NCF Nation: J.B. Shugarts
But who can name the Buckeye's No. 2 rated player in the class, according to ESPN Recruiting? Hint 1: It wasn't Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, J.B. Shugarts or DeVier Posey. Hint 2: He's still in Columbus.
It might surprise some to know Etienne Sabino came to Ohio State with as much hype as the others, besides Pryor. ESPN Recruiting ranked him as the nation's top inside linebacker and No. 18 player overall. Sabino, who had an excellent size-speed combo coming out of Miami's Dr. Krop High School, received similar accolades from other recruiting services.
Pegged as a starter in the spring of 2010, Sabino had high hopes entering fall camp. Linebackers coach Luke Fickell said of Sabino that spring, "He's the guy. ... This has been his best spring so far." But a great spring didn't translate into fall camp, as Andrew Sweat beat out Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot alongside Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. Sweat had been another decorated recruit in 2008, although not as heralded as Sabino.
Sabino and the coaches agreed he should redshirt the season, and while a rash of injuries midway through the season nearly forced him onto the field, he was able to sit out.
His wait for a bigger role finally ended in 2011, as he started five games and recorded 62 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and two sacks. It was a step, although not a huge one. Ask most Ohio State fans what they're excited about at linebacker entering 2012, and the name Ryan Shazier likely will be brought up before Sabino's.
"Coming in from high school, you want everything to happen right away," Sabino told ESPN.com. "You want to jump in, you want to contribute to the team, you want to be a superstar. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way. As of right now, I think my career, would I want it to be a little better at this point? Yes. But I feel like it’s getting better in the past year or so, and I'm looking to build on that.
"I just feel ready. I felt ready before, but I have such a good grasp of what we're doing and what's expected."
As one of just eight members of the 2008 class still with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Sabino is embracing a greater leadership role. He called the most recent spring practice "the most comfortable I’ve felt since I've been here." He has embraced the scheme under Fickell, the team's defensive coordinator, and his role as an outside linebacker after getting a look at the middle earlier in his career.
Ohio State's defense took a step back in 2011, and the linebacker play was below program standards. While the Buckeyes have depth questions at linebacker outside of Sabino, Shazier and Storm Klein, Sabino has high hopes for the group.
"We pride ourselves on being Linebacker U," Sabino said. "There might be a little bit of a controversy everywhere else, but we truly feel this is Linebacker University and we're trying to uphold that tradition here."
Fickell, who like many had such high hopes for Sabino coming out of spring practice in 2010, has seen the fifth-year senior embrace the urgency before his final season in Scarlet and Gray.
"He is an unbelievable example to a lot of guys because he was one of those highly, highly recruited guys," Fickell told ESPN.com. "Things didn't happen for him really fast, and he's had a true up-and-down college career from what people might have thought or he might have thought when he came out. It just doesn’t always happen for everybody really fast.
"We always try to tell them, 'It’s not about where you start, it's where you finish.' He's on that route to really be able to finish very, very well."
Sabino still has time to make Ohio State fans remember his name.
From a Big Ten slant, this exercise is essentially a referendum on Ohio State's class, which ranked sixth nationally that year and featured eight ESPNU 150 prospects, headlined by quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Several other Big Ten squads had prospects in the 150 as well.
Overall, the results are mixed. Some players matched their hype, like Ohio State center Mike Brewster and, when healthy, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Others did not or have not, once again proving that recruiting rankings should be viewed with caution.
Here's a look.
Prospects ranked from 1-25
No. 4: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State -- Helped Buckeyes win three Big Ten championships and two BCS bowls before departing in June because of multiple NCAA rules violations.
No. 18: Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State: -- Started the 2011 season after redshirting in 2010. Hasn't been a difference-maker for Buckeyes, but ended with a strong performance in the Gator Bowl and could be a key player in 2012.
Prospects ranked from 26-50
No. 42: Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State -- Four-year starter undoubtedly paid off for Ohio State. Brewster earned All-Big Ten honors and was an All-America candidate his final two seasons.
No. 48: Andrew Sweat, LB, Ohio State -- Sweat had a solid but unspectacular career for Ohio State. He was the team's top linebacker in 2011, and Ohio State missed him late in the season.
Prospects ranked between 51-75
No. 56: J.B. Shugarts, T, Ohio State -- Started the final three seasons at right tackle but never earned All-Big Ten honors.
No. 58: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State -- Plagued by knee problems, but very effective when healthy. He turned in a strong 2010 season and entered 2011 as an All-America candidate before tearing his ACL in September. He'll be back in 2012.
No. 69: Dann O'Neill, T, Michigan -- Redshirted as a freshman before transferring to Western Michigan, saying Michigan wasn't the right fit. He earned third-team All-MAC honors in 2011.
No. 71: Darryl Stonum, WR, Michigan -- Turned in a nice year in 2010, but found himself in off-field troubles throughout his Michigan career. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday dismissed Stonum after his latest infraction that resulted in jail time.
Prospects ranked 76-100
No. 88: Mike Adams, T, Ohio State -- One of the Big Ten's top offensive linemen during his final two seasons, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2010 and second-team honors in 2011 despite playing in only seven games. He had some off-field issues with the Buckeyes and was part of the Tat-5 with Pryor.
Prospects ranked 101-125
No. 107: Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State -- An excellent weapon when used in the Ohio State offense. He recorded a team-high seven touchdown receptions in 2011, but had only 14 overall receptions. He returns in 2012 and should have a bigger role in a more wide-open offense.
No. 115: Brandon Moore, TE, Michigan -- Moore has two receptions in three years as a reserve tight end for the Wolverines. He could see a bigger role in 2012 as Kevin Koger departs.
No. 119 Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska -- Started the past two seasons on the Huskers' defensive line and recorded 40 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks, during the 2011 season. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and will be called upon to take a leading role for Big Red in 2012.
Prospects ranked 126-150
No. 128: Patrick Nixon-Youman, CB, Illinois -- Hip surgery a few years ago slowed Nixon-Youman's progression, but he appeared in 11 games in each of the past two seasons in a reserve role. He could play a bigger role in 2012.
No. 130: Keanon Cooper, LB, Minnesota -- Started in 2011 for Minnesota and recorded 77 tackles, including six for loss, as well as two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He enters his third season as a starter in 2012 and will need to be a big contributor for the Gophers' defense.
No. 135: Travis Howard, CB, Ohio State -- Took on a bigger role in 2011 and recorded 44 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups for the Buckeyes. He'll enter the 2012 season as a projected starter and could end his career with a flourish.
No. 141: J.B. Fitzgerald, LB, Michigan -- Started only three games in his career, but appeared in 50 contests and was a valuable reserve and special teams performer for Michigan in 2011.
No. 148: Tyler Westphal, DE, Wisconsin -- Had a serious shoulder injury following his redshirt year in Madison and eventually transferred to North Dakota State.
Minnesota linebacker Brendan Beal, who has yet to play for the Gophers after transferring from Florida, is No. 133 in the rankings.
- Penn State running back Silas Redd (collarbone) didn't look limited during warmups, but he wasn't getting hit. It'll be interesting to see if the Lions will give Stephfon Green more carries again since Redd has been banged up the last few weeks.
- Ohio State right tackle J.B. Shugarts warmed up with the first-team offensive line. How much will he play after dealing with a knee injury?
- Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and wide receiver Corey Brown, also injury question marks, warmed up for the Buckeyes. Linebacker Andrew Sweat isn't dressed for the game.
- Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner met with local media before the game. He said he and president Rodney Erickson will handle the coaching search and are forming a search committee. He also said he's open to becoming the school's permanent AD.
- Penn State stayed on the field long after Ohio State for warmups. The Buckeyes had to prepare for the Senior Day celebration, but the Lions got in some extra work.
Both programs are dealing with controversy and uncertainty about the future.
Penn State, still shaken from the sex-abuse scandal, learned Friday that former coach Joe Paterno has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Paterno's son, Jay, the Nittany Lions' quarterbacks coach, discusses the news here and notes that his father's cancer is treatable. Penn State also received a letter Friday from NCAA president Mark Emmert, who wrote that the NCAA will look into whether there was a lack of institutional control at the school in its handling of the sex-abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. It's up to interim coach Tom Bradley, whose future with the program is unknown, to get his team focused for a huge Leaders Division matchup.
Speaking of coaches with uncertain futures, meet Luke Fickell. He has guided Ohio State through a turbulent season, but the team sits at 6-4 after last week's loss at Purdue. The Buckeyes' streak of six consecutive Big Ten titles (outright or shared) is on life support. Rumors are swirling that Ohio State has a coaching replacement in line for 2012, and Fickell could be leading the Buckeyes for the final time at Ohio Stadium today. It's Senior Day, and a class with a complicated legacy will be honored before the game. One of its members, wide receiver DeVier Posey, will make his season debut after serving two five-game suspensions for violating NCAA rules. Posey, by far the team's best receiver, could play a big role in the game.
There's no rain in the forecast and it's partly cloudy, but wind could be a factor.
On the injury front, Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat (concussion) is out. Other Buckeyes like defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts and receiver Corey Brown are hobbled, but they all should play in limited fashion.
Penn State star running back Silas Redd also is expected to play despite practicing sparingly this week because of a collarbone injury. Redd, the Big Ten's No. 4 rusher at 105.9 yards a game, has been banged up for a few weeks.
The Lions have really struggled in Columbus, winning here just once since joining the Big Ten in 1993. Penn State has recorded only two touchdown passes at The Shoe as a Big Ten member, both from last year's game.
Much more to come from C-Bus, so don't go anywhere.
- Ron Zook praised quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for his development. "He seems to be picking up more and more of the offense," Zooks said. "And the more he learns, the quicker he is. He's taken another step not only with his play but with the way he's led this team as well."
- Despite the loss of Mikel Leshoure to the NFL draft, Zook expects the Illini running game to keep on trucking and had positive words for starting tailback Jason Ford. "He had a great offseason and got his weight down to where he was as a freshman," Zook said. Zook also likes what he sees out of freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson at the position. "One thing in the Big Ten is, you'd better have more than one running back," he said. "We feel very fortunate that we've got a few guys who should help us maintain what we've done in terms of rushing."
- Junior linebacker Ashante Williams, who was suspended following a DUI arrest, is back practicing with the team and working on the scout unit. Zook said he wants Williams, who is a semester away from graduation, to earn his degree. He hasn't made a decision on when or if Williams might play for the Illini.
- Ticket sales have not exactly been robust so far, but Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson says playing the opener against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis should help both teams. "I'm interested to see if the fan bases come out to support both programs," he said. "Is it an advantage? I don't know. [But] I think it's a great opportunity for both teams to energize their teams."
- With less than a week before the opener, Wilson said the staff still hasn't decided on a starting quarterback between Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker. "Really, down the stretch, we're trying to decide which young man we think will manage the game, keep us out of turnovers and keep us in positive situations." He added that he's "really intrigued" by true freshman Tre Roberson. "He's very athletic, but at the same time he's a little overwhelmed," Wilson said. "I do think he can add to the mix as we go through the season."
- The Buckeyes won't have permanent captains this year. Instead, they will name game captains each week. Center Mike Brewster, right tackle J.B. Shugarts and defensive tackle John Simon will be captains for this week's Akron game. Luke Fickell said he decided to do it this way to show his senior leaders that "we need every single one of them."
- Fickell confirmed that offensive lineman Corey Linsley has been suspended for the first game and said Linsley may also miss Week 2 against Miami. Starting linebacker Etienne Sabino is expected to play despite breaking his left hand during training camp.
- While quarterback gets the most attention, the Nittany Lions haven't named a starter yet at right guard, either. John Urschel and Johnnie Troutman are still battling it out and Joe Paterno said he doesn't know who will get the call. Paterno called offensive line depth one of his main concerns, much more so than the quarterback situation.
- Paterno confirmed that punter/kicker Anthony Fera is suspended for an alcohol-related arrest earlier this month, but he didn't divulge how long the suspension would last.
- Paterno was asked about his former assistant, Al Golden, and the task that now faces him at scandal-ridden Miami. "Al's got a tough job on his hands right now," Paterno said. "I'm sure when everything settles down at Miami and he gets a hold of the problems and starts to resolve them and cure them, that he'll do well. But it's going to take a little while, if what people are saying is true. If it can be done, Al will get it done."
- Head coach Danny Hope has named Caleb TerBush his starting quarterback for the Middle Tennessee game in the wake of Rob Henry's torn ACL. Hope says the team is confident in TerBush, a junior who has played in only one career game. "He's far along," Hope said. "He's tall, he puts a lot of velocity on the ball, he's accurate and he's competitive." Though TerBush is 6-foot-6, Hope said he can run the ball and could even mix in some option plays.
- Robert Marve still isn't practicing as he recovers from last year's knee surgery, but Hope said Marve should be ready in the next couple of weeks. "We're optimistic he can help our football team sometime soon this season," Hope said.
- In some much-needed good injury news, the Boilermakers are happy with the way running back Ralph Bolden has returned from two knee surgeries. "It's been a real blessing," Hope said. "I didn't know what to expect, really. ... It doesn't look like he's lost anything to me. He's very fast, very sharp, very sudden. He's making people miss, is very confident on his cuts and is finishing runs." Hope said Bolden consistently punched the ball into the end zone during some goal line drills against the No. 1 defense this month. " He looks like one of the best players on our team again right now," he said.
- Redshirt freshman Kyle French will be pressed into field-goal duties on Thursday against UNLV, as regular kicker Philip Welch hasn't healed from a quadriceps injury. Head coach Bret Bielema said French is a "no-nonsense kid" who should be able to handle the situation. Bielema said he would rely on holder Brad Nortman to find out what French can do. "I usually lean on my holder," he said. "We'll come up with a number we feel he's good to kick from and hopefully just move forward."
- Bielema said he's never sensed this much hype around the Badgers during his time with the program. Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and is a favorite to win the Big Ten. He said he noticed it during training camp, when media requests for interviews poured in from around the country. "It's fun and I think it's a sign of respect," he said. "I tried to emphasize to our players that right now the story about Wisconsin is a good thing. There's not a lot of negativity around our program. A lot of things going around college football have stayed out of Madison. I like the character and the kids we have. Hopefully, it doesn't go to their heads."
- The series with UNLV comes to an end this year, but Bielema said the Badgers are interested in signing another deal with the Rebels. "Wisconsin people always need an excuse to run to Vegas," he said. "I think they love doing it."
Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.
Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.
Let's get to the rundown.
1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.
3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.
4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.
5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.
6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.
7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.
8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.
9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.
10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.
11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.
12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
Long and relatively lean at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Adams has a body that makes line coaches salivate. Some 300-pound offensive linemen carry their weight poorly. Adams looks fit and boasts tremendous athleticism.
You look at Mike Adams and you immediately think four-year starter, All-Big Ten performer, All-America selection and first-round NFL draft pick. He came to Ohio State as a decorated high school prospect, rated as the nation's No. 1 tackle by one national recruiting service and the No. 8 tackle by ESPN Recruiting in 2008.
Adams still could earn All-Big Ten and All-America honors, and he has time to climb the NFL draft boards. But in many ways, his college career is just getting started.
It took two seasons for Adams to overcome injuries, maturity issues both on and off the field, and the expectations to finally claim the starting left tackle spot for the Buckeyes. He was named Ohio State's Offensive Lineman of the Week following his performance in last Saturday's win against Ohio.
"The game's slowing down for me," Adams told ESPN.com this week. "It’s been a nice little battle I’ve got going, trying to get the mental part of the game together. A lot of guys, when they come in, they either pick it up quick or it might take a little bit longer."
From the moment Adams set foot on campus, he was pegged as a guy who would pick it up quick. Just look at him!
But his development was delayed, partly by injuries. He needed shoulder surgery before his freshman season, played four games that fall and then dealt with a foot injury. Adams missed three games last season because of a knee problem.
The homegrown product from nearby Dublin, Ohio, also had some off-field issues. In March 2009, Adams had a possession of drug paraphernalia charge against him dropped for insufficient evidence after police found a pipe in his car during a traffic stop. Adams also was suspended for Ohio State's first two games in 2009 for undisclosed reasons.
The Buckeyes junior has put those issues behind him and grown up on the field as well.
"He gets better and better all the time," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He's got a lot of ability and he really seems to have grown to understand what it takes to play that left tackle [position]."
Adams was one of three elite offensive line prospects in Ohio State's 2008 class, joining J.B. Shugarts and Michael Brewster. The three met fairly early in high school and have remained close in Columbus.
Brewster became Ohio State's staring center as a true freshman, and Shugarts solidified himself as a starter last year. Adams' status wasn't clear until preseason camp, when he took control and claimed the starting left tackle spot.
"It’s something that really helped me out in the long run," Adams said of the competition. "When you come to college, there are high expectations and you have people coming at you from all angles, saying this, saying that. I'm just trying to live up to it now and get better and take this thing to the next level."
The physical tools are there, and if Adams continues to win the mind game, quarterback Terrelle Pryor should stay clean and the Buckeyes should go a long way this season.
"The more sure you are of everything in and around you, the better you’re going to be," Tressel said. "He's got height, weight, speed, he's got good feet, he's got good technique. He's got some outstanding challenges in front of him here, but I think he can be very good."
2. Ohio State: The talent always has been there, and the physical play finally showed up late last fall. Ohio State's line finished 2009 on a very strong note and returns pretty much everyone for 2010. First-team All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren leads the group along with fellow guard Bryant Browning. Center Michael Brewster enters his third season as a starter, and right tackle J.B. Shugarts came along last year. If gifted left tackle Mike Adams effectively protects Terrelle Pryor's blind side, the Buckeyes will be extremely tough to stop.
3. Michigan: The Wolverines boast one of the Big Ten's best interior line tandems in guard Stephen Schilling and center David Molk, who returns from an ACL injury. When Molk was healthy in 2009, Michigan consistently moved the football. His return is a major boost. The Wolverines need to solidify the tackle spots but have experienced options in Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge. Michigan's offensive line recruiting also should pay off as redshirt freshmen like Taylor Lewan solidify the depth.
4. Penn State: The line had an average performance in 2009 and struggled against elite defensive fronts, but things should improve this fall. Stefen Wisniewski, who moves back to guard from center, is one of the nation's most experienced and polished offensive linemen. He leads a group that also features veterans Lou Eliades and Johnnie Troutman. Penn State needs big things from new starting left tackle Quinn Barham.
5. Northwestern: All five starters return from 2009, but there's competition at three spots in camp. I see this as a testament to Northwestern's strong O-line recruiting the past four seasons. While experience is great, the Wildcats need to be more physical in run blocking and could benefit from some new faces (or some old ones hardened by competition). Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are All-Big Ten candidates, and watch out for Patrick Ward, a heralded 2009 recruit who steps into the spotlight at right tackle this season.
Up next: Running back/fullback
More rankings ...
But Pryor isn't the only member of Ohio State's decorated 2008 recruiting class to reach halftime in Columbus.
As Pryor delayed his college decision on national signing day in 2008, much of the buzz at Ohio State swirled around three decorated offensive line prospects: Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. All three players were ESPNU 150 selections. ESPN recruiting ranked Brewster and Shugarts as the nation's No. 2 and No. 3 offensive tackle prospects, while Adams ranked No. 8.
All three are now preparing for their junior seasons at Ohio State.
"They're at the midpoint of their careers, not unlike Terrelle," head coach Jim Tressel said. "You'd like to think that they can be real good leaders and good veterans."
Pryor's development in the second half of his career likely will determine whether Ohio State wins a national title for the first time since 2002, but equally as important, if not more so, is the progression of his classmates on the offensive line.
"Adams, Brewster and Shugarts have now all gotten their feet more than wet now for a couple years," offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman said. "Going into their third year, now it's time for them to really start kicking it in."
Brewster certainly has done so, having started the last 23 games at center for the Buckeyes. The 6-5, 293-pound junior from Orlando will contend for the Rimington Trophy this fall and serve as one of the line's leaders along with guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning.
Shugarts also saw the field as a true freshman but missed six games with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He earned the starting right tackle spot in 2009 and will start at either right tackle or left tackle this season.
Adams has battled injuries and spotty play his first two seasons, but enters the summer with a decent to strong chance of landing the starting left tackle spot.
"Those guys work extremely hard, those three," Browning said. "They've got kind of a brotherhood. You see those guys in the weight room together, watching extra film together, and I feel like they're close on and off the field. They're doing anything they can to be great offensive linemen."
Since Brewster is a proven player at center and Shugarts took a step in that direction last fall, Adams found himself in the spotlight this spring. Adams failed to grab the starting left tackle spot last year, forcing Ohio State to shift versatile veteran Jim Cordle to protect Pryor's blind side.
The Dublin, Ohio, native has been an enigma early in his college career. One look at the 6-8, 300-pound Adams reveals the obvious physical gifts he possesses, but entering spring practice, he had yet to produce consistent results on the field. Adams missed Ohio State's first two games last year -- sources said he was suspended for a violation of team rules, though Tressel never confirmed it -- and didn't see much action during Big Ten Play.
"There's competition at his position right now," Browning said, "but he's working hard, doing whatever it takes so he can get a chance to get out there."
This spring, the Buckeyes opened the competition at left tackle, as Adams, Andrew Miller, Marcus Hall and Shugarts all saw time. Adams seemed to make strides toward the end of the session and drew praise for his performance in Saturday's spring game.
Ohio State star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is doing all he can to help linemen like Adams, Shugarts and Brewster take the next step.
"It's a work in progress, it's not going to happen right away," Heyward said. "They'll have good days, and they'll also have bad days. And our guys are pushing them. We're not just going to let them sit back and enjoy it because it's going to be a rough battle.
"They were highly touted offensive linemen coming in, and they really want to step up and be great this year."
Here are some notable nuggets from what they had to say:
- LeGarrette Blount remains Oregon's third-string running back entering the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET), slotted behind starting LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barber. Blount, who requested not to meet with the media this week, saw his first action since the season opener against Oregon State on Dec. 3, carrying nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown. Kelly said he doesn't have anything scripted for Blount, who will get more opportunities if James gets banged-up. "We've ridden No. 21 [James] for the whole season, and we're going to continue to do that," Kelly said. "But you'll see LG [Blount]."
- Ohio State enters the game as healthy as it's been all season, particularly on offense. Tressel said quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee) is fine -- the coach didn't sound thrilled about Pryor's injury revelation Monday -- and the offensive line has gotten some continuity down the stretch. Ohio State will stick to its same starting lineup for the line: LT Jim Cordle, LG Justin Boren, C Michael Brewster, RG Bryant Browning, RT J.B. Shugarts. Marcus Hall and Mike Adams will be the first subs at right tackle and left tackle, respectively. Andrew Moses would be Ohio State's eighth lineman if they need him.
- As they posed behind the Rose Bowl trophy, Kelly and Tressel briefly discussed their common roots in the FCS. Just three years ago, Kelly served as the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, his alma mater. Tressel built his reputation as a head coach at Youngstown State, where he won four national championships. "We were laughing over there that we didn't have that many flashbulbs when we played in the I-AA playoffs," Tressel said. Kelly stressed that "the big time is where you're at" and that it's important to enjoy coaching at any level. But he doesn't take his meteoric rise for granted. "I had absolutely no idea three years ago that I'd be sitting in front of a press conference at the Rose Bowl," he said.
- Two of Ohio State's last three losses -- Sept. 12 against USC and the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas -- came in games where the defense allowed a late score and lost a lead. Fatigue likely played a role in both games, as USC ran 17 more plays than Ohio State (72-55) and Texas ran 23 more plays (87-64). Ohio State should win the time-of-possession battle against Oregon, but the Ducks' offensive pace could be tough to match. "When you leave your defense on the field that long against good football teams, there is going to be a wearing factor," Tressel said. "I know this: chasing Oregon around will make them tired, too, so it's going to be a great challenge."
- Asked if Oregon is the nation's best comeback story after its disastrous opener against Boise State, Kelly took the opportunity to defend his players and trumpet Boise State's success. "Mark Twain once said, 'The news of my death was greatly exaggerated,'" Kelly said. "We lost 19-8 to the No. 6 team in the country, which hasn't lost a game in a long time. Chris Petersen and Boise State is an outstanding football team. The one thing about that night that bothers me is they got slighted."
- And, finally, some words from each coach on the stakes on Friday.
Kelly: "I want our players to savor the moment. That's what it's all about. They've earned this opportunity, and they're going to create memories. ... We have fun. Our staff has fun. This is what it's all about. It's not worrying about what's next. There is no next. This is it."
Tressel: "Our seniors know that this is the last time out. But how deeply do you know that? Maybe not until that clock ticks to zero does it become very real. ... That's the beauty of the game of football. It's really what happens that day, not what you're capable of or what you could have done, what happens that day."
- There are a ton of Ohio State fans here, certainly more than normal. It looks like a good number of Michigan fans sold their tickets to the enemy and made some cash.
- As expected, Michigan fans were all over Buckeyes guard Justin Boren when he came out for warm-ups. The former Wolverine heard taunts of, "Watch your knees!" and some unprintable comments about his conditioning. Boren, to his credit, seemed extremely fired up and was animated as he talked to the other linemen.
- Michigan's Troy Woolfolk is working as a safety today after switching to cornerback midway through the season. J.T. Floyd worked with the first-team defense at corner. Mike Williams, the team's normal starting safety, is out.
- I don't mind Ohio State's throwback jerseys. The helmets take a little while to get used to, but the socks are awesome and the jerseys don't bother me. Several Ohio State offensive linemen are wearing their regular cleats instead of the new ones from Nike. Tackle Jim Cordle voiced some concerns about the new cleats earlier this week. Cordle and J.B. Shugarts worked as the first-team offensive tackles.
What it means: Ohio State already has locked up the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, but the Buckeyes can win the league title outright for the third time in four seasons with a win today. The Buckeyes also can extend their win streak against Michigan to six games. Michigan needs a win to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season. There's a lot of heat on second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, so a win today would be huge. You shouldn't need to get excited for this game, but just in case, check this out.
Weather: The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s.
Injuries: Michigan's official injury report can be found here. The Wolverines will be without leading rusher Brandon Minor (shoulder) and most likely starting safety Mike Williams (ankle). Minor's absence could really sting against Ohio State's stout defense. The Buckeyes are as healthy as they've been in a while. Jim Cordle and J.B. Shugarts are expected to start at left tackle and right tackle.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
1. Block Brandon Graham -- Sounds pretty straightforward, but few teams have been able to successfully keep the Michigan star defensive end out of the backfield. Ohio State must keep Graham away from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and find running room elsewhere. The Buckeyes' offensive line is coming off of its best game.
2. Throw downfield a few times -- This isn't exactly the Iowa secondary, which leads the Big Ten in interceptions. Michigan's back four have really struggled this season, and head coach Jim Tressel should let Pryor take some shots downfield with big-play wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio State shouldn't and won't get away from its bread-and-butter rushing attack. Michigan can't stop the run, either.
3. Keep Tate Forcier in the pocket -- The Michigan freshman quarterback creates big plays with his feet but can struggle when kept between the tackles. Ohio State's defensive ends and linebackers must keep contain on Foricer and make him complete passes within the pocket.
THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN
1. Force Pryor into mistakes -- Pryor has been very careful with the football since his four-turnover disaster against Purdue, but Michigan needs to force errors from the Buckeyes' sophomore. The Wolverines have to win the turnover battle and put pressure on Pryor with Graham and their other linemen.
2. Play 60 minutes -- Michigan's problems have come after halftime in recent weeks, as the Wolverines couldn't hold leads against Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Ohio State has outscored teams 83-31 in the third quarter this season, so Michigan can't stumble out of the locker room after the break.
3. Make Ohio State defense chase -- Forcier has freelanced his way into good situations this fall, and Michigan boasts a decent number of big-play threats. Without power back Brandon Minor, Michigan must force Ohio State to play in space and hope to gash the Buckeyes for big plays.
Greetings from The Shoe, where No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Ohio State meet with the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, almost certainly the Rose Bowl, at stake.
The Buckeyes come in as heavy favorites following their big win last week against Penn State, while Iowa tries to bounce back without quarterback Ricky Stanzi and win its first game in Columbus since 1991. Ohio State is 31-4-1 against Iowa since 1962. Put simply, this is the prime opportunity for Iowa to quiet its doubters and shock the Big Ten by going 4-0 in conference road games.
The weather is gorgeous with sunny skies, temperatures in the low- to mid-60s and light winds. It's unseasonably warm, and I'll definitely take it.
Injuries: Everyone knows about Stanzi, who will miss today's game and most likely next week's regular-season finale with a severely sprained right ankle. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg makes his first career start at quarterback. Iowa hopes to get safety Brett Greenwood (neck) and wide receiver Colin Sandeman (head) back for the game, while there's a chance running back Adam Robinson (ankle) could play. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is battling an ankle injury and sat out portions of practice this week. Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore should be a bigger factor today as he works back from a sprained knee. Ohio State's offensive line is probably the healthiest it has been all season, as tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams should be available today.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Force turnovers from Pryor -- Iowa leads the Big Ten in takeaways (26) and ties for the national lead in interceptions (19). The Hawkeyes defense must help out Vandenberg by forcing turnovers against Pryor, who has been more turnover prone this season.
2. Put Vandenberg in situations to succeed -- As good as Stanzi was in the fourth quarter, he put the defense in tough situations with interceptions. Iowa shouldn't throw too much at the young quarterback but take a few calculated risks and stretch the field with wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Vandenberg has the arm strength to make the throws, but he'll need time from the offensive line.
3. Win the battle at the line of scrimmage -- Iowa's defensive line essentially won the Penn State game. It needs a repeat performance against Pryor and the Buckeyes' offense. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes' offensive line must play its best game of the season against one of the nation's elite defensive fronts, led by Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
1. Turn up the heat on Vandenberg -- The Buckeyes have made life miserable for veteran quarterbacks and should be licking their chops against a guy making his first career start. Iowa's offensive line has underachieved a bit, and the Buckeyes will win this game if they consistently harass Vandenberg.
2. Run Pryor around the edges -- Iowa is the only Big Ten team yet to face Pryor, and the Hawkeyes really haven't seen a comparable quarterback. Pryor has run the ball well since the Purdue game and should test Iowa's speed around the edges. Despite Pryor's bad ankle, Ohio State can't be afraid to turn him loose.
3. Don't get overconfident -- The entire complexion of this game changed last Saturday, and Ohio State comes in as a huge favorite. The Buckeyes usually don't let outside factors affect their play, but they need to respect Iowa and not let the Hawkeyes hang around in this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods.
- It was a sad ending to Kellen Lewis' career at Indiana, but at least it didn't happen during the season, The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog.
- Michigan's highly rated 2005 recruiting class fell short of expectations, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. If the Wolverines play UMass in 2010, it won't be in the season opener, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Former Wisconsin wide receiver Luke Swan will be part of Michael Irvin's new reality TV show, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times.
- Ohio State's Jim Cordle would prefer to play center but is willing to stay at right tackle, while J.B. Shugarts could contend for the starting left tackle spot, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Buckeyes walk-on running back Bo DeLande faces a DUI charge, The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon writes in his blog.
- Purdue coach Danny Hope is used to following legends, Al Lesar writes in the South Bend Tribune.
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."