Kick Scrimmage Thoughts

Charles Babb was in attendance at yesterday's kick scrimmage, and we have some thoughts posted now.

For starters, it was a beautiful day for the scrimmage with near perfect weather. Though not non-existent, the wind was not a factor. Other than the fact that the squad was split among Scarlet and Gray, the kickers have no real complaints about gusting winds or wet balls slipping through the hands of the holders.

Mike Nugent performed well. Though not as proficient as last year, it should be noted that his 2002 season was one of the greatest in the history of the game for a field goal kicker up through mid-November. He ended up with an unofficial 12 of 17 mark with three attempts blocked. His 58-yard field goal was a thing of beauty and fell just over the crossbar to the delight of everyone present.

Josh Huston has all the leg he needs. The only matter keeping him from seeing more playing time is finding his accuracy on a consistent basis. Though Brian Pierce's arrival may signal more pressure for him to perform, I would not give up on Josh yet. At this time last season, Nugent was coming off of a forgettable 2001 campaign. As with most all of the backups (and even starters), Josh's own efforts will define how much he sees the field in the future. With hard work and consistency he could claim the kicking job after Nugent's departure. If someone else gives more effort and consistency, then they will start. Who wants it more is my question.

Brian Pierce's performance is encouraging for those concerned about the long term future of the place kickers. The freshman from St. Edward made 3 of his 4 attempts and looked like he has a live leg.

B.J. Sander boomed his punts. He launched them much more quickly than I have seen him previously in his career at Ohio State. Sander's only blocked attempt came on a drill where they were punting from their own end zone with the ball on the one-yard line. It did not appear to be the fault of the blockers or Sander. It just looked like a great play by Drew Carter who found himself in the backfield so quickly that he probably could have tackled Sanders instead of stretching himself out across the football.

Justin Zwick worked as a punter on 3 occasions. His punts were not long, but he did get the ball off for 30+ yards on each attempt. While this may seem strange to give him work in a kicking scrimmage, never forget that this could give Ohio State an advantage down the road. There are times where an offense would be better suited to kicking the ball on third and forever and pinning a team deep in their own territory. It is seldom done anymore, but the practice used to be much more common. Do not be shocked to see Justin make a quick punt on 3rd and 23 from the 45 of Ohio State. A 35-yard effort – if it catches a defense unawares – would leave the other team with a 1st and 10 from their own 10 yard line. Considering the proficiency of the Buckeye defense under Coach Dantonio and the abilities of Gamble and Holmes in returning kicks, this could end up setting up Ohio State for a first down at their 45 once again after a three and out with a punt.

The thankless tasks in any special teams units are relegated to the longsnappers (punts) and holders (field goals and extra points). That most articles are not mentioning them means that they performed well under pressure during the kicking scrimmage. Sanders looked like he has progressed in that role since the Spring, and concerns about the loss of Groom in that capacity have certainly been mollified. Would that I had film; I would recognize those deserving players by name. They know who they are though – and you can bet that their teammates and coaches do as well.

From my perspective (albeit limited), Santonio Holmes absolutely has to be one of the punt returners deep this fall. He and Gamble make a fearsome duo who are almost sure to gain the Buckeyes a good 7-20 yards per return. Holmes slips tackles, accelerates, cuts back agains the grain... He looks like the Tasmanian Devil out there with the ball in his hands and wide open spaces in front of him. The best part of his performance today – he took care of the football and had no fumbles.

Drew Carter looked dangerous coming off the corner. His speed, acceleration, athleticism, and long body combine to make him a perfect player to block punts. Though I am not certain he would be in the same class with Derek Ross, I think Carter might be able to be a difference maker at that position this fall if he embraces the role.

Dustin Fox looked special today. He blocked two punts clean, had a touchdown, and got both hands on a third kick that went through the uprights anyway. On top of all that, Dustin might have blocked a 4th kick had it not gone off to the side. He was in great position and had timed his leap to coincide with the ball crossing the line of scrimmage. Do not underestimate the pressure that a great blocker can put on a kicker. Kickers watch film just like everyone else, and they will be more than a little aware of where Dustin is on the field if he shows he can block kicks during games. It was a great individual performance though I am certain the field goal kickers would have preferred he sit this one out.

Both teams battled long and hard with the scrimmage finally going into a forced "kick-off." In a bit of deja-vu, the contest was decided on a defensive play eerily similar to the Scarlet/Gray jersey scrimmage. After a block, the ball bounded around at which point a defensive back (Will Allen) picked up the football and ran it back.

I might add here that there was a bit of confusion among the numbers and player identities today. Normally the name of a player can be divined by the color of the jersey or better yet – lettering on the back. However, with both teams split up, there was helter skelter, with both #4's (Holmes and Allen) were wearing Scarlet. There are also two each of #2, 5, 11, 13, 20, 21, 35, 37, 68, 74, and 84. In some of these situations the players are not too difficult to tell apart; Ira Guilford and Mike D'Andrea are not likely to pass for twins any time soon. In others, it is more than a small challenge to figure out from 50+ yards away. Is #1 is 5'11" Bobby Britton or 6'1" Dareus Hiley? Is #4 Will Allen or Santonio Holmes?

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