SEEING THE BUCKEYE GLASS AS HALF-FULL
We all saw the Spring Game. We saw some of the first team play some of that game. We saw great defensive plays, spare offense and less-than-sparkling special teams play. But whatever we saw, we all saw something different; something we were looking for. Maybe hopefully. Maybe nervously. And Mr. Bucknuts saw some things that were downright inspirational.
Yes, we see through scarlet-and-gray colored glasses here at Bucknuts. That's not such a bad thing and a thing we freely admit. But the glass itself? I have often been accused as the skeptic, nay the cynic. Someone who sees the glass as half empty.
I'm telling you now that I see the glass as half full. And not as in awe-full. More like in awesome.
And before you tell me that I'm full, hear me out.
Most people with opinions about Buckeye football (i.e. all Ohio State fans…) live sporting lives rooted firmly in the past. The best coach ever? Woody. The best linebacker? Spielman. And there's Warfield and Tatum and Hopalong and…well, you get the picture.
Even the more recent nostalgists, look back at the last two seasons defensive teams and smile knowingly, as if to say, "We won't see the likes of those defensive teams any time soon". Well, folks, that's water over the dam. I say that our defensive glass is filling so fast it will soon be overflowing.
Let's take a sip…
We lost three NFL down linemen last year: Tim Anderson, Will Smith and Darrion Scott. Guys that were better than the famous Fickel, Finkes, and Vrabel lines of the nineties. Don't tell me that you see us replacing those beasts of burden anytime soon, you say? I say the next group will be even better.
That's right. The "Killer P's" are here. Pitcock, Penton and Patterson. Duane Long said that Quinn Pitcock was one of the few prospects he had ever seen film on that was a sure NFL draftee. And he said that when Pitcock was a junior at Piqua High School! Penton? Two high school coaches in Western Ohio said that they would take the Van Wert standout before Pitcock in choosing sides. And Patterson? Duane called him "a bigger version of Warren Sapp".
But wait – that's not all. These guys have to beat out Marcus Green. And they have to hold off freshman Nader Abdallah and then hold off red-shirt freshman Brandon Maupin and then Sian Cotton, who tore up spring practice. And that's just for the middle two positions in the line!
How about the outside?
Duane thinks Jay Richardson could be the next Will Smith and no one's really heard of him yet. But after the spring game, we certainly got a taste. And Marcel Frost might be heard of before Jay Richardson. The two together had at least four sacks in the spring game. But don't forget All-Everything high school super-stud, Mike Kudla, who is already penciled in as one starter. And incoming freshman Vernon Gholston, who Duane thinks was the "steal" of the class. And don't forget that the great "middle athletes" like Joel Penton and Sian Cotton can move to the outside, as well. Yes, fans, we are in great shape with the future of our defensive line.
But if you want to really get excited, drop back a few yards and take a look at our linebacker corps. In my half-full glass, we have the best starting linebackers in the country. Period. Both Bobby Carpenter and AJ Hawk should leave school in two more seasons as All-Americans. And they will tell you that the best of their lot could be Anthony Schlegel in the middle! He's a warrior. A beast in the mold of Katzenmoyer and Wilhelm. And the natural leader you want in that position.
But, as impressive as is our starting three, the depth is even more impressive. You have Mike D'Andrea in that middle rotation; perhaps the most sought-after prepster LB in the country three years ago and getting better by the practice. And you have John Kerr, who only led Indiana in tackles as a freshman and a guy some northern Ohio analysts said was better than D'Andrea in high school. You want more? You've got it in Marcus Freeman, who impressed all concerned in spring camp and played well enough last Saturday. And – hey – he really is still in high school. And to add buoyancy to this overflowing ebullience, there's Chad Hoobler, who Duane thinks will have to switch ultimately to the Mike spot because he will be All-World there. Eventually.
Excited about linebackers? You should be…But how about those DB's? They might be even more exciting. OK, at least in theory.
At safety, we have lots of choices. Nate Salley is locked in, as an All-American in the making. The other position is an embarrassment of riches. We can go with either Donte Whitner (once viewed as the best DB in the country, while in high school), or Tyler Everett/Brandon Mitchell (both who have proven fairly stellar in game action) or Ira Guilford who was a Top 100 type in high school two years back; or Nick Patterson who was highly sought-after last year or…well, let's speculate. We will end up with Jamario O'Neal next year and he is considered the best safety and/or cornerback in the country by some/many. Or there is Adam Myers-White, who is a Top 100 safety and seems to be headed toward Columbus. Or there's Freddie Lenix, a linebacker-soon-to-be-safety and also soon-to-be a Buckeye. And there's Sirjo Seph Welch and Curt Lukens, both of whom are already officially in the fold
Good enough? It's just as exciting at cornerback!
At one corner will be EJ Underwood, about whom Tressel recently remarked that "EJ has the most talent I have ever seen in a cornerback". And he just saw a guy (Gamble), who went in the first round of the NFL draft. On the other side is either Ashton Youboty or Ted Ginn, last year's national defensive player of the year. You want depth? You got it. You got Dennis Kennedy and Shaun Lane and the Canadian speedster, Mike Roberts. And there's Brandon Underwood, a taller bigger brother of EJ's.
I'm telling you, this group has the makings of the best defense ever at Ohio State. That's saying a lot because there have been a lot of truly great defenses. Including one two years ago that produced the greatest season in the history of college football.
But you know what else it says:
Every guy I mentioned in this starting line-up is an underclassman!
Now, that's…well, that's really exciting! We have two years or more with all these guys and there is more still coming!
So why does old Mr. Bucknuts simply say that the glass is half-full when it seems overflowing with talent? Uh, there's always that offensive side of the ball.
But – hey – I even can see it half full on that side! No, I won't go position-by-position (but I could, so don't tempt me…).
I will simply posit this: Our offense has to go up against the best defense in the country every day in practice.
The games this fall will often be easier than the intra-squad scrimmages. There are a lot of defensive backfields (maybe all of them…) that won't be as tough as Fox/Salley/Underwood/Whitner. There aren't any linebacker groups better than Carpenter/Schlegel/Hawk. And very few offensive line testers more beastly than our defensive front.
Inevitably, our guys on offense will get better because of our guys on defense. They showed that ability last year in the bowl game when they tore into an "impenetrable" KSU defense; that they found easier to defeat than their own practice defense.
So, perhaps the glass is filling on offense, as well. We have yet to see the real starting line. And having Holmes and Hamby and Hall and Irizarry as passing targets is certainly bolstering to the spirits. Flydell looked good, and Pittman looked great and Brandon Joe is set to run in anger and…well, there is a lot to look forward to.
Because when you look at this particular Buckeye football glass as half-full, there is gonna be a lot to like!
E-mail Mr. Bucknuts at firstname.lastname@example.org