This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. We are back now with the preseason 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 listed on the newest version of the roster are also included.
(All class designations are 2005 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)
* In The Fold (4): Troy Smith (Jr.), Justin Zwick* (Jr.), Todd Boeckman (R-Fr.), Rob Schoenhoft (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Ben Kacsandi (R-Fr.), Matthew Ciepiela (R-Fr.).
* Verbal For 2006 (1): Antonio Henton.
* Analysis: Smith's problems with the NCAA only seem to be compounding with the revelation that he missed class in June to attend a football camp in Tennessee sponsored by Steve McNair. He may or may not face additional penalties on top of the one remaining game of suspension he will serve for accepting illegal extra benefits from an OSU booster last year.
That suspension re-opens the door for Zwick (6-4, 225), who almost became the odd man out after he was injured and Smith came on to lead OSU to a 4-1 finish to the regular season. With Smith suspended, Zwick led OSU to an Alamo Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Barring something unforeseen, he will start the season opener against Miami (Ohio) and most likely the second game against Texas. Where this position battle goes from there would be anybody's guess.
Zwick started the first six games before going down with a shoulder injury. Smith (6-1, 215) then took over and started the last five games of the regular season. That included a masterful performance in the win over Michigan.
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.
Boeckman (6-5, 235) also figures to finally get on the field for the Buckeyes. 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. He will play for the Ohio team in Saturday's Big 33 Football Classic in Hershey, Pa. Obviously, the Buckeyes would love to redshirt him this year.
* Not Looking: There is a plethora of quarterback talent in the state of Ohio this year. And OSU had most if not all of the top names in camp at various times in June. But OSU instead offered several run/pass quarterbacks from outside the state and accepted a verbal commitment from Henton, who hails from Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County. Henton (6-2, 215) threw for 1,810 yards and 19 touchdowns against just five interceptions as a high school junior. He impressed OSU's coaches with his arm strength during the summer camp.
OSU will apparently take a pass on a number of Ohio's best QBs, including 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).
* In The Fold (3): Tony Pittman (So.), Erik Haw (R-Fr.), Maurice Wells (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Matthew Johnson (So.), Colby Staubs (Jr.).
* Verbal For 2006 (1): Chris Wells.
* Analysis: Pittman (5-11, 195) came into spring practice with a slight lead over Haw (6-1, 212) for the starting spot. He seemed to hold onto that edge at the end of the spring, particularly after Haw was cited for smoking a marijuana cigarette on a campus sidewalk. But Haw's indiscretion seems minor and he may not even miss any playing time this fall as a result.
Pittman 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.)
In the spring, he showed some polish and appeared to be ready for the rigors of a season of carrying the football in the Big Ten.
Haw 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. Provided he can keep his nose clean, Haw could also be a huge factor this season for the Buckeyes.
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 enrolled over the summer and has reportedly wowed teammates and coaches with his ability in summer drills. 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 signee Anderson Russell -- 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 midway through his junior year. He is the No. 1 player in Ohio's senior 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. The Scout.com database showed just one other tailback offered and that was Maryland's A.J. Wallace (6-1, 195), who many see as a cornerback.
In Ohio, other possibilities later in the year could be 2,200-yard rusher Anthony Elzy (5-10, 195) of Warren JFK or Cleveland Benedictine's Jahmal Brown (5-10, 190).
* 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.).
* Verbals For 2006 (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 (6-2, 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. He did get some activity with the ball in the spring as the Buckeyes experimented with a "big back" look with him at tailback and Johnson at fullback.
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, 250) 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 has piled on 20 pounds since last year and, as a former offensive lineman at nearby Columbus Eastmoor Academy, has the mentality to be a great blocker.
Fender (6-4, 250) could be the most promising of the walk-ons, who could earn playing time if any of them proves to be an effective blocker in the I.
* Definitely Looking: With Schnittker leaving after this year, OSU definitely needs a fullback. OSU still had not offered a prototype fullback, however. Some names in Ohio to file away include Canal Fulton Northwest's Scott Weber (6-2, 215) and Gallia Academy's Dustin Winters (6-0, 230). Jacksonville (Fla.) Nease fullback Hunter Haines (6-2, 218) attended OSU's camp and could also get a look.
* In The Fold (10): Roy Hall (Jr.), Santonio Holmes* (Jr.), Devin Jordan (So.), Tony Gonzalez (So.), Devon Lyons (So.), Ted Ginn Jr.* (So.), Albert Dukes (R-Fr.), Andre Amos (Fr.), Brian Hartline (Fr.), Brian Robiskie (Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (5): Derek Harden (So.), Brent Ullery (So.), David Lisko (R-Fr.), Kyle Ruhl (R-Fr.), Pete Foltz (R-Fr.).
* Verbal For 2006 (1): Josh Chichester.
* Analysis: This may be one of the deepest and most talented receiver corps in the nation. OSU could go six receivers deep with upperclassmen this fall and have no serious drop-off.
Holmes (5-11, 190) gave a passing 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. It is possible that Holmes, who will be a fourth-year junior, could opt for the NFL if he has a big season in 2005.
Meanwhile, Ginn (6-0, 175) 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. Six of his eight touchdowns went for 58 yards or longer. With OSU thin at corner, Ginn could play a dual role – a la Chris Gamble – in 2005. He did not run track as a freshman so he could heal and bulk up.
Gonzalez (6-0, 195) 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.
Hall (6-3, 240) 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. He has gained 15 pounds of muscle, which could allow him to play H-back or tight end as well in 2005.
Jordan (6-3, 190) redshirted in 2003, then was lost for the 2004 season after suffering a leg injury in preseason camp. After several false starts to his career, he is hoping to get into the mix this fall.
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, 190) 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. But the charges were dropped and Dukes was able to return to school and the team in time for spring practice. He impressed coaches and teammates alike with his play making ability in the spring. He could be a player to watch – just as his former prep teammate Holmes was in his redshirt year – this fall.
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. After a fine showing as a corner in a high school all-star game (and OSU's depth at receiver), he may get a look on defense in fall camp.
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. He rehabbed the injury and was able to run track in the spring, winning a pair of state championships in the hurdles in the process. He will make his return to football in Saturday's Big 33 Football Classic.
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. Football is in his blood – his dad is current Browns assistant coach (and former NFL player) Terry Robiskie.
Chichester (6-8, 210) is a two-sport star at West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West, also excelling in basketball. Chichester had 27 catches for 603 yards and 11 TDs during the 2004 regular season. He had offers from Michigan, Illinois and Notre Dame, among others. Chichester, who has the look of a Randy Moss-type receiver, also figures to walk on to the OSU basketball team at some point after his freshman year.
* Still Looking: The Buckeyes may sign one or maybe even two more receivers in this class. Some key candidates would California's David Ausberry (6-4, 215; says OSU and USC are his top two), Georgia's Chris Slaughter (6-3, 165), New Jersey's Andrey Baskin (6-4, 200), Pennsylvania's Wesley Lyons (6-5, 205), Florida's Devin Parrish (6-0, 169) and Florida's Bryan Thomas (6-2, 192). All of them claim OSU offers.
And the Buckeyes could also go after Columbus Brookhaven's Jeff Cumberland (6-4, 225), who was the star of the Scout.com Akron combine – provided his academics check out.
Check back for the next four installments of The Big Board over the next several days.