder of the 2008 season, the offensive line was consistently a lightning rod for criticism and debate.
Looking into the 2009 season, Ohio State will need to replace Alex Boone at left tackle, as well as Ben Person at right guard. Early projections are for highly-touted Mike Adams to win the coveted and crucial left tackle spot. At right guard, Justin Boren (formerly of Michigan) is being discussed as a possible starter. No matter who wins these positions, it is imperative for Ohio State's success in 2009 for its offensive line to perform better than it did in 2008, and that is because...
2. Chris Wells has left for the NFL. Who will replace him? ~ With the early departure of Chris Wells to the NFL, Ohio State has lost its major offensive weapon from the past two seasons. Wells was injured in the 2008 season opener against Youngstown State, and did not play against Ohio University, USC, and Troy. Ohio State's rushing attack was tremendously neutralized and largely ineffective, especially against Ohio University, without Wells in the lineup.
Returning redshirt sophomore Daniel "Boom" Herron had a solid freshman season, rushing for 439 yards as primarily Wells' backup. Herron will get the first crack at winning the starting tailback spot this spring. Returning junior Brandon Saine had a disappointing 2008 season pretty much wiped out due to nagging injuries. It will be imperative for Saine to have a solid spring to stay a viable option in the eyes of the coaching staff, as Ohio State welcomes in highly-touted running back recruits Jaamal Berry, Jordan Hall, and Carlos Hyde in the fall.
3. Will Terrelle Pryor's Passing Improve? ~ Terrelle Pryor arrived in Columbus in 2008 amidst great fanfare as arguably the top incoming high school player in the nation. The early conjecture was that Pryor would play, albeit as a compliment to returning All-Big Ten quarterback Todd Boeckman.
As a result of inconsistent offensive line play (see # 1 up above), Boeckman struggled, leading to his benching for the Troy game. Pryor's mobility at the quarterback position helped Ohio State to stay afloat for the remainder of the 2008 season, but the Ohio State passing game was limited in an effort to help Pryor assimilate as the starter. Pryor truly struggled in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, causing Ohio State to insert Boeckman back into the lineup to jumpstart the offense.
This spring, it will be interesting to see how Pryor has advanced as a passer. Pryor's throwing motion, as well as recognition of pass coverage schemes, will be a major focus for the coaching staff. Pryor's mobility will always be a strength that opposing defenses will need to respect, but I will be curious to see if Pryor has developed into a viable passing threat, along the lines of former Buckeye Troy Smith.
4. Who Will Emerge As The Starting WRs? ~ The departures of Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline leave Ohio State with two open wide receiver slots. Fortunately for Ohio State, they are not completely lacking for experience at these positions.
Returning senior Ray Small, returning junior Dane Sanzenbacher, and returning sophomores DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomasseem the likely first candidates at these open positions. Small has frustrated the coaching staff throughout his career, so this is his last chance to emerge as a dependable every-down player. Sanzenbacher has emerged as a dependable possession receiver, but has also sustained concussions as a result of his willingness to go over the middle to make the tough catches. Posey and Thomas both possess tremendous speed; it will be interesting to see if they can emerge as solid downfield blockers in the mold that both Robiskie and Hartline were in their careers.
5. Who Will Emerge As The Starting LBs?~ The departures of MLB James Laurinaitis and SLB Marcus Freeman leave two starting spots open on the defensive side of the ball. Returning junior WLB Ross Homan had a solid 2008 season, coming off a disappointing 2007 season wiped out due to injury.
Returning senior MLB Austin Spitler has waited his turn, primarily serving as a special teams performer throughout his career. Returning sophomore Etienne Sabino will battle Spitler for the starting MLB spot throughout the spring and the fall. While Spitler may have the edge in experience, Sabino may have more physical talent than Spitler for the position.
While undersized at 216 lbs, returning junior Tyler Moeller has emerged as a favorite of the coaching staff for his enthusiastic hitting style and speed. Even though returning junior Brian Rolle was listed as a backup for Ross Homan, it would not surprise me if Rolle was in the mix with Moeller for the starting SLB position this spring. Like Austin Spitler, Rolle has developed into a standout special teams player and dependable tackler.
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