NCF Nation: Anderson Russell

Jermale Hines laughs when told that he's the old man among Ohio State's safeties.

"Something like that," he said.

Hines is a little old by college football standards -- he turns 23 next month -- but he also boasts by far the most experience of any Buckeyes safety. He's one of Ohio State's most valuable players because if there's a spot on the depth chart that looks a little, well, young, it's safety.

[+] EnlargeJermale Hines
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJermale Hines has helped lead an Ohio State secondary that ranks 13th nationally in pass defense.
After the 2010 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes said farewell to veteran safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, with Coleman being the team's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. Tyler Moeller returned from a head injury to start at the "star" position -- a safety-linebacker hybrid used in Ohio State's nickel package -- but he's now out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Promising sophomore C.J. Barnett also won't return following a knee injury, and junior Nate Oliver has been banged up.

Ohio State's two-deep for Saturday night's showdown at No. 18 Wisconsin lists Hines as the starting free safety, sophomore Orhian Johnson, a first-year starter, at strong safety, and true freshman Christian Bryant at the "star" position.

There's little doubt as to who leads the group.

"It's been an experience trying to tell guys what to do and where to be, just helping them out as much as I can," Hines said. "Somebody came along and did it to me, Kurt and Anderson and those guys, so I'm just looking to give back and do the same thing."

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Hines knows he needs to show some patience as a leader. After all, he wasn't always the easiest pupil for Coleman and Russell.

"There were times where I didn't want to follow them, but they made me," said Hines, who moved past Russell on the depth chart in 2009 and recorded 57 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. "Just basically going to seek me out, talking to me, making me listen, telling the coaches and things like that. Or putting me on the spot. They showed me the ropes, the little things to be successful. And that's what I’m trying to do with these guys."

Hines has led by example on Saturdays.

He recorded an interception in Ohio State's Big Ten opener at Illinois and ranks third on the team with 26 tackles. The Cleveland native attributes his progress to a better understanding of Ohio State's defense and how opposing offenses want to attack the Buckeyes.

Along with cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and others, Hines has helped Ohio State lead the Big Ten and rank 13th nationally in pass defense (158.3 ypg). The Buckeyes have surrendered only four pass touchdowns through the first six games (only Miami, San Diego State and Missouri have allowed fewer).

Hines' personal project has been Bryant, who took over for the injured Moeller against Illinois and made his first career start last week against Indiana, recording one tackle.

"I'm definitely his big brother," Hines said. "Any time I can be, on the field, off the field, just making sure he understands things, checks and things like that, just making sure his head is right."

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Hines could play the "star" spot if need be, a move Hines wouldn't oppose. But if Hines' tutelage works, he can stay put and Ohio State likely will be better off for it.

"Anywhere I can help the team win," Hines said. "We've all got one goal, and I'm a part of it."

A big part.
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

Ohio State seniors go out on top

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
11:40
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[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
Jeff Gross/Getty Images Tight end Jake Ballard's senior class finishes with 44 wins and four Big Ten championships.
PASADENA, Calif. -- They form one of the most decorated classes in Ohio State history, but their accomplishments always seemed to come with an asterisk.

A 43-8 record. Four Big Ten championships (three outright, one shared). Four wins against archrival Michigan. Four trips to BCS bowl games, including two national title games.

But without a bowl victory, Ohio State's seniors had an incomplete legacy.

Problem solved.

Ohio State's 19 seniors went out as winners following Friday's 26-17 win against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi. They helped to end the Buckeyes' three-game losing streak in BCS bowls and the Big Ten's six-game losing streak at the Rose.

The Buckeyes' seniors end their careers with 44 wins, one more than the previous high for a class set by three groups (1995-98, 2002-05, 2005-08).

"It makes up for a lot of misfortune and shortcomings," tight end Jake Ballard said.

"We needed to come out and win for these seniors," sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor said.

Ballard made the biggest catch of his career in his final game, a leaping 24-yarder on third-and-13 that set up Ohio State's decisive touchdown.

The Buckeyes also received contributions from seniors like kicker Aaron Pettrey (45-yard field goal), defensive tackle Doug Worthington (tackle for loss, tipped pass that led to interception), punter Jon Thoma (43.7-yard average), left tackle Jim Cordle and safeties Anderson Russell (six tackles) and Kurt Coleman (four tackles).

"Every loss that we've had at the end of every bowl has been a learning experience," said Coleman, who turned down the NFL draft after his junior season in large part to win a bowl game. "Last year [against Texas], we were so close to winning, and that was one of our biggest motivation factors going into the offseason.

"We put in the hard work, and it paid off."
PASADENA, Calif. -- Ohio State's defensive front has drawn comparisons to the 2002 version that helped the Buckeyes win the national championship.

So far, the front four is dominating this game. Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson already have tackles for losses, and Ohio State is forcing a run-heavy Oregon offense into third-and-long situations, which puts pressure on the Ducks' underused receivers and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

About the only negative for Ohio State's defense was a dropped interception by safety Anderson Russell, which could have been returned for a score. Masoli likely hasn't seen so many defensive linemen in the backfield since the Boise State game.

As expected, Ohio State is dominating possession time and has a chance to add to its 7-0 lead.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The text message arrived around 4:30 p.m. last Saturday, but Ohio State safety Anderson Russell didn't see it until after his game against Indiana.

When Russell finally got to his phone, a smile splashed across his face.

"Ball out tonight," the message read.
 
 AJ Mast/Icon SMI
 Anderson Russell came up big in Ohio State’s win over Indiana.


Russell had followed Kurt Coleman's orders in a 33-14 victory against the Hoosiers, filling in brilliantly for his close friend and fellow safety, who stayed home in Columbus to serve a one-game suspension for a late hit the week before against Illinois.

With Coleman 200 miles away, Russell reclaimed the starting job he had lost earlier in the season and turned in his best performance of the season. The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble and tied for the team lead with six tackles, earning Ohio State's Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts. Shortly after the game, Russell called Coleman to celebrate.

"He told me good job and everything," Russell said. "He was proud of me and I told him I missed having him out on the road. We had somebody go down with a suspect call that we all didn’t agree on, but it was something we had to go with.

"We had to have guys step up."

Coleman's absence was the latest hiccup in a season that hasn't gone exactly according to plan for Ohio State's senior safeties tandem. Russell and Coleman entered the fall having started two seasons next each other in the Buckeyes' defensive backfield, and both seemed like good bets for All-Big Ten honors in 2009.

But Russell had a rough opener against Navy, twice getting burned for touchdowns, including an 85-yarder midway through the fourth quarter. The next week, Jermale Hines occupied the starting free safety spot next to Coleman. Ohio State has employed a three-man rotation at safety, but Russell has lost playing time to Hines, who ranks fourth on the team with 19 tackles.

“It’s been a change just because I’ve been used to being in there every snap these past couple of years," said Russell, who recorded 130 tackles, 10 passes defended, three sacks and two interceptions in the last two seasons. "But we’re still winning, and I’m happy and I’m still able to contribute. I’m not upset about it or anything.

"I’m going to keep playing. It’s not like just because I wasn’t starting or playing as many snaps as [before], I wasn’t going to start letting up in practice."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Ohio State lost a few style points down the stretch, but the Buckeyes reaffirmed themselves as the team to beat in the Big Ten on a wild day in the conference.

Terrelle Pryor still does a few things that make you scratch your head, but the sophomore quarterback was mostly good in a 33-14 Buckeyes win over Indiana. He factored into all four Buckeyes touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and distributed the ball extremely well. Junior running back Brandon Saine took advantage of his first start this season with 113 rush yards on 17 carries, and freshman wideout Duron Carter caught his first career touchdown. The offense doesn't always click, but it makes enough plays to win.

Once again, the real story for Ohio State was the defense, which forced three Indiana turnovers. Safety Anderson Russell, who was demoted after the season opener, came up big in place of the suspended Kurt Coleman with an interception and a fumble recovery. It was another big night for the Buckeyes' defensive line, which got an interception from Todd Denlinger and impressive second-half play from Rob Rose. Losing Dexter Larimore hurts, but the Buckeyes are stacked up front.

Indiana once again didn't quit and should have made it more competitive, but mistakes really hurt the Hoosiers after the first quarter. Wide receiver Tandon Doss had a really nice night (6 receptions, 96 yards) and the defense played well at times, but Indiana couldn't generate a rushing attack and Ben Chappell's two interceptions really stung. This is clearly a better IU team than many of us had imagined, but the Hoosiers are 0-2 in league play and need to bounce back soon.

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:30
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AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

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."

(Read full post)

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.
Laurinaitis, a standout hockey player in high school growing up in Minnesota, was looking for tickets to a Columbus Blue Jackets NHL playoff game next week. Tressel and Laurinaitis were supposed to attend a Jackets' game together several weeks ago, but Laurinaitis backed out at the last minute to attend a family function in Dayton.

"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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster checked into his hotel Tuesday morning in Shreveport, La., the woman working at the front desk spotted the Golden Gophers logo on his shirt and smiled.

"The coach from Michigan just left," she told him.

Both Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, Mich., are located more than 850 miles from Shreveport, making it an odd place for Brewster and one of his Michigan counterparts to cross paths. But these days, Big Ten coaches are just as likely to bump into one another in Shreveport, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Houston as they are in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

When Purdue head coach Danny Hope called ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon, he was navigating a road near Bay City, Fla. An hour earlier, Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge phoned in from the Fort Lauderdale area.

The Big Ten recruiting range is expanding far beyond the Midwest, and coaches are spending much of their time in the fertile states of the south and southeast.

If one incoming recruit symbolizes the recruiting change in the Big Ten, it's a safety expected to sign Wednesday with Wisconsin.

His name: Dezmen Southward.

His hometown: Fort Lauderdale.

"There's certainly great, great players in the Midwest, but just in terms of numbers, all you have to do is look at Division I signing day and the number of kids who play Division I out of this region here," said Partridge, who has recruited the Florida area for Wisconsin, Pitt and Iowa State, among others. "You can come down and get two to three kids who can have an impact on your program.

"People are recognizing the value of recruiting down here."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some weekend leftovers and fresh ones from this morning.

"The top-rated recruit committed to a Big Ten school, according to Rivals.com, is Michigan-bound defensive tackle William Campbell at 26th nationally, 48th by CSTV recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. Lemming's top Big Ten commit is Ohio State's Dorian Bell, a linebacker whom he ranks 27th overall."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.

Here they are.

Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.

Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.

Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.

Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.

Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.

Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.

Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.

Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.

Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.

Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State's impressive effort Monday night came up short, and a forgettable 2008 Big Ten season is over. Today's links have a Scarlet and Gray tinge to them. 

"The Buckeyes badly needed to play well in this one. Their national reputation was in tatters. Against a Texas team that many think belonged in the national championship game, few considered the possibility of an Ohio State win.

It didn't happen, but it at least restores some lost respect. The Buckeyes' high-profile failures no longer seem so conclusive; instead, they blend back into a wider range of big games under [Jim] Tressel that show the Buckeyes both winning and losing their share."

"On the final touchdown, linebacker James Laurinaitis blitzed, linebacker Marcus Freeman stepped to the line like he was blitzing then dropped into coverage, but not far enough to help on [Quan] Cosby, and then [safety Anderson] Russell was alone. Cosby caught the ball only 6 yards past the line of scrimmage, but that was enough."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Kirby Lee/US Presswire
 Quan Cosby pulled in the winning 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds to play.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They made it back to the team hotel Sunday minutes before curfew and headed straight for the water.

As Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receivers Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley and Brandon Collins hopped back and forth between the hot and cold tubs, they began talking about the next day's game.

"The night before a game, that's all that's on your mind really," Shipley said. "We feel like it could always come down to a play like that."

Added Cosby: "People say, 'I dreamed about it,' and all that stuff. Everybody dreams about it. We talked about it [Sunday] night as we were sitting in ice, which wasn't very fun."

Cosby had plenty of fun Monday night as he lit up Ohio State's defense for 171 receiving yards on 14 receptions, none more important than the last, a 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. The score lifted Texas to a dramatic 24-21 win against Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and capped a stellar senior season for Cosby, who notched career highs in both receptions and yards in his final collegiate game.

The 5-11, 200-pound senior had three receptions on Texas' game-winning drive, and he found a way to slip behind Ohio State defenders who employed an aggressive scheme but did an excellent job of keeping plays in front of them all night. The Buckeyes had prevented big plays with textbook tackling, but Cosby got free of safety Anderson Russell and leaped into the end zone.

 
 Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
 Cosby torched Ohio State's defense for 171 yards and 14 receptions.

"Quan is as good a football player as I've ever been around," Shipley said. "He always seems to make plays. He just kind of slipped through. He caught a slant and just slipped off the tackle and then it was nothing but green grass from there."

As he trotted off the field following Texas' trophy presentation, Cosby was asked what he saw on the game's decisive play.

"A touchdown," he replied, smiling.

McCoy was named the Offensive Player of the Game, but the award easily could have gone to Cosby, who nearly broke free several times and set a Texas bowl record for receptions. Cosby became the first Texas receiver to eclipse 100 yards in a bowl game since Roy Williams in the 2003 Cotton Bowl against LSU.

"He is the MVP in my mind," McCoy said. "On that last play when [Ohio State] brought everybody, he kind of said over and over, 'If I catch the same look give me a slant behind the linebacker. If he comes, you just make that miss, we will score.'

"We had confidence in each other. We have done that all year long."

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