A LOUSY APRIL FOOL'S JOKE
This is exactly what I thought the resignation of Bill Conley might be for a moment or two when I first heard about it. However, it soon became evident that it was no joke. His departure leaves Ohio State in a serious bind and is forcing a revision of optimism for this upcoming season. Not only is this a very young team, the Buckeyes have lost all of their key grad assistants, their defensive coordinator, their running backs coach, and their recruiting coordinator. That is not conducive to winning football games.
Roy Hall looks like a tight end. He continues to prove he is a growing boy and is starting to take on David Boston proportions. While that can be a concern if he loses his speed or quickness, he does not appear to be falling prey to this. How big is he? After catching a pass over the middle, a couple of defensive backs gave him a little pop, and Hall barely looked like he had been hit. Hall dwarfed Anthony Schlegel when the two stood by one another..
Bam Childress (left) is looking for playing time. He caught a ball over the middle, and if the offensive coaches can scheme for ways to get the football in his hands, he can make plays.
#19 Derek Harden caught quite a few balls. The catches were not spectacular, and fans should not expect him to be the next Chad Cacchio, but I mention him to say this: The Buckeyes are about much more than the starters and even the scholarship student-athletes. Individuals like Derek Harden, Mike DeMaria, Steve Winner, Jamal Luke, Steve Fender, Mike Kne, and all the walk-ons play a critical role in the team's success. Never forget that Ohio State had a walk-on earn All American honors in Groom and several others have earned scholarships and significant playing time under Tressel. Those who work hard and are deserving will earn minutes this year.
Devin Jordan and Brandon Joe both made semi-spectacular grabs of missiles on short routes. The smack of the ball as it connected with their hands bore testimony to the speed with which it was delivered. Joe corralled the pass with one hand as he was going forward while Jordan leaped backward for the pass and cradled it with his arms just above the turf.
While one cannot accurately forecast too much from just 45 minutes observation on the first practice of the spring, believe Jim Tressel when he says that Justin Zwick would start if there were a game tomorrow. I continue to be impressed with Zwick. Expect Troy Smith (left) and Todd Boeckman to battle for the second string snaps. For now, Smith appears to have the edge. However, if Boeckman works diligently this summer, it might be a neck and neck race by this fall. Injuries and effort will largely determine who starts.
THE RUNNING BACKS
Branden Joe has lost weight and is by far more mobile this spring than last season. Of course, the fact that he is healthy also helps.
Maurice Hall was seen smiling once again. After gutting it through all last year with injuries that would sideline most tailbacks, it is nice to see.
One of the better runs of the day was turned in by #20 Roshawn Parker. More on that below with the offensive line comments.
Antonio Pittman showed some nice cuts. At this point, he appears to be a possible change of speed back (again – remember that you cannot tell all that much from a portion of just one scrimmage) rather than a power back that sticks his nose in the pile to gain that first down on 4th and 1.
Lydell Ross is looking fit and trim and is running hard. He spoke with the media:
Do you feel like this is your year to really stand out?
"Yes. Most definitely. I feel like this is the year I have to make the biggest statement ever. It is my last year and last chance to do what I want to do and fulfill some goals."
What are your goals?
"1,000+ yards and a top 5 back – one of the top backs in the nation."
How much did injuries take away from your performance last year?
"Yeah, I wish I could have been healthier. Early in the season I did not get out to the start I wanted to being hurt and injured."
Have the injuries made you tentative at times in the last few years? Have they affected your running style?
"At times. You know, when I was injured it set me back. It set me back a lot because I didn't – couldn't do what I can do at 100%. I am a back with many tools, and I want to run with all my tools at 100%, but I have to learn to run maybe not at 100% sometimes."
Lydell Ross (30) and Roshawn Parker (20) run through drills
Do you look at the situation where you might be sharing some carries with Brandon Joe as helping you because teams might not be able to focus on just one back to look for the football?
"I think it does. I think maybe it is an advantage at times when you have two backs – a two back set there in the backfield."
Teams, defenses, seem to have keyed on the tailback at Ohio State the last few years. Is that a fair characterization?
"I think so. I think Ohio State is one to always key on the tailback. Running back is a big position at Ohio State University. It has always been. I think it always will. You stop Ohio State, you have to stop the running game."
Dick Tressel, are you enjoying what you see thus far?
"Yes I do. I have enjoyed getting used to him being the coach, and I'm excited to see what he has to bring to the table. I've known him. He's been here as long as I've been here. It's easier to fall into the situation when you have been with somebody since you have been here."
Similarities and differences between Spencer and Tressel?
"I think Coach Tressel – he's more subtle at times. Coach Spencer, he's been in the league with the Chargers – college, he's been there. He comes across as more being a player because he has played the game. Coach Tressel is more subtle, but they both get the point across."
Are you coming into the spring with a different attitude this year?
"Yeah. I have a totally different attitude this spring, one that I have never had before. Strength, determination, not looking back, and doing what I have to do to help this team be successful – and me as well."
Marcel Frost might provide that spark off the edge the Buckeyes so badly need this year after losing Will Smith. He has the frame and quickness. For him, it is simply a question is simply putting it all together. He should not be expected to be Will Smith, but he could be an excellent player.
Joel Penton continued to line up at DT but occasionally bounced outside ala Kenny Peterson. Tressel made reference to using players in this manner while talking to the media. In other words, the MO of the defense is to be versatile and keep the offenses guessing where players will line up on any given play.
Brandon Maupin and Sian Cotton are every bit the size listed on the roster, if not bigger. Both have massive frames and could easily carry 330 without slowing them down a step if it is added in the correct manner. Cotton in particular used his quickness to get into the offensive backfield.
Young. That is the word I would use to describe this group. Expect some slow growth and the finished product may not arrive until much later this spring or maybe even in the fall.
One play that should give fans hope for a better line this year is the one involving Roshawn Parker and T.J. Downing. On a running play that ended up on the left side of the football field, Parker broke into the open and began running down the sideline. Granted, the players were not tackling so it is uncertain as to whether or not he might have made that run in a game, but that is not what should encourage Buckeye fans. There were two nice items I saw in the play: First, T.J. Downing was out in front of Parker even 35 yards down the field. Second, Parker was in his hip pocket, using Downing to avoid would be tacklers. Quite frankly, it has been a good while since I saw an offensive lineman that far down the field during a live play for Ohio State.
Nick Mangold spoke to the media. Here are some of his remarks in Q&A format:
You are the watch list for the Rimington Award – is it early for that since it is still spring?
"It seems ridiculously early, but I feel honored and blessed to be on that list. My family is real proud, and I am real excited about it, but that does not happen for another 9-10 months. I think right now it is in the back of our mind. We are working this spring to get things ready to go. I think it is there, but it is in the back."
What is the biggest challenge then for right now? Chemistry?
"Yeah. I think chemistry is going to be our big thing, which is real easy because we are all in the same class, we've all been here long enough, we all hang out outside of football – that helps a lot, so I think chemistry is a big one we are working on, that we have, and that we need to keep pursuing."
What is the strength of this line compared to last year's edition?
"I think we are going to try to get the best of both worlds. We have a lot of great guys strength-wise that put up great numbers, and we also have a lot of great speed guys (which are the same physical guys). So, I think we will try to be the best of both worlds."
What about Doug Datish – he looks like he is becoming a large player.
"Actually he has dropped a lot of weight. He came in something above 3 [hundred] and now he is 285. He has dropped weight, but that has brought quickness to him. I think he is second strongest overall on the line. He has really been working hard to get the idea of the best of both worlds."
Would you talk about switching to pads?
"I'm excited. It's been three months now. I know back in high school it was seven months before you could hit again, and now it is within three months from the last time hitting. I am looking forward to Saturday bright and early, putting the pads on and hitting again."
The depth of the line has been a consistent concern since the day you stepped on campus. It looks like you are finally starting to build a little bit of a depth chart.
"That has been a question. I can't say that when I came in it was a bad thing because it allowed me to get in there. But now, we definitely have a great depth going in, especially with the guys we have coming in - in the fall. Right now, we have three people at each position and [are] comfortable with those guys there. The depth has been amazing and allows us each to compete with the guys in front of us and behind us and with ourselves. I think it is a great opportunity for us."
You and Rob Sims are now the veterans of the line. What are you doing to prepare those with less playing time?
"Both Rob and I have been trying to help out getting guys in to watch film, learning the material. There is so much stuff that goes on with our schemes, that we have been getting in over the winter and watching film, learning together, and learning with them – trying to build them up to get their confidence going so that they can come in and not have to worry about ‘do I have this guy or do I have this guy' and just be able to do it."
How long does it take for an offensive lineman for the proverbial ‘light' to click on that fans hear about? What about with you?
"I don't think it has yet. There's still stuff that I am learning, and there will be stuff that I am learning, but I think it comes on with just doing it over and over again. I don't know if there is a set time…It is just a progression, but the guys who needed to take the steps to elevate themselves have and have been doing real well at it."
What is the strength in your game and what are you working on right now?
"I have been working on definitely seeing a lot more stuff. I've been working on looking at coverages. I was trying to before, but it never happened because I was trying to figure out who I had, but now I am looking at just learning even more. My strength has never been one my high suits that I have, and I have been working to try and get that built up. I am working on everything. I don't think I have a strong suit right now, I have to keep working to bring everything up."
What is your weight?
"I am sitting at about 290 – I think I came in today. Which for me it has stayed consistent. I think for the past seven years I have gone up about 10 pounds every year, but I think this 10 pounds I have put on has been a lot more muscle mass. I tried to work real hard in the weight room.
Not as many cheeseburgers?
"I won't say that…but definitely I have been trying to look at what I have been eating in the last year, the past 6 months – try to figure out what I am eating, what is going to help me perform better out on the field."
Ryan Hamby, Louis Irizarry, and H-back Stan White, Jr. all showed up to play yesterday. Each were catching passes, and each had a nice run after a catch. Hamby showed his wares straight up the middle of the field. Irizarry tiptoed along the right sideline after a reception, trying to get the most yards after the catch. White hugged the left sideline after a reception, heading up the field for a nice gain.
The strength of this group is clearly in their pass reception skills. Hamby alluded to this in his comments to the media but indicated he has added weight and is seeking to improve his blocking skills to help blunt the loss of departed senior Ben Hartsock.
One thing of note that jumped out was the leadership of Anthony Schlegel. On several plays he called the defense into a semi-huddle and spoke to them briefly. There is a reason this young man was a captain at the Air Force Academy as a sophomore. While it is too early to predict whether or not he will start and what the coaches will do with their personnel, Schlegel is impressive. Last year, he spent the time on the scout team messing up the offense's attempts at running their scheme. Buckeye fans should look forward to seeing him in action destroying opposing offenses this fall instead of his own…
Mike D'Andrea and A.J. Hawk were both out playing hard. Neither is showing ill effects from injuries/surgeries.
Both E.J. Underwood and Ashton Youboty played cornerback, alternating in coverage of Santonio Holmes. Both have excellent size and skills and look to be making this a battle royale. While many are expecting Ginn Jr. to step in and replace the now departed Chris Gamble, don't hold your breath. Both Youboty and Underwood have the skills to keep Ginn Jr. on the bench if they can put together their talent with a complete game.
Harlen Jacobs made a nice play on a ball thrown over the middle. Instead of crashing into the receiver, which would have been pass interference, he played the football and smacked it to the turf.
With the departure of B.J. Sander, a critical question for special teams is who will spot the ball for Nugent and the other place-kickers during field goal attempts. For now, that role seems to have been taken by redshirt senior Kyle Turano.
Speaking with the media about Bill Conley, Tressel indicated he will be missed. He was highly complimentary of his abilities – his effort and organization skills – and wished him well. Undoubtedly that will be covered ad nauseum by others, so I have included some of the other comments Tressel made with regard to the afternoon's practice:
How did you feel practice went today?
"I thought there was good electricity, good enthusiasm. I haven't been around too many first days of spring practice that have been doldrums. It is always a new start, and it is always buzzing around. Really you measure yourself later down the road, but if you don't start well with a lot of enthusiasm and hustle, attentiveness and focus, I think you are in trouble. I thought we had all of that. It was fun to watch some guys take on a new role and kind of step to the front of the huddle. It was neat."
Any change in your quarterback depth chart after the first three hours (mostly asked tongue firmly in cheek)?
"Well, no, but there might be tomorrow because we are going to do a lot of rotating around. Not because of anything that happened per se, but Justin ran with the first group all day, Troy the second, and Todd with the third. Tomorrow, Troy will run with the first group all day and Justin with the second and Todd with the third, but I like a lot of things that all three of them did. Todd is a guy that I don't think you can ever leave out of the discussion – especially at this early time."
Will you be rotating at other positions as well?
"Oh yeah. Some because of what guys are able to do. For instance, you will notice a lot this spring that in the perimeter non-contact drills that Mike D'Andrea will be running as the #1 Mike linebacker and Anthony Schlegel with the second group and John Kerr with the third, etc. Then, once the pads go on, Mike is not cleared by the medical people to have contact, and so Anthony and John will rotate in and out of that first group. There will be a lot of rotation, and a lot of unanswered questions of course."
Was everyone here?
"Well, we had one newcomer who got on the campus bus system and ended up dropped off at the wrong place, so he got here a little late."
Who was that?
"Antonio Pittman. I guess that's maybe our fault because we are assuming everyone has been here and can get here. So, I think he left an academic hall and jumped on the wrong bus I think and ended up I don't know where and was at the vet school or somewhere. I don't know if he called us from a pay phone or where, but we got him rounded up, and I think he got here by the 8th or 9th period."
How is Drew Carter doing in his recovery?
"Great. He's running on Monday. He jogged a 4.5 the other day from a standing start. I think he will – I don't know if he will run a 4.27 like he has been clocked, but he will run fast.
With that time he ran last year, that is money in the bank, right?
"That is why we tell underclassmen, ‘Go ahead and run. Get nervous. Get the jitters out. Know that you can do that.' Who knows, if you pop a good time – it was a real plus for Donnie Nickey when he did that because he popped a great time in his rising senior year, and all of a sudden that was established, ‘Hey! This guy can run.' Mike Jenkins was in track so he couldn't run pro day. He had been training hard and was a little bit worn out last year at this time. All the questions going into this pro day were, ‘Is he fast?' ‘Is he fast? Just wait.' He was fast."