Buckeyes Face Questions This Spring

Ohio State retained all five players facing five-game suspensions for next season. Now what? With a handful of freshmen including quarterback Braxton Miller (picture) in the mix, the coaching staff must figure out how position reps will be split when practices get underway this spring.

The deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL Draft is firmly in the rearview window. As promised, five Ohio State juniors facing five-game suspensions to begin the 2011 season remained in college.

Now what will the Buckeyes do with them once spring football rolls around? How many reps will the suspended players receive in comparison to others who will be available for the Sept. 3 season opener against Akron? In the immediate aftermath of announcing the 23 newest members of the program Wednesday, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said those answers remain elusive at this point.

"I think you're asking questions that we have to ask ourselves," he said. "We haven't talked much football at all during recruiting so now those kinds of things will start to be involved. To react off the top of my head, will they be shortened, the reps? I don't know."

Of the five suspended players, four finished the season as the clear-cut starters at their positions. Those were quarterback Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and running back Dan Herron. Reserve defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is also part of the group that received suspensions for selling personal memorabilia following the 2008 season.

Pryor's role this spring would likely be that of a coach at best even without the suspension. The three-year starter underwent ankle surgery following his team's win against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and likely would have sat out spring practice even if not facing a suspension.

That opens up the quarterback competition. One of the primary beneficiaries of that situation is Braxton Miller, a five-star prospect who is enrolled in winter courses. Listed at 6-3, 210 pounds, Miller is viewed as a serious contender to be the first freshman in head coach Jim Tressel's tenure in Columbus to open the season as the starting quarterback.

"I think anytime you're here early, from any position it gives you an advantage to play football a little bit more," quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said. "I think that is really a major step for a quarterback, to be able to get 15 extra days of snaps."

However, Bollman pointed out that the pecking order at the position will be far from decided once spring practice draws to a close.

"Nothing will be settled after those spring practices, but maybe it will give us some idea of what the run we'll go into when we start practice (this fall)," he said. "The challenge for us will be to get those guys reps. The challenge for them will be to continue to improve and excel as they're getting those reps."

The other suspended players on offense might find themselves in situations similar to Pryor's. Herron – who goes by "Boom" – topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season for the first time in his career, Posey ended 2010 ninth in school history with 124 receptions and Adams started all 13 games at left tackle.

In the case of Posey and Herron, a number of young players will be fighting to assume those roles when the season starts.

"With Boom, how many reps does Boom need?" Bollman said. "He's kind of a proven guy and there's a lot of guys trying to catch up to him. DeVier's got to help a lot of the younger guys learn. His leadership role this spring is going to be key for us on the offense."

The team's depth at running back last season was viewed as a strong point on the offense. Youngsters Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde fought for time behind Herron and senior Brandon Saine. This season, Roderick Smith is expected to be a major player after taking a redshirt last season.

Bollman said the challenge for each of those backs is to prove that they are complete players.

"They've got to be able to do everything," he said. "That's going to be the challenge for those guys. Now some of the younger guys have to continue to add to all the different aspects of the football game as receivers, as pass blockers. That's going to be a challenge."

In the case of Adams, however, reps will be easier to come by because Bollman – who also serves as the offensive line coach – said there will be 10 offensive linemen in uniform this spring.

"Where his reps are, they might change a little bit but will we shorten then? No, not in that situation," the coach said.

Spring football is typically regarded as a proving ground for younger players. More reps are often given to them while older, more experienced players are afforded the chance to watch and – most importantly – stay healthy.

Through both sets of practices, Bollman said he expects the suspended players to be involved in the action in some form.

"All those guys have still key roles and may they get a couple less reps? Maybe, but I can't see that being significant like, ‘Hey, you're going to be out a couple of games, you're not going to rep,' " the coach said. "I don't see that. That's my first reaction."

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