The man in the middle - Luke Fickell
The Buckeyes are miring under a cloud of conspiracy and unknowns, but that does not mean that the 2011 Ohio State football team is going to be short on talent or success.
Tressel is gone. The players that Tressel recruited are not. Luke Fickell will look to ignite and distinguish fires amongst a team in turmoil. It is a hot-seat indeed. The coach inherits a team with many chips on shoulders, many critics to hush, and many positions to win. In times like these; turning to one of the toughest Buckeye players of all-time to lead the pack seemed like an easy decision to make.
Fickell is without Terrelle Pryor, and four players face five-game suspensions. That list includes their leading receiver (Devier Posey), their bookend on the offensive line (Mike Adams), and their most dominant running back (Dan Herron). So why are many people still picking Ohio State as the favorite in the Big Ten?
Talent. Ohio State is stinking rich with it. The fans are too anxious to see the young talent to worry about the old. This goes back to the whipping Ohio State took against LSU and Florida, and the lessons that they learned from those games. Since, Ohio State has concentrated on getting faster at every position. It paid dividends when defensive backs started dropping like flies in the Sugar Bowl this past January. Backups like Travis Howard and Christian Bryant stepped in like veterans with that "SEC" speed that Ohio State had been missing. For the first time in years(maybe ever), Ohio State did not only have elite speed, they had elite speed with depth. It was no coincidence that Ohio State's only loss was to Wisconsin—a team that played the old fashioned Big Ten style of play.
Let's take a look at this years Buckeyes. I should note. This is only a prognostication in terms of depth charts. You may agree or disagree, but we will see what pans out come September.
Ohio State will not go through any drastic changes schematically. This should ease the transition to a new coach and signal-caller.
What is gone is Jim Tressel. This makes the vacancy at quarterback an even bigger question mark. If Tressel was at the helm we could assume that Joe Bauserman would be the opening day starter. Tressel preferred experience over talent in tough situations. This year Fickell may be forced to play some very inexperienced, young, but talented players—something that has Ohio State fans abuzz.
Braxton Miller arrived early in the spring. Miller was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The program will list Miller at 6'3" 210, but he's only 6'2". Miller does not possess the straight, in-line speed of Terrelle Pryor, but he is more elusive/shifty than Pryor. He also has better throwing mechanics than his predecessor. Miller seems to be more grounded mentally, and more in tune with the big picture at Ohio State. Ohio State fans are excited for this homegrown talent that had hype, but not too much hype. He may or may not be asked to produce right away.
There are four quarterbacks in the mix to start Opening Day. Taylor Graham is the prototypical NFL passer. The prodigy, son of former OSU quarterback Kent Graham, is a big kid with a strong arm. Joe Bauserman (6'1" 230) is the most experienced QB of the bunch. He has the best grasp of the system, and many would say, the inside line to the opening day starting job. Kenny Guiton (6'2" 195) may provide the most immediate upside with experience and the ability to run and throw. Braxton Miller is the Wild Card, and in my opinion the slight favorite to finish the season at quarterback. So who gets the job?
You have to use the process of elimination. Miller will not start Week 1 because he is a freshman, and freshman QBs do not start game one in the Shoe. Taylor Graham (6'4" 225) may be the most logical choice if he had more experience. He is perfect for the role of hand the ball off and throw it accurately when asked, but quarterbacks with no experience do not start game one at the Shoe. That's leaves Guiton or Bauserman. Take your pick, but whoever gets the nod will have a very short leash. It really does not matter who starts game one. This could be a two-man race between Bauserman and Miller by the time Ohio State travels to Miami to play the Hurricanes.
Eventually Miller is going to be a great quarterback, but he was not asked to throw the ball enough in HS to prepare him for this level. He is the most talented quarterback, but there is a different curve for freshman quarterbacks. Disregard all Buckeye Nation hype in terms of Braxton starting Opening Day.
The difference between a 9-4 season and an undefeated season will be the quarterback play, and there are a lot of questions to be answered.
1. Joe Bauserman
2. Braxton Miller
4. Taylor Graham
5. Justin Seims
Daniel 'Boom' Herron
Dan Herron, Ohio State's leading rusher from 2010, will miss the first five games due to NCAA suspension. There is no question that Herron is the leader in a rich stable of running backs. Herron (5'10" 205) showed everyone in the Sugar Bowl and in the spring game that he is an ever-improving, under-rated and dangerous running back. Expect Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, and Jamaal Berry to open eyes in the first few games, but do not be fooled, Dan Herron is the starter.
Herron is not the fastest of the backs, but his combination of quickness, power, and cut-on-dime moves make him one of the nation's best. I'm so convinced of Herron's improvement and potential—that I would not be surprised if he rushed for 1,000 yards with his suspension, and with the numerous mouths to feed at the position. He is starting to remind me of Emmit Smith—a guy with sevens across the board and fantastic vision. He is not going to wow you—he's just going to beat you. This was the most dominant player on the team this spring. If you are waiting to see if he regressed and sulked after his suspension—I would not hold my breath.
The favorite to see the majority of carries in Herron's absence will be sophomore Jamaal Berry. Berry is the most explosive of the backs. He has elite speed and adequate strength at 5'11" 200. Berry gives Ohio State one of its' biggest home run threats at the position in many years. He is a spark plug just waiting to fire, and he is about to be put in the engine.
Many will wonder why I do not mention Jordan Hall (5'9" 190) as the the main fill-in for Herron, but Hall will be asked to do a lot more than just run the ball for this reloading offense. Jordan Hall and Jamaal Berry will be the bread-winners in the first five games, but I'm not sure that either is physically ready to be the main-man on campus. Hall has been dubbed the new playmaker for this offense, but I have the feeling we'll be seeing him in the slot as often as we see him behind the quarterback.
Two guys that are physically ready to take the load are redshirt freshman Rod Smith (6'3" 225), and Sophomore Carlos Hyde(6' 238). The tandem adds quite the change-up. Ohio State's top 5 running back combo of Herron, Hall, Berry, Hyde, and Smith make it one of(if not) the best Rb corps in the entire country. Smith looked great in the spring game. Some have compared him to Beanie Wells, but he reminds me of former Colorado Buffalo/Tennessee Titan Chris Brown. He is an incredibly fast and smooth back for his size and may have the most raw talent of all the backs. Phil Steele even put Smith at the top of the depth chart in his preseason magazine - He might be 5th.
Ohio State is deep at running back. Each back has their own skill-set, and four of these backs are talented enough to start for half of the teams in the country. This team, even more-so this season, will be anchored by a potent rushing attack.
Zach Boren is the best fullback in the country. No reason to dive much further into this position. He is the human sled machine.
TB Depth Chart:
1. Dan Herron(Susp. five games)
2. Jamaal Berry
3. Jordan Hall
4. Rod Smith
5. Carlos Hyde (6'0" 235)
6. Bo Delande(5'11" 200)
FB Depth Chart
1. Zach Boren (6' 254)
2. Adam Homan (6'2" 248)
3. David Durham (6'1" 245)
C Mike Brewster
The line will be anchored by center Mike Brewster. Like Fb Zach Boren, Mike is arguably the best player at his position in college football.
The Buckeyes are reaping the benefits in a position that they have recruited as well as any other team in the country over the last four years. Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, and J.B. SHugarts are in their last season, and should make the most of it.
Unfortunately, Adams will miss the first five games. He started to live up to his recruiting hype as one of the top prospects in the country at the end of last season. Adams was rock solid in the bowl game, and only allowed one sack all season. Adams will be the man at left tackle upon his return. Until then, expect sophomore Andrew Norwell (6'5" 300) to be a more than adequate fill-in. The Buckeyes are so deep at tackle that Marcus Hall (6'4" 320), who is returning from academic troubles, is sitting third on the depth chart. Senior J.B. Shugarts (6'7" 305) will start at right tackle. Shugarts battled through a foot injury last season, but is as solid as they come.
At left guard Jack Mewhort (6'6" 300) should start. Ivan Blackmon (6'3" 322) will likely be the back-up, but true freshman Tommy Brown (6'5" 320) could also be called upon to add depth at guard or tackle. The starting right guard will be Corey Linsley (6'2" 290). Linsley plays with a low center of gravity, and a high-motor. Linsley and Mewhort both played center in HS, and will back up Brewster at that position.
There might be quite a bit of shifting that goes on when Adams returns from suspension. Norwell may prove too valuable to bench, and could be a regular part of the rotation. Marcus Hall, like Norwell, may also be too valuable to sit. Expect Ohio State to take advantage of their depth in tough ballgames. There isn't much fall-off in talent on the second string—especially on the outside—and the positional flexibility across the board could pay major dividends. There are two starting lines to fill five positions.
The guard play will determine whether this group is more or less successful than last years' front five.
This is a deep and talented offensive line. I think this line can be called the best in the BigTen with Wisconsin's losses to the NFL and graduation. It will be one of the 10 best OL's in all of College Football.
Ohio State is loaded at tight end. Jake Stoneburner (6'5" 240) became a big part of the offense last season with 21 receptions. The former HS wide receiver spreads defenses and causes huge match-up problems. So. Reid Fragel (6'8" 250) moves well for his mammoth size and both tight ends have good hands. Fragel is coming off a serious knee infection, and his availability for the start of the season is still in question. Freshmen Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman are both top-notch TE recruits. Ohio State is loaded at this position.
LT: Mike Adams(susp 5 gms), Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall
LG: Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Ivan Blackmon, Brian Bobek
C: Mike Brewster, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort, Brian Bobek
RG: Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell, Ivan Blakmon, Tommy Brown
RT: J.B. SHugarts, Marcus Hall, Tommy Brown
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Reid Fragel, Jeff Heuerman, Spencer Smith, Nick Vannett
Corey (Philly) Brown
Leading receiver Dane Sanzenbacher is gone, and Devier Posey will sit the first five games for his role in the tattoo-gate conspiracy. This leaves a gaping hole at wide receiver.
Undoubtedly, the first man through that hole will be sophomore Corey (Philly) Brown. Philly is fast, real fast. His legs look like the batteries ran out after hitting fast forward on the remote control.
Running Back Jordan Hall will often be seen in the third receiver spot, and TE Jake Stoneburner will also be a favorite target. As for the other wide receivers—it's an open competition.
Four freshman could have an instant impact at receiver. Devin Smith from Canton Massilon was a man amongst boys in the Big 33 All-Star game. Devin had three receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns as the Ohio team dominated 50-14 Smith is a fluid receiver with size, speed, and an uncanny ability to find and go up for the football.
Ty Williams is a freshman that should see playing time. Williams is a physically imposing football player at 6'5" 222, and showed his athleticism in the spring game with a 70 yard touchdown reception.
Verlon Reed, a local prospect and ex-QB, has turned heads this spring as a player to watch. He's 6'1" 190 with good hands and speed. Reed could climb way up in fall camp. The redshirt frosh has been doing fantastic in the weight room, and his combination of size, speed, and hands will be hard to beat.
Evan Spencer is another solid freshman wide-receiver. Expect Spencer or Smith to see time this season. Both have similar skill-sets, and both possess a rare combination of size and speed. There will not be room for both this season. One will redshirt.
The freshman group of Reed, Williams, Spencer, and Smith will have to beat out second year players James Louis and Chris Fields for playing time(technically Verlon Reed and Ty Williams are 2nd players as well/Redshirts). Fields and Louis are undersized but fast. Fields is a polished receiver that will see significant time this season.
Devier Posey is the only returning receiver with over 10 receptions in a season. Ohio State has ample talent at the position, but that talent is young and unproven.
Kudo's to the coaching staff for finding Williams, Smith, Spencer, and Reed. All four are under-rated prospects with huge upside. The recruiting services may have found 30 guys to rank higher than these three, but how is a mystery. They bring size and athleticism to a position of need.
1. Devier Posey(susp. five games/6'2" 210)
2. Corey Brown (Philly/5'11" 175)
3. Chris Fields(6' 185)
4.Verlon Reed(6'1" 208)
5.Ty Williams(6'5" 222)
6. (tie)Devin Smith(6'3" 190), Evan Spencer(6'1" 190)
7. James Louis(5'10" 175)
Expect John Simon to move to strong-side defensive end. The move should allow OSU to put their best front four in the game at the same time. Simon has freakish strength and a fantastic work ethic.
Nathan Williams returns at weak-side DE. Nathan is one of the fastest defensive ends in the country. He's nearly impossible to stop off the edge when he times the snap count. Williams should improve on his 4.5 sack total from last season.
Solomon Thomas (five gm susp) and Melvin Fellows will be the primary backups at DE. Freshman Kenny Hayes (6'5" 240) and JT Moore could round out the three-deep.
"Big Hank" Jonathan Hankins will start at NT/DT. Hank is 6'3" 335, and very quick in space. Hankins gives Ohio State their first huge space-eater in years.
The other tackle spot is an open competition between Adam Bellamy, Garrett Goebel, and Joel Hale. Goebel is the most experienced. Bellamy (6'4" 300) appears to be the most physically dominant of the group. Hale is a bruising freshman at 6'4" 310 that could contribute right away. As of now I like Bellamy to start. He was impressive down the stretch last season.
Michael Bennett is a highly-touted prospect, but barring an injury to the previously mentioned DT's, he could redshirt. That possibility speaks volumes to the talent and depth of this DL. Bennett is ranked the No. 3 DT prospect in the country according to Rivals.
No fall-off here. Ohio State should remain in the top five overall defenses because of a talented and deep defensive line. Simon and Williams are All-Conference candidates, and Ohio State has added size to the middle.
2.Solomon Thomas(susp. 5 games)
4.(tie)Kenny Hayes, JT Moore, Darryl Baldwin
4.(tie)Darryl Baldwin, Dalton Britt
4.Mike Bennett(probably will redshirt - still recovering from a broken forearm)
3.(tie)Steve Miller, Stewart Smith
Ross Homan and Brian Rolle led the 2010 Buckeyes in tackles, and their loss leaves what looks like a hug gap at the second level. Fortunately, this is Linebacker-U, and a host of highly touted prospects are waiting to make their mark.
Andrew Sweat is the only returning starter. Sweat had 8 tackles and an interception in the loss to Wisconsin. What he lacks in pure athleticism—he makes up for with intelligence and instinct. Sweat will start at weak-side linebacker, or for Ohio State fans, the Will.
At Mike, or middle-linebacker, Junior Etienne Sabino should finally get an opportunity. He might have to stave off a hard-charging and physically imposing Jordan Whiting to earn the spot. Sabino was ranked as the No. 1 linebacker prospect according to Rivals in 2008. He is the prototypical NFL linebacker at 6'3" 240 with speed.
The Sam, or strong-side linebacker spot is an open competition. The favorite to win the job will be Junior Storm Klein (6'2" 230). He could see significant pressure from Tyler Moeller, Curtis Grant, and Tony Jackson. Moeller is a 6th yr Senior playmaker who will see the field early and often. Moeller could see the field as the 'star'/Nickel-back or at OLB. Jackson is a gritty, undersized (5'10" 220) upperclassman who is familiar with the defense and ready to play. Grant is the No. 1 prospect in the country(by multiple recruiting services), but will have an uphill battle for immediate playing time. Fickell could move Sweat to the SAM and put Moeller at WILL.
Tyler Moeller is a scrappy football player with great speed and play-making ability.
Sweat and Sabino will stay on the field for most downs, but expect Klein and Moeller to share time at Linebacker, with Moeller moving to Star on occasion and playing over 60 percent of the downs for this defense. Moeller is the type of tackle-hog that demands playing time.
Ryan Shazier is the fasted linebacker prospect I have ever seen. He's already added about 10 pounds of muscle and could see significant time.
1. Etienne Sabino
2. Jordan Whiting
3. Storm Klein
4. Chad Hagan
6. Dan Bain
7. Jim Hastings
1. Andrew Sweat
3. Curtis Grant
4. Scott McVey
1. (tie) Storm Klein, Tyler Moeller
3. Tony Jackson
4. Ryan Shazier
5. Conner Crowell
Did you watch the Sugar Bowl? Ohio State's DB's were dropping like flies. One by one the backups entered the game with confidence and speed.
The starting strong safety will be C.J. Barnett. Barnett (6'0" 190) earned the starting spot last season, but was sidelined with a serious leg injury. C.J. is a rangy, quick safety who looked like an all-world performer before going down. He's a long-striding ball hawk with big hands and the ability and instinct to go up for wayward throws.
At free safety, Orhian Johnson (6'2" 205) returns as the starter. Johnson is the leading returning tackler on this football team. He is one of three Florida prospects that will start on this defense.
Jamie Wood, Zach Domicone,Christian Bryant and Nate Oliver are capable backups at the safety spots.
Travis Howard will start at one corner spot. Howard held his own under fire against a strong Arkansas receiving corps. He will be the CB that Ohio State will depend on to shut down the opponents No. 1 receiver.
The other CB spot is still a question, but the speedy Dominic Clarke might have the inside track. Clarke is a small but explosive player from in-state. He did have 14 tackles last season.
Clarke will get heat from three talented players. Dionte Allen is a polished DB transfer from Florida State. Doran Grant is one of the top Db prospects in the country, and returned an interception 100 yards in the Big 33 game. Corey (Gateway) Brown was one of the top DB prospects from 2009.
No change from 2010. Ohio State is stupid rich at defensive back. The biggest question is how will Luke Fickell keep all these guys happy? Jamie Wood, Christian Bryant, Doran Grant, Zach Domicone, and Nate Oliver are not the usual backups. These guys could start almost anywhere, and Ohio State can reload after any injury to the back five.
The loss of Torrence and Chekwa will have the pundits smattering, but Ohio State has more quality (albeit inexperienced) DB's than any team in the Big10. This is a top 15 corps nationwide, and could potentially be ranked higher.
CB (just going to list all the corners who might play in one list here)
1. Travis Howard
2. Dominic Clarke
3. Corey Brown(gateway)
4. (tie) Dionte Allen, Doran Grant, Bradley Roby
1. Orhian Johnson
2. (tie) Jamie Wood, Zach Domicone
4. Jeremy Cash
5. DerJuan Gambrell
1. C.J. Barnett
2. Christian Bryant
3. Nate Oliver
4. Adam Frazier
5. Jeremy Cash
1. (tie) Tyler Moeller, Christian Bryant
3. (tie) Jamie Wood, Nate Oliver, Doran Grant
Ohio State is usually solid in the kicking game. Last season they had problems in coverage, but seemed to fix the problem as the season went on. That weakness came as a surprise as Ohio State is loaded in DB and LB backups with great talent.
K Devin Barclay is lost to graduation. Drew Basil should become the everyday kicker. Basil has a huge leg capable of hitting from 55-60 yards. Last season Basil struggled with his kicks being blocked. Part of that can be attributed to his long distance efforts which required a lower trajectory. Basil is one of two highly-touted kickers on the roster.
The other is Ben Buchanan from Westerville. Ben will take over the punting duties, and will remain a solid kicking back-up to Basil.
There's no reason to expect anything less than greatness from the kickers at Ohio State, but Luke Fickell and company will need to iron out the issues that led to four returned kicks for touchdowns in 2010.
The Buckeyes have two solid kick returners in Jordan Hall and Jamaal Berry. Hall averaged 27.9 ypr and Berry 25.4 last season. Hall will also return punts. Expect Corey Brown (Philly) to be the primary backup at any return position.
1. Drew Basil
2. Ben Buchanan
3. Russell Doup
1. Ben Buchanan
2. Drew Basil
3. Derek Erwin
1. Jordan Hall
2. Jamaal Berry
3. Corey Brown (Philly)
4. James Louis
5. Chris Fields
1. Jordan Hall
2. Corey Brown (Philly)
3. James Louis
There are a number of candidates with many open spots to fill, and loads of talent in the wings. The criteria here is that no player on this list will have started more than two games in their career. I have also omitted some players who have seen significant time and who's success will come as no surprise (Hall, Fragel). Let's start at the top with the player who will make the most immediate impact.
1. LB Etienne Sabino #6
Sabino is big and fast, and needs to step in as the next big-thing at linebacker.
2. SS C.J. Barnett #4
Barnett is a player with an uncanny nose for the football. His ability to run sideline to sideline, and his ball skills are amazing. Barnett will be an all-conference performer provided there are no lingering effects from last years injury.
3. NT/DT Johnathan Hankins #52
Hankins has put the fear into our own starting offensive line. If the players insight is any indication—then Hankins is the real deal. Big Hank can overwhelm the opposition with his size, explosion, and quickness at 335 lbs.
4. WR Corey Brown #10
Brown has already proven that he has the skills to be an everyday starter. He will be the primary target in Posey's absence, and one of the biggest break-out players for the 2011 Buckeyes. What is the cliche'? Speed Kills? Well, here's speed.
5. RB Jamaal Berry #4
Berry is explosively fast. Both Brown and Berry can take it to the house at any time.
6. DT Adam Bellamy #93
Bellamy is a physically imposing DL with good athleticism. Hankins lack of conditioning and an two open DT spots should pave the way for a huge impact here. There are not too many prognosticators that are picking Bellamy to start. I think he will, and I think he will have an immediate impact.
7. WR Chris Fields #80
Fields is the most skilled route runner on the team.
8. WR Verlon Reed #9
Somebody will be called upon to step up at WR early. Reed has a nice balance of skills, and has taken to the position like a fish to water.
9. CB Dominic Clarke #5
He will be tested early because of his short stature. He has the speed to stay with any receiver.
10. RB Rod Smith #24
Smith is an animal. I might regret this later because this kid could be the primary RB this season. Smith runs like a 180 lb back at 225.
11. OL Jack Mewhort #74 and Corey Linsley #71
Both will start. Both will be asked to fill some very big shoes.
12. DB Doran Grant
Grant could challenge Dominic Clarke for the starting corner spot. He has the size and athleticism to play right away.
13.WR Evan Spencer #16
This kid is smart. Spencer will have an advantage between the ears in a position where grasping the system early could pay off. He won't start, but he has enough talent to see some playing time this season. He could redshirt, but might still see some time in the first two games.