Practice Observations, National Thoughts

If you are a rabid Buckeye fan, chances are you want to know how <i>every</i> player is doing so far this month. We don't have an update on everyone, but Charles Babb comes pretty close as he gives his thoughts on the team by position and also looks at some issues on the national scene.

Around the Nation

Mike Williams Should NOT Regain His Eligibility

Why on earth was Mike Williams practicing with USC?

Williams declared himself eligible for the draft and hired an agent. He was warned by both the NFL and the NCAA not to take those actions, but he chose to do so anyway. He, like Maurice Clarett, focused only on the money and not what is best for the sport, the NCAA, and even his teammates.

However, now that the courts have ruled against Clarett, Williams wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Had there been no previous precedent in a situation like this, I could see where the NCAA might need to be lenient and let Williams back into the sport.

The problem is, this type of situation has come up before.

Several years ago, the Tennessee Volunteers' star wideout Donte Stallworth decided to enter the NFL draft. He sent in his paperwork on January 10, but the very next day he changed his mind. The University worked to try and get him reinstated. He wanted to come back for his senior season to help his team, improve his abilities, and graduate. The NCAA ruled against Stallworth's return. So, instead of playing with the Volunteers in 2002 and earning a degree, he ended up at New Orleans.

If the NCAA allows Williams to play for USC, Tennessee and Donte Stallworth should sue them. Further, if the NCAA allows Williams to play without a suspension of at least eight games to a full year, then Maurice Clarett and Ohio State should sue them.

It would be nice for Williams to have a place in college football; it would make everything puppies and roses. However, nobody pointed a gun to his head and made him declare for the draft, sign with an agent, etc. He did it. He dug his own grave with his own shovel. There is a place for young men who wish to play for money without using three years of eligibility.

It's called the CFL.

OU - OSU

No, this is not about The Ohio State University and Ohio University. It is about the real OU in college football and one of the ‘little' OSU's.

In the ever increasing facilities arms race, the last thing any coach or program wants to do is fall behind, and coach Les Miles of Oklahoma State surely had to be thrilled about the $120,000,000 project on Boone Pickens Stadium - at least until an OU fan took matters into his own hands.

The instructions given by the subcontractors to the bricklayer were to take two different colors of brick and spell out the letters "OSU" on the stadium wall. The wall was built and months went by with apparently no trouble. Oklahoma State appeared to be happy with the results and construction continued.

Then, pictures began to surface of the Cowboys' stadium with the letters "OU" on its side in a dark shade of brick… Apparently, the bricklayer was an avid Oklahoma fan. So, instead of spelling out "OSU", he intentionally bought a darker shade of brick (closer to the Sooners' color Crimson), and put OU in its place.

The contractor is of course going to remove the brickwork and fix the stadium, but this should certainly add a bit more spice to the teams' rivalry when the Sooners visit Stillwater on October 30.

 

Buckeye Thoughts

The Quarterback Race

Who will it be?

For my money, Justin Zwick is winning and will win this battle. Though it could change, I don't believe it is really all that close at this moment.

Much was made of the Spring Scrimmage rules instituted by the coaching staff that curtailed scrambling by the quarterbacks. There were whispers from Troy Smith apologists and even media articles implying the coaches were playing favorites. The problem is that those folks (and that sentiment) are as wrong as a $3 bill, and their arguments as useless as a breath mint at a garlic festival.

A quarterback has to be able to execute an offense. Troy Smith has a cannon of an arm and his scrambling abilities are reminiscent of a poor man's Michael Vick. However, where Smith has struggled is executing the offense (which means he must stay in the pocket in the face of a rush) and accuracy. In the real world of college football - coaches get paid millions of dollars to figure out if a quarterback is prone to scramble. They will force him to throw the football by designing a ‘spy' or ‘rover' coverage to stop the signal caller dead in his tracks. The end result is a loss.

Need proof? Check out the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State forced Ell Roberson to throw to beat them. He couldn't and the Buckeyes won a game in which the score was closer than the results on the field. In the two 2003-04 losses suffered by Kansas State under Roberson, the Oklahoma State Cowboys allowed him only 61 yards rushing on 21 attempts and the Buckeyes allowed him only 32 yards on 16 attempts. That's 2.5 yards a carry. Meanwhile, when Roberson was allowed to run freely against Oklahoma (17 rushes 62 yards), Nebraska (22 rushes 90 yards), and Missouri (24 rushes 95 yards) he averaged better than 3.9 yards a carry.

In other words, this was not about ‘favoritism' or being ‘unfair' or ‘taking away' a portion of Smith's game. Don't believe a word of that nature for even a second. What has to happen for Troy Smith to take his game to the next level - to the level needed of a starter at Ohio State - is for him to become not a ‘creator' but an ‘executor' for the offense.

Until that happens, I look for Justin Zwick to be the starter and Todd Boeckman could even become the second string quarterback. While they lack the cannon arm of Smith, both of these young men are throwing crisp passes with nice overall accuracy. Boeckman in particular made a fantastic throw to Jordan Hoewischer in practice Monday as he was being leveled by freshman Vernon Gholston. Hoewischer returned the favor by hauling it in and rumbling for another 20+ yards for a total gain of over 40 yards. When pressure forces Boeckman and Zwick out of the pocket, they will often roll out to buy time for the other equally talented players to help. This results in three options (instead of just one - tucking and rushing):

(1) They force defensive backs and linebackers to react to the possibility of a rushing attempt on their part. Defenses must either allow an easy 5-10 yards on a quarterback run OR try to stop that run and risk his tossing the football over their heads for a potential score.

(2) They buy time for wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs to get open. If nothing shows promise, they can throw the ball away and avoid a negative play.

(3) If the defense refuses to react or is caught completely off guard and out of position, they can run the football for a first down.

Understand this is not an anti-Troy Smith pogrom. He is a talented young athlete - as are Justin Zwick and Todd Boeckman. I am simply saying that until Smith thinks like a passing quarterback, he will struggle running the offense on a consistent basis. He will continue to flash more brilliantly than the Hope Diamond in sunlight at times but be duller than a chunk of coal in the back of a mineshaft at others. A jaw-dropping 25-yard scramble to get Ohio State out of trouble could easily be followed by a 15-yard loss or an interception that puts the special teams or defense in a tough spot.

Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and John Elway never won a Super Bowl when they were ‘creators' first. Of the three, only Elway has climbed that mountain, and he did so only because he matured and executed a team based offense.

Unless something changes, expect to see Justin Zwick starting on September 4. He might not be as nifty with his feet as Smith, but he isn't John Navarre either. To my eyes, he is currently the best option for success in 2004. However, if Smith becomes an accurate quarterback that executes first and then creates? Look out. Nobody on this team could keep him off the field.

Wideout

It's easy to forget just how much talent the Buckeyes lost from this unit just a year ago. Michael Jenkins, Drew Carter, and Chris Gamble were all drafted with two going in the first round. Ohio State must find young men to step into those massive shoes. What is truly frightening is that they just might do it.

On Monday, all of the wideouts showed nice hands on a variety of patterns. Of particular note were John Hollins and Santonio Holmes. Holmes is simply a game breaker. If he is healthy and the quarterbacks can get him the ball in stride, he could have the best season for an Ohio State receiver since Terry Glenn. He finds ways to get open and ball security issues appear to be a pale specter from the past. John Hollins looks like Mr. Consistency right now. The 5th year senior continues to catch everything thrown his direction. If the rest of his game rounds out, then he could see the field and become a favorite for a young quarterback, ala Dee Miller.


As for the others…Roy Hall may lack experience right now, but he shows great use of body that will likely earn him a starting spot. On one particular pass, Ashton Youboty had him blanketed, but Hall simply put his body between Youboty and the football. There was nothing Youboty could do. He was left with the choice of interfering (and drawing a 15 yard penalty on a 10 yard pass) or hoping Hall dropped the pass. Hall caught the pass; first down. Anthony Gonzalez, a name not heard in a while by Buckeye fans, also looked like he is progressing. He showed nice hands and with his speed might develop into a real threat. Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons could not hide their potential if they tried. Both are raw talents, but the Buckeyes need wideouts and Tressel as much as stated that these two would be in the rotation if there were a game this week. Bam Childress continues to be a feast or famine player. A young man who puts forth tremendous effort, he is limited by his size. Where Hall or Hollins cannot be blanketed even by a 6' defensive back, Childress is swallowed in such coverage. Childress has a place in this offense if the coaches and quarterbacks can conceive (and execute) plays to get the ball in his hands in open field.

Running Backs

Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross both look the part of Tressel seniors. They seem to grasp this is their final chance to form a lasting impression at Ohio State. Both injured a season in 2003, they showed toughness and desire. Willing to put their helmets down and grind out yardage in the middle, Ross and Hall also cut runs to the outside for solid gains. That bodes well for a team in dire need of improvement with its rushing attack.

The race between Antonio Pittman and Erik Haw will likely stretch until the first game or perhaps even beyond before the coaches decide who is third string. Each one has something a bit different to offer. Haw has the size (at 210 lbs) to take the beating the college game forces on those who play it but does not know the offense as well as Pittman who graduated early and played a starring role in the spring scrimmage. Pittman shows fantastic vision and cuts when allowed to thread his way through the defense, but his size could be a concern in a 3rd and goal from the 2-yard line situation. Both saw limited action on Monday in comparison with Hall and Ross.

The Freshman Class

You have to start with Teddy Ginn when you talk about this group. Ginn appears to be making a pretty large impression for a young man who weighs only 170 lbs. He was used so much at so many different positions on Monday, it made ME tired just watching. He ran pass patterns with the second and third team offense and third team cornerback with the defense. He also fielded punts with the special teams unit. Where Ginn will ultimately play (offense, defense, special teams - maybe all three) will largely depend on how quickly he can grasp the schemes. My guess is he will see the field more quickly on special teams return units and offensive sets with 4 and 5 receivers than on defense.

A few others who stood out Monday… Rory Nicol is going to play. How quickly life can turn. When recruited eight months ago, Nicol was looking at possibly backing up two fine talents in Ryan Hamby and Louis Irizarry for the next two seasons. Now, he finds himself battling for extensive playing time in his freshman season. Nicol looks the part physically and appears to be making the adjustment to the next level fairly well. He caught a couple of passes and is not easily intimidated.

Albert Dukes/Devon Lyons - Both were running with the third team offense though that could change by late September. Each appears to have a bright future and might help this offense much sooner than later. It's unfortunate that at least one of them could not have come in for spring practice, but with or without that advantage - they are ‘playas.'


Though it is difficult to ultimately know the grade a coach will hand out Vernon Gholston, Alex Barrow, and Nader Abdallah appeared to play well on the defensive line. They probably will not be instant starters but two of the three could find themselves in the rotation this fall if the coaches go ahead with the plan to alternate 8-10 players on the defensive line. Gholston looks the most physically mature while Abdallah and Barrow have long, lean bodies with long arms and frames that can add another 20-30 lbs without losing a step. This is a case of the rich just getting richer.

Dionte Johnson was on the field with special teams protection. In a lighter moment of Monday's practice, the coaches were lining up the players and Johnson was told to move right. He took a step to his left. So, one of the coaches hollered out, "NO! Your other right!" Johnson dutifully took two steps right (one to make up for the step left and one to get in the right gap). At least one upperclassman had a bit of fun with that, but the fact that Johnson was protecting a punter should speak volumes. If there is one position where you want to play a strong blocker, it is there. That bodes well for Johnson's future at Ohio State.

Defensive Backs…


How frightening is it that the Buckeyes have lost four defensive backs to the NFL draft in the last two seasons but this unit could be the most talented of them all? E.J. Underwood continues to look like he is ready to step in and make people forget about Chris Gamble. He shows solid skills in coverage, looks for the football (his bane in 2002), and is willing to lay a strong hit on those who come his direction. Tyler Everett and Donte Whitner are battling for Will Allen's former spot in the lineup. Each has shown himself capable in spot duty over the last two seasons. Ashton Youboty just seems like he is ‘Mr. Consistency.' He is not flashy, but he gets the job done and will see the field. Brandon Mitchell continues to be someone to watch. He can and will step in at a moment's notice if needed and become the headhunter/enforcer in the Buckeye secondary. Receivers are going to want to be hit by Nate Salley this fall about as much as Bob Costas would like to be thumped by George Foreman. He appears to be physically maturing and in the absence of basketball spent the year in the weight room.

Offensive Line

For those paying attention, Monday's practice was very intriguing and perhaps even encouraging. In watched the individual drills (offensive line against defensive line), only Rob Sims and Nick Mangold were able to stop their men from getting to the QB dummy. The rest did the best they could but took turns being beat by defensive tackles and defensive ends. That sounds like an unmitigated disaster but probably isn't. When the offensive line played as a unit, they did much, much better. The sum proved to be much greater than the parts, and that is what an offensive line is supposed to be about.

Defensive End

If there is a possible weakness on the Buckeye defense (aside from lack of experience) in 2004, this is it. Replacing Will Smith is a Herculean task and may not be possible. However, Jay Richardson looked solid, continuing his development from the spring, and while Mike Kudla may lack the long arms prized in a defensive end, he has fantastic strength. Redgie Arden was running with the second team at times; he may well be on the verge of putting things together and contributing to this team. Jason Caldwell, a fantastic athlete who never seemed to put it together at tight end, appears to be making the transition to defensive end and could see the field.

Defensive Tackle and Linebacker

These two units are grouped because it is highly likely there will be an extensive rotation this fall. There are quite simply too many talented players to let them waste on the bench. Carpenter, Fraser, Hawk, and Pitcock all showed why they are likely starters Monday. The rest (Penton, Richardson, Patterson, Cotton, Schlegel, Freeman, Matthews, and D'Andrea) showed why they are worthy of playing time. Most coaching staffs would ritually sacrifice their family pet for this kind of depth and talent in their front seven on defense.

Special Teams...

It comes as no shocker that the Buckeyes are still trying to replace an All American, Ray Guy trophy winner. New addition Matthew Ciepiela showed off a nice leg - at least equal to Josh Huston's. His struggle will be to gain additional hang time and consistency. Tyson Gentry, another freshman, withstood a solid rush and launched several solid punts. Kyle Turano continues to have the best hang time and consistency, but his kicks do not travel as far as the others vying for the position. Josh Huston could turn into a fine punter, but he has yet to nail the door shut with clutch performance and consistency.

What will happen here nobody knows. The coaches and fans are simply going to have to wait to see who emerges. In fact, don't be surprised if the coaches use several punters this season in the search for who will perform under pressure. Another possibility would be to use either Huston/Ciepiela/Gentry in situations where the Buckeyes need a long punt from their own side of the field but trot out Kyle Turano when they are on within the opponents' 45-yard line. This would take advantage of his hang time and shorter punts and let him drop the ball inside the 15-yard line, forcing opponents to either fair catch it or risk it being downed inside the 5.

Mike Nugent is still Mike Nugent. Clutch. At least one publication picked him the third best place-kicker in the Big Ten. If there are two better place-kickers in the country, I personally want to see them.

Perhaps the greatest improvement on the team could be made in the return teams. Ohio State has struggled mightily in this area over the last several seasons, but with Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes waiting for kicks, those days could be a nightmare of the past. In fact, Holmes was nearly long gone on a punt return late in the afternoon. He fielded the ball and brought it all the way back inside the 15 yard line. For his part, Ted Ginn cleanly caught the football and made solid yardage when given the opportunity. So long as their blockers do their job in 2004, these two dynamos could be impressive. Teams might even pooch kick the football or angle it out of bounds to avoid them in the ultimate show of respect.

Drew Norman (Sophomore), Kyle Andrews (Senior), and Matt Drummelsmith (Freshman) took turns long snapping the football to punters in drills. Andrews is one of the unsung heroes of this team over the last several seasons, and the search will be on to find his replacement. Norman and Drummelsmith will have their work cut out to equal the consistency of Andrews, but if they do there will likely be a scholarship waiting.


Coaches

Watching Darrell Hazell coach is a treat. As has likely already been mentioned elsewhere, he worked with the wideouts on blocking. That's a bit of an understatement. In fact, Hazell not only had three tackling dummies set up and instructed the players, but he showed them how he wanted it done by diving into the turf as he worked his way around the triangle. For a moment, it looked as if he was ready to suit up and play against Cincinnati. As the young players worked their way through the drill, Hazell monitored them closely, barking for them to get lower, get lower, get lower.

New recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach John Peterson worked with the tight ends and kept a close eye on the offensive line. Don't be surprised if this former offensive line and running game coordinator at Miami of Ohio lends a hand when needed to make the entire front unit more effective. Unlike some staffs, there appear to be no ‘turf wars'; offense, defense, and special teams are collective efforts - not individual.

Finally, fans shouldn't get too caught up with who is running first or second team on defense (or offense for that matter). The numbers of talented players available to the Ohio State staff this year will likely lead to all sorts of experimentation and situational playing time. Right now, coaches appear to be finding out what different packages look like. This fall, expect more than a little bit of chess. Third and long may result in a completely different personnel package than first and ten or even third and short. Not only does that have the potential to play to the Buckeyes' personnel strengths, but it can also be highly confusing for opposing players. What looked to be open when the coaches called the play isn't any longer. Instead, the offensive unit might find itself about to step into a gigantic bear trap.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories