Ohio State Football 2008 Team Preview (Part Four)

Cody BlubaughAnalyst IAugust 26, 2008

Can you feel it?  We are agonizingly close to the College Football season, and everyone is getting anxious.  I hope to provide a last fix for you fanatics and get you acquainted with the 2008 Buckeyes and what may ensue this upcoming year.


This walk-through guide offers 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 the series, I broke down the wide receivers, tight ends, and the offensive line.  In Part Three of the series, I broke down the front seven of the Buckeye defense.


In Part Four, the final of the series, I will analyze the secondary and special teams for the Ohio State Buckeyes. 


These units include Jim Thorpe candidate, and one of the top cornerbacks in the nation, Malcolm Jenkins, Heavy-hitter Kurt Coleman, and seasoned kickers Ryan Pretorius and AJ Trapasso.






Key Returnees:

  • Malcolm Jenkins, No. 2–6’1”, 201 lbs., Senior
  • Anderson Russell, No. 21–6’0”, 205 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Chimdi Chekwa, No. 5–6’0”, 188 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Andre Amos, No. 13–6’1”, 183 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Kurt Coleman, No. 4–5’11”, 188 lbs., Junior
  • Jamario O’Neal, No. 3–6’0”, 205 lbs., Senior
  • Donald Washington, No. 20–6’0”, 194 lbs. Redshirt Junior
  • James Scott, No. 11–5’10”, 170 lbs., Sophomore

Key Additions

  • Travis Howard, No. 18–6’1”, 170 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Zach Domicone, No. 16–6’2”, 210 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Orhian Johnson, No. 19-6’2, 178 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Departures:

  • Eugene Clifford (Disciplinary Dismissal-Tennessee State)





The back end of this highly rated Buckeye defense was far beyond satisfactory, ranking 1st in the nation in pass defense.  Returning is senior Malcolm Jenkins, arguably the top cornerback in the nation.


Jenkins is what you would call a complete package.  He is very physical and can come up and support the run.  He is a sound tackler who can bring the big hit. 


Malcolm doesn’t have world-class speed, but he has excellent recovery speed.  He is very versatile, as he proved last season by playing man-to-man, zone, and switching between the corner and safety positions nearly flawlessly. 


Jenkins is also the emotional and vocal leader out on the field, as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman lead more by example.  There is a reason this guy is a future top-10 pick.


Donald Washington started opposite Malcolm Jenkins last year, and was showing promise as a very strong No. 2 corner to pair with Jenkins.  Then the troubles off the field started. 


The trio of Donald, Jamario O’Neal, and Eugene Clifford had supposedly all failed drug tests, which led to the release of Eugene Clifford, and his subsequent transfer to Tennessee State.  Donald and Jamario on the other hand, got hit with a two-game suspension and squarely landed in Coach Jim Tressel’s doghouse.


Who may step up in Washington’s absence?  The top candidate is most definitely Chimdi Chekwa, who was a nickel cornerback last season.  Toward the end of the year, Chekwa made strides and could push Washington for playing time.


Chekwa was the aforementioned nickel back last season, meaning he most definitely has the coverage skills to be a starting corner this season.  If he impresses in the first two games, Donald Washington might have cost himself the starting corner slot with his bad decisions off of the field.


Andre Amos follows Chekwa as a player who may have a chance at early playing time in Washington’s absence.  Amos had torn his ACL in spring practice last season, but fought his way back about two months ahead of schedule. 


The opportunity is now there for the taking, with a corner spot vacant for the first two games.  You can bet that with Amos and Chekwa pushing each other,  Ohio State will come out a winner either way.


Moving over to safety, the tandem of Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell are a very formidable duo. 


Coleman is a fierce competitor out on the field, and most definitely carries a swagger.  Coleman is a big hitter who likes to come up and contribute in run defense.  That is where Coleman excels. 


Kurt’s coverage skills were spotty at times, but last year was his first year starting, so it would be expected that he improved in that area.  Sometimes Kurt looks for a kill shot more often than needed, and it leads to some missed tackles.  If he can get his emotions a bit more under control, it will make him a better player.


Russell, like Coleman, was a first-year starter last season.  Russell suffered an ACL injury in 2006 and came back and played as well as you can coming back from that injury so quickly.  He may have been a bit tentative at times because of his knee, but after a year of playing, that should disappear. 


Russell could be considered a good to great coverage safety, and often found himself in position to create turnovers.  He didn’t make the most of those opportunities, dropping numerous catchable interceptions.  If Anderson can force more turnovers, he will become a big name on the college scene.


After those two, the next choice at safety is Jamario O’Neal.  As mentioned earlier, O’Neal will miss the first two games of the season due to disciplinary reason.


O’Neal has been considered as an underachiever solely based on the hype placed on him coming out of high school.  He was supposed to be an All-American and an instant impact player.  Neither of those has happened. 


Jamario has had times where the light seemed to have switched on, but then he regresses back to mediocrity.  That’s not to say he isn’t a big contributor to the team, but he needs to have his breakout year in case of any injuries to the starters.


From there, the talent level drops a few notches, mostly due to inexperience.  Aaron Gant, Rocco Pentello, and Nate Oliver fit that bill.  Gant is a physical player, and has been a special team’s contributor, but if he is to get significant minutes, it may spell trouble for Ohio State.  Both Pentello and Oliver are coming off of a redshirt year, so they too lack the experience to be big time contributors.


Nick Patterson is an interesting player.  He is a senior without a lot of pressure on him, and being the tall and rangy type with good instincts, he could be a good change of pace in at the safety position.  In his limited playing time last season, he managed an interception, which is one more than Coleman and Russell combined.


Jermale Hines will be a situational safety at the ‘star’ position, after being moved from the linebacker position.  The star position is a hybrid linebacker/safety and the coaches feel that this is where he will best excel, considering the depth at linebacker.


James Scott seems to have run into some academic struggles, and as of right now, doesn’t look to be on the roster, only furthering the concern on safety depth.  If those problems are addressed, Scott should rejoin the team sooner rather than later, but it’s up to Scott to make that decision.


The incoming freshmen are ‘raw’ at there projected college positions, so redshirts should be coming for the trio of Travis Howard, Orhian Johnson, and Zach Domicone.




Wild Card:


Devon Torrence is the sleeper pick in the secondary.  Devon has been moved around in his early career from defense to offense and now back to defense.


Torrence was trying to crack the depth chart at wide receiver, but coaches felt his strongest position would be at corner.  Since he has been moved back, he is improving very quickly.  He has very limited action, so it may take some time for him to blossom, but with his speed, fluid hips, and acceleration, the sky is the limit.


The only question may be whether or not Devon will be enticed by the Houston Astros organization to play baseball full-time or not.  If he sticks with football, he could contribute in due time.  If he goes with baseball, he has opportunity there as well.  No matter the choice, it seems like a win-win for Devon.




Bottom Line:


The back line has very talented players across the board, and one of the best in Malcolm Jenkins.  The cornerback positions seem to be deep with talent and full of guys who are hungry for playing opportunities.


Safety has two very good starters in Coleman and Russell.  After that though, depth becomes an issue.  The talent step down from the starters to the backups is a big one, and if wither Coleman of Russell go down to injury, it may be a problem.


Jamario O’Neal may be able to step up, but after that, you start getting into vastly inexperienced players in Aaron Gant, Nate Oliver, and Rocco Pentello.  Hope and pray that the Buckeyes stay healthy at safety.


Overall, the secondary needs to force more turnovers, and that message has been sent loudly and clearly by the coaches.  Far too many interceptions were dropped, leading to numerous missed opportunities, even if it was just getting the defense off the field in general.  If that aspect is improved, this team becomes very difficult to beat.




Special Teams:


Key Returnees:

  • Aaron Pettrey, No. 20–6’2”, 199 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Ryan Pretorius, No. 85–5’9”, 169 lbs., Redshirt Senior
  • A.J. Trapasso, No. 15–6’0” 229 lbs., Redshirt Senior
  • Jacob McQuaide, No. 96–6’2, 219 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Patrick Howe, No. 53–6’2, 204 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore

Key Additions:

  • Ben Buchanon, No. 17–6’0”, 185 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Departures:

  • None




Special teams have always been a staple of the Ohio State Buckeyes under the Jim Tressel era.  Tressel prides himself in a strong kicking game, sound cover teams, and perfect execution all around.  It is his bread and butter so to speak.


Just to show you how Coach Tressel feels about his special teams unit, look no further than last season against Washington.  The Buckeyes came up with a huge field goal block in the early stages of the third quarter to reverse the momentum of the game.  The normally reserved Jim Tressel shot off the sidelines with more emotion on that play than perhaps the past four seasons combined.


Unfortunately, that was one of the few standout highlights of the season.  The coverage units were solid on punt return defense, ranking sixth in the nation in terms of yards per return, while allowing zero touchdowns. 


On the other hand, the kickoff coverage units weren’t as efficient.  On kickoff defense, the Buckeyes ranked 57th and allowed two returns for touchdowns.  That’s not exactly terrible, but it’s definitely not living up to Coach Tressel’s lofty standards to say the least.


To shore up the coverage units, the coaching staff will throw some of the ‘best-of-the-rest’ type players, those who may not be able to net significant playing time at their everyday positions. 


Brian Rolle was a standout last year, so look for him to continue his role on special teams.  Austin Spitler, Tyler Moeller, Etienne Sabino, and Andrew Sweat all could see significant time on special teams seeing as how stacked the linebacking corps is. 


Jamario O’Neal, Chimdi Chekwa, and Andre Amos should also have their shot on coverage defense.  Brian Hartine is a bruiser and has excelled as part of the coverage units.  Of course, you will also see some of your big-name defenders on special teams as well.


There are several others who could add contributions here, but there is a bevy of talented tacklers who must do a better job this season.


Unfortunately, neither the punt nor the kick return units fared any better than the coverage units.  Nationally, the Buckeyes ranked 117th while placing dead last in terms of kickoff return yardage, and obviously no touchdown returns. 


Some of that has to do with being the number one scoring defense in the nation, meaning fewer opportunities, but the totals were abysmal anyway you slice it.


The punt return team was much better than the kickoff returners, but was still subpar.  The Buckeyes rank in the middle of the pack, checking in at 58th in the nation and the claim the lone special teams touchdown. 


By contrast to the kickoff unit, having the No. 1 scoring defense actually created many more opportunities for the punt returners, meaning that 58th ranking is still rather meager.


As of now, several candidates are competing to be return men. Hartline did an above average job last year as a punt returner, as he claims that lone special teams touchdown. 


Hartline and Brian Robiskie could be considered the "good hands" returners, but obviously, it would be much better to have someone other than these two as your returners due to their significance to the offense.


The next tier of returners include the "burners:" Ray Small, Lamaar Thomas, Brandon Saine, and Devon Torrence. 


Small has seen time as a return man as he returns as the leading kickoff return from last season, and has seen his ups and downs.  He obviously has all the talent in the world, but he needs to breakout this year, and special teams may be that igniting spark for his fire.


Brandon Saine is quite a talented player, and has good size to go along with his exceptional speed.  The knock on him has been his lack of shiftiness, but that may have been attributed to freshman jitters. 


The aforementioned Devon Torrence in the defensive backs breakdown may throw his hat into the return ring.  Devon has seen limited time on special teams, but could possibly make an impact as a returner if others don’t quite pan out.


Last but not least, is senior Maurice Wells.  Mo doesn’t stand out at any one thing, but is a contributor to this team and often does the job he is asked to do.


The biggest concern here has to be the kicking game.  Ryan Pretorius comes in as an experienced redshirt senior, but had some troubles last season. 


Ryan missed six field goals, with four of those misses being blocked kicks.  One could fault the blockers for not executing, or Ryan for keeping his kicks too low, but either way, those numbers must improve.


We have all seen how blocked kicks can change the momentum of a game.  The Buckeyes know this all too well as the aforesaid Washington game saw the Huskies block an Ohio State kick, which kept them in the game midway through the third quarter.  OSU turned that game around with a blocked kick of their own, and snuffed out any chance of an upset for Washington.


The National Championship game was also a great example as LSU was struggling to find a rhythm until their blocked kick paved the way to a crystal football.  The Buckeyes know how important it is to execute and avoid those type of momentum swings.


Punter A.J. Trapasso is arguably the top punter in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation.  A.J. is the only Big Ten representative for the Ray Guy Award on the watch list for the 2008 season.  It is safe to say that the punting duties are well handled.


The underappreciated long snapper position will be decided between Jacob McQuaide and Patrick Howe.  Being Redshirt sophomores, experience is definitely not on their side, and a team can never take special team snaps for granted.  Hopefully these two guys are ready to go, and this won’t be an issue.


Last and most certainly not least, I wanted to highlight one player on this Buckeye team who might contribute more than most, and that is Tyson Gentry.  Many don't know him, but this youngster may provide something most teams lack. 


To make a long story short, Tyson suffered a spinal cord injury in 2006 and has been regulated to a wheelchair since.  He may not be able to perform on the field, but he is there, every single day with his team, making no excuses or feeling sorry for himself.


Tyson aspires to walk again one day, and until then, he provides these Buckeyes with something more important than anything on the football field: Inspiration.




Wild Card:


The kicking and punting game seem to have their position locked up with Pretorius, Pettrey, and A.J. Trapasso, so no surprises here.


Lamaar Thomas has a chance to give Ohio State something special as a return man with his speed and shiftiness.  He may not see much time at running back or wide receiver, which should allow him to focus on the return game and make a marvelous impact.


If the blocking is there, and Thomas’ ability to create in open spaces, you know how the saying goes: Speed Kills.




Bottom Line:


The special teams are too talented and too experienced to turn in another year of underachievement.  Jim Tressel will not allow it.  Although, in a recent kicking scrimmage, it wasn't going well. 


Pretorius, Pettrey and freshman Ben Buchanon went a combined 11-for-19 on field goal attempts, with most of the misses being wide rather than blocked.  Perhaps they were just shaking off the rust, but that still must sting in the back of Tressel’s mind.


There seem to be no concerns over A.J. Trapasso, one of the better punters in the country, but he too had a below average day during the kick scrimmage.


The Buckeyes have been focusing on drills for the special teamers in hopes to improve coverage and blocking.  The kickers need to step it up and deliver not only in terms of field goals, but as well as pinning teams deep in their territory with strong kicks.


There are no excuses this year, and if the kicking teams improve, the defense and offense will be much better off than they already are.


The entire Buckeye squad is just packed full of experience, and in college football, that is vital for ultimate success.  In 2006, a lot of important pieces on defense were being replaced, and the Buckeyes still made the National Championship game. 


In 2007, the same happened with the offense, and they still managed to return for a second championship appearance. 


This year, there were minimal replacements, and there are no more excuses.  It’s never healthy to think ‘championship or bust’ but with a team this loaded, it’s just so hard not to.


This was the final part of this four part series.  Part One can be found here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.


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