Ohio State Football: 2008 Team Preview (Part Two)

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Ohio State Football: 2008 Team Preview (Part Two)

 

So here we are, inching closer to the start of the College Football season, and everyone is getting anxious.  I hope to provide a fix for you fanatics and get you acquainted with the 2008 Buckeyes and what may ensue this upcoming year.

 

 

This walk-through guide offer’s up the offensive preview in parts one and two, while the defense and special teams will be analyzed in parts three and four.  In Part One of the series, I broke down the ‘Backs of the Buckeye offense.

 

In Part Two of my team preview, I will breakdown those players who play at the line of scrimmage: the receivers, tight ends, and offensive lineman.  Only one starter out of a possible eight positions did not return from least year’s squad. 

 

These positions boast such players as Biletnikoff Trophy candidate Brian Robiskie, Outland Trophy aspirant Alex Boone, and the notorious leaders of the Brew Crew: Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, and JB Shugarts.

 

 

Wide Receivers:

 

Key Returnees: 

  • Brian Robiskie, No. 80—6’3”, 199 lbs., Senior
  • Brian Hartline, No. 9—6’2”, 186 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Ray Small, No. 82—5’11”, 180 lbs., Junior
  • Dane Sanzenbacher, No. 12—5’11”, 175 lbs., Sophomore
  • Taurian Washington, No. 5—6’2”, 179 lbs., Sophomore

Key Additions: 

  • Devier Posey, No. 8—6’3", 190 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Jake Stoneburner, No. 11—6’5" 220 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Lamaar Thomas, No. 7—5’ 11” 178 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Departures:

  • None

 

2007 Statistics

 

Receptions

Yards

YPReception

Long

TD’s

Robiskie

55

935

17

68

11

Hartline

52

694

13.3

65

6

Small

20

267

13.4

60

2

Sanzenbacher

12

89

7.4

15

1

Washington

3

46

15.3

37

1

 

Early in the 2007 season, Brian Robiskie was establishing himself as a Biletnikoff candidate, and Brian Hartline wasn’t too shabby either.  As the year went on, their production steadily dropped. 

 

At the end of the season, LSU took an approach of matching up one-on-one with the receivers.  This was part in due to the sub-par play of Todd Boeckman, but also LSU feeling that they could match up with Ohio State’s receiving corps without worry.  That strategy paid off.

 

The duo of Robiskie and Hartline must take that to heart this upcoming season.  Many feel that the duo did not create the necessary separation on a consistent basis in that game, and you better believe USC is going to use the same game plan as LSU.

 

Brian Robiskie emerged as Boeckman’s go-to receiver early and often in 2008.  Robiskie is a gifted receiver who uses great body positioning and exceptional hands.  He also has deceptive speed, with his long smooth stride.

 

To see Robiskie’s impressive abilities, look no further than his circus catch againt Minnesota last season.  Robiskie didn’t have his man beat by any means, but adjusted in mid jump to out-position the defender.  A simply amazing catch in which he placed himself between the ball and the defender: a recurring theme in his performances.

 

Hartline is not physically imposing by any means, but does he sure pack a wallop.  Besides being a speedy, grit receiver, he is also an authoritative blocker.  He isn’t quite as smooth as Robiskie, and sometimes looks a bit unorthodox, but Brian always finds a way to get the job done.

 

Hartline also proved his worth as a return man.  One wouldn’t expect him to be back in that role this year with several others vying for the position, but it just goes to show you his capabilities.

 

Robiskie and Hartline have the one and two spots on lock, but from there on, it’s going to be a slugfest.  Sophomore Dane Sanzenbacher provided glimpses of potential last season while filling in for the injured Ray Small. 

 

Dane is a bit undersized, and lacks that ‘big-play receiver’ ability, but he is most definitely competent to earn the number three slot.  He was marred by injury throughout the season last year, runs great routes, and will be a great asset to this offense.

 

Taurian Washington flashed his speed on one occasion, teasing the Buckeye faithful on what he can bring to the table.  Look for him with his long frame and big hands to also have a very legitimate shot at the number three wide receiver, but more likely to backup Robiskie when its all said and done.

 

Ray Small is a bit of mystery.  He was stripped of his number four and given number eighty-two, signifying punishment from the coaching staff.  Then, in the fall media guide, Small was subsequently left out of the receiver depth chart.  Telling signs or an honest oversight?  I believe we will find out very soon.

 

Small has all the abilities in the world, as was held in high regards as the ‘next Ted Ginn’.  Those aspirations haven’t come to fruition, as he has consistently underachieved.  Luckily, he has two more seasons to prove all the doubters wrong.  The most telling sign was in the LSU game. 

 

On an under thrown ball, Small made no effort to become the ‘defender’ in that situation, and it resulted in an interception.  To top it off, he made minimal effort to tackle the defender.  There were also other issues (grades, dedication, though not confirmed) as to why he may have been in the coach’s doghouse. 

 

No one is questioning Ray Small’s talent, because the skill set is most definitely there.  The more pressing issue is whether or not he has had an attitude adjustment.  If he has, Small would become a very legitimate speed threat who adds yet another dimension to this already dangerous offense.

 

An interesting name that pops up is that of Grant Schwartz.  He has starting safety Kurt Coleman singing his praises, so take that for what it is worth.  I don’t suspect he will get a whole lot of playing time, but could be used as a bit of a change up out on the field.

 

Looking at the incoming freshman, Ohio State has some tough decisions to make.  Devier Posey has gotten teammates talking, and had been very impressive in seven-on-seven's. 

 

I have felt very strongly about Posey and what he brings to the table, but will it be enough to leap frog the likes of Sanzenbacher and Washington? 

 

Devier is a consummate route runner with sticky hands, a prototypical possession receiver with a little more speed to burn. 

 

It would not be a surprise to see Posey running underneath routes to give Boeckman the option to check down, rather than going for it all with the deep ball.  To redshirt this young man would be a shame, but fortunately Ohio State has plenty of options at the receiver position.

 

Lamaar Thomas’ name shows up yet again.  It just goes to show you how versatile this guy can be.  An ideal slot receiver, Lamaar is an absolute burner.  Think Trindon Holliday from LSU.  The role that may best suit him in his freshman campaign is perhaps as a return man, but make it known, he is a weapon anywhere he lines up.

 

Wild Card

 

Jake Stoneburner is a match-up nightmare for any defense, with his size and speed combination.  Originally recruited as a tight-end/wide receiver, he has made the move to wide receiver and will stay there. 

 

At 6’5' and room to put on some weight, Stoneburner would be an ideal red-zone target.  With his 4.5 speed, he would give linebackers and safeties absolute fits.  Think Dwayne Jarrett as a comparable player. 

 

Now to expect Stoneburner to match what Jarrett did at USC is awfully lofty.  Talking strictly about size and speed, the two possess the same advantages. 

 

Perhaps another example: Ed McCaffery of the Denver Broncos.  Having been a Bronco fan all of my life, Stoneburner’s frame and style definitely has its similarities to Eddy Mac’s.

 

Bottom Line

 

Ray Small needs to step up, as he has to abilities to take this group from good to great.  His speed adds a different element from all of the other candidates in the group. 

 

Practice photos show that Small has put on a noticeable amount of muscle, perhaps indicating he is ready to turn the corner.  Also look for four and five wideout sets more often, as the quality depth at this position is quite the benefit. 

 

The infusion of youth may also benefit past their personal production, as it may push the upperclassman much harder.

 

 

Tight Ends:

 

Key Returnees:

  • Jake Ballard, No. 86—6’7”, 256 lbs., Junior
  • Rory Nichol, No. 88—6’5”, 252 lbs., Senior

Key Additions:

  • Nic Dilillo, No. 81—6’5”, 245 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Losses:

  • None

 

2007 Statistics

 

Receptions

Yards

YPReception

Long

TD’s

Ballard

13

149

11.5

22

2

Nichol

16

84

5.3

11

-

 

 

The tight end position has always jokingly been referred to as a ‘glorified offensive lineman’ under Jim Tressel’s reign.  The thing is, is that it’s not that far from the truth. 

 

With the offensive staff’s fondness of power sets, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have an extra blocker in for the running game.  The problem is that it makes an offense more predictable, a common complaint of the Jim Tressel era.

 

Returning are two seasoned upperclassmen, Jake Ballard and Rory Nichol.  Ballard was actually used sporadically in the passing for more than just a short option. 

 

Ballard periodically released off the line and found himself open on a couple of long pass plays, one of which resulted in a nice one hand snag proving his ability in the receiving game. 

 

Nichol was used as more of a short yardage type tight end when he was sent out on routes.

 

Early in Jim Tressel’s tenure, the tight end was considered to be a weapon in this offense, but those sentiments have faded over time.  Has it been that the Buckeye’s have lacked a play making tight end?  That argument can certainly be made. 

 

I’m not buying that sentiment though, as not many designed plays are centered around the tight end position.  Far too often is there space underneath that a tight end can be released off the line and be employed as another option.  In other words, play making ability is not needed when the opportunity is there for the taking.

 

Wild Card

 

There are really no sleeper picks to speak of at the position.  Look for incoming frosh Nic Dilillo to redshirt and take a year to soak in the offensive playbook. 

 

Dilillo looks to be physically ready as a freshman which is impressive, but with no need for urgency at the position, he has the luxury of being able to sit out for the 2008 season.

 

Bottom Line: 

 

The tight end corps is a solid contributor in pass and run protection.  There isn’t any concern that I am aware of to be addressed. 

 

If the coaching staff feels that opening up the offense is the new direction, look for the tight ends to catch defenses off guard with the element of surprise. 

 

Both Nichol and Ballard are more than capable targets, especially Ballard with his great hands.

 

 

Offensive Line:

 

Key Returnees:

  • Alex Boone, No. 75—6’8”, 312 lbs., Senior
  • Steve Rehring, No. 71—6’7”, 335 lbs., 5th Year Senior
  • Jim Cordle, No. 64—6’4”, 297 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Ben Person, No. 63—6’3”, 323 lbs., 5th Year Senior
  • Bryant Browning, No. 70—6’4”, 312 lbs. Redshirt Sophomore
  • Evan Blankenship, No. 68—6’3", 290 lbs. Redshirt Freshman

Key Additions:

  • Mike Adams, No. 74—6’8”, 328 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Mike Brewster, No. 50—6’5”, 296 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • J.B. Shugarts, No. 76—6’8”, 298 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Losses:

  • Kirk Barton (Exhausted Eligibility-NFL)

 

Here we go again, another position of strength for the Ohio State Buckeyes.  The line returns four of five starters, only losing Kirk Barton to graduation and the NFL Draft.  Returning is the anchor of this line, left tackle Alex Boone. 

 

Joining him on the left side at guard would be Steve Rehring.  Manning the center position will be Jim Cordle, while Ben Person will be slotted in at right guard.  The right tackle position is still up in the air, but the current name on the depth chart is that of Bryant Browning.

 

Alex Boone is the premier blocker on this line.  Last year a good chunk of Beanie’s yards originated from running behind Boone’s blocks, and that is no coincidence.  He is also an adequate pass-blocker with his combination of footwork and balance.  Look for Alex to shoot up a lot of people’s list as one of the top lineman in the country this year.

 

Steve Rehring comes into the camp looking as if he is in the best shape of his life.  Last year that was a big issue, but it seems as if Steve has something to prove this year.  Offensive Line coach Jim Bollman has been hesitant to break up the tandem of Rehring and Boone, and for good reason, as ‘Beanie’ Wells should run wild on the left side.

 

Cordle doesn’t jump out at you on film, nor does his physique catch your attention.  He is rather referred to as a technician blocker.  He stays low on his blocks and is just flat out tough.  Last year was his first year as a starter, and also played with a broken right wrist. 

 

Many compare him to Nick Mangold at this point during their college careers, and if that holds true, than that is great news for the Buckeyes.

 

Ben Person was a first year starter last year, and at times it showed.  Person was a bit jumpy due to that inexperience, and should benefit from a year as a starter.  Ben was solid all-around in ’07, nothing less and nothing more. 

 

The interior of this line took a lot of criticism last year, but the experience factor comes into play here for Ben, and he looks to take the necessary steps to improve.

 

Bryant Browning is described as a powerful run blocker, but that trait is not the biggest area of need.  Trying to fill the shoes left by Kirk Barton, a pass blocker is ideal on the right side, so Bryant will have needed to improve from last season to this season in pass protection. 

 

If Browning has made those strides, he will take a strong hold on the right tackle position.  If not, several others are salivating at the opportunity.

 

Now come the notorious members of the Brew Crew, the aptly named incoming recruiting class featuring ring leader Mike Brewster, Ohio stud Mike Adams, and Texas big man JB Shugarts.

 

Mike Brewster is a center prospect out of Florida who helped to piece together one of the top recruiting classes in the country last year.  He is downright nasty on the field.  Tenacious may be a better word to describe Brewster. 

 

Brewster suffered a knee injury that has only slightly slowed him down.  Brew is in great position to nab the number two spot behind Jim Cordle.  From there, the sky is the limit as Brewster is the epitome of a leader and captain.

 

Mike Adams was arguably the top offensive line prospect in the country last year, and the number one overall recruit out of Ohio.  Big Mike has left tackle written all over him, and scouts liken him to a name all too familiar to Buckeye fans: Orlando Pace. 

 

The only things standing in his way are that of Alex Boone, and a shoulder injury that may or may not be a big issue.  Adams would likely be a starter on a majority of college rosters, but still has a chance to make an impact in his freshman season.

 

JB Shugarts is in contention for the right tackle position, and is just a massive young man.  He will be competing with Bryant Browning, who looks to have the edge….for now.  Shugarts is absolutely thick and massive, resulting in being quite physically imposing for a freshman.  Don’t be surprised to see JB as the premier right tackle as the season wears on.

 

Wild Card

 

It’s too easy to say that the super freshman coming in will be the sleeper picks at this position.  Adams, Shugarts and Brewster all look to be solidly embedded in the two deep already.

 

A name that needs be mentioned is that of sophomore Evan Blankenship.  Check-in photos show that Evan is in tremendous shape, and an absolute wide body.  He is listed as a guard, but in the latest depth chart, he is slated in as a left tackle.

 

Evan was the only offensive lineman in the 2007 recruiting class, so that fact in itself speaks volumes.  Being a pass blocker, he can be of great value to this team, but will need to shine in the upcoming weeks to grab hold of any opportunity that may be there.

 

Bottom Line:

 

The offensive line group is one of the better units in the country.  The skepticism has been that they can’t match up with speedy, athletic defensive fronts.  In big games last year, they seemed to have their problems, only fueling that skepticism.

 

The key here is consistency.  The left side is solidly anchored behind Boone and Rehring, and Cordle at center provides a good technician blocker.  The right side is where players need to step up and make a difference.

 

With the incoming freshmen who are determined to get on the field as soon as possible, look for the upperclassmen to feel a sense of urgency.  If they fail to do so, the line should be in good hands with the hard-working young bloods.

 

 

 

Overall, the most impressive part of these position groups is that of depth.  If someone is unable to step up, someone else seems poised to make a contribution.  The offensive line is seasoned, yet loaded with very talented youth. 

 

The wide receiving corps has several options, but is looking for a speed threat to complete the ensemble.  The tight ends do the dirty work, but look for a bigger role in the offense.  This offense as a unit will be difficult to slow down for any defense in ’08.

 

 

Look for part three upcoming in the next few days where I will preview the defensive front seven. Part One can be found here.

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