Troy Smith had one of the more memorable years for an Ohio State quarterback last season, throwing for 2,282 yards, 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Smith also rushed for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns. His vision and decision making has been steadily improving and he's got the arm to make just about any throw on the football field. I don't think he will be in the Heisman hunt, but he should have another solid season and could cement his legacy in Ohio State history if he goes 3-0 against Michigan.
As with any quarterback, Justin Zwick is one play away from being "the man" at quarterback even though Smith has been durable. Zwick was one of the most highly touted quarterbacks coming out of high school in a long time but never really put it together. Somewhat of a victim of circumstance, by time the staff's patience wore off with Zwick, Smith got the nod and got a new look offense with it. With his performance last year, Smith ran away with the job and unlike last spring, there is no question on who the starter is. I don't know if Zwick could win many big games if Smith goes down, but he's an experienced backup. Sophomore Todd Boeckman will fill in at the #3 spot with redshirt freshman Robby Schoenhoft waiting in the wings.
Junior Antonio Pittman returns as the starter at tailback. Pittman had a breakout year in 2005, rushing for 1,331 yards. Pittman's vision and athletic ability make him a prime player in the spread but he improved his inside running considerably last year. The big question is, what will Chris Wells' role be in the offense? Pittman will still get the majority of work, but I expect Wells to still nab about 30-40% of the carries. He is already enrolled at Ohio State and has the benefit of practicing in the spring. The luxury of having Pittman and Wells is the contrasting styles. Pittman provides more speed, while Wells brings power to the running game.
Sophomores Maurice Wells and Erik Haw will battle for the remaining playing time. Wells showed how quick he is last year but still needs to show some more toughness up the middle instead of breaking outside so much. Haw was arrested on drugs charges, which started off a rather forgettable first season. He has excellent size and speed but needs to put it all together quick to get reps in this talented backfield. Tailback Shaun Lane will likely move back to cornerback, given the depth here.
At fullback should be a combo of Stan White and Dionte Johnson. Stan White plays fullback as well as an "H-Back" in Ohio State's double end sets positioned off the line. White is a versatile athlete, he works the flat area well and is a solid blocker. Johnson could see more of the time in I formation sets because of his excellent iso blocking ability.
Troy Smith loses a very good target in Santonio Holmes who declared early for the draft. The Buckeyes do return quite a bit of talent however. Anthony Gonzalez will replace Holmes and split end after playing primarily from an inside slot position his first two seasons. Gonzalez is similar to Holmes in the fact he is an outstanding athlete, runs good routes and has reliable hands. Ted Ginn returns at flanker and it will be up to Gonzalez to take some heat off of him. Ginn started off slow last season given the amount of rolling coverages, brackets and double teams he faced but was more productive as the season went on. He has steadily picked up the nuances of the position and is the without question the best athlete playing college football. The sky's the limit certainly but defenses know by now what he can do and will again throw most of the attention his way.
Backing up Gonzalez will be senior Roy Hall. Hall is big and physical, and can break tackles in the open field but hasn't put a standout season together yet. The slot position could go a number of ways but expect it to come down to Albert Dukes and Brian Robiske. Dukes is more of a speedster while Robiske is a big framed, strong handed possession receiver. Devin Jordan hasn't seen the field yet because of injury, and Brian Hartline may be rusty with his last significant playing minutes coming in his junior year in high school (he did play some in the Big33 game). Hartline is a speedster and could grab some time in the rotation if he comes on early. If Ray Small doesn't red shirt, he could be a surprise here as well.
A disappointing position last season to say the least. Ryan Hamby dropped a huge pass in the game against Texas and was out with injury most of the year, while Rory Nicol missed the entire year. The bright spot was Marcel Frost who could be a real mismatch problem for many teams. Frost is a very athletic big man who has solid hands and is steadily improving. He will enter the spring as the starter but will have to hold off Rory Nicol who is back from his injury. Brandon Smith adds an undersized but athletic option to the fold and he could see time in an H-back type role.
Alex Boone started several games at tackle last season and showed why he was one of the best offensive line prospects in the country coming out of high school. Boone will start at left tackle this season and if his pass protection skills hold up, he could be a good one there. Steve Rehring will back him up, and could be the top backup for several positions along the line. Kirk Barton will start at right tackle. He missed several games last year due to injury but finished the year very strong. Barton is one of the better tackles in the conference and should get some pre-season honors. Tim Schafer will be on the two deep at tackle and Jon Skinner could be in the mix here as well.
The interior line still has some question marks as to who will play where. Doug Datish could play either guard or center. I expect Datish to move back to left guard, his position of 2004. T.J. Downing will again start at right guard and combined with Datish would offer a very good run blocking tandem inside. Kyle Mitchum is a candidate for one of the backup positions inside but isn't where he was expected to be this far into his career. Ben Person will also provide some depth inside.
If Datish settles in at guard, expect Jim Cordle to get the nod at center. He was impressive early before going down early in 05' with a foot injury. Walk-on's Andrew Moses and Tyler Whaley will also be in the mix here. If Cordle is ready, they should stick with him but if he's not, Datish will likely take over here. Given the fact this line is very interchangeable, it should all fall in to place.
By now, everyone knows what Ted Ginn can do here. He is the most explosive player in the nation and is literally a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. One area he needs to work on however is fielding the ball better. This is something he and Santonio Holmes made look excruciatingly difficult in some games last year. The Buckeyes are obviously set here.
The kicking game loses Josh Huston but capable Ryan Pretorius is the front runner to take his spot. Pretorius has a pretty interesting story. He is a former rugby player from South Africa; he will be a 26 year old sophomore with three years of eligibility left. Reports out of Columbus say he has a strong leg and could be another Buckeye NFL kicking prospect. Also look for red shirt freshman Aaron Pettrey to be in the mix here. Kicker Jonathan Skeete is trying to get back on the team after being arrested on drug charges as well.
Sophomore Punter AJ Trapasso did a fine job punting last season, averaging 40.4 yards per punt. He has three years of eligibility left.
Turel Previews '06 Big Ten: OSU Offense
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