Saturday was the best of times and worst of times. The endless conundrum of the Spring Scrimmage is that when the Buckeye offense is doing well, the defense is doing poorly. When your defense forces a turnover, then your offensive players are not protecting the football. Special teams touchdowns means that someone blew an assignment.
With a 37-29 win for the Scarlet, the following are some noteworthy observations.
- Ohio State had 4 players punting the ball around. Brandon Schnittker displayed a nice leg. He launched a few pretty nice punts, but the problem there is that I am not certain he knows where the ball is heading once it comes off of his foot - nor does anyone else. #49 Bryan Weaver was also thumping some punts. Then of course there was B.J. - who has used the time as Groom's understudy well from all appearances. Though fans might still see the occasional shank from him (Andy was exceptional in this regard), he has hang time that even Michael Jordan in his heyday would envy. I kept waiting for a NASA representative to accost him and enquire if they could use his leg to put the next piece of the space station into orbit while the shuttle fleet is grounded. Finally, there is Josh Huston. Huston banged some nice shots today. Huston may in fact be ready to step in at some point and at least provide depth at punter - maybe even start.
- My first look at Santonio Holmes in action was telling. Holmes and Gamble were both lined up fielding punts almost side by side. Besides looking a little longer and leaner than Holmes - Gamble and Santonio looked like they could have been brothers (at least with helmets on). They are very similar in terms of athleticism. It leaps out like the man with a chainsaw at a Halloween House. You react because you cannot help it.
- For a while it looked like there would be no spring game. There were players everywhere without pads. Clarett, Jacobs, Scott, Reynolds, Stepanovich, Fraser, Carpenter, Kudla, etc. all sat this scrimmage out.
- Cliff Reynolds was indeed on the sidelines. I did not see him play (though I easily could have missed it), but he was in uniform. He looks big enough to be a part of the team, and he also looks like a marine. There he stood - young men around him slumped a bit or resting with their weight on one leg, but not him. Corporal Reynolds had both legs spread in a military stance, his back was ramrod straight, and he had one arm cocked to the side. He looked like he was at parade rest.
The Game (by position)
- Thomas Matthews showed up to play today. He pressured the quarterback into at least on poor throw coming off of the edge (ala Cie Grant and Ken Dorsey/Beutjer). He also grabbed one of Bam Childress' fumbles and was headed into the end zone before being brought down in a mass of bodies.
- A. J. Hawk is simply a stud. If he keeps it up, Kentucky horse farms will be calling to make enquiries about him… Of all the recruits Ohio State signed over the last three years, he appears to be hands down the most instinctive linebacker. Hawk will play - and play well this fall.
- Mike D'Andrea. A couple of players had their coming out parties today. Mike was one of the guests of honor. An interception, a fumble recovery, some nice tackles, pursuing the ball carrier, lining up at multiple positions… Mike looked like he has progressed very nicely over the last 8 months. Who knows where he will end up in terms of a permanent position, but as a defensive coordinator - he has to be an exciting tool. Offenses might have to try and guess what he will do on any given play (OLB, ILB, DE). This gives the defense an advantage.
- Anthony Schlegel played well. It is important to remember that while others might have looked much better than he today, Schlegel is learning a whole new defense. As a transfer student who has just enrolled, Ohio State fans would do well to evaluate his performance much like they might Whitner or Youboty. Despite his experience at Air Force Academy, he is a new player on the Ohio State defense. As such, Schlegel looked like a solid pickup at worst and a star in the making at best. I still say that he was the steal of this past recruiting class and today did nothing to change my opinion.
- Santonio Holmes can climb up onto the float with Mike D'Andrea. He put on a parade for the fans to enjoy. This young man will be a star - and soon - so long as he works hard to continue making the improvements necessary. He displayed nice hands with an incredible move along the sidelines. He showed great shake and bake on his kickoff returns and topped it off with a fine burst to distance himself from pursuit. Route running can almost always use some improvement, but Santonio found holes and ran to them. The only negative is that Holmes' two fumbles deep in Gray's territory put his defensive teammates at a tremendous disadvantage. The result was 14 easy points and a Scarlet lead they could not overcome.
- John Hollins made some nice grabs. He should not be forgotten because he would likely start at a number of Big Ten schools. If one of the starters goes down, Hollins ensures that the drop-off will be minimal. He made enough nice plays that the guy next to me wanted to know who #84 was again. You could see that he was making a mental note of it for the future. Other fans would do well to follow suit.
- It was nice to see Angelo Chattams back on the field. His presence in pads speaks volumes about the personal progress he has made. If for no other reason, he deserves a positive mention here for the hard work and dedication it took to be back with the team once again. He could have quit and walked away. It would have been the easiest route to take. Some fans might have even secretly rejoiced and hoped OSU could sign another blue-chipper in his place. Instead, he stuck it out and is now reaping the rewards with some playing time and 5 catches in the spring game. Kudos to Angelo.
- Bam Childress teamed up with Holmes to provide the ying-yang balance. He had 4 receptions for 109 yards as well has his kick return for the Scarlet (Holmes had 4 receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown return for the Gray). Childress did what he has so often done before - wowed the crowd in a scrimmage situation. His quicks were breathtaking. His staying with the play after a ball was tipped should be commended. Sometimes this just ends up a dropped pass anyway despite all the effort. However, occasionally it can turn into a big play as it did Saturday afternoon. After getting a handle on the pigskin, he turned upfield for a score that ultimately sealed the outcome of the game. Had he quit on the play, the Scarlet might have come out losers this afternoon instead of winners. If Childress can continue to develop as a receiving and return threat (and cut down on his turnovers), he will be a dangerous weapon. VERY dangerous weapon.
- Drew Carter looks like he is poised to have a breakout senior season. Today he caught 6 passes for 85 yards. He is long, lean, and a leaping machine. His strides are fluid (reminiscent of Robert Smith) and deceptively quick. If he can merely gain a bit more consistency - he will be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Imagine an Ohio State offense lining up Gamble, Carter, Jenkins, and Holmes on a 4 wide receiver split, Clarett in the backfield, and Krenzel at quarterback… As the opposing defense - who in the world do you concentrate on in order to win the battle? You might as well just "play paper, rock, scissors" or draw straws. No matter what you do - you lose because someone is going to burn you.
- Roy Hall deserves some mention for his touchdown reception. It was not the fact that he scored that is noteworthy. What caught my eye was that on the touchdown, he used his large frame to fight off the defensive back and give himself the advantage. This kind of "small" detail is simply critical when you are in the red zone and space is tight. For fans wondering where the next Michael Jenkins might come from for OSU, Hall showed some nice development.
- One caveat before I begin here - from my seating vantage point, it was difficult at times to follow the secondary players on the far side of the field. As such, I will not guess but merely note what I was able to see…
- Ashton Youboty looked solid. He played the ball and not just his man. As much as it was assumed that he would come in at safety and Whitner at cornerback, just the opposite has occurred. This kid looks like a player.
- E. J. Underwood looks like he made more progress over the past year. Fans may recall that E. J. flashed incredible abilities to staying alongside his man this past fall. His only weakness was his occasional propensity not to look back for the ball. Today, E .J. played the football. Not only did he stay stride for stride with his defensive responsibility, he waited until the right moment and calmly swatted the ball away on multiple occasions. Look for Underwood to earn himself playing time in 2003 if this continues.
- Nate Salley, Everett, Allen, and Fox each seemingly played well (again though - at times my vantage point was limited). Gamble was his usual self - an incredible talent.
- In short, the OSU secondary should be much improved to start 2003 than where it stood in September of 2002.
- Jay Richardson clearly possesses athleticism. Whether he stays at defensive end or eventually finds himself in the defensive tackle position, number 99 will make a name for himself before leaving OSU. Jay has the great wingspan so valued on the line and spent the day bent on reaching the offensive players (especially the quarterbacks) and reminding them of who exactly he was/is.
- Joel Penton looks to have a great motor. He reminds me a bit of the '71 Pontiac my dad owned when I was a child. The body may not look like it is all that impressive from a distance, but what is stunning is that come what may - it would never stop unless you disconnect the wires. Eventually, he put the engine in a second car body and it ran until that one rusted out as well… Penton has that kind of motor. Like Richardson, I am not certain where the coaches will put him over the span of his career, but I am fairly certain he will earn playing time.
- Anderson, Green, and Pitcock also played well. How well is for the coaches to decide because from field level it is difficult to discern what is going on in the middle of the morass of bodies. If it is any indicator, the running backs never found much room to roam in the middle of the offensive lines.
- Grading an offensive line is notoriously difficult without some film review. As such, singling out players might not be the best of ideas. Here are just a few observations:
- Nick Mangold appeared to have some difficulty at times with the shotgun snap to Smith.
- Adrien Clarke has indeed slimmed down. He is not so slim that he looks like a Survivor contestant, but if he can drop another 25 pounds between now and August, he will be a man amongst boys on the line. Not only will he still be a road grater, he will also have a quickness quotient unusual for a man of his stature.
- The line as a whole did a fine job holding off the defensive blitzes. Perhaps this is merely an indicator of the lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball with multiple starters missing. Still, it is encouraging to see for fans that have longed for a line with quality depth for almost 4 years. Look for the offensive line in 2003 to be the best since at least 1998 and possibly the best since Stringer and Pace shared the same locker room.
- Josh Huston looked the part of a scholarship kicker for Ohio State. After a bumpy ride in 2001 and 2002, Josh was comfortable in his kicks and punts. He made 3 field goals (21, 34, and 26 yards) despite a pretty decent wind blowing in the stadium.
- Bryan Weaver acquitted himself very well on the day. In 4 chances, he averaged almost 39 yards a shot.
- Mike Nugent did not attempt any field goals on the day but did boom a few kicks deep on kickoffs. He still has a leg - that much is obvious.
- One concern is the holder situation. The holder and snapper go unnoticed unless there is something wrong. Today's mistakes cost the Gray team a chance at winning the game in regulation when the snapper/holder exchange was not put down. The kick was blocked and Youboty ran it back for 2 points and an 8 point scarlet lead. The Buckeyes are clearly missing Andy Groom in this department. This summer will be spent ironing out the inconsistencies.
- Buckeye fans should be excited about this fall. Punt and kickoff returns did not engender much buzz in 2002, but they just might in 2003. Whether it was due to poor coverage on the part of special teams or not, Holmes and Childress definitely showed something. Either one could likely step in for Gamble at this point and perform admirably. The only question right now is one of ball security. If that is corrected, it is possible (and perhaps likely) that Holmes or Childress could provide some thrills for Buckeye fans and chills for opposing coaches.
- Ben Hartsock played as steady as always today. He managed 5 catches for 36 yards. Ho-hum. Just another day at the office…or is it? Ben is an under-rated pass catcher for the Buckeyes that works very hard to get open and just as hard to get extra yards after the reception. One play in particular stood out. Needing 6 yards to gain a first down and extend a drive, Hartsock caught a ball 4 yards out of the backfield and found himself immediately hit by Scarlet defenders. He fought for the extra yardage and by sheer will gained the 6 feet necessary for a first down. A great play that too often goes overlooked, it was a thing of beauty to those who care to appreciate it.
- Ryan Hamby showed up in a big way. Fans may or may not remember that it was Hamby's block against Michigan that cleared the path for Hall to score on the option pitch from Krenzel. Today Hamby showcased his receiving skills and caught half a dozen passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Not too shabby.
- Craig Krenzel did not play much. Besides, unless Craig suddenly regresses - fans and coaches know exactly what they have in him.
- Scott McMullen showed nice touch and zip on the ball. He seemed to frustrate the defense of the Scarlet early with his ability to deliver the passes before the rushers could reach him. After watching today, there should be no talk of Scott at 3rd string. Clearly he is better right now than either of the two developing Redshirt Freshmen. He ended the day with 11 passes for 63 yards with 7 completions.
- Justin Zwick. Ho-hum… Watching from the stadium, he seemed to have a nice day, but it was when I looked at the box score that I did a double take. Justin tossed 4 touchdowns. FOUR. He hit 17 of 29 passes for a completion percentage of 58%. Toss in his 203 yards passing without a single turnover, and Daniels has to be as giddy as a schoolgirl when considering Justin's future. As far as his style is concerned, Justin clearly is more of a pocket passer. He has a nice arm with a decent release (though not as quick as McMullen or Smith). Yet, he can run with the football, and he did not take negative yardage plays while trying to get rid of the pigskin. One play worthy of mentioning illustrated Justin's savvy and decision-making. After nearly being brought down by a would be tackler and then being confronted with their friends, he slung the ball over a receiver and out of bounds to prevent a negative play. Those types of plays add up over the course of a game or a season to either save or sink an offense.
- Troy Smith. Ho-hum… 19 of 37 for 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 12 carries for 21 yards was his final box score. Troy's talent is dazzling. While Zwick seems to go about his job in a blue-collar workmanlike fashion, Smith looks like a performer on a stage. His every move is riveting, leaving fans to wonder what he will do for an encore. He has exceptional foot speed for a player at his position and a cannon for an arm. Where he is still developing is with the mental aspect of the game. Considering his relative inexperience at the position, this is to be expected. The play of the day (at least from my perspective) was a Vickesque scramble where he should have been tackled at least twice but was able to elude his pursuers and get off a pass. It was a thing of beauty.
- Who will be the quarterback of the future? Who knows at this point. Either Smith or Zwick could seize the job and become the next star at OSU. What will likely determine the winner of the derby is simply who wants it more. Who will be willing to put in the extra time? Who will watch more film, work on their mechanics and footwork, throw more balls to the receivers, etc.? Hard work=development. Development=progress and maturity. Progress and maturity=the starting quarterback job. Stay tuned because this looks like it will get interesting…
- The Spring Scrimmage was a resounding success. The team played hard. The coaches were able to observe who excelled and who did not. Joey Galloway gave Buckeye fans something to be proud of with his donation to create a scholarship fund at half time. The weather was PERFECT. As of now, there is no word of any season ending injury suffered…
- About the only problem I could detect today was that a good 50,000 fans were envious of the 20,000 or so who had thought to bring something soft to sit on during the game. Note to self: Eat more, sit less, OR buy a cushion so that the next game is not an experience in some sort of Spanish inquisition torture fest. You would think that after sitting in the bleachers for years I would have figured it out by now, but then again - I have been accused more than once of being slow on the uptake…
E-mail Charles at email@example.com