This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. We are back now with the post signing day edition of The Big Board. 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 listed on the Alamo Bowl version of the roster are also included.
(All class designations are 2005 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)
* In The Fold (3): Troy Smith* (Jr.), Justin Zwick (Jr.), Todd Boeckman (R-Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Ben Kacsandi (R-Fr.), Matthew Ciepiela (R-Fr.)
* New This Fall (1): Rob Schoenhoft
* Analysis: This is kind of a touchy situation, huh? Who do you list as the returning starter? I went with Smith (6-1, 215), although he only started five games to seven for Zwick (6-4, 225).
Obviously, there are a lot of dynamics here. Zwick started the first six games before going down with a shoulder injury. Smith then took over and started the last five games of the regular season, leading OSU to a 4-1 finish. That included a masterful performance in the win over Michigan. But, just as it appeared he had cemented the job, Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl for taking illegal extra benefits from an OSU booster.
Zwick, fully recovered, stepped in and ably led OSU to an Alamo Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Smith will be permitted to practice in all team events, including spring football and preseason practice. But his status for the 2005 season opener against Miami (Ohio) was still in doubt as OSU planned an appeal to the NCAA to get him reinstated.
Statistically speaking, Zwick completed 98 of 187 passes (52.4 percent) for 1,209 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Smith was 68 of 122 passing (55.7 percent) for 896 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had 339 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground.
Before the suspension, this was clearly Smith's job. But when asked after the Alamo Bowl if the quarterback job was back up for grabs, OSU coach Jim Tressel said, "Everyone is in the running, you know that. We have a competitive group of guys who make each other better. This is what is great about Ohio State. Sometimes you reach your potential because of the other guys in the room. That's a great situation."
That means that Boeckman (6-5, 235) could also get a strong look this spring. He grayshirted in 2003, then enrolled last winter and went through spring ball. He impressed everybody with his poise at such a young age. He redshirted in 2004. That gave 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 (6-6, 225) was ranked as the nation's 17th-best QB prospect by Scout.com. As a senior at Cincinnati St. Xavier, he was 88 of 182 passing (48.4 percent), for 1,268 yards, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He missed 2-1/2 games due to injury. He also had 42 carries for 31 yards and four touchdowns.
* Definitely Looking: Ohio State seemed to be in the market for one more quarterback. In the state of Ohio, there were three that seemed to be battling it out for a scholarship offer: Canton GlenOak's Mike Hartline (6-5, 190; brother of OSU signee WR Brian Hartline), Bellaire's Nate Davis (6-2, 210) and Washington C.H. Miami Trace's Miles Schlichter (6-1, 195; nephew of former OSU All-American and Big Ten MVP Art Schlichter). It seemed likely that OSU would deliberate long and hard – through the camp season in June – before settling on one of these three players to offer.
Outside Ohio, the Buckeyes were attracting some interest from record-setting Tim Tebow (6-3, 220) from Florida as well as Sean Hakes (6-2, 180) from Texas.
* In The Fold (2): Tony Pittman (So.), Erik Haw (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Matthew Johnson (So.), Colby Staubs (Jr.).
* New This Fall (1): Maurice Wells.
* Verbal For 2006 (1): Chris Wells.
* Analysis: Perhaps no position on the entire roster is more wide open than this one. And the thing is there are only really three scholarship players competing for it and only two of them will be in spring ball.
Pittman (5-11, 190) may have the slightest of edges because of experience. He graduated early from Akron Buchtel and enrolled early for spring football last year. He ended up as a backup to senior starters Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, finishing the year with 72 carries for 401 yards and one touchdown. He tallied 144 yards on 20 carries in a win over Indiana, but then landed in the doghouse and saw limited action down the stretch. (He had two carries for 3 yards in the Alamo Bowl.)
Haw (6-1, 210) came to OSU off a 3,000-yard season at nearby Columbus Independence, although he redshirted as a freshman. He brings a combination of power and speed to the tailback corps. If he can show durability and dependability, this job could very easily be his in 2005.
Maurice Wells (5-10, 185) was rated as the nation's 19th-best running back by Scout.com after rushing for 5,985 yards and scoring 55 touchdowns in his career at Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood. He will get a quick look in fall camp to see if he can provide help. But at 185 pounds, it is unlikely he would be used as an every down back as a true freshman.
There has been talk that OSU signees Anderson Russell or Freddie Lenix – each recruited primarily on defense -- could also see time at tailback this fall as the Buckeyes search for added depth.
Chris Wells (6-1, 220) was offered months ago by OSU despite being only a junior. He is the No. 1 player in Ohio's junior class, rushing for 1,930 yards as a junior at Akron Garfield. The Buckeyes missed on a second tailback in the 2005 class, but they filled that need immediately with Wells' verbal just four days after national signing day. Michigan and Oklahoma had also inquired about his services.
* Still Looking?: OSU will probably want a second back in this class. In Ohio, another possibility could be 2,200-yard rusher Anthony Elzy (5-10, 195). Cleveland Glenville's Ray Small (6-0, 170) has already been offered, but most see him as a receiver or defensive back at the college level.
Outside Ohio, OSU could make a play for Indiana's James Aldridge (6-1, 215), Florida's Javarris James (6-1, 205) and California's Stafon Johnson (6-0, 189), among others.
* In The Fold (3): Brandon Schnittker (Sr.), Stan White Jr. (Jr.), Dionte Johnson (So.).
* Walk-Ons (3): Steve Fender (So.), Ryan Franzinger (So.), Matt Daniels (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (0): None.
* Analysis: Injuries and the offense's general ineffectiveness led the Buckeyes away from the I formation, meaning the fullbacks got very few reps in 2004. Departed senior Branden Joe got a majority of the plays here down the stretch.
Schnittker (6-0, 250) started two games and has now played in 32 for his career. But he logged no carries and only had two catches in 2004. He will get a strong look as a senior, particularly because of his ability as a blocker.
White (6-3, 242) played in nine games, starting one in 2004. His year was curtailed by injury. He is a versatile athlete who has shown – at least in practice -- he can catch the ball out of the backfield and punish would-be tacklers.
Johnson (6-0, 230) is definitely the future for OSU at fullback. He appeared headed for a redshirt before appearing in the season's last six games and starting against Michigan State. The son of former Buckeye Pepper Johnson, Dionte 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 (6-4, 250) returned to the team after missing 2003 due to injury. The walk-ons could earn playing time if any of them proves to be an effective blocker in the I.
* Definitely Looking: With Joe gone and Schnittker leaving, OSU definitely needs a fullback. The top name in Ohio could be Canal Fulton Northwest's Scott Weber (6-2, 215). OSU is also interested in California's Chane Moline (6-2, 235). Moline, who had 1,800 yards and 39 TDs on an undefeated CIF title-winning team, is a teammate of OSU signee DE Ryan Williams from Mission Viejo.
* In The Fold (6): Roy Hall (Jr.), Santonio Holmes* (Jr.), Devin Jordan (So.), Tony Gonzalez (So.), Devon Lyons (So.), Ted Ginn Jr.* (So.).
* In Limbo (1): Albert Dukes (R-Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (5): Derek Harden (So.), Brent Ullery (So.), David Lisko (R-Fr.), Kyle Ruhl (R-Fr.), Pete Foltz (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (3): Andre Amos, Brian Hartline, Brian Robiskie.
* Analysis: Holmes (5-11, 185) gave a thought to declaring for the NFL draft, but ultimately opted to return for his junior season at OSU. After emerging late in the 2003 season (32 catches, 549 yards, seven TDs), Holmes became one of the Big Ten's top receivers in 2004 with 55 catches for 769 yards and seven TDs. He also had a punt return for a score.
Meanwhile, Ginn (6-0, 170) had one of the most impressive debut seasons at OSU in many years. The former prep All-American from Cleveland Glenville opened the year splitting duty between receiver and cornerback. But he emerged as a starter at receiver at midseason, starting the last five games. He ended up with 25 catches to go with eight touchdowns as a true freshman – four on punt returns, two receiving and two rushing. With OSU thin at corner, Ginn figures to play a dual role – a la Chris Gamble – in 2005.
Gonzalez (6-0, 190) came off a redshirt season in 2003 and, by season's end, was the third receiver. He had touchdown grabs of 68 yards against Michigan and 23 in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State. Those were among his eight receptions on the year.
Those three give Ohio State, arguably, one of the fastest receiving corps in the country.
"I'd give us a 97 for speed," Holmes said. "It shows in practice. We have pretty good DBs and we run by them every day in practice. I don't think there are very many DBs out there faster than our DBs."
Hall (6-3, 228) was supposed to step up and become a threat at split end. He ended up starting five games, giving up many of his reps after Ginn's emergence. He ended up with 17 catches for 230 yards and one touchdown.
Jordan (6-3, 190) redshirted in 2003, then was lost for the 2004 season after suffering a leg injury in preseason camp. Hopes are high that he will be full-go for the spring.
Lyons (6-4, 214) has the look of a future star as a big receiver. He played mostly on special teams as a true freshman, catching two passes for 15 yards.
Dukes (6-1, 170) redshirted in 2004, then was sent home to Florida in January to contend with a criminal charge of having sexual relations with a minor in his hometown of Belle Glade, Fla. His status with the team likely depends on being exonerated of those charges. He was due to face a trial in late February.
Amos (6-1, 180) had 32 catches for 502 yards as a senior for Middletown, Ohio. Amos, rated as the nation's 29th-best receiver by Scout.com, picked OSU over Purdue and Michigan before the season.
Hartline (6-3, 180) picked OSU over the summer. But he suffered a broken leg in his team's season opener and missed the rest of the year. His rehab has reportedly progressed nicely and he could compete in track this spring.
Robiskie (6-3, 190) was a late addition to the OSU class. He had 47 catches for 754 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior for Chagrin Falls. He is a big receiver who runs good routes and could stretch defenses.
* Definitely Looking: OSU figures to get at least one and maybe two receivers in this class, perhaps pending Dukes' status. However, there have been no reported early offers to wide receivers. In Ohio, some names to watch include Alliance Marlington's Troy Paisley (6-2, 185), Cleveland Glenville's Daven Jones (6-1, 175), St. Paris Graham's Myles Trempe (6-5, 185), Cleveland St. Ignatius' Rob Parris (6-4, 175) and West Chester Lakota West's Josh Chichester (6-8, 200). Chichester has reportedly been offered by Cincinnati for football and basketball and perhaps by OSU for basketball.
Outside the state, some key names may be California's David Ausberry (6-4, 215), Illinois' Carl Fisher (6-1, 198) and Pennsylvania's Aaron Smith (6-1, 185).