Buckeyes Might Need Young Help This Fall

At the Big Ten football media days in Chicago, Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell talked about the need for youngsters to step up at multiple positions on offense this fall as the Buckeyes pursue another Big Ten championship. Quarterback, running back and offensive line all drew the coach's attention.

Ohio State returns a bevy of veterans on offense, but youngsters could be needed in a few big ways if the Buckeyes want to make significant noise in the Big Ten race.

That is particularly true on offense, where an unexpected departure and a trio of suspensions have left the depth chart thinner than it was expected to be.

Ohio State has no shortage of talented players in the backfield, but the most talented candidate to take All-Big Ten tailback Dan Herron's carries while he serves a five-game suspension might be the youngest.

That would be Rod Smith, a redshirt freshman who missed almost all of the preseason last year because of a transcript issue but left his mark on plenty a teammate on the practice field as the season wore on.

The 6-2, 220-pounder was one of the unofficial stars of bowl practice in December, and his name was on the lips of a reporter Thursday when head coach Luke Fickell addressed the media in Chicago.

"Obviously Rod is a guy with great size, great running abilities," Fickell said. "The thing about that, we have a stable of guys that can be very successful at the running back position. It will be who can develop and come along and do all the things that we ask him to do, run, block, catch. There's a lot of things that obviously we have a few young guys that are going to get a lot of reps at it."

Other candidates to snag carries are sophomores Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde. Junior Jordan Hall might see time in the backfield as well, but program insiders have indicated he is more likely to see the field at wide receiver.

"The thing obviously about the running back position, they will have to take a lot of load off of some of the things we do having a young quarterback," Fickell said.

Whether he intended to or not, Fickell might have been tipping his hand about what is to come at another position when he said that.

The departure of three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor amid an NCAA inquiry opened the door for one of four players to take over this year.

While conventional wisdom initially made senior Joe Bauserman and sophomore Kenny Guiton the favorites to do so, neither appeared to do much to separate himself from redshirt freshman Taylor Graham or true freshman Braxton Miller during spring practice.

That has led to rumblings the youngsters could be in better position to earn playing time than their older teammates.

"I hope so," Fickell said when asked if he could see Miller handling starting quarterback duties as a freshman, as Pryor did. I think he has a lot of similar qualities in what he can do as a football player. Again, we're excited. Obviously we had him through the spring practice, but we're excited to see how he can continue to grow and how he can put our football team in the best position to win."

Neither the running backs or the quarterback will be able to have much success without help from the offensive line, however.

A top seven of seniors Mike Brewster, J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams and sophomores Marcus Hall, Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley form a good base from which to draw five starters, but Fickell acknowledged depth is a concern. That is especially true with Adams suspended along with Herron.

"It's a difficult situation," the coach said. "We all understand, and hopefully we have emphasized to our players, that we know the game starts and is won up front. We are thin. We understand that."

As a result, the staff hopes to see true freshmen Tommy Brown, Chris Carter, Brian Bobek and Antonio Underwood grow up fast during preseason camp that starts Aug. 8.

"That's one of the big reasons we have to focus on the young guys coming in, getting them to grow, mentoring them in the process because they will be counted on at some point in time in this season," Fickell said. "It is something that obviously we're aware of. We've got a plan for it. We're going to continue to move forward with it."

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