Breaking Down the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State defeated 3 top 15 teams down the stretch, and topped off the season with a 26-17 Rose Bowl win over Oregon. Unfortunately, a win over a Pac10 team is not going to hush the detractors. Ohio State must be even better to quiet them, and to live up to their own expectations.
Cameron Heyward and Ross Homan will lead the perennial powerhouse defense. Pryor and a host of returning starters look to dominate on offense. Ohio State will enter the season at #2.
Only time will tell if the Buckeyes can win their second title in the last decade, and knock the proverbial monkey off their back, this time, for good.
Jim Tressel has assembled some of the finest talent of his tenure, specifically on the offensive line, an area that has cost him dearly in the past.
Let's breakdown the teams strengths and weaknesses by unit.
The Running Backs!
A healthy Brandon Saine is as powerful as he is fast(4.4/10.38). Boom Herron provides a steady back-up, and has become an underdog/fan-fave. Depth. Ohio State goes 6 deep with talent(Brandon Saine, Dan Herron, Jordan Hall, Jamaal Berry, Carlos Hyde, and Rod Smith). Berry and Hall are nice change-ups with game-breaking speed.
Zach Boren emerged as one of the best young fullbacks in the game in 2009. Boren and Saine's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield adds another dimension.
Berry is easily the most elusive back in the stable; should he be able to stay healthy, the highly touted '09 recruit from Florida could have a big impact in 2010.
Jermil Martin is transferring. Rod Smith may not academically qualify. Jamaal Berry has yet to do anything at the college level. He's also struggled to stay healthy. There is depth, but is there a game-changer? Saine can move a pile and out-run the average NFL receiver, but he isn't very elusive.
Terrelle Pryor showed better decision making, footwork, and accuracy in both the Rose Bowl and the spring game. At 6'6" 235, he has a distinct advantage in terms of breaking tackles, seeing over the line-of-scrimmage, and avoiding batted balls. His size poses a major threat to undersized defensive backs when he decides to take off.
Back-ups Joe Bauserman and Ken Guiton both have the skills to keep this Ohio State team afloat if Pryor were to go down(knock on wood), and the competition for that 2nd spot is making both players better.
Pryor has fought through the first two years of being the most highly scrutinized player in the country. He wasn't 100% at any point last season, and that's scary.
I think most of us refer to it as the 'loaf of bread'. *If Pryor can learn the footwork and reads necessary to progress as a passer, then why can't he grasp the simple, fundamental concept of tucking the ball away? This problem single handidly cost Ohio State wins at Purdue in '09, and at home against Penn State in '08. Pryor is also coming off 'minor' knee surgery. While back-ups Bauserman and Guiton have impressed in the last 2 spring games - neither has shown the ability to lead this team in a real game.
*under the bus toss #1
Jake Stoneburner is as athletic a TE as Ohio State has fielded since Ricky Dudley. Jake has great hands and 4.6 speed. Look for the sophmore to stretch the field and give opposing linebackers something(other than Pryor) to think about. Reid Fragel is a mammoth back-up at 6'8" 265, but lacks Stoneburner's speed and athleticism.
Well, first of all, the guy to the left(Jake Ballard) who made that game-clinching catch is gone, along with most of the experience at the position. Stoneburner forces Ohio State to change the offense. He may become the third go-to receiver. This would mean more in-the-slot tight-end, and less along the line-of-scrimmage. The re-introduction of a receiving tight-end precipitates more shifting pieces, which often means more penalties, and more scenarios for a quarterback who was just getting a stranglehold on this offense.
The Offensive Line!
After a few years of futility, the Ohio State o-line progressed last season. It looked better than it had in '07/'08, and continued to improve as the season went on. *The only loss, Jim Cordle, may have also been the weakest link.
Tackle to tackle Ohio State has NFL prospects. LG Justin Boren may be the best run-blocker in the game. C Mike Brewster is just tapping into his potential. Tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams appear to guard the edge better than their recent predecessors. Back-Up T Marcus Hall and G Corey Linsley are about as good as back-ups get. This OL is deep, experienced, athletic, and big.
This line won't make Jim Tressel any less conservative. Opposing coaches will see the dominance on tape, make adjustments, load the box, and force Ohio State to pass much like Oregon did in January.
*under the bus toss #2
The Wide Receivers!
Devier Posey has a rare combination of size(6'3" 200), and speed(10.5). Dane Sanzenbacher's size(5'11" 180) and demeanor lulls defenses to sleep. He is extremely quick in space - making wide-receiver screens work like effective running plays. He also has exceptional hands, and is completely fearless when it comes to going across the middle. Chris Fields, a redshirt freshman, will contribute right away in 2010. He appears to have a similar skill-set to Santonio Homes. Fields will be a starter in 2011. Taurian Washington is a big target back-up at 6'3" 195. Washington and Fields make the Duron Carter loss virtually seamless.
Both WR#1(Posey), and WR#3/4(Washington) have had problems catching the ball.
Sanzenbacher's fearlessness and size are a terrible combination. He's taken some of the worst hits in the country over the last two years, and needs to stay healthy for this unit to remain consistent. At this point, Posey appears to be the only WR on the roster with any NFL starter potential.
A bad Ohio State special teams performance is usually better than most. OSU will break in a new punter in Ben Buchanan. Devin Barclay is no Mike Nugent, but does appear to be fairly consistent with shorter distances. Freshman Drew Basil could be called upon outside of the 40-45 yard-line, and has an outside chance of winning the position altogether.
The Buckeyes are absolutely loaded with DB and LB back-ups, which fit perfectly on coverage teams. Jamaal Berry could add a needed boost to the return game.
Devin Barclay needs to improve his leg strength and accuracy. The kickers, in general, did not impress in the spring. Ohio State was lit-up by Oregon's Kenjon Barner in the Rose Bowl - so improving the kick-off coverage will be one of Tressel's focal points. The only kick-returner with any consistency, Lamaar Thomas, transferred due to a lack of playing time. Jim Tressel has his hands full here.
The Defensive Line!
Cameron Heyward is ranked as the #1 NFL DE prospect in the country for a reason. He has stated that his return for his senior campaign was motivated by the prospects of winning the National Championship AND becoming the best player in the country. Ironhead Jr. can also shift down to the inside. Heyward's counterpart Nathan Williams is big(6'4" 255), and fast. Williams has accounted for 6 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in limited playing time over the past two seasons. Dexter Larimore played excellent last season before being sidelined with an injury. John Simon, who will man the other tackle spot, is as strong as any player in the country(has put up 48 reps @ 225), and plays all-out, all the time. Melvin Fellows and Solomon Thomas provide sack-capable back-ups at DE.
Depth at DT might be the single biggest concern for this football team. The depth is as bad as the starters are good. Right now the back-up DT's are two underclassmen with little-to-no experience at this level(Adam Bellamy and Garrett Goebel). The starting 4 could be the best in the country, but the back-ups are as green as tomatoes in early June. The Buckeyes can't afford to lose Heyward or either DT.
Ross Homan! Homan could be a comic book hero, The 'Human Tick'. Brian Rolle is a fast, active linebacker who doesn't make many mental mistakes. Etienne Sabino is a physical freak at 6'3" 240, and will make an immediate impact in Austin Spitler's old spot. Homan, Rolle, and Sabino have excellent quickness. Andrew Sweat, Jordan Whiting, and Storm Klein are more than capable back-ups.
*We saw it against Oregon when Masoli ran him over. Rolle has the experience and speed, but lacks size(5'10 225). Ohio State may have to consider inserting Jordan Whiting(6'1" 250) in goal-line, and short-yardage situations. Can you imagine Rolle playing MLB against Jacob Hester and LSU in the 2007 NC? I can't either. OSU won't sit their second leading tackler and catalyst, but they may rethink certain situations.
* under the bus toss #3
The Defensive Backs!
We didn't hear Chimdi Chekwa's or Devon Torrence's name much in 2009, and that's a good thing when you're talking about cornerbacks. Both return.
Jermale Hines played about 65% of the downs as the nickle last season, and is an incredibly gifted athlete that will play at the next level. Hines takes over at one safety spot. The other safety spot could be manned by Florida product Orhian Johnson. That will give OSU 4 Florida recruits in the starting line-up. Johnson made waves last season on the practice field, but was mainly limited to special teams play in 2009. As for speed and size, Johnson(6'2" 203/4.5), and Hines(6'2" 215/4.5), on paper, look like as fine an athletic duo as we've seen in Columbus at safety.CJ Barnett and Nate Oliver will compete with Orhian for the open safety spot.
Tyler Moeller was on fire with 17 tackles in the spring game of 2009 - before an off-the-field incident sidelined him for the season. Moeller is expected to be the front-runner for the 'Star' (nickle) position. Ohio State may have new starters at safety, but they have amazing depth at the position with 4 or 5 highly touted recruits and veterans on the depth chart. C.J. Barnett, Zach Domicone, Aaron Gant, Nate Oliver,and local product Jamie Wood could be stars in another situation, but here they add quality depth.
New starters at 3 of the 5 DB positions will require time to gel. The defensive backs were lit-up by their counterparts in the spring game. Can the physical safeties and nickle players be disciplined enough to stay deep in pass coverage? Will Tyler Moeller be able to pick up where he left off? This is the unit with the most question marks in 2010.