Spring practice is here. Let's take a look at some of the top position battles.
1. Safety (Donte Whitner, Tyler Everett, Brandon Mitchell): Nate Salley obviously has one of the safety slots locked down, but who will be back there with him? Most pencil in Whitner without a second thought, but he might be pushed by Everett and Mitchell this spring. Whitner played well as a true freshman last year, but he's a bit undersized for a safety. This could get interesting, but Whitner is still the favorite.
2. Defensive end (Mike Kudla, Jay Richardson, Marcel Frost): Simon Fraser will man one of the DE positions, but who will get the call at the other? Kudla has the most experience, but Frost drew raves in practice last year. Richardson was also coming on, especially in bowl practice, before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. Joel Penton is also in the mix, although he might end up playing more DT than DE. I am going to go out on a limb here and say Frost emerges with the job, but we'll see.
3. Offensive guard (Doug Datish, T.J. Downing): Datish is penciled in as the starter and that's not a big surprise. Last year, coaches and players both mentioned he was coming on. But Jim Bollman also said nice things about Downing. Hopefully they both develop into studs, but right now Datish looks like the choice.
4. Punter (Josh Huston, A.J. Trapasso): Huston has looked less than impressive the last couple years punting in practice, but stranger things have happened. Jim Tressel has a way of bringing out the best in his punters. As for Trapasso, he was good in high school – over 43 yards a punt good – but wasn't ranked among the top prep punters in the country or anything like that. It would be asking a lot of him to come in and "start" as a true freshman, but he is a very good athlete and it might happen. The kick scrimmage and spring game will be big for Huston and Trapasso to see how they handle pressure situations in the Horseshoe.
5. Tailback (Lydell Ross, Branden Joe, Maurice Hall, Antonio Pittman): Yes, Joe is listed as the starter at fullback, but with the Bucks possibly moving to more one-back sets this year, he is going to get a lot of carries at tailback (see Fiesta Bowl). Hopefully Ross steps up and proves he is the man, but I will believe it when I see it. It will be interesting to see how Pittman looks. A lot of people are expecting Erik Haw or Pittman to get some playing time this year. Pittman gets the early jump by enrolling early.
When people wonder, "Why is Jim O'Brien still getting a free pass for one Final Four run five years ago?" the answer is simple: he's not.
In his seven years at OSU, O'Brien has won two Big Ten championships and one Big Ten tournament title. He also won 20 games four straight years and went to the NCAA tournament each of those years, both school records.
For a program like Ohio State, I would say winning a Big Ten title about every four years is pretty darn good. Yes, they were split titles, but such is the life of a 16-game schedule, as opposed to 18.
Anyway, there have been several rumors to the contrary, but I would be surprised if OB is anywhere but Columbus in 2004-05. He has accomplished much more than just one Final Four.
In a January column, I projected where the slew of draft-eligible Buckeyes will be taken in the NFL Draft. Now that the draft is less than a month away, let's revisit those predictions (Jan. predictions in bold).
Will Smith (first round): Nothing has changed here. His stock has done nothing but rise. He will be the first or second DE off the board and will go in the upper-half of the first round.
Chris Gamble (first round): I still think he stays in the first round, but just barely. Gamble's 4.5 40 at OSU's pro day on a fast track must have had the scouts scratching their heads. He is going to run again in early April, but maybe the damage has already been done. Wouldn't be shocked to see him slide a little bit.
Michael Jenkins (first round): Could go early second, but I am sticking with the original prediction of late first. He had a great Senior Bowl and backed that up with a great performance at pro day, running a low 4.4.
Maurice Clarett (late first, early second): I am backing off this a bit. I will now say Clarett will be a second-rounder, but he won't fall any farther than that. Also, if any NFL scout has Chris Perry rated ahead of Clarett, they need to get a clue.
Tim Anderson (second round): No change here. Anderson has impressed the scouts with his strength (and even ran well at pro day) and I am predicting he will be a late second-rounder.
Shane Olivea (third round): Again, no change. Big Shane goes late on the first day.
Darrion Scott (late third, early fourth): Haven't heard much buzz on Scott, but two things could hurt him: he's a tweener (DE/DT) and he was somewhat injury prone in college. I am going to back off just a bit and say he goes in the middle of the fourth round.
Ben Hartsock (fourth round): Fourth seems about right for Governor Hartsock. He is going to be a second-day steal.
Will Allen (fourth round): Allen is undersized for an NFL safety, but he's a playmaker. I'll stick with the fourth round here.
Alex Stepanovich (fifth round): I am going to bump Step up to a fourth-round projection. NFL teams are going to like his versatility. Guards and Centers are both at a premium and he can play both.
Adrien Clarke (sixth round): After wowing the scouts at the swimsuit competition (no, not really), I am now going to say Clarke will be a fourth or fifth round pick. He weighed in for the scouts at 324 (I'm serious this time) and his stock has done nothing but rise. Yes, fourth or fifth sounds good for Clarke.
Rob Reynolds (sixth round): I'll stick with this one. Haven't heard much (pro or con) on Turbo.
B.J. Sander (seventh round): With NFL punters now signing million dollar contracts every week, I am going to backtrack a bit on this one and say Sander goes in the sixth round.
Drew Carter (seventh round): I'll stick with this one. He runs in early April. Someone will want to take a chance on him. At worst he'll be in camp somewhere as an undrafted free agent.
Craig Krenzel, Scott McMullen, Bryce Bishop (undrafted free agents): Krenzel impressed the scouts at the combine and pro day. I will now say he's a sixth or seventh round pick. ... McMullen reportedly did not look good at pro day and he has little-to-no chance of being drafted. … I would be surprised if Bishop is drafted.
That's 17 Buckeyes that have a chance to be drafted. Incredible. Should be fun to watch the draft both days.
RUNNING BACK STEALS
Speaking of the draft, it never ceases to amaze me the number of quality NFL running backs that go in the second day. Some recent examples are Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson and Cleveland's Lee Suggs – both fourth-rounders. Going back a few years, you can also point to players like Curtis Martin, Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson and many more.
This year, guys like Notre Dame's Julius Jones and Northern Illinois' Michael Turner could be second-day steals.
CORNERING THE MARKET
It was interesting that former OSU cornerbacks Antonie Winfield, Shawn Springs and Ahmed Plummer were all unrestricted free agents at the same time this offseason. Let's just say they all did very well for themselves. Winfield cashed in with the Vikings, Springs with the Redskins and Plummer re-signed with the 49ers.
Winfield, one of the best pound-for-pound tacklers in OSU history, got the best deal of the three with an $11 million signing bonus and $6 million per year. He was set to sign with the Jets, then changed his mind at the last minute.
For Springs, it might be a rebirth for him in Washington. He had one Pro Bowl season with the Seahawks, but was injury prone nearly every other year. This is a good situation for him, going home (he's from Silver Spring, Md.) and playing for a good coach in Joe Gibbs.
I think the Niners overpaid a bit for Plummer ($9 million signing bonus, $5 million per year) but he's a solid player and they didn't want to risk losing both of their starting corners to free agency.
IT'S POETIC JUSTICE…
That Missouri didn't make the NCAA Tournament. They cheated to get Ricky Paulding and Arthur Johnson (and others) and still couldn't win with them? That really calls into question the coaching abilities of Quin Snyder.
As for former point guard Ricky Clemons, he is telling anyone who wants to listen that Missouri coaches gave him money on several occasions, and seems to have proof. He recently told his story on HBO and there doesn't seem to be any way out of this situation for Snyder and Mizzou. At worst, some assistants will have to go, but it all goes back to the head man.
DON'T BE A SELLOUT
The Ohio State basketball team had exactly one sellout (19,200) this season at the Schott. One. The Texas Tech game.
The next closest were: Michigan State (17,337) and Illinois (16,445).
The average for the 15-game home season was 14,521.
What does St. John Arena hold? About 13,600? Hmmm.
THE MOST DISAPPOINTING THING…
About Clarett not coming back to OSU is that we never got to see him unleash his linebacking skills.
SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL…
I thought my co-worker was joking when he told me about an OSU autograph session he went to at a mall in Columbus earlier this month. He said Clarett autographs were $30 and all the other former Buckeyes were $10. No way that could be true, right? Wrong.
And yes, my co-worker did shell out the $30 bones for a Clarett autograph. What is the world coming to?
That Terrell Owens cried and got his way. His agent messed up and didn't void his contract with the Niners before the deadline? Too bad. The NFL should have made him go to Baltimore. That was a legit trade. It's probably good for the Bengals and Browns that it didn't happen – now Kyle Boller has absolutely no one to throw to – but I still can't figure out why the NFL backed down like that. The agent had the responsibility to void the contract and he didn't do it in time. When did they start handing out mulligans?
There will be two Ohio Mr. Basketball award-winners on OSU's roster next season: Tony Stockman (the co-winner in 2000) and the freshly minted Jamar Butler.
Butler is expected to play quite a bit as a freshman and could end up being OB's best recruit.
Of interest, Butler credits fellow OSU recruit Matt Terwilliger for helping him break his earlier verbal commitment to Cincinnati. After Terwilliger – Butler's longtime AAU teammate and friend – verballed to the Buckeyes, Butler said he immediately began to rethink his choice. A few weeks later, he was a Buckeye.
In the name of Damon Flint, several Buckeye fans are smiling.
E-mail Dave at: firstname.lastname@example.org