NCF Nation: Jaamal Berry

Jordan Hall doubtful for Buckeyes

November, 3, 2011
11/03/11
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Ohio State's depth at tailback -- and maybe even more importantly, its kick return game -- has taken another hit. Head coach Luke Fickell said Thursday that Jordan Hall, the team's No. 2 running back, is "probably doubtful" against Indiana because of an ankle injury.

If Hall can't go, that would be two running backs unavailable for the Buckeyes. Jaamal Berry was suspended this week after he was charged with assault.

But tailback depth shouldn't be too much of a problem for Ohio State. Dan Herron has been terrific since returning from his suspension, rushing for 274 yards in two games. Carlos Hyde, who ran for more than 100 yards against Nebraska before Herron came back, will be elevated to the No. 2 back. Hyde voiced his displeasure over his reduced role on Twitter and did not play last week against Wisconsin, but Fickell said Hyde has "kept his mind right."

"This could be a very good opportunity for him," Fickell said.

Rod Smith, who has been working out some with the Buckeyes' linebackers, will also be available at running back.

The bigger issue if Hall can't play might be on special teams. Hall ranks third in the Big Ten in kick returns at 30.2 yards per attempt. Last week, he returned a Wisconsin kick 42 yards to help set up the game-winning score.

Fickell said Corey "Philly" Brown, Chris Fields and Devin Smith could chip in on kick returns in Hall's absence, and Herron might get some work there, too.

The Buckeyes are heavy favorites to beat 1-8 Indiana at home this week, but Hall could be a key player down the stretch as they contend for the Leaders Division title.

Wisconsin-Ohio State pregame

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few notes from warmups here at The Shoe, as we get ready for No. 15 Wisconsin and Ohio State.
  • Ohio State running back/return man Jaamal Berry is dressed and went through warmups. Berry's status hasn't changed despite being named a suspect in an alleged assault last week and being sued by the victim. We'll see if Berry actually plays or not.
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and S Dezmen Southward, both of whom were banged up last week at Michigan State, went through warmups and don't appear to be limited.
  • Ohio State's throwback uniforms to honor its 1961 national championship team certainly have the retro look. They also look a little like pajamas. Anyone agree?
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell confirmed on Thursday that sophomore Kenny Guiton is the team's new backup quarterback.

Guiton, who started seeing increased reps before the Illinois game, has zoomed past senior Joe Bauserman on the depth chart. Bauserman started the Buckeyes' first three games but struggled mightily against better competition and couldn't get anything going while relieving an injured Braxton Miller in the second half at Nebraska. Now it would be Guiton going in if anything happened to Miller in Saturday's game against Wisconsin.

Fickell said he would still be comfortable using Bauserman but has liked the way Guiton has performed in practice.

“Kenny’s done a great job," Fickell told reporters. "[It's] his ability to have some energy and continue to fight throughout everything to get better, his ability to jump in on special teams ... You want people out there who have emotion and can give you something. There’s still a plan for both of those guys. Both have a role, and I think whatever is needed they are all willing to do."

Fickell also said there is no change yet in the status of running back/kick returner Jaamal Berry, who is a suspect in an alleged assault. He said the team is waiting on the legal system to run its course before making a determination on a possible suspension.
Ohio State running back/return man Jaamal Berry is a suspect in an alleged assault that took place early Friday morning in Columbus.

No charges have been filed, but athletic director Gene Smith is aware of the situation and told The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper, that Berry will be suspended if he's charged in the incident.
The latest incident occurred at 2:20 a.m. Friday on Vine Street, behind North Market, and involved a 21-year-old non-OSU student. The victim was "struck in the face with a closed fist," according to the Columbus police report. ...

The victim, who The Lantern has chosen not to name at this time, said that Berry and his friend were yelling vulgar remarks at him. After asking why they were yelling, the victim said that Berry crossed the street and punched his friend, and then punched him in the face with a closed fist.

Last month, Berry was treated and released from OSU Medical Center for a health issue after being involved in what university police called an assault. No charges were filed in the case.

Berry has appeared in five games this season and has seven kickoff returns for 150 yards and 169 all-purpose yards.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's an overcast, cool game with a threat of some rain here at Ohio Stadium. The weather could potentially impact the passing game, which probably favors Ohio State more than Michigan State.

Buckeyes running back Jaamal Berry, who was reportedly involved in an unusual and still unclear incident which required that he seek medical treatment earlier in the week, is in uniform and warmed up. So he must be OK. With the way Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde have been playing, Berry might not be needed.

For Michigan State, offensive lineman Jared McGaha (knee) returns from injury and should play at one of the guard spots. That should help a banged-up Spartans offensive line. Injured center Blake Treadwell (knee) did not make the trip. Nose tackle Anthony Rashad-White also is back after missing last week's Central Michigan game, and wide receiver Keshawn Martin is available as well.
Luke Fickell confirmed on Thursday what every Ohio State fan hoped was coming: Braxton Miller is the Buckeyes' new starting quarterback.

The true freshman replaces senior Joe Bauserman a week after Bauserman struggled mightily at Miami, completing just 2-of-14 passes. Now it's Miller time against Colorado on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBraxton Miller will get his first start Saturday against Colorado.
It's a bold choice considering that Fickell is basically putting the team in the hands of a very green player at the game's most important position, especially considering Fickell is only on a one-year contract. He's attaching his sail to a quarterback who's bound to make mistakes; Miller threw an interception and fumbled twice against the Hurricanes. The one thing you could say in Bauserman's favor was that he is nearly allergic to forcing throws into tight coverage and he values ball security.

But what other choice did Fickell have, really? It became pretty clear in the Toledo game and then painfully obvious in South Florida that Bauserman doesn't have the tools to be a big-time playmaker, at least not given the Buckeyes' inexperience at receiver. Were this a typical Ohio State offense not ravaged by suspensions and injury, then perhaps a game manager like Bauserman would be the correct choice to run the show.

This Buckeyes team, however, needs all the help it can get moving the ball forward. And Miller, for all he lacks in experience, has the one skill that's hard to replace: the kid can run away from defenders when there's trouble. Now defenses must constantly be aware of Miller's ability to tuck the ball and take off as well as his passing. The running game with Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith is already the offense's strength, and now it has another option.

I'd say the passing game might be scaled back a bit now with a freshman under center, but could it really get any smaller than it was last week?

It's fascinating that Miller takes over as the starter in Game 4, just as Terrelle Pryor did in 2008 as a freshman. Of course, Miller would likely be wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard if Pryor were still in school. The Buckeyes would love for Miller to match Pryor's 8-1 record as a starter his freshman season.

But fans who expect Miller to come in and be the savior are probably unrealistic. He's a talented player, but he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire during his limited time in two games this season. The Ohio State offense still has issues in the receiving game, which may not be solved until DeVier Posey returns. The Buckeyes don't want to throw Bauserman overboard, but he can still help this team if Miller gets hurt or is ineffective.

And yet this move gives a boost of excitement not only to a fan base hungry for a change but potentially for a team that has had a rough two weeks on the field. The future begins now for Miller and the Buckeyes.
It's a question that has lingered around Ohio State ever since the Allstate Sugar Bowl: How exactly will the Buckeyes blend in the four suspended players -- including three key starters -- when they become eligible midway through this season?

While the answer to that won't come for a few more weeks, head coach Luke Fickell gets a good chance to figure that out this week.

That's because three players who were suspended for the opener for receiving impermissible benefits at a charity event -- starting cornerback Travis Howard, starting running back Jordan Hall and reserve defensive back Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown -- have been reinstated to the team this week, along with linebacker Jordan Whiting, who served a one-game ban for his role in the tattoo trading.

Howard and Hall in particular were expected to play important roles. In their absence, the Buckeyes received good play from cornerback Dominic Clarke and running backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith in the 42-0 opening win over Akron. So now what? Does Fickell just plug the suspended guys back into their starting jobs? Or does he stay with the guys who did nothing wrong and played well when given an opportunity?

Fickell said nothing has been determined about those starting spots and won't be until this week's practice sessions. But he also realizes how important his handling of this situation will be.

"Those guys coming back are great assets to us," Fickell said. "But we want to make sure that they don't just jump back in there, because those guys have filled in and stepped up and took their game to another level. They deserve the same situation they were in last week. We're going to make it a great example that hey, those guys that come back have got to earn everything. Just like our entire team does; we're going to earn everything."

Fickell said the returning suspended players are "accepting it and willing to go out there and practice" in an effort to get their jobs back. This could signal how the Buckeyes work in running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive linemen Soloman Thomas when their suspensions end after the fifth game. In the case of the first three of those players, they are proven veterans and most likely the most talented guys at their positions. But will chemistry be affected if they step back in to replace those who may have excelled in their absence?

Running back is already becoming a crowded position. With Hall back and Jaamal Berry (hamstring) expected to be available this week against Toledo, the Buckeyes' backfield will have doubled in one week. And that's before Herron comes back. Keeping everyone happy might be a tricky balancing act.

"I think those guys can all co-exist," Fickell said.

Ohio State may start to find out this week just how well that works.

Some other quick Buckeyes notes:
  • Fickell said quarterbacks Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller would both continue to play, probably in the same roles as last week. He said he liked the way both quarterbacks played against Akron.
  • Fickell received a game ball from athletic director Gene Smith following the Akron win. But as has been his attitude since he took the job, Fickell deflected attention from himself.
  • Toledo coach Tim Beckman used to coach alongside Fickell when he was Ohio State's cornerbacks coach in 2005 and 2006. Fickell said he spent time with Beckman this summer during the Buckeyes camps. "It's just like if I was playing my brother," Fickell said.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At 6-foot-5 and 293 pounds, Ohio State center Mike Brewster doesn't exactly float like a butterfly. But before Saturday's game against Akron, the Buckeyes' All-American might as well have been walking on air.

"I don't think I could feel my feet when I was running out of the tunnel," the senior and four-year starter said. "It's a feeling I haven't had since I've been here. It's always special, but today with starting a new era and everything that has gone on, it was unbelievable to get back out there."

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteLuke Fickell began his tenure as Ohio State's head coach with a 42-0 victory against Akron.
Ohio State crushed the appropriately-named Zips 42-0 as a team with its talent advantage should do in a season opener at home. The game merited watching because it signaled what the Buckeyes hope was the end to their offseason troubles and the beginning of Luke Fickell's tenure as head coach. As far as new directions go, this one went about as well as could possibly be expected.

The Sweater Vest is gone. The Man in Black now rules the Shoe. Fickell espoused predecessor Jim Tressel's senatorial, sartorial style for a short-sleeve black windbreaker despite temperatures on the field exceeding 100 degrees.

"I'd rather be hot than cold," Fickell said. "Maybe that is the wrestler mentality that I grew up with."

Fickell said he liked the difficult playing conditions and that he even walked up and down the sidelines reminding players about the heat. He wanted to see how everyone dealt with the adversity.

Not like he needed Mother Nature for that. The Buckeyes have been dealing with controversy and scrutiny for months during an NCAA investigation and a rash of player suspensions. They took the field Saturday missing five projected starters and two key reserves. With running back Jaamal Berry also sidelined by a hamstring injury, they had only two healthy running backs available.

Given all that, some slippage seemed inevitable. But Ohio State looked like Ohio State, dominating behind a rebuilt defense. Akron managed just 90 total yards, compared to 517 for the Buckeyes.

"Even though we don't have some big names like in the past, I think we've got some young guys who are fully capable of getting the job done," linebacker Andrew Sweat said.

The opener might have also cleared up the quarterback competition for the foreseeable future.

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman was expected to split reps with true freshman Braxton Miller, but other than one three-and-out series in the first half, Bauserman ran the offense until the game got out of hand. And he ran it well, completing 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. While many fans had clamored for Miller's speed and escapability, Bauserman showed that he's no statue in the pocket. The former minor-league baseball player turned a broken play into a 15-yard touchdown run on the Buckeyes' first drive, and he also made throws on the run and turned potential trouble into positive yardage.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteQuarterback Joe Bauserman rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter. Bauserman also threw for three scores to lead No. 18 Ohio State to a 42-0 win over Akron.
"I tried to lead the best I could," Bauserman said. "You dream about it, and to come out here and play well felt good."

Miller also had his moments late, leading a second-half touchdown drive and finishing 8-of-12 for 130 yards. Fickell said the team needs both quarterbacks and will continue to use them in games, though Bauserman clearly owns the starter's job for now.

Fickell didn't change too many things from the Tressel era. The Buckeyes often lined up in the I-formation or with two tight ends. But the way they used the tight ends was different. For years, they were little more than glorified blockers, all but ignored in the passing game. On Saturday, junior Jake Stoneburner caught three touchdown passes, the first tight end in Ohio State history to pull off that feat.

"I didn't play tight end here, or maybe that would have happened before," Fickell joked. "[Stoneburner] has been an integral part of the offense all through camp. I expected it, to be quite honest."

All lessons learned from the Buckeyes in this opener must be graded on an Akron curve. Second-year Zips head coach Rob Ianello brought only one more career victory than Fickell into Saturday's game. Ohio State has had tougher scrimmages.

Still, Fickell enjoyed an encouraging debut free of the kind of miscommunication breakdowns and sideline confusion that sometimes plague new coaches. For a program that hadn't experience much good news in several months, getting back to winning on the field was like dancing in the clouds.

"It felt good not have to listen to what everyone else was saying about us," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said, "and just show them what we could do."

Ohio State fans finally got a look at freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, but it's not one they'll want to remember.

Miller came in for the Buckeyes' third series, which coincided with the start of the second quarter. After he scrambled for a short gain on first down, he had a pass dropped by tight end Reid Fragel and then had to fall on a bad snap on third down.

Joe Bauserman had more success in the first quarter during his two series. The senior went 3-for-3 for 47 yards and scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown, showing more athleticism than fans had given him credit for. Ohio State would have scored on its second series, too, but Rod Smith fumbled inside the 5.

Early impressions: Ohio State is much too good for Akron, especially in the trenches. Fullback Zach Boren has made some excellent blocks to spring the tailbacks. Only a couple of mistakes on offense has kept the Buckeyes from opening up a huge early lead.

One last note: running back Jaamal Berry (hamstring) warmed up with the starters but has yet to play. Doesn't look like he'll be needed today.

Notes from Ohio State warm-ups

September, 3, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- First, the most important news. Luke Fickell, as promised, is indeed wearing black. He came out in a black warm-up jacket despite temperatures in the mid-90s. We'll see how long that jacket lasts.

In actual important news, Joe Bauserman took the warm-up snaps with the first team offense. No surprise there. He should start, but Braxton Miller will play a lot.

Everyone will be watching the quarterbacks, of course, but I'll also be keeping a close eye on the running backs. With Daniel "Boom" Herron and Jordan Hall suspended, the Buckeyes' once deep stable has thinned. Jaamal Berry was supposed to be questionable today with a hamstring problem, but he warmed up and took snaps with the first team. If he is slowed or doesn't play, it's basically down to Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith at tailback. Both are bigger backs but not particularly shifty.

And how much will Akron try to challenge young cornerbacks Bradly Roby and Dominic Clarke? Surely the Zips will test them, but do they have enough talent to make Ohio State nervous?
Three more Ohio State players, including two projected starters, will join the so-called "Tat-5" (now Tat-4) on the sideline Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

Running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey Brown have been suspended for Saturday's opener against Akron for receiving impermissible benefits at a local charity event they attended earlier this year. The players each received less than $300 in benefits. Ohio State self-reported the violations, and while it has petitioned the NCAA to reinstate the players for the remainder of the season, the school is considering "additional sanctions."
"We take this matter seriously," athletic director Gene Smith said in a prepared statement. “Our commitment to institutional integrity is steadfast, and we must hold everyone associated with our athletics programs accountable for lapses in judgment. We believe in transparency with the NCAA, all regulatory bodies and all of Buckeye Nation."

There are a few ways to look at this. The timing certainly doesn't help, as Ohio State is awaiting a ruling from the NCAA's Committee on Infractions for violations involving former coach Jim Tressel, former quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four current players -- RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, LT Mike Adams and DL Solomon Thomas -- who are suspended for the first five games.

The NCAA could level additional allegations against Ohio State -- the dreaded second wave that might result in more severe penalties -- or simply rule on what it discussed at an Aug. 12 hearing in Indianapolis. If no additional allegations come down, Ohio State should survive major penalties.

Ohio State's cooperation with the NCAA throughout the Tat-5 case seems to have helped its cause, and these new violations were self-reported by the school. Ohio State wants to convince the NCAA it is monitoring its players as closely as possible.

Still, Smith's claim this past December that memorabilia sales and players receiving benefits aren't a systematic problem seems very tough to believe. This issue goes deeper than the Tat-5.

Thursday's announcement gives the NCAA more incentive to keep studying the Ohio State program. The infraction committee's ruling on Ohio State is expected sometime in the next two months.

As for the on-field effect, Hall's suspension and Jaamal Berry's lingering hamstring injury mean Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith likely will log plenty of carries against Akron. Running back depth remains a strength for the Buckeyes, but things could change if both Hall and Berry miss extended time before Herron returns from his suspension.

Sophomore Dominic Clarke should get the start in place of Howard at cornerback. Ohio State isn't deep at cornerback, as redshirt freshman Bradley Roby will make his first start on the other side Saturday.

Ohio State fill-ins on the spot

August, 30, 2011
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In a different world where Ohio State players had never received any free tattoos or traded memorabilia, Saturday's lineup against Akron would look a lot different.

As it is, three key offensive starters and one defensive backup are suspended for the first five games, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor is gone for good. That means young and inexperienced players are taking on a larger role at the start of the season. But Luke Fickell said this isn't a Keanu Reeves movie, so don't refer to the new guys as "The Replacements."

"We're not trying to focus on them on being replacements," the Buckeyes' head coach said. "It's just like we had seniors graduate -- it's next man up. We're not going to sit back and wait until those guys are able to come back. Our idea is, hey, that guy steps forward and takes his opportunity.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Joe Bauserman
Greg Bartram/US PresswireJoe Bauserman is expected to start at quarterback in Saturday's opener.
"Everybody knows the story of Wally Pipp, and if that's the case, that's the best thing that can happen to us. Someone will have to come and fight their way back into the lineup when they're eligible to play."

With that said, here's a look at how Ohio State plans to fill in the gaps:

-- Quarterback. Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller are officially listed as co-starters, but Fickell said Tuesday that Bauserman would get the first snaps on Saturday.

"It's leadership," Fickell said when asked why Bauserman will start. "He's done a really good job through camp. I've been impressed with the things we've asked him to do and what he's done."

But Fickell insisted that both quarterbacks would be needed this year and that he wants to see them in the heat of competition. Especially the youngster, Miller.

"Obviously, his abilities have impressed us all, and that's why he's here," Fickell said. "Until you do it and perform, we'll keep our judgments to ourselves. We know he can do it. We know he has the ability to do it. Being able to handle all the situations is what's important. We don't lack confidence in what he does, I can tell you that."

-- Running back. If there's a real chance at a Wally Pipp situation, maybe it's here. Daniel "Boom" Herron rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, but the Buckeyes have a stable of impressive, young backs who have a chance to shine in the first five games.

That stable will be a little lighter early on, as Jaamal Berry is questionable for the opener with lingering hamstring problems. Junior Jordan Hall, a versatile, do-it-all performer, is listed as the starter, with bigger backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as his backups. Even without Herron, Ohio State expects its running game to be the strength of the team.

-- Wide receiver. DeVier Posey is the best and by far the most experienced wideout on the roster. In his absence, sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown must take on a larger responsibility as the No. 1 target.

"He's a guy who has really stepped up from the spring," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "He's the one guy who's really got any experience. But it's a totally different role for him now than last season."

Brown might be playing more of a complementary role if Posey were eligible. Instead, younger players will be pushed into action. Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed won a starting receiver's job out of fall camp.

"The wide receivers have [been] unbelievable," Fickell said. "They've been as impressive a group, as I think, throughout camp. Maybe that's a little because we knew we had a lot of young guys, and we didn't know what to expect."

-- Left tackle. Mike Adams is one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackles in the league. Bauserman and Miller won't have that security blanket. But the Buckeyes feel they're in good hands with sophomore Andrew Norwell, who was an ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman team member last season.

The problem with Adams' absence is it hurts the overall depth. Ohio State lists three true freshmen as backups on the offensive line, and redshirt freshman Eric Kramer is next in line behind Norwell.

"I'm not going to lie," center Mike Brewster said, "we're a little thin."

-- Defensive end. Solomon Thomas sealed the Sugar Bowl win with his interception against Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, but he was likely ticketed for a backup role. Ohio State should still be in good shape up front with senior Nathan Williams and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins at end, while tackle John Simon can slide outside as well. Again, experienced depth is the biggest issue, as a pair of freshmen are currently listed as the backups at defensive end.

Reinforcements will arrive by Game 6. The Buckeyes hope the new guys -- don't call them "the replacements" -- can hold the fort until then.
Joe Bauserman or Braxton Miller? That's been the main question most of the past month for Ohio State.

And the Buckeyes' official depth chart for Saturday's opener against Akron has it listed exactly that way at quarterback: Joe Bauserman or Braxton Miller. Both Bauserman, a senior, and Miller, the true freshman, will play against the Zips, and the Buckeyes traditionally try to play two quarterbacks early in the season. But we still don't know who will start, though the smart money remains on the veteran Bauserman getting the first snap.

That wasn't the only interesting thing about the depth chart.

Jordan Hall is listed as the starting tailback, with Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith sharing backup duties. Conspicuously absent is Jaamal Berry, who was dealing with some hamstring issues in preseason camp.

Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed has claimed a starting spot at the 'X' receiver position ahead of Chris Fields, who is backing up Corey "Philly" Brown at the 'Y' position.

The biggest surprise, if you want to call it that, is redshirt freshman Bradley Roby listed as the starter at right cornerback. Talk about a young two-deep there. His backup is true freshman Doran Grant. If you're Akron, don't you have to test those young guys early?

The depth chart illustrates how young Ohio State is at some key positions. Nine starters are either freshmen or sophomores (10, if you count Miller). Four of the top backups on the offensive line are freshmen, while the other is sophomore guard Ivon Blackman. That's a group that can't afford many injuries. Of the 22 players on the defensive two-deep, only six are seniors, and only three of those (Tyler Moeller, Andrew Sweat and Nathan Williams) are starters.

Chalk up the relative lack of experience as another challenge this season for Luke Fickell.
The Ohio State backfield won't have its "Boom" for the first five games this season. But it could still be explosive.

Dan "Boom" Herron, who led the Buckeyes with 1,155 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago, will just be a spectator while serving his five-game suspension to start the year. A quartet of players is trying to replace him, and despite their relative inexperience, they could still comprise the strength of the Ohio State attack.

"You'd have to say those running backs are a big part of the offense, whether it's running or receiving," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said when asked to identify a strength on his side of the ball.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Jaamal Berry
Greg Bartram/US PRESSWIREIf Jaamal Berry can shake a nagging hamstring injury he could be the Buckeyes answer at running back.
The Buckeyes have many talented options, even if a clear cut No. 1 tailback hasn't yet emerged.

Sophomore Jaamal Berry and junior Jordan Hall have already made their mark as special teams aces, and they're the swiftest of the bunch. Sophomore Carlos Hyde and redshirt freshman Rod Smith are both 230-plus pound power backs. Bollman says all four will play this year, and all are good receivers. He'll be able to mix and match as he pleases.

"You're never afraid to run any of them, and you can keep them fresh, which is a big deal," he said.

If there's been a slight surprise this camp, it's been Hyde. Seemingly behind the others after spring practice, he has taken a lot of first-team reps with Berry missing time because of a nagging hamstring injury. Hyde has shown an aggressiveness and willingness to use his strength.

"I have a better feel for the offense; I'm comfortable now when I'm running plays that I know what I'm doing," Hyde said. "I understand I'm a big guy, and I try to use that to my advantage when defenders try to tackle me."

Berry has dealt with injuries during his young career but has the skill set to take over as the main ball carrier. Hall will get a lot of playing time, but not always necessarily in the backfield. He has lined up as a slot receiver plenty this preseason and figures to pose a versatile threat.

"He's a guy who's not real big, but he's really a talented, talented overall football player," Bollman said. "He's a great return man, he's been a Wildcat quarterback for us, he's a nifty runner and a good blocker and a great receiver. This is a guy who makes plays."

Smith appeared destined for a breakout season after drawing raves during last year's bowl practice and having a good spring. But Bollman said he's "maybe in the learning stages a little bit more" than his other competitors because of his inexperience.

Regardless, the Buckeyes look to have a little bit of everything at their disposal in the backfield.

"We could bring back the thunder and lighting thing with me and Rod as the big guys and Jaamal and Jordan as the quick and fast guys," Hyde said. "That would be a pretty sweet combination."

With a first-time starter at quarterback, even less experience at wide receiver and a veteran offensive line, it makes sense that Ohio State will rely heavily on its run game at the beginning of the year. Even without Herron, the Buckeyes should remain a powerful team on the ground.

"I feel like me, Jordan, Jaamal and Ron will step up to the plate when the time is needed," Hyde said. "And when we get 'Boom' back, then we'll be even better."
Meant to post this Friday, but we finally wrap up the Big Ten preseason position rankings with the individual specialists. I'll break down the top five kickers, punters and return men in the league (sorry, long snappers).

[+] EnlargeDerek Dimke
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireIllinois kicker Derek Dimke led the Big Ten with 24 field goals last season.
Although the Big Ten loses its most famous specialist from 2010 -- Michigan State punter Aaron Bates -- and Nebraska says goodbye to All-American Alex Henery, there are a few standout players back in the fold. Quite a few strong punters depart, although keep an eye on the sophomores coming back.

Let's take a look.

KICKER

1. Derek Dimke, Illinois, senior: Dimke had a terrific junior season, converting a league-high 24 field goals on 29 attempts. He also was perfect on extra-point tries, going 43-for-43, and led the Big Ten with 22 touchbacks. Dimke earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and will be on the radar for the Lou Groza Award this fall.

2. Dan Conroy, Michigan State, junior: Thanks to Conroy, the loss of standout kicker Brett Swenson didn't sting too much for the Spartans. Conroy led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage, converting 14 of 15 opportunities, and missed only one of his 46 extra-point tries. Conroy earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts.

3. Philip Welch, Wisconsin, senior: Doesn't it seem like Welch has been at Wisconsin for a decade? The three-year starter enters his final season in Madison after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. Welch was perfect on 67 extra-point attempts last fall and went 17-for-22 on field-goal attempts.

4. Carson Wiggs, Purdue, senior: There's no doubt as to who has the strongest leg in the Big Ten, if not the country. Wiggs can connect from just about anywhere, as he showed in April during Purdue's spring game with a 67-yard field goal. His leg strength gets the attention, but Wiggs is a little underrated as an overall kicker. He connected on 15 of 19 attempts in 2010, going 4-for-4 between 40 and 49 yards, and had 11 touchbacks as Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff coverage.

5. Mitch Ewald, Indiana, sophomore: Ewald had an excellent freshman season for the Hoosiers, capitalizing on limited opportunities. He finished fourth in the league in field-goal percentage, connecting on 16 of 19 attempts, and he was perfect on 33 extra-point tries. Ewald had five games with multiple field goals and will once again be a big weapon for IU this fall.

PUNTER

1. Brad Nortman, Wisconsin, senior: Like Welch, Nortman has been a fixture in Madison the past four years and enters 2011 as the league's most experienced punter by far. Nortman averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2010, blasting eight punts of 50 yards or more and placing 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. He has averaged 42.1 yards per punt during his career.

2. Anthony Fera, Penn State, sophomore: Fera had an excellent freshman season for Penn State, which improved in punt coverage and other special teams areas. He averaged 41.4 yards per punt, placed 13 punts inside the opponents' 20 and had nine punts of 50 yards or longer. Fera also forced 19 fair catches.

3. Cody Webster, Purdue, sophomore: Webster helped Purdue address a need at punter and turned in an excellent freshman season. He finished fifth in the Big Ten in punting average (43.3 ypp), booming 17 punts of 50 yards or longer and placing 12 inside the opponents' 20.

4. Will Hagerup, Michigan, sophomore: Hagerup was the lone bright spot for Michigan's special teams in 2010. He started 10 games and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting average (43.6 ypp), a mark that ranked second in team history (minimum of 30 attempts). He placed 11 punts inside the 20.

5. Ben Buchanan, Ohio State, junior: Ohio State needs to be sharper in the kicking game this fall, and Buchanan will play a huge role. He averaged 41 yards on 44 attempts in 2010, placing 15 punts inside the opponents' 20 and forcing 17 fair catches. Expect Buchanan to take another step in his development this season.

RETURNER

1. Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota, senior: Already a record-setting return man, Stoudermire needs only 16 kick returns and 189 kick return yards to set NCAA all-time records in both categories. Stoudermire has 2,929 kick return yards, recording 30 runbacks or more in each of the past three seasons. He averaged 27.2 yards on returns in 2010.

2. Jordan Hall, Ohio State, junior: Hall is likely the Big Ten's best all-around returner. He finished second in the league in kick return average (27.9 ypr) and third in punt return average (9.9 ypr). Hall really emerged as Ohio State's go-to return man last season. It will be interesting to see if his return responsibilities change at all depending on who emerges as the Buckeyes' top running back.

3. Keshawn Martin, Michigan State, senior: Expect teams to punt the ball away from Martin this fall. He led the Big Ten and ranked 11th nationally in punt return average (14.2 ypr). His touchdown return against Wisconsin set the stage for Michigan State's come-from-behind win. Martin's kick return average of 17.8 yards should increase this fall.

4. Venric Mark, Northwestern, sophomore: For the first time in recent memory, Northwestern has a true difference maker in the return game. Mark came on strong late in his freshman year, finishing fourth in the league in kick return average (26.2 ypr) with a touchdown runback against Wisconsin. He also showed promise as a punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards on nine attempts.

5. Jaamal Berry, Ohio State, sophomore: Berry forms a dangerous Buckeye return tandem with Hall. He finished fifth in the league in kick return average (25.4 ypr) but had three more attempts than Hall. Berry clearly has big-play skills as a running back, so don't be surprised if he breaks off some big returns this fall.

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