This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. With signing day now come and gone, we have a good idea how the 2004 team will look. This analysis is helpful in assessing where the Buckeyes are strong and also in understanding what positions need to be bolstered through recruiting next year.
Over the next several days, I will break The Big Board down into five installments.
Today, we will look at the backs and receivers on offense. In future installments we will:
* Assess the tight ends and offensive line.
* Get inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.
* Examine the secondary and specialists.
* Finally, we will tie all of this data together.
Here is a position-by-position look at OSU's scholarship status and prospects at quarterback, running back and the wide receiver positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons listed if on latest published roster (i.e. if you don't see a particular walk-on, he may be practicing but is at least not on the most recent roster update).
(All class designations are 2004 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)
* New This Spring (1): Todd Boeckman (Fr.).
* Grayshirt For January 2005 (1): Joe Bauserman.
* Analysis: With Craig Krenzel‘s departure after two years as the starter, the starting job is wide open. Most assume it is a two-horse race between Zwick and Smith beginning this spring.
Zwick appears to be the heir apparent. The former Ohio schoolboy star at Orrville and Massillon Washington got his feet wet this past year by playing in four games. He was 4 of 8 passing for 24 yards and had what appeared to be a sure touchdown dropped by fellow freshman tight end Louis Irizarry. The coaches like his command of the offense, his size (6-4, 210) and leadership ability.
Smith seems destined to play a "Slash" role (i.e. part quarterback, part running back, part wide receiver, part return man). Obviously, these roles may change -- and Smith (6-1, 205) has a cannon for an arm to make any coach think more than twice about him. This will be a great battle this spring and, really, for the next three seasons.
Boeckman (6-5, 235) grayshirted, meaning he graduated from St. Henry (Ohio) High School in 2003. He joined the team for preseason camp, but did not enroll full-time until January. This allows him to play four of the next five years.
Bauserman (6-2, 215) is a hard-nosed kid who transferred to Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln from the Washington, D.C., area to improve his grid skills and build his stock as a potential pro baseball draftee. He has not signed a letter-of-intent with OSU, so he is not tying up a scholarship at this point. If he gets drafted in, say, the top two or three rounds of the Major League Baseball amateur draft, he may forget about football and pursue a baseball career.
* Still Looking?: Most definitely. Even if Bauserman decides to play college football, OSU, even with a small class of 16 to 19 signees next February probably needs a quarterback in this class. They may take two if Bauserman indeed signs a pro baseball contract and tells them he has no intention of enrolling next January.
Perhaps the key name out of state for 2005 would be Pittsburgh's Bill Stull (6-4, 190). He has already professed an interest in Ohio State. In Ohio, OSU could look long and hard at Clayton Northmont's Tyler Horner (6-2, 185) and Cincinnati St. Xavier's Rob Schoenhoft (6-5, 220).
Down the line, it seems OSU is already interested in Washington C.H. (Ohio) Miami Trace junior-to-be Miles Schlichter (6-2, 185).
* Walk-On (1): Michael DeMaria (Sr.).
* New This Spring (1): Antonio Pittman
* Analysis: The starting job for 2004 appears to be Ross' to lose after Maurice Clarett's federal court victory over the NFL, clearing the path for OSU's wayward son to enter this year's draft.
Ross (6-0, 220) had an up-and-down 2003 season, when he had 826 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He did average right around 100 yards per game over the last six game of the season, though, and, despite previous injury concerns, held up well over that stretch. OSU's new running backs coach (unnamed as of this writing) will want to see Ross take his game to the next level and brand himself as the school's next 1,000-yard back as a senior.
Hall (5-10, 200) fought knee problems all season long and was limited to spot duty and just 316 yards. Guilford (6-0, 190), ticketed as a safety coming out of high school, was pressed into service as a backup here but only managed 64 yards on 28 carries.
Pittman (5-11, 195) had nearly 4,000 yards over his last two seasons at Akron Buchtel. He will get the jump on Haw (6-1, 218) by enrolling in school in time to participate in spring football. Haw had a 3,000-yard season at nearby Columbus Independence and brings a combination of power and speed to the tailback corps. Obviously, one or both of these talented freshmen could play a key role for the Buckeyes in 2004.
Kennedy (5-11, 190) from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stranahan was a late addition to the recruiting class. He had 900 yards as a senior and seems a strong redshirt candidate. Like Guilford, his future may also lie as a DB at Ohio State.
* Still Looking?: Definitely. With Ross and Hall leaving after this coming season, OSU probably needs two more talented tailbacks in the pipeline. The key name here out of state may be Florida's Maurice Wells (5-11, 185), who has reportedly already been offered and likes the Buckeyes.
Ohio also has several backs to offer, although grades and/or size seem to be detractors for each of them. That group includes Dayton Chaminade-Julienne's Javon Ringer (5-10, 190), Akron Hoban's Tyrell Sutton (5-9, 180) and Xenia's Cedric Tolbert (6-0, 185). Obviously, whoever gets selected as the new RBs coach will have a big hand in deciding who gets offered.
The wait has already begun at OSU, certainly, for junior-to-be Chris Wells, a 6-2, 220-pound powerhouse from Akron Garfield.
* New This Fall (1): Dionte Johnson.
* Analysis: Joe (6-0, 245) supplanted Schnittker (6-1, 250) as the starter at midseason and finished the year in style by carrying a career-high 11 times for 46 yards in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State. Perhaps OSU is turning over a new leaf in featuring the tailback and Joe, quite possibly, could get a look at tailback if none of the ones listed above pan out.
OSU is hopeful that Joe could assist with some power running. Schnittker is a plugger, who is most valuable in pass protection and isolation blocking. Neither is in the Jamar Martin mold when it comes to blocking ability, although they improved last season as they got healthy and the year wore on.
Johnson (6-0, 230) is definitely the future for OSU at fullback. The son of former Buckeye Pepper Johnson, it would be great to have the luxury to redshirt him in 2004 -- provided the two veterans stay healthy. Johnson will probably pile on 15 pounds and, as a former offensive lineman at nearby Columbus Eastmoor Academy, has the mentality to be a great blocker.
As for the walk-ons, Parker got a shot in an early season game but fumbled. Fender missed the year with an injury.
* Still Looking?: Fullback would not be a major priority, with Schnittker and Johnson both due back in 2005. The one name to watch may be New Jersey‘s Rashawn Jackson (6-2, 250).
* Analysis: With the departure of three-year starter Michael Jenkins at split end, the Buckeyes will look for some new play makers. They actually found one at midseason after starting flanker Drew Carter went down with a knee injury. Holmes (5-11, 170) stepped into the void and delivered. He ended the year with 32 catches for 549 yards and seven touchdowns with almost all of those totals coming in the final six games. He has the flanker spot locked down and could be one of the Big Ten's most exciting receivers to watch in 2004.
The battle will be on at split end, where Hollins (6-2, 205) hopes to finally make some inroads. Hall (6-3, 228) seems to be the heir apparent after catching just six passes in a reserve role last year. Jordan (6-3, 190) could also be in the mix. He redshirted and was injured last year.
Behind Holmes, OSU has a handful of great athletes, including Childress (5-10, 185), Hiley (6-1, 195) and Gonzalez (6-0, 190). Childress had a career-high 11 catches last year, including a nifty 31-yarder in the Fiesta Bowl. He may be the third receiver. Hiley and Gonzalez redshirted last year. They could also get a look in the defensive backfield as well. Hiley may be one of the best athletes on the team and Gonzalez would not be far behind, either.
* Definitely Still Looking: By the way OSU wanted Fred Davis and Dwayne Jarrett, it is apparent OSU wanted and needs more receivers. Warren Harding's Mario Manningham, perhaps Ohio's best, has already committed to Michigan. There are three others of note in Ohio -- Canton GlenOak's Brian Hartline (6-3, 175), Chagrin Falls' Brian Robiskie (6-3, 190, son of former NFLer and Cleveland Browns assistant coach Terry Robiskie) and Huber Heights Wayne's Craig Orton.
Outside Ohio, the key names could be New Jersey's Selwyn Lymon (6-5, 190), South Carolina's Rendrick Taylor (6-2, 190).
Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph junior-to-be David Lighty (6-5, 185) is behind only Wells as Ohio's top player in the Class of 2006.