Big Ten: Columbus 041609
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Terrelle Pryor showed snippets of his boundless potential last season, he usually did so with his feet.
Whether it was sprinting for the game-winning touchdown at Wisconsin, wrong-footing the Michigan State Spartans in a blowout or consistently beating Texas defenders to the edge in the Fiesta Bowl, Pryor displayed the type of fearless footwork that you simply can't teach. But outside the spotlight, in Ohio State's locker room, the meeting rooms or the practice field, Pryor moved more cautiously.
|AP Photo/Andy Manis|
|Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor knows his role as a leader will increase in 2009.|
He tiptoed and kept a safe distance.
"He was very conscious of, 'Hey, this was Todd Boeckman's team,'" Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "He never wanted to step where he didn't think he belonged. He wanted everyone to feel good about what he's doing, most especially Todd because of his fondness for Todd.
"It was difficult enough to start taking some of Todd's reps. So he was very conscious of not treading where he might not be best suited to go."
Pryor no longer has to think twice about where he sets foot. Every cubic inch of Ohio State's locker room, meeting rooms and practice fields is now his territory.
Sure, the Buckeyes have seniors and other voices of leadership. When Ohio State elects its team captains in August, Pryor, only a sophomore, likely won't be among them.
But there's little doubt that Pryor has a much greater ownership stake in this Buckeyes team. He doesn't have to be a steward for last year's sizable senior class. He admired and respected them, but they're gone now.
When the 2009 season kicks off, Pryor can be his own man, his own leader and his own quarterback.
"I want to take that responsibility and lead the team," Pryor said. "There's some seniors now that will take it, but you can tell, they kind of gave it to me. The most important thing is for a quarterback to be a leader. ...
"We have some seniors and guys, they've been here longer. It's their team, but it's also my team."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson has some friendly advice for his fellow Big Ten defensive linemen this fall.
Don't stand near the pile after a play, especially if Buckeyes left guard Justin Boren is in the general vicinity.
"He's gonna knock your ass down," Gibson said.
Not that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor minds one bit.
"He's nasty," Pryor said. "I like that. I don't know what it is. He's just going to fight for you all day and all game. I like that in Boren."
Boren won't play a meaningful down for the Buckeyes until Sept. 5 against Navy, but he has generated buzz ever since he announced he would transfer from archrival Michigan. The Columbus-area native's parting shots at Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez -- remember the "family values have eroded" quote? -- will undoubtedly be rehashed throughout his career.
But Michigan likely won't be the only team bearing some bile for Boren. He plays with a mean streak likely to rankle opposing players but beloved by his new Ohio State teammates.
It's no secret that the Buckeyes' offensive line underperformed last year, perhaps from a lack of leadership, perhaps from players getting a bit too comfortable. Boren has immediately worked his way into a starting guard spot this spring, and his presence on the practice field is unmistakable.
"Just from a brute strength perspective, he's unbelievable," Buckeyes senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's the strongest guy we've got on the team. You take a guy with the physical tools like that, and then he plays a little bit pissed off, which is kind of cool. It rubs off on everybody.
"He plays with a little bit of rage."
Boren, through an Ohio State spokesperson, declined ESPN.com's interview request, saying he wants to get through spring practice first. The hydrant-like 6-foot-3, 315-pound guard is doing most of his talking on the field anyway.
"Oh my God, he's a crazy dude," Gibson said. "It's good to have him over there because we're lining up and he's screaming and cussing and [stuff]. He's a good guy to have."
Boren started all 13 games for Michigan in 2007, eight at center and the final five at left guard. His younger brother Zach is among the seven Buckeyes freshmen to enroll early this spring and takes reps with the reserve linebackers.
As Thursday's practice progressed, Mike Boren, a former Michigan linebacker, watched his sons from the sideline, a steely glare in his eyes. Justin Boren's edge clearly runs in the family, and he's bringing it to the Buckeyes' front five.
"You've got guys like him, who kind of set the tone," Cordle said. "You get fights that break out and things like that, but it's just how we're competing now."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Terrelle Pryor didn't identify them by name, but he had a message Thursday for USC and Penn State.
And if Ohio State somehow ends up in a bowl rematch against Texas, the Longhorns might want to listen up, too.
"There's some teams out there that are waiting for us," Pryor said, "and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."
A Sept. 12 clash against USC at Ohio Stadium and a Nov. 7 trip to State College are undoubtedly circled and underlined on Pryor's mental calendar, but the Buckeyes' sophomore quarterback is locked in on spring practice, his first as a college player. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year insists he's a better quarterback, a smarter quarterback and a more technically sound quarterback right now.
He's throwing the ball with greater zip and trying to improve both his footwork and his throwing mechanics, which were often criticized throughout an exciting yet erratic freshman season in 2008.
"Wherever you're going with the ball, you've got to make sure your footwork and everything is smooth," Pryor said. "I'm trying to work right now on my hips, not twisting my hips when I throw. That's going to come with a lot more reps, but I got a lot better at it. ...
"You can't play this game without using your athletic ability. But also, if you've got the best athlete ever in the country, and if he's playing quarterback and if he can throw it a little bit but he doesn't really study in the study room, watching a lot of film, he won't be really successful."
Check out Pryor's full post-practice news conference here.
Pryor gets "disgusted" when he watches clips of himself from 2008, including a 13-6 home loss to Penn State, in which his fourth-quarter fumble set up Penn State's go-ahead scoring drive. He showcased his athleticism and playmaking ability on the move, but passing was an adventure and Ohio State finished 10th in the Big Ten in pass offense (150.2 ypg).
Offensive quality control coach Nick Siciliano, Ohio State's de-facto quarterbacks coach, said the Buckeyes will run Pryor less this fall than in 2008.
"We're going to throw the ball this year," Pryor said. "We've got some playmakers who need the ball and can run the ball 70 yards after the catch. I want to give them the ball. I want to feed them.
"They're hungry, too."
The same holds true for Pryor, who added 7-8 pounds during the offseason to check in at 6-foot-6, 238 pounds this spring. Despite his natural gifts, Pryor impressed Siciliano with his work ethic during the winter months.
"He doesn't expect just to show up and everything's just going to fall into place," Siciliano said. "He'll be out in the gym [Friday], or out in the indoor [facility], throwing the ball, working on his drops, working on those things. He really works hard."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I won't be making it out to Purdue this spring, but I experienced the next best thing Thursday at Ohio State's practice. During each practice, the Buckeyes simulate a Big Ten road environment, and Purdue served as Thursday's theme.
Right before every snap during team drills, an official blared a giant horn that resembled the train signal at Ross-Ade Stadium. It also reminded me of the horn at hockey games (go Blackhawks). Standing about 10 feet from the contraption, I'm sure I sustained some degree of hearing loss.
It was a gorgeous day, and 100-200 people gathered around the two turf practice fields behind the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. For a second, I thought I was at USC. The open practices are a nice touch at normally close-to-the-sweater-vest Ohio State.
Onto the practice observations:
- The first-team offense: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (who's he?), running backs Brandon Saine and Dan "Boom" Herron (rotated), wide receiver Ray Small, wide receiver DeVier Posey, wide receiver Lamaar Thomas, tight end Jake Ballard, left tackle Andrew Miller, left guard Justin Boren, center Mike Brewster, right guard Bryant Browning, right tackle Jim Cordle.
- The first-team defense: Safety Anderson Russell, safety Kurt Coleman, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, cornerback Devon Torrence, linebacker Etienne Sabino, linebacker Brian Rolle, linebacker Austin Spitler, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, defensive end Cameron Heyward, defensive tackle Doug Worthington, defensive tackle Dexter Larimore. Ross Homan, a projected starter at linebacker, is out with a hamstring injury.
- Several of Boren's teammates talked about the nastiness he brings to the offensive line. The Michigan transfer showcased his strength during 1-on-1 drills, manhandling Larimore and Garrett Goebel.
- Thomas worked as first-team wide receiver because of a high ankle sprain sustained by Dane Sanzenbacher. He made several catches on short passes (quick outs, middle screens) and seems to bring explosiveness to the offense.
- Sophomore tackle Mike Adams is freakishly huge, one of the bigger linemen I've seen this spring. But his toughness has been questioned and challenged a bit, and he worked exclusively with the second-team offense Thursday. He has been rotating at first-team left tackle with Miller, a converted tight end.
- Pryor looked decent on short passes, but he underthrew Posey on a deep post and Torrence batted down the pass. He also overthrew Small but hit Thomas, Saine and Ballard on some nice throws. With only three quarterbacks on the roster this spring, Pryor took snaps with both the first- and second-team offenses.
- Head coach Jim Tressel has repeatedly praised the spring progress of backup tight end Jake Stoneburner, a converted wide receiver. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound redshirt freshman certainly passes the eye test and made a nice grab on a hitch route.
- Backup quarterback Joe Bauserman, who played three seasons in minor league baseball, showed off a strong throwing arm during individual drills.
- Saine will be a critical component on the offense this year, and the junior showed some explosiveness at practice. He had a big run up the middle during team drills and caught several screen passes. Health is always the issue for Saine, but he looked good Thursday.
- Defensive back Rocco Pentello had an impressive practice. He forced a Herron fumble that cornerback Donnie Evege recovered, and after a bad snap on a field goal attempt, he returned the ball for a touchdown.
- Spitler and reserve backer Andrew Sweat both delivered huge hits during team drills. Small was able to hang onto a pass despite getting rocked by Spitler.
- One of the day's more exciting plays came on a bad snap to Pryor, as Rolle scooped up the ball and raced down field, only to be caught from behind by Saine. I guess a running back should track down a linebacker, but it was impressive on both ends.
- After watching James Laurinaitis for all these years, it was funny to see a running back wearing No. 33. Fifth-year senior Joe Gantz had a long touchdown run during red zone drills and also got rocked by Dexter Larimore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Midway through an interview Thursday, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel received a text message from former Buckeyes star James Laurinaitis.
|Leon Halip/US Presswire|
|Ohio State coach Jim Tressel knows it's not the name that wins championships.|
"He threw me under the bus," Tressel joked. "Now they're in the playoffs, so now he wants to go. I'm going to ignore him for a couple hours."
Laurinaitis had to suffer for a while, but he'll probably get his wish from Tressel. After everything he gave to Ohio State during the last five seasons, the linebacker deserves it.
Tressel's current players don't share the same sense of entitlement as Laurinaitis.
Ohio State got a lot younger during the offseason, and the spring depth chart is filled with underclassmen. Though the Buckeyes have won or shared the last four Big Ten titles and maintain the same expectation for 2009, championships don't just magically appear by wearing scarlet and gray.
"If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.
"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has never seen a problem with work ethic during his tenure at Ohio State. But to hammer home the importance of going to work every year for a goal, he tells the defenders to simply look around.
"This year, it's easy," Heacock said. "You lose Malcolm [Jenkins] and you lose James [Laurinaitis] and you lose Marcus [Freeman], big production guys. You lose the key, main names that everybody has been hearing.
"And you end up with a group of guys, you had to use the cliché, no-names, but guys that don't have quite the reputation. This group is a very young group, but boy, they're energetic and they're anxious to learn."
Some other notes from my conversation with Tressel (who wore a pullover fleece, not a sweater vest), Heacock and several Buckeyes players.
- There has been a lot of buzz about Ohio State overhauling the offense in Year 2 of the Terrelle Pryor era, but Tressel downplays the changes. Though a player like Pryor challenges the coaches to be more flexible, the Buckeyes won't look like a completely different offense in 2009. Running back Dan "Boom" Herron smiled and shook his head when I brought up the Wildcat offense, but he admitted the team continues to run some plays out of the pistol formation, which Ohio State used last fall.
"With Terrelle, you're tempted to say, 'Hey, I wonder if we can do this or that,'" Tressel said. "But you reign it back in and say, 'OK, let's look at the whole group. What are the things the whole group can be best at.' What is it that [Dane] Sanzenbacher does best? What it is that [DeVier] Posey does best? But we haven't gotten crazy."
- Senior tackle Jim Cordle said the offensive line is ahead of where he thought it would be at this point after a "disappointing" 2008 performance. Cordle, a former center and left guard, is working at both tackle spots this spring but likely will line up on the right side. Former right tackle Bryant Browning moves to right guard, and Michigan transfer Justin Boren has all but locked up the left guard spot. Despite sophomore starting center in Mike Brewster and sophomore Mike Adams working at left tackle, the group is playing with more of an edge.
"Fights will break out and those types of things, but that's just how we compete now," Cordle said.
- Heacock said Andre Amos is the frontrunner in the competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Chimdi Chekwa, but Devon Torrence also has had a good spring. Safety Anderson Russell singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Travis Howard and safety Orhian Johnson for their performances this spring.
- Ohio State has been relatively injury-free this spring. Pryor is fine after overworking his throwing arm, and safety Kurt Coleman returned to practice Tuesday after an ankle problem. Sanzenbacher has a high ankle sprain.
- Before our interview Heacock was watching film of NFL defenses scoring touchdowns and planned to make a highlight tape for his players. He also has a sign in his office that reads: "No Ohio State team has defeated Michigan 5 times in a row," with the 5 crossed out and replaced by a 6. Interesting.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State