This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. With spring football 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 who were with the team at the end of spring football are also listed.
(All class designations are 2004 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)
* In The Fold (3): Troy Smith (So.), Justin Zwick (So.), Todd Boeckman (Fr.).
* Walk-On (1): Matt Trombitas (Jr.)
* Grayshirt For January 2005 (1): Joe Bauserman.
* Analysis: With Craig Krenzel‘s departure after two years as the starter, the starting job was up for grabs this spring. Most assume it is a two-horse race between Zwick and Smith. As spring wrapped up, OSU coach Jim Tressel declared if there was a game today that Zwick would be the starter but Smith would also play significantly.
Zwick, a former Ohio schoolboy star at Orrville and Massillon Washington, got his feet wet in 2003 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, 225) and leadership ability, although he did not exactly lock the job down in the spring.
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. He again showed great mobility in the spring and probably outplayed Zwick in the jersey scrimmage. But the roles were reversed for the spring-ending Scarlet and Gray Game. This will be a great battle for the next three seasons.
Boeckman (6-5, 235) grayshirted this past season, meaning he graduated from St. Henry (Ohio) High School in June 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. He impressed onlookers with his arm strength and poise during spring practice. He could be a starter here down the line.
Each of these players should benefit from the assistant coaching shuffle that saw Joe Daniels drop receivers as part of his responsibility. He and Tressel will concentrate quite a bit on the quarterback position.
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 in early June, 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 18 to 20 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.
Ohio State is among some 65 schools that have already offered Louisiana run/pass quarterback Ryan Perilous (6-2, 208). Other key names outside Ohio who are hoping for Ohio State offers include Delaware's Gene Delle Donne (6-5, 225) and Pittsburgh's Bill Stull (6-4, 190). Both have already professed an interest in Ohio State. In Ohio, OSU could look long and hard at Clayton Northmont's Tyler Horner (6-3, 195), Orrville's Tim Hiller (6-4, 205) and Cincinnati St. Xavier's Rob Schoenhoft (6-5, 225).
Down the line, it seems OSU is already interested in Washington C.H. (Ohio) Miami Trace junior-to-be Miles Schlichter (6-3, 185), who was invited to the recent Nike camp at Ohio State.
* In The Fold (3): Maurice Hall (Sr.), Lydell Ross* (Sr.), Tony Pittman (Fr.).
* In Limbo (1): Ira Guilford (So.)
* Walk-Ons (3): Michael DeMaria (Sr.), Roshawn Parker (Sr.), Matthew Johnson (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (2): Erik Haw, Dennis Kennedy
* Analysis: Ross (6-0, 220) looked solid in the spring, staying healthy and running with authority -- two things he failed to do, at least at times, during an up-and-down 2003 season. As a junior, 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. Ross could be ready to 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) missed spring practice as he recovered from knee surgery. A decision will be made on his status for 2004 prior to the season and a redshirt year may not be out of the question. As a junior, he was limited to spot duty and just 316 yards.
Pittman (5-11, 190) enrolled early for spring football and established himself nicely as a change-up back for Ross. He had 105 yards in the Scarlet and Gray Game. He had nearly 4,000 yards over his last two seasons at Akron Buchtel.
Guilford (6-0, 190) is in limbo after he and Irizarry were arrested on felony robbery charges earlier this month. Athletic director Andy Geiger said if the charges are proven in court, both players would be "gone." Guilford was not likely in OSU's plans for 2004 anyway. He missed spring practice due to department policy (assumed to be academic issues). He was ticketed as a safety coming out of high school, but was pressed into service as a backup here. But he only managed 64 yards on 28 carries.
Haw (6-1, 210) will join the tailback group in the fall. He had a 3,000-yard season at nearby Columbus Independence and brings a combination of power and speed to the tailback corps. Obviously, he and/or Pittman 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. It is possible his future may lie as a DB at Ohio State.
All of these players will be under the watchful eyes of new running backs coach Dick Tressel, Tressel's brother and a former Division III head coach.
* 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), Xenia's Cedric Tolbert (6-0, 185), Cincinnati Colerain‘s Mister Simpson (5-11, 210) and possibly even Columbus Marion-Franklin‘s Alex Daniels (6-2, 215). (Daniels told our Duane Long an offer from OSU is imminent, although he could also project as a defensive player.)
The wait has already begun at OSU, certainly, for junior-to-be Chris Wells, a 6-2, 220-pound powerhouse from Akron Garfield judged as the state‘s top player in the Class of 2006.
* In The Fold (3): Branden Joe* (Sr.), Brandon Schnittker (Jr.), Stan White Jr. (So.).
* Walk-Ons (3): Colby Staubs (So.), Steve Fender (R-Fr.), Ryan Fran zinger (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (1): Dionte Johnson.
* Analysis: Joe (6-0, 245) cemented his hold on the starting job with a solid spring. He may have hurt his chances to be a team captain, though, with his citation for an open container violation in early May.
Joe recovered from some early-season injuries and supplanted Schnittker (6-1, 250) as the starter at midseason. He 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 fullback 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.
White (6-3, 238) is a versatile player, who showed good blocking and pass catching skills in the spring. He could also see time at tight end if Irizarry is unavailable this fall.
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 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.
* 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 Delphos St. John‘s Matt Schumacher (6-2, 235), who has attended some OSU events.
* In The Fold (7): Bam Childress (Sr.), John Hollins (Sr.), Roy Hall (So.), Santonio Holmes* (So.), Devin Jordan (R-Fr.), Dareus Hiley (R-Fr.), Tony Gonzalez (R-Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (4): Derek Harden (R-Fr.), Brent Ullery (R-Fr.), David Lisko (Fr.), Wesley Scott (eligibility unknown).
* New This Fall (2): Devon Lyons, Albert Dukes.
* Analysis: It was an interesting spring at this position. All six of the scholarship receivers in camp -- Hiley missed spring ball due to department policy (presumed to be an academics issue) -- shined at various times for new receivers coach Darrell Hazell.
When the dust settled, it seemed certain that Holmes (5-11, 170) would be the starter at flanker. Holmes emerged at midseason in 2003 after starting flanker Drew Carter went down with a knee injury. Holmes 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 could be one of the Big Ten's most exciting receivers to watch in 2004.
At split end, everything was set up for Hall (6-3, 228) to replace departed starter Michael Jenkins. But Hall struggled somewhat in the two public scrimmages. He had just six catches in a reserve role last year. Hollins (6-2, 205), a fifth-year senior who has dealt with injury and depth problems, could be a guy to watch here if Hall struggles early in the season. He had five catches for 64 yards in the Scarlet and Gray Game.
Jordan (6-3, 190) could also be in the mix. He turned a few heads during the spring. 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. Gonzalez had five catches in the Scarlet and Gray Game.
Lyons (6-4, 214) is a big receiver who could come in and compete for playing time in the fall. Dukes (6-1, 170) comes from the same high school as Holmes (Belle Glade, Fla., Glades Central) and some think he is further along at this stage than Holmes. He should bring the speed component.
* Definitely Still Looking: Warren Harding's Mario Manningham, perhaps Ohio's best, has already committed to Michigan. Perhaps the next best in Ohio would be Canton GlenOak's Brian Hartline (6-3, 175). The Buckeyes could be close to extending him an offer.
Chagrin Falls' Brian Robiskie (6-4, 190, son of former NFLer and Cleveland Browns assistant coach Terry Robiskie), Avon Lake's Trey Stross (6-4, 190) and Huber Heights Wayne's Craig Orton (6-4, 175) are also intriguing possibilities in Ohio.
Outside Ohio, the Buckeyes have offered two of the nation's best in Maryland's Derrick Williams (6-1, 193) and Florida's Fred Rouse (6-3, 187). Rouse is believed to be a big Florida State lean. Other key names could be New Jersey's Selwyn Lymon (6-5, 190) and 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, although it is rumored he may not play football this fall and will concentrate solely on basketball.