Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Ohio State fill-ins on the spot
By Brian Bennett
In a different world where Ohio State players had never received any free tattoos or traded memorabilia, Saturday's lineup against Akron would look a lot different.
As it is, three key offensive starters and one defensive backup are suspended for the first five games, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor is gone for good. That means young and inexperienced players are taking on a larger role at the start of the season. But Luke Fickell said this isn't a Keanu Reeves movie, so don't refer to the new guys as "The Replacements."
"We're not trying to focus on them on being replacements," the Buckeyes' head coach said. "It's just like we had seniors graduate -- it's next man up. We're not going to sit back and wait until those guys are able to come back. Our idea is, hey, that guy steps forward and takes his opportunity.
Joe Bauserman is expected to start at quarterback in Saturday's opener.
"Everybody knows the story of Wally Pipp, and if that's the case, that's the best thing that can happen to us. Someone will have to come and fight their way back into the lineup when they're eligible to play."
With that said, here's a look at how Ohio State plans to fill in the gaps:
"It's leadership," Fickell said when asked why Bauserman will start. "He's done a really good job through camp. I've been impressed with the things we've asked him to do and what he's done."
But Fickell insisted that both quarterbacks would be needed this year and that he wants to see them in the heat of competition. Especially the youngster, Miller.
"Obviously, his abilities have impressed us all, and that's why he's here," Fickell said. "Until you do it and perform, we'll keep our judgments to ourselves. We know he can do it. We know he has the ability to do it. Being able to handle all the situations is what's important. We don't lack confidence in what he does, I can tell you that."
-- Running back. If there's a real chance at a Wally Pipp situation, maybe it's here. Daniel "Boom" Herron rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, but the Buckeyes have a stable of impressive, young backs who have a chance to shine in the first five games.
That stable will be a little lighter early on, as Jaamal Berry is questionable for the opener with lingering hamstring problems. Junior Jordan Hall, a versatile, do-it-all performer, is listed as the starter, with bigger backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as his backups. Even without Herron, Ohio State expects its running game to be the strength of the team.
-- Wide receiver. DeVier Posey is the best and by far the most experienced wideout on the roster. In his absence, sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown must take on a larger responsibility as the No. 1 target.
"He's a guy who has really stepped up from the spring," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "He's the one guy who's really got any experience. But it's a totally different role for him now than last season."
Brown might be playing more of a complementary role if Posey were eligible. Instead, younger players will be pushed into action. Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed won a starting receiver's job out of fall camp.
"The wide receivers have [been] unbelievable," Fickell said. "They've been as impressive a group, as I think, throughout camp. Maybe that's a little because we knew we had a lot of young guys, and we didn't know what to expect."
-- Left tackle. Mike Adams is one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackles in the league. Bauserman and Miller won't have that security blanket. But the Buckeyes feel they're in good hands with sophomore Andrew Norwell, who was an ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman team member last season.
The problem with Adams' absence is it hurts the overall depth. Ohio State lists three true freshmen as backups on the offensive line, and redshirt freshman Eric Kramer is next in line behind Norwell.
"I'm not going to lie," center Mike Brewster said, "we're a little thin."
-- Defensive end. Solomon Thomas sealed the Sugar Bowl win with his interception against Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, but he was likely ticketed for a backup role. Ohio State should still be in good shape up front with senior Nathan Williams and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins at end, while tackle John Simon can slide outside as well. Again, experienced depth is the biggest issue, as a pair of freshmen are currently listed as the backups at defensive end.
Reinforcements will arrive by Game 6. The Buckeyes hope the new guys -- don't call them "the replacements" -- can hold the fort until then.