Big Ten: A.J. Trapasso

Ohio State spring wrap

May, 6, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State Buckeyes

2008 overall record:10-3

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Special teams: 0

Top returners

QB Terrelle Pryor, C Michael Brewster, TE Jake Ballard, DE Thaddeus Gibson, DT Doug Worthington, S Kurt Coleman, S Anderson Russell, DE Cameron Heyward

Key losses

RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Brian Hartline, LT Alex Boone, DT Nader Abdallah, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Marcus Freeman, CB Malcolm Jenkins, P A.J. Trapasso

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Chris "Beanie" Wells (1,197 yds)
Passing: Terrelle Pryor* (1,311 yds)
Receiving: Brian Robiskie (535 yds)
Tackles: James Laurinaitis (130)
Sacks: Thaddeus Gibson* (5)
Interceptions: Kurt Coleman* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Navy
Sept. 12 USC
Sept. 19 vs. Toledo (at Cleveland)
Sept. 26 Illinois
Oct. 3 at Indiana
Oct. 10 Wisconsin
Oct. 17 at Purdue
Oct. 24 Minnesota
Oct. 31 New Mexico State
Nov. 7 at Penn State
Nov. 14 Iowa
Nov. 21 at Michigan

Spring answers

1. Pryor develops -- Terrelle Pryor quieted concerns about his passing ability with a strong spring capped by an excellent performance in the well-attended spring game at Ohio Stadium. Pryor made significant improvement with his footwork and looked better on the high-percentage throws that dogged him at times last season. His first full offseason as a college player appears to have paid off, and Pryor looks primed for an All-Big Ten season.

2. Boom and Zoom -- Running back is the biggest void on the Buckeyes' depth chart, but Dan Herron ("Boom) and Brandon Saine ("Zoom") appear ready to carry the load. Herron built off his experience last fall as a backup and performed well this spring, while Saine finally appears healthy and ready to showcase the explosiveness that made him such a heralded recruit coming out of high school.

3. Big bad Boren -- Justin Boren will always be in the spotlight because he transferred from Michigan, but the left guard generated plenty of buzz with his play this spring. Boren brings brute strength and an edgy attitude to an offense line that needs a jolt after a subpar 2008 season. He has quickly become a favorite of Pryor's and his fellow linemen, and should bring a nasty attitude to the front five this fall.

Fall questions

1. Cornerback -- Chimdi Chekwa has a starting spot locked up, but the other position remains open entering the summer. Senior Andre Amos has a slight edge because of experience, but Devon Torrence, who played minor league baseball in the Astros organization the last two summers, made a strong push this spring. If Torrence focuses solely on football, the starting job could be his.

2. Kicking game -- It's no secret how important special teams has been to Jim Tressel's success at Ohio State, and the head coach is focused on replacing his starting specialists. Aaron Pettrey looks capable at kicker, but the punting job is a bit of a mystery with Jon Thoma and Ben Buchanan competing for the top spot.

3. Linebacker rotation -- Ohio State has plenty of exciting options at linebacker, namely Etienne Sabino and Brian Rolle, both of whom had very solid springs. The key will be finding the right combinations of 'backers and not being afraid to use younger players like Sabino ahead of veterans who played behind Laurinaitis and Freeman for years. It will be tough to replace the lost production, but Ohio State has enough depth, as long as players are used the right ways.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.

With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.

Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.

Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.

Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.

Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.

Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.

Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.

Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.

Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.

Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.

Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.

Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.

Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.


Big Ten Conference, Corey Wootton, Terrelle Pryor, Bradley Fletcher, Kory Sheets, Stefan Demos, Tim Jamison, Mike Newkirk, Kyle Theret, Kevin Kelly, Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Nader Abdallah, Michigan Wolverines, Terrance Taylor, Bryan Bulaga, Navorro Bowman, Michigan State Spartans, Justin Kucek, Garrett Graham, A.J. Trapasso, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Stefen Wisniewski, DeAndre Levy, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, Jack Simmons, Ryan Donahue, Aaron Bates, Josh Gaines, Jeremy Boone, Eric Decker, Shonn Greene, Brandon Myers, Traye Simmons, Chris Wells, Matt Mayberry, Aaron Maybin, Charlie Gantt, Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern Wildcats, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Indiana Hoosiers, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Amado Villarreal, Xavier Fulton, Rich Ohrnberger, Daryll Clark, Gerald Cadogan, James Laurinaitis, Roland Martin, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Rob Bruggeman, Big Ten Conference, Evan Royster, Jordan Norwood, Seth Olsen, Travis Beckum, Brit Miller, Chris Hagerup, Tramaine Brock, Brad Phillips, Kraig Urbik, Brad Nortman, Marcus Freeman, Chris L. Rucker, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Purdue Boilermakers Ryan Kerrigan, Malcolm Jenkins, Zoltan Mesko, Otis Wiley, Adam Weber, Kurt Coleman, Derek Walker, Brent Greenwood, Greg Orton, Amari Spievey, Penn State Nittany Lions, Philip Welch, Mitch King, David Gilreath, Brett Swenson, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Ryan McDonald, Alex Boone, Allen Langford, Minnesota Golden Gophers Willie VanDeSteeg, Trevor Anderson, Javon Ringer

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State is used to beating up on Northwestern, but the way the Buckeyes finished off Saturday's 45-10 win at Ryan Field sparked some debate.

Leading 31-10 early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State faced fourth-and-2 from its own 42-yard line. The Buckeyes ran a fake punt and A.J. Trapasso picked up the first down with a 9-yard gain.

Ohio State led 38-10 when backup running back Dan Herron scored on a 16-yard run with only seven seconds remaining. ESPN2 cameras caught Tressel grimacing after Herron crossed the goal line, but some questioned whether the Ohio State coach was trying to run up the score.

"In terms of the fake punt, anyone who was there, they know that the game was far from over," Tressel said. "We had a 25 mile-an-hour wind in our face and we weren't going to punt it very far anyway.

"In terms of scoring on the last play, no one was more disappointed in the stadium than I was when that occurred."

Tressel hoped the Buckeyes wouldn't need to run another play, but the 40-second clock would have expired, prompting a delay-of-game penalty. Both teams had their second string players in the game.

"It just so happened that what I thought might be a 3-yard gain ended up in the end zone," Tressel said.

Tressel relayed that message to Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald when they met at midfield, and Fitzgerald wished him luck for the rest of the year. Fitzgerald didn't directly address the issue in his post-game news conference, choosing to point out Northwestern's errors in the loss.

But you can bet Fitzgerald won't forget what happened. Tressel still shows Ohio State players tape of Northwestern celebrating a 2004 win against the Buckeyes -- the Wildcats' only victory in the series since 1971.

Future Northwestern teams can expect to watch the final few minutes of Saturday's game before facing Ohio State.

Pryor faces first bout with failure

October, 26, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor reacts to his performance during the Buckeyes' 13-6 loss to Penn State Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The play called for a typical quarterback sneak: No frills, up the middle, lower your shoulder and go.

But Terrelle Pryor isn't a typical quarterback. He's an atypical freshman who can do atypical things. So when he saw a chance to make a play, he went for it.

He had never failed before, so what could stop him now? On third-and-inches from midfield, with Ohio State leading 6-3 early in the fourth quarter, Pryor saw the middle bunching up and bounced outside.

"I thought I was scoring a touchdown," he said. "I was looking at the end zone. I was going to beat No. 9 (Penn State safety Mark Rubin). Then he punched it out. "

"It was the worst feeling of my life."

It was a feeling Pryor likely has never felt. He had taken some heat during his first five collegiate starts, but he hadn't committed a critical turnover or lost a game. He hadn't fumbled. The nation's top recruit had backed up his hype.

Last week, Pryor's teammates questioned whether Ohio State should bring back Todd Boeckman or go to a two-quarterback system. Pryor responded with a Friday night challenge to coach Jim Tressel -- bench me if I struggle -- and a Saturday afternoon spectacle against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.

He continued to show beyond-his-years poise against Penn State, converting key third downs and hitting Dane Sanzenbacher and Brian Robiskie down the field. Even without much help from Chris "Beanie" Wells, Pryor made his share of plays.

But his decision on the quarterback sneak cost him dearly. Penn State recovered the fumble and drove for the game-winning touchdown.

"I think he saw a couple gaps or penetration, perhaps, I don't know," Tressel said, "and tried to slide outside. I think the helmet hit the ball or something hit the ball and it was unfortunate."

Offensive quality control coach Nick Siciliano accompanied Pryor to his post-game news conference and sat as the distraught quarterback answered questions.

"He continues to be a great player," Robiskie said. "Right now, he feels the loss is on his shoulders, but he knows he played a great game. It is up to us seniors to build him back up."

Ohio State's quest for a third trip to the BCS title game is officially over, and the Buckeyes need Penn State to lose twice to have a shot at an unprecedented third consecutive outright Big Ten title.

The goals have shifted, and for a senior-laden team, moving forward won't be easy.

"This is not what we saw for ourselves," punter A.J. Trapasso said. "This is not how we saw our season panning out."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are actually points on the board, so this update might be marginally more interesting than the last one.

I know the Big Ten isn't exactly the Big 12, but this feels more like an SEC game at the half. Several ferocious hits have been dished out on both sides of the ball, and besides two blown coverages, the defenses continue to dominate.

Unless one of these teams finds a running game in the second half, this contest likely will be decided by special teams and field position. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has been a master at both throughout this career, but Penn State is moving the ball a bit better than the Buckeyes. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells entered tonight with an excellent big-game track record, but he hasn't gotten much going so far (10 carries, 11 yards).

Penn State's swarming front seven has clogged rushing lanes and forced Ohio State to run outside. If there's a troubling trend for Penn State, it's third-down defense. Ohio State has converted three third downs of seven yards or longer, as well as a second-and-19 on the final drive of the half.

Terrelle Pryor has gone 9-for-14 passing, but two of his completions went for 53 and 33 yards. Penn State completely blew its coverage on the 53-yarder to Dane Sanzenbacher (4 catches 76 yards), but the Lions' held from there.

I've been very impressed with Ohio State's defensive line so far. Evan Royster is averaging just three yards per carry, nearly five below his season average. Aside from a blown coverage that allowed Daryll Clark to find Graham Zug for a 49-yard gain, the Buckeyes have looked tough.

Laugh all you want, but the first-half game balls go to the four specialists: punters Jeremy Boone and A.J. Trapasso and kickers Kevin Kelly and Aaron Pettrey. Expect more big plays in the second half, but these four could decide the game.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Do you like defense? If so, stick around a while.

For all the talk about Terrelle Pryor and Daryll Clark, big-game Beanie and the Spread HD, both defenses have dominated this one so far. Thaddeus Gibson adds a major playmaking presence to Ohio State's defensive front, which has shut down Evan Royster and limited runs up the middle. Penn State's defensive line is doing the same thing with Chris "Beanie" Wells, as defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker Navorro Bowman tallied tackles for loss. Wells has six carries for five yards. Not good.

Some interesting developments on offense, despite no points. Penn State is using Derrick Williams a lot in the backfield, and the senior wideout gained 13 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Ohio State curiously started senior Maurice Wells but replaced him with Chris Wells on the second play. Pryor continues to be at his best on the run, but he's having a rough time finding open targets down the field.

This game could very well be decided by special teams, and both punters (A.J. Trapasso and Jeremy Boone) have looked impressive so far. Yes, I just praised the punters.

Big Ten Players of the Week

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Last week, the league office and I were on the same page. The choices might be a little tougher this time around.


Michigan State RB Javon Ringer -- Ringer takes the award for the second straight week after his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game, a Michigan State record. The 5-foot-9, 202-pound senior leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (11) and ranks second in rushing average (174.8 ypg) despite having 30 more carries than any other back. Opponents know exactly what's coming from Michigan State's offense and they still can't stop Ringer, who has become one of the nation's top runners.


Northwestern DE Vince Browne -- The redshirt freshman headlined Northwestern's most dominant defensive performance in recent memory with three sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal attempt in a 16-8 win against Ohio. Browne finished with four tackles for loss and added a quarterback hurry in his coming-out party.

Penn State LB Navorro Bowman -- Bowman made his first career start a memorable one for Penn State, racking up five tackles for loss, including three sacks, as well as an interception and a forced fumble against Temple. After recording 16 tackles all of last season, the redshirt sophomore led Penn State with 11 tackles (8 solo).


Ohio State P A.J. Trapasso -- Trapasso averaged 46.6 yards on seven punts, placing three inside the 20-yard line in Ohio State's win against Troy. With Ohio State holding a slim 14-10 lead late in the third quarter, Trapasso pinned Troy at its 1-yard line. The Trojans went three-and-out, and Ohio State took over in plus territory. Two plays later, Terrelle Pryor found Brian Robiskie for a 38-yard touchdown that essentially sealed the win.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Andy Lyons/Getty Images
 Indiana's Austin Starr is the Big Ten's best kicker.

After getting a release about Indiana's Austin Starr making the Lou Groza Award preseason watch list, I realized that my position rankings never made it to the kickers and punters. We wouldn't want to forget them, so here are the 10 best all in one list.

1. Austin Starr, PK, Sr., Indiana -- Second-team AP All-America selection last season kicked a school-record 21 field goals on 23 attempts and didn't miss an extra-point try (48-for-48). He also showed his poise under pressure, kicking the game-winning 49-yard field goal with 30 seconds left to beat Purdue and send Indiana to its first bowl game in 14 years.

2. Jeremy Boone, P, Jr., Penn State -- He led the Big Ten and ranked 19th nationally in punting average last season (43 ypp), the third best total in Penn State history. Boone placed 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, and Penn State ranked third nationally in net punting (41.1 ypp).

3. Justin Kucek, P, Sr., Minnesota -- He finished 22nd nationally in punting average last fall with 13 punts traveling 50 yards or longer and 21 punts inside the 20. Kucek's best trait could be longevity. He's responsible for every Minnesota punt during the last three seasons (155).

4. Chris Summers, Jr., PK, Purdue -- As a sophomore, Summers set a school record by converting all 56 of his extra-point attempts and tied Starr for the Big Ten league in kick scoring (8.5 ppg). He has made 97 straight extra-point attempts and last fall produced the second most accurate field-goal kicking season in team history, converting 18 of 22 attempts (.818).

5. Kevin Kelly, PK, Sr., Penn State -- Kelly already owns Penn State's career scoring record and will graduate as one of the program's premier kickers. He has converted 123 of 125 extra-point attempts in his career and rebounded from a shaky sophomore season to make 20 of 26 field-goal attempts in 2007.

6. Ryan Donahue, P, So. Iowa -- Donahue came up huge for a going-nowhere offense, averaging 41.1 yards a kick last season. The figure ranked sixth in the Big Ten, but consider that Donahue had 86 punts, 16 more than any other Big Ten player. And he did it all as a redshirt freshman. Donahue should turn in an all-conference season this fall if Iowa's offense doesn't wear him out.

7. Ryan Pretorius, PK, Sr., Ohio State -- The 29-year-old South African went 48 of 49 on extra-point attempts and technically missed only one field-goal attempt (four were blocked) last season. A former Rugby player, Pretorius has excellent range and was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last season.

8. A.J. Trapasso, P, Sr., Ohio State -- A Ray Guy Award semifinalist last season, Trapasso placed 21 of 53 punts inside the 20-yard line. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting average (41.5 ypp) and earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors against Michigan State, when he had a 43.4-yard average with three punts inside the 20 and a long of 58 yards.

9. Zoltan Mesko, P, Sr., Michigan -- He's built like a linebacker (6-5, 234) but should finish his career as one of Michigan's top punters. Mesko ranked fifth in the Big Ten in punting average last year, but he ranked second in attempts. Unless a new-look offense gets on track quickly this fall, he'll have plenty of work coming his way. Plus, he's got a cool name.

10. Brett Swenson, PK, Jr., Michigan State -- His field-goal numbers dipped a bit last season, but Swenson should be in position to rebound as a junior. He has converted 86 of 87 career extra-point attempts and is 30-for-38 on field goals inside 50 yards.