Thursday, December 31, 2009
Buckeyes have questions on special teams
By Adam Rittenberg
LOS ANGELES -- Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Jim Tressel's career knows how important special teams means to the Ohio State head coach.
The kicking game has played an enormous role in Tressel's success, and it's no surprise that Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth on a 39-yard field goal by backup kicker Devin Barclay in overtime against Iowa.
Sound special teams are a given at Ohio State, but the team has more question marks than usual in the third phase heading into its matchup against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET). There's some haziness at place-kicker as well as on punt and kickoff returns.
The Buckeyes' kicker situation actually is a decent problem to have.
Starter Aaron Pettrey suffered a torn MCL in his right (kicking) leg on kickoff coverage Oct. 31 against New Mexico State. Pettrey underwent surgery and had a wire inserted in his knee to hold the ligament in place. Barclay handled the kicking duties in November, but Pettrey has made an incredible recovery and will be available against Oregon.
During bowl practice, he has drilled 50-yard field goals with room to spare and converted a 63-yard attempt in Tuesday's practice.
"I'm just happy to be back," Pettrey said. "The doctor told my parents after the surgery that there's no way I'd be back for the game. [Pettrey's parents] never told me that until last week, so I feel great."
Barclay will handle kickoff duties Friday rather than Pettrey, mainly because of the torque it puts on the knee and the need to have a capable 11th tackler on the coverage unit. But the two likely will share field goal duties against Oregon.
Pettrey converted 13 of 19 attempts before his injury, while Barclay is 4-of-7 with the big 39-yarder against Iowa.
"Devin's still been with the [first team], I'm with the 2s," Pettrey said. "Devin's been kicking all year, and I've taken a month and a half off. I've only had like a week to get ready. If I'm back, I'm back, and right now, I feel close, 90-95 percent."
Ohio State gets deeper at kicker but thinner on returns because wide receiver Ray Small, the team's primary punt returner and No. 2 kick returner, is suspended after a repeat violation of team rules. Wideout Duron Carter, another return option, also is unavailable because of academics.
Tressel said Thursday that wide receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher will handle punt returns Friday, with running back Jordan Hall as the third option. Posey and Sanzenbacher have combined for three returns this year.
Lamaar Thomas remains Ohio State's top option on kick returns, and one of the team's top running backs, Brandon Saine or Dan Herron, will occupy the second spot. Saine has three kick returns for 67 yards (22.3 ypr) this season.
"I'm not excited about the way I've been given this opportunity," said Thomas, who could also be a bigger factor as a receiver Friday. "I'm truly going to miss those guys, Ray and Duron, but it is going to be an opportunity that I'll be able to showcase some things. I'm excited about that."