There are a lot of relevant questions for the Buckeyes this offseason, however, these five questions stick out as the questions that should be addressed in the upcoming spring practice.
1. How Much Will Pryor Improve?
We can all agree that Terrelle Pryor is not going to be the same quarterback this season. I mean this in a good way. Contrary to popular belief, Pryor can improve a lot more in his passing skills.
Not only is there is no question that his aerial attack needs more polish, but I also think that Pryor's running game has tons of room for improvement. Everything from making faster reads on the read-option to making more happen down field when he has left the pocket, these are things he can improve upon.
The majority of Pryor's big gains last season were essentially sprints from the pocket toward the sideline. As a freshman, there is nothing wrong with that, but now that he's an upper-classman, it would be nice for him to fight for extra yards.
I know no one wants to see him get hurt trying to turn a 25-yard run into a 28-yarder, but he has a big body and take take more hits, especially from the defensive backs in the open field, than we could realize.
However, getting back to his passing, Pryor seemed most comfortable throwing the deep ball. This is natural because he typically only had one defender to worry about. The deep routes also create more space around him in the line of scrimmage, just in case he decided to take off.
I don't think any of us expect him to turn into Troy Smith circa 2006, but the ability to consistently hit quick slants and roll-out passes will prevent defenses form crowding the line.
2. Will the Offensive Line Improve Via Subtraction?
I sure hope so. The offensive line was responsible for everything from the dreadful offense and Todd Boeckman's benching to the clamors for Jim Bollman's job—though technically, he coaches them so perhaps he was responsible for everything.
So far this offseason the overwhelming, and somewhat inexplicable, sentiment is that new big uglies are going to create a much more cohesive and successful unit.
Despite the lack of empirical evidence, you can place me in that camp.
I base my reasoning on two things:
First, look at OSU center Michael Brewster. As a freshman, he was comfortable and capable on the court and was universally lauded by many sports pundits. Therefore, I'll believe those same pundits are correct to have showered acclaim on his classmates Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.
If they are, this means three of five linemen are going to be very good, and good for a while.
Second, love him, hate him, and/or find his transfer fraught with conflict, Justin Boren, while playing with a winged helmet, was an honorable mention offensive guard as a sophomore.
Even if he never improves, he will still be a valuable member of the line.
Though it may seem convoluted, I see four future All-Big Ten players playing together. Three more than OSU had last season.
3. Can the Line Carry the Defense?
The line has not been the highlight of the defense, since Will Smith, Darrion Scott, Tim Anderson, and Kenny Peterson comprised the OSU front four in 2002. I am not comfortable saying this front four will be anywhere near as good as the 2002 front four, but they may still be the best unit on the defense during upcoming season.
The linebackers are an enigma. Raise your hand if you are sold on Ross Homan or if you found Austin Spitler and Donald Washington's departure to be a painful and unnecessary setback for the secondary defensive line.
I know Jim Heacock's defense almost always overcomes its losses, but 2009 seems to be presenting a previously unseen challenge. After seeing Chimdi Chekwa and Thaddeus Gibson, I do not have any particularly high expectations for either player.
That is not to say that Etienne Sabino will not turn into the linebacker we all believe he can be nor that Jermale Hines cannot learn to cover, but until those things materialize, by default, I think the line is the defensive unit of choice.
So, will the line carry the defense? Yes, as long as Cameron Heyward and Robert Rose make appropriate and, quite frankly, overdue improvements. During this upcoming fall season, I think this unit can be fierce.
4. Can Jim Tressel Successfully Replace Both Kickers?
Why not? He always does. Moreover, he always seems to have a returning backup at one of the two positions. When Denny Huston stepped in for Mike Nugent, Huston had already been a starter.
When B.J. Sander finally got his starting job, he won the Groza award. Even Kyle Turano was good for one season—earning 43 yards per point.
As with previous kicking vacancies, Ohio State has the luxury of using a previous starter as a placekicker. The punting job is a little more wide open, and I need not remind you how much Tressel loves to punt.
J.M. Thoma got a few punts off last season. Ben Buchanan, from Columbus, Ohio, was, strangely, considered to be a big deal when he signed with OSU in 2008.
This fall, I am not sure which position I would rather have exceed expectations, however, a rejuvenated Aaron Pettery would be great because the Buckeyes may have to outscore teams for a little while.
Then again, a booming punter would likely make the field longer for the young defensive line taking the field this fall.
Of course, if Tressel has it his way, they will both be just fine.
5. Will the Buckeyes Find That "Killer Instinct"?
This is, perhaps, the biggest question of the every offseason. I remember being stunned when OSU lost to Texas Longhorns in 2005. It wasn't because I was convinced that they were better than the Longhorns, but because I had grown accustomed to, for one reason or another, the Buckeyes winning those big games.
When they lost to Penn State a few weeks later, I chalked it up to a hangover from the Texas matchup. Then they rallied in Ann Arbor, pummeled Notre Dame, and waltzed through the 2006, classic game against Michigan, later hat season. As a result, order was restored to the Tressel-universe.
Then, Florida happened—I will spare you my diatribe about how Ohio State was superior to the Gators, because of this game, history will forever tell a different story.
Almost as bad as that game is the lack of OSU's virility since then. I am not sure how they will get that swagger back. Maybe a transcendent performance from Pryor against USC will do it.
Vince Young seemed to have that effect on the Longhorns. Maybe the solutions are smaller and simpler. Maybe the Buckeyes were just one first down away from getting it back, during their game against Penn State University. No one had a chance to find out, because they fumbled instead.
I don't have an answer to this one. There are no stats and trends from which to glean some solution. There are no historical equivalents to review.
Maybe I need to regain my fan swagger, but these are just a few questions that needed to be asked.