COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Off-field issues continue to dominate the discussion around Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have plenty to address between the lines.
Not only does Ohio State lose 24 seniors from the 2010 team, but the Buckeyes will be without five players, including four offensive starters, for the first five games this coming season. The cumulative loss in production has coach Jim Tressel calling this his youngest team at Ohio State.
Here are the five players suspended for the first five games of 2011:
Terrelle Pryor*, quarterback
Dan Herron*, running back
DeVier Posey*, wide receiver
Mike Adams*, left tackle
Solomon Thomas, defensive end
* returning starter
Filling these gaps is a primary goal for Ohio State this spring. The team is in good shape at some positions and thinner at others.
Here's a breakdown of the five positions, from the most shaky spot to the most stable.
Sidelined: Terrelle Pryor, three-year starter (2010 stats: 210-for-333 passing, 2,772 yards, 27 TDs, 11 INTs, 754 rush yards, 4 TDs)
Fill-ins: Joe Bauserman (senior, two-year backup, appeared in every game last season and completed 16 of 22 pass attempts); Kenny Guiton (sophomore, appeared in five games last season and completed 1 of 2 attempts); Taylor Graham (freshman, redshirted in 2010); Braxton Miller (true freshman, enrolled early and participating in spring)
The skinny: Quarterback is undoubtedly Ohio State's biggest concern because Pryor has held the starting job since September 2008. Bauserman is a veteran but lacks game experience, while the others essentially have none. Although Bauserman and Guiton have an edge right now in the spring, Graham and especially Miller could close the gap. Guiton and Miller are the most mobile of the group, although Bauserman moves pretty well, too.
Quotable: "Braxton is lost. Kenny and Joe have the best grasp on it. Taylor's somewhere in between. We've had four practices. I hope in the next 11, we get a lot more looks that will really make you think, 'OK, this guy.' If I had a game tomorrow, Joe would start, but Kenny has looked good and the two young guys, they're so hesitant because they don't know much, and we have to wait until we get out there and chase them when people are allowed to tackle them." -- Tressel
Sidelined: DeVier Posey, two-year starter (2010 stats: 53 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs)
The skinny: If the quarterback spot weren't so important, receiver would be Ohio State's most pressing need. Posey, graduating senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and graduating senior running back Brandon Saine accounted for 131 of the team's 228 receptions in 2010. Brown is a good bet to start and Fields could land the other spot in Posey's absence. Ohio State also could use its running backs as receivers more this fall. The 6-foot-5 Williams is an intriguing prospect because of his size. New assistant Stan Drayton has his hands full in his first year.
Quotable: "Coach Drayton said DeVier is like Coach Posey now. He knows the offense so well and I'm sure coach Drayton is still getting caught up a little bit." -- center Mike Brewster
Sidelined: Mike Adams, started throughout 2010 season, consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection
Fill-ins: Andrew Norwell (sophomore); Marcus Hall (sophomore, redshirted in 2010 because of academic issues); Jack Mewhort (sophomore)
The skinny: Overall offensive line depth is an issue for Ohio State this spring, and the lack of bodies could prevent the Buckeyes from having a full-blown spring game. Players are rotating at several spots during practice, and Mewhort and Hall both are in the mix for starting jobs at guard, too. Hall's return should help Ohio State survive without Adams, as hopes were high for Hall before his academic issues last season. Norwell backed up right tackle J.B. Shugarts as a freshman in 2010 and could be the answer during Adams' suspension.
Quotable: "We only have 10 linemen right now. We'll get a couple more for [preseason] camp. But I'm really, really impressed by the guys. They've been rotating around, playing left tackle, left guard. It has been encouraging." -- Brewster
Sidelined: Solomon Thomas (2010 stats: 14 tackles and a win-clinching interception in the Sugar Bowl as a reserve)
Fill-ins: Nathan Williams (senior, 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes defended, one interception in 2010); Adam Bellamy (sophomore, 11 tackles, two tackles for loss in 13 games in 2010); Melvin Fellows (sophomore)
The skinny: Ohio State lacks many true defensive ends and will need a big year from Williams, a returning starter, at the rush end position. Thomas likely would have started if not for the suspension, but the Buckeyes have some flexibility up front. Most of Ohio State's defensive linemen play both inside and outside. John Simon, who started last season at defensive tackle, lined up at end for part of Wednesday's practice. Ohio State boasts better depth at the inside position, so players like Simon and Bellamy could see more time on the outside.
Quotable: "You've got your Johnny Simons and your Nate Williamses back, and you hope they can be the core and the leadership. They might not be production leaders because of where they are [on the field], but that's where it starts." -- co-defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Luke Fickell
Sidelined: Dan Herron, 17 career starts, first-team All-Big Ten in 2010 (2010 stats: 216 carries, 1,155 rush yards, 16 touchdowns, 19 receptions, 180 receiving yards)
Fill-ins: Jordan Hall (junior, 37 carries, 161 rush yards, 2 TDs in 2010); Jaamal Berry (sophomore, 32 carries, 266 rush yards, 1 TD in 2010); Carlos Hyde (sophomore, 24 carries, 141 rush yards in 2010); Rod Smith (freshman, redshirted in 2010)
The skinny: Of the five positions where Ohio State loses a player to suspension, running back looks to be the strongest by far. Herron had a strong performance in Big Ten play last fall and could be missed, but the Buckeyes should be very deep in the backfield. They have variety in size, skill sets and running styles, and they will be able to give defenses different looks. Hall and Berry both looked good at times last season, and Smith generated a lot of buzz during practices before the Sugar Bowl. Fullback Zach Boren said running backs coach Doc Tressel has noted that the team has seven players capable of starting in the backfield.
Quotable: "It's a stable of backs. To me, it's one of the most impressive backfields in the country. All those guys, you can tell they're trying to do the right things because they know whoever's going to have that little edge, they need to make sure they're doing the right things off the field as well. There's so many running backs, it's going to be hard to get them all on the field." -- Brewster