Saturday, April 23, 2011
Spring game offers view of Buckeyes' future
By Brian Bennett
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The sweater vest stayed in the closet for Jim Tressel at Ohio State's spring game on Saturday.
Athletic director Gene Smith, left, chats with coach Jim Tressel before Ohio State's spring game.
Instead, the Buckeyes coach wore camouflage pants and a matching hat to honor the Ohio National Guard members and their families in attendance. Of course, that sartorial choice lent itself to a lot of easy wisecracks, like the notion that the embattled Tressel was using the outfit to hide from NCAA investigators and his own athletic director.
Though just a scrimmage, Saturday marked the last time Tressel will stand on the sidelines at Ohio Stadium for any kind of game until Oct. 29 against Wisconsin. He is suspended for the first five games, along with quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas. To no one's surprise, Tressel didn't feel like talking about that situation Saturday, ending his news conference after just five question when a reporter asked how his next few months would be different.
"I'm not worried about what lies forward," he said.
Plenty of Buckeyes fans are, and Saturday gave them a chance to preview the 2011 season and how life might look without those five key starters.
Pryor stood behind the offense wearing a headset and a jacket over his jersey, not playing as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery. The four quarterbacks who are battling to replace him for the first five games each threw a touchdown pass and got snaps with the first-team offense. The most impressive of the group was freshman early enrollee Braxton Miller, who led the offense on a 92-yard scoring drive. He finished 7-of-12 for 73 yards and showed off his athleticism by wiggling for extra yards on scrambles.
Miller probably ensured that he'll get a longer look this summer -- and guaranteed that he'll get more hype than he deserves in the meantime.
"People want excitement," said senior Joe Bauserman, who has backed up Pryor the past two seasons and took the first reps on Saturday. "A guy they've never seen before gets them thinking about it."
Bauserman went 4-for-11 for 42 yards, Kenny Guiton was 5-for-11 for 43 yards and Taylor Graham was 4-for-9 for 91 yards. Graham was also sacked five times.
"I thought Braxton probably played a little more relaxed and had a little bit more fun than he has, in part because we really limited what we were doing today," Tressel said. "Joe and Kenny showed they've been around and are able to manage our offense and know what's going on. Taylor had a big home-run throw, but he took a couple too many minus-yard plays."
After Pryor, the biggest loss for the Buckeyes in the suspensions is Posey, their lone proven playmaker in the passing game. So it was encouraging to see young receivers make their presence felt in the spring game.
Redshirt freshman T.Y. Williams caught three passes for 83 yards, including a 68-yard bomb from Graham. Williams had let a pass slip through his hands on the previous play before the touchdown. Corey Brown, Ryan Ross and Verlon Reed also caught scores, albeit against a secondary severely depleted by injuries.
"I felt like a proud dad watching them score touchdowns and make plays," Posey said. "To me, that shows growth. At the beginning of the spring, I didn't know if they would make those plays. Now I can look forward to the next four months."
Herron looked like the best player on the field early when the offense had trouble moving the ball in its first dozen series. He ripped off runs of 16 and 17 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his six attempts.
"I really went out there and gave it my all today, because it's going to be a little while until I get out there again," he said. "During this offseason, I've got to work hard and stay conditioned, because my day will come again."
Herron will be missed, but his loss does not cause a crisis. Jordan Hall (37 yards on eight carries), Jaamal Berry (two carries for 16 yards) and Rod Smith (seven for 36) showed they can carry the load while Herron is sidelined.
Ohio State still has issues, including a lack of depth on the offensive line that forced Tressel to abandon the traditional spring game format for a modified offense vs. defense scrimmage. The quarterback position needs to be figured out, and the young receivers must prove they can get it done against better competition -- Williams' long score, for example, came against walk-on cornerback Vincent Petrella.
"All in all, we had a good spring," Tressel said.
The coach ended the spring game after 89 snaps and fewer than 90 minutes because severe weather approached the stadium on an overcast day. Saturday offered some encouraging signs, but it remains to be seen if Tressel and the Buckeyes can stay ahead of the storm this fall.