This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. With three games in the books, 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 are listed on this week's version of the roster are also included.
(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-Ons (2): Ben Kacsandi (Fr.), Matthew Ciepiela (Fr.)
* Verbal For 2005 (1): Rob Schoenhoft
* Analysis: Zwick (6-4, 225) emerged as the starter and has played all but five series in the first three games. He threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start against Marshall. The yardage total was the 10th highest single-game mark in OSU history. He came back and hit on 10 of 21 passes for 71 yards in the win over N.C. State. In three games, he is 42 of 77 passing (54.5 percent) for 610 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. This looks like it's his job to lose.
Smith (6-1, 215) is standing at the ready. He saw action in the first two games, connecting on 2 of 5 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. He says he will patiently wait his turn and believes he'll still get opportunities. At the present time, they are not experimenting with him at other positions. It will be interesting to see if Smith will truly push Zwick for the starting job this year or over the next two seasons as well.
Boeckman (6-5, 235) grayshirted in 2003, then enrolled last winter and went through spring ball. He has impressed everybody with his poise at such a young age. He still figures to redshirt this year. That would give him two years of separation between Zwick and Smith, meaning he would be in line to start in 2006-07 – although you might expect him to push for work before then.
Schoenhoft (6-5, 227) is considered as the nation's sixth-best quarterback prospect by TheInsidersRecruiting.com. He already has the pro quarterback's body and a strong arm. But he is still a work in progress. With continued improvement, he could be quite a pick-up for the Buckeyes over the next several years.
In effect, he replaces Joe Bauserman, a Florida quarterback prospect, who had verbaled to OSU for 2005 but decided instead to try his hand as a professional baseball pitcher.
* Still Looking?: That's hard to say. Florida prospect Carlton Jackson or Georgia standout Tray Rutland could still get a look. Jackson is due to visit for the Michigan game. Like Smith, he is a run/pass threat.
Meanwhile, there are a number of interesting quarterback prospects in Ohio for next year, including Washington C.H. (Ohio) Miami Trace's Miles Schlichter (6-3, 185), Canton GlenOak's Mike Hartline (6-5 ½, 190), Cleveland St. Ignatius' Rudy Kirbus (6-4, 190) and Springfield South's Brennen Glass (6-3, 190). Schlichter is the nephew of former OSU All-American Art Schlichter, while Hartline is the brother of OSU verbal commitment Brian Hartline.
* In The Fold (6): Maurice Hall (Sr.), Lydell Ross* (Sr.), Roshawn Parker (Sr.), Michael DeMaria (Sr.), Tony Pittman (Fr.), Erik Haw (Fr.).
* In Limbo (1): Ira Guilford (So.)
* Walk-Ons (2): Matthew Johnson (R-Fr.), Colby Staubs (So.).
* Verbals For 2005 (0): None.
* Analysis: Ross (6-0, 225) is the starter and a team co-captain. He got out of the gates fine with 141 yards against Cincinnati. But N.C. State held him to 51 yards on 21 carries this past week. Obviously, there are a number of factors involved in Ross' success or lack thereof. Through three games, he has 282 yards and two touchdowns on 66 carries (4.3 average). OSU coach Jim Tressel seems likely to stick with Ross, although his production could be helped by the presence of Pittman and fullback Branden Joe.
Pittman (5-11, 190) graduated early from Akron Buchtel and enrolled early for spring football. He would appear to be the lead backup. He had seven carries for 66 yards against Cincinnati, then did not play against Marshall due to injury. He then had two carries for 9 yards against N.C. State. He appears to be a half-step ahead of classmate Haw in the battle to play this year. Pittman's speed and ability are hard to miss.
Hall (5-10, 200) is gradually making his way back from off-season knee surgery. He had a pair of fine kick returns in the opener against Cincinnati. He seems to be strictly a situational player on offense, getting occasional carries (11 for 16 yards this year) and passes out of the backfield.
Haw (6-1, 210) is still waiting for his first game action in 2004 and could possibly redshirt. He had a 3,000-yard season at nearby Columbus Independence and brings a combination of power and speed to the tailback corps.
Former walk-ons Parker and DeMaria were awarded scholarships prior to the start of the season.
Guilford (6-0, 190) is in limbo after he and teammate Louis Irizarry were arrested on felony robbery charges in April. 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 last year. It is unclear whether he will ever be reinstated at Ohio State or go elsewhere once his case his resolved.
* 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. He plans to visit for Michigan weekend and is also looking at Maryland, USC and Georgia Tech, among others. Wells is ranked No. 7 nationally by TheInsidersRecruiting.com.
OSU may also make a play for Washington's Jonathan Stewart (5-10, 218), who is ranked as the nation's No. 1 back by TheInsidersRecruiting.com. OSU has not offered Stewart, who lists most of the top Pac-10 schools among his favorites. Another player the Buckeyes could pursue is Florida's Antone Smith (5-8, 185), who is ranked third nationally at the position.
Within Ohio, it is believed Ohio State could make a late play for Dayton Chaminade-Julienne's Javon Ringer (5-10, 190). Ringer already has 1,000 yards on the young prep season and seems headed toward a third straight 2,000-yard season. Florida is among a host of schools who have offered Ringer. But if his academic profile passes muster, OSU is expected to offer and Ringer definitely likes the Buckeyes.
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. He is also listed among the top 25 juniors nationally.
* In The Fold (4): Branden Joe (Sr.), Brandon Schnittker (Jr.), Stan White Jr.* (So.), Dionte Johnson (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Steve Fender (R-Fr.), Ryan Franzinger (R-Fr.).
* Verbals For 2005 (0): None.
* Analysis: White (6-3, 242) is coming off his first career start against N.C. State. He is a versatile player, who can play fullback and H-back. He has also shown an ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Joe (6-0, 245) was ticketed as the starter after splitting time at the position with Schnittker a year ago. However, a high ankle sprain kept him out of the first two games and he played only sparingly against N.C. State. Hopes are high he will get healthy and regain the form he showed in the Fiesta Bowl, where he rushed for 46 yards. He could add another dimension to OSU's struggling running game.
Schnittker (6-2, 250) started the Marshall game and is a plugger. He is most valuable in pass protection and isolation blocking. None of these fullbacks 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.
Johnson (6-0, 230) is definitely the future for OSU at fullback. The son of former Buckeye Pepper Johnson, it appears Johnson will redshirt this season. 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.
Fender returned to the team after missing last year due to injury.
* Still Looking?: Fullback would not be a major priority, with White, Schnittker and Johnson all due back in 2005. OSU has offered Florida's Conredge Collins (5-11, 220), who could either play tailback or most likely fullback at the college level. OSU may also be looking at New Jersey's Rashawn Jackson (6-2, 254), who might be a Martin-type blocking fullback.
Within Ohio, 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 (9): Bam Childress (Sr.), John Hollins (Sr.), Roy Hall* (So.), Santonio Holmes* (So.), Devin Jordan (R-Fr.), Tony Gonzalez (R-Fr.), Albert Dukes (Fr.), Devon Lyons (Fr.), Ted Ginn Jr. (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (4): Derek Harden (R-Fr.), Brent Ullery (R-Fr.), David Lisko (Fr.), Kyle Ruhl (Fr.).
* Verbals For 2005 (2): Andre Amos, Brian Hartline.
* Analysis: Holmes (5-11, 185) has to be considered as one of the top receivers in the country. In three games, he has 16 catches for 331 yards (20.7 average) and three touchdowns. He emerged midway through last season after Drew Carter went down with an injury. 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.
Holmes is saying the right things now and, on paper, he still has two years of eligibility remaining. But as a third-year sophomore, Holmes could try and test the waters of the NFL draft at season's end.
It has been a struggle finding anybody to work opposite Holmes. Childress (5-10, 185) supplanted Hall as the starter for the N.C. State game. The senior is on his way to a career-best year with 10 catches for 125 yards already this year. Childress had 11 catches all of last year. He is a slippery receiver who has shown a penchant for making tough, possession catches.
Hall (6-3, 228) was supposed to step up and become a threat at split end. In three games, he has five catches for 61 yards, including a 20-yard TD against Marshall. He has all the athletic ability in the world and great size. He had six catches last year in limited time behind team MVP Michael Jenkins.
Ginn (6-0, 170) was ticketed originally as a cornerback. But with everything under control in the secondary and OSU in desperate need of play makers on offense, he has become almost exclusively an offensive player. He has three catches for 9 yards thus far.
Hollins (6-2, 205) is a fifth-year senior who has dealt with injury and depth problems. It's telling that he has hardly played so far this year, while Ginn has seen the field quite a bit in three- and four-receiver sets.
Gonzalez (6-0, 190) is awaiting his first opportunity to play after redshirting last year. Jordan (6-3, 190) redshirted last year, then was lost for this season after suffering a leg injury in preseason camp.
Lyons (6-4, 214) has the look of a future star as a big receiver. He has played mostly on special teams as a true freshman. Dukes (6-1, 170) comes from the same school as Holmes (Florida's Belle Glade Glades Central). He has not played yet and seems a likely redshirt candidate. He should bring the speed component.
Amos (6-1, 180) is enjoying a fine senior year at Middletown, Ohio. He picked OSU over Purdue before the season.
Hartline (6-2, 175) picked OSU over the summer. But he suffered a broken leg in his team's season opener and is out for the year. Hartline is pondering graduating early from Canton GlenOak and enrolling at OSU so he can accelerate his rehab.
* Still Looking?: OSU has some offers pending to some pretty good wide receivers nationally and would take one more verbal from a very good one. Some of those players include the nation's top two receivers, 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. Getting either of them on campus for an official visit would be considered a major coup.
OSU also offers pending to Indiana's Selwyn Lymon (6-4, 190) and Florida's Eric Sledge (6-2, 180).
Within Ohio, Chagrin Falls' Brian Robiskie (6-4, 190, son of former NFLer and Cleveland Browns assistant coach Terry Robiskie), Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit's Mike Chambers (6-2, 180) and Huber Heights Wayne's Craig Orton (6-4, 175) are also intriguing possibilities.
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 he is not playing this fall so he can concentrate solely on basketball. Cleveland Glenville's Devin Jones (6-1, 175) and West Chester Lakota West's Josh Chichester (6-6, 200), also a basketball standout, could also get heavy looks in that class.