We'll take a close look at some of these players and examine how they might fit in Ohio State's plans for the rest of the season.
Erik Haw: Since Jim Tressel's "doghouse" has tighter security than the Pentagon, it's not 100 percent clear what is happening with all of the players in question. But I think we all know what's going on with Haw. He was caught smoking a joint outside of his dorm last spring and served what was basically a two-game suspension to start the season. He played late in the fourth quarter in the Buckeyes' wins over San Diego State and Iowa, but is still fourth on the depth chart at tailback, behind Brandon Schnittker and Maurice Wells. At some point this season, I still expect Haw to claim the backup job behind Antonio Pittman (that's future 1,000-yard back Antonio Pittman).
Mike D'Andrea: We won't know for sure until next week, but the plan is for D'Andrea to return to action against Penn State. The coaching staff will likely ease him in, but he could end up being a solid contributor on special teams and at linebacker. With Bobby Carpenter seeing more and more snaps at defensive end and with Marcus Freeman's injury situation (more on that later), there will be opportunities for D'Andrea to play.
Brian Hartline/Brian Robiske: Entering the season, most people probably figured that both of these freshmen wide receivers would redshirt. But at the ripe age of 17, the staff decided to play Robiske (he won't be 18 until December). Hartline suffered a serious leg injury last year and missed most of his senior season. Yes, he looked impressive over the summer, but maybe the staff wanted to give him the extra year to make sure he was fully recovered. But it might be as simple as this: with all the depth and talent OSU possesses at receiver this year, there was only room for one freshman to play. Robiske's sure hands, precise route running and knowledge of the game (having an NFL coach as a father doesn't hurt) might have won the day. There has also been talk that the staff was torn on whether to redshirt Robiske and Hartline – both looked impressive enough to play, but the staff knew there would not be much playing time available – and left it up to the players to decide. The conversation might have gone something like this: "We want you to play; we think you can help. But we have at least four good receivers ahead of you and you won't play very much." But the staff wouldn't have given Robiske (or maybe Hartline) that choice unless he was very impressive during camp.
Devon Lyons: The rumbling I'm hearing is that Lyons is done for the year with an undisclosed injury (he was out earlier this year with what was thought to be a minor ankle injury). The good news is that he can use this year as a medical redshirt and still have three years of eligibility remaining. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise for Lyons (and the program as well). He likely would not have played much this year, unless he was able to beat out Roy Hall for the No. 4 receiver job. The way Hall is playing, it doesn't look like that would have happened.
Marcus Freeman: Following the Freeman situation has been a roller coaster. He suffered a torn meniscus (knee) in the opener against Miami and was expected to miss just two weeks. Then, word came down that Freeman had a staph infection and could miss the rest of the season. The truth might be somewhere in between. Latest word is that he will miss a few more weeks, but could return as early as the Michigan State game on Oct. 15. Could the coaching staff still decide to redshirt Freeman and save the year? Yes, since he only played in one game, that is a possibility. But my guess is that he will play if he's able to return to 100 percent.
Sirjo Welch: Like Haw, I believe Welch was serving what was basically a "suspension" for the first two games of the season. But he played against San Diego State and Iowa and should be a big contributor on special teams the rest of the season. You won't find many gunners better than Welch. He has a knack for getting through blocks and making plays downfield. A nice blend of speed, timing and fearlessness.
James Laurinaitis/Curtis Terry: This question has popped up several times on various message boards: Why is the true freshman Laurinaitis playing ahead of the sophomore Terry? At the risk of sounding simplistic, it's because Laurinaitis impressed everyone with his play during camp and is just the better player at this point. Terry is still very much in the mix – especially on special teams. He's played in all four games. But Laurinaitis is a future starter at one of the outside linebacker spots.
Curt Lukens: The third-year sophomore was expected to add weight and play outside linebacker at OSU, but was moved back to strong safety last spring. I'm guessing the lack of playing time is not a doghouse issue with him. There is just a lot of talent ahead of him at the safety position. Lukens has played in two games with one special teams tackle thus far this season.
Dionte Johnson: He was expected to be that "Jamar Martin" fullback the offense lacked the last few years. Johnson didn't play much the first three games, but was unleashed against Iowa and proved how good he can be. While we're making comparisons, Johnson reminds me of NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal in that he is going to hit someone hard on every play. Sometimes it's one of his own linemen, but Johnson is going to get a hat on someone and clear them out of the way. He will be an important cog as the Buckeyes continue their run in the Big Ten gauntlet. When Jim Tressel gets a lead, you know he is going to line up in the I-formation quite a bit and pound the ball. We're seeing more shotgun-spread than ever before at OSU, but power football will always be a big part of the offense. I think the Buckeyes have two good fullbacks in Johnson and Stan White Jr. – two big reasons why the running game will continue to improve this season.
John Kerr: He was Indiana's leading tackler as a true freshman in 2002, then transferred to OSU in 2003 and sat out the season. He did not play in a game during the 2004 season (another undisclosed "doghouse" issue most likely) but has found a home as a special teams demon this year. Kerr plays on several of the units and has stood out on a few occasions early this year. Next year, he will be fighting for a starting job at linebacker.
Kyle Mitchum/Ben Person/Jon Skinner: This trio of offensive linemen came in together as part of the 2004 recruiting class and were all considered top prospects. However, now as redshirt freshmen, they have not cracked the two-deep. Well, Mitchum was on the two-deep at guard for a couple weeks, but was bumped off when Steve Rehring – the "other" O-line recruit from last year – was shifted from left tackle to guard. For anyone who is concerned about these three linemen, I give you T.J. Downing. He was not on OSU's two-deep his redshirt freshman year and has developed into one of the best linemen on the team. If Mitchum, Person and Skinner are still buried on the depth chart next season, be worried. But right now, they are very young and the staff is probably taking its time in bringing them along. Yes, you can say for every Downing, there's a Nick Mangold or Rob Sims that play right away. But I'm just not ready to give up on these guys because they are not in the two-deep as freshmen.
Jim Cordle: Speaking of guys that were impressive from day one, freshman center Jim Cordle definitely would have been on the two-deep this year if he didn't suffer an ankle injury in camp. He enrolled in college early and participated in spring practice and Jim Bollman made no bones about the fact that Cordle was the center of the future. However, as good as Cordle is, the staff might have no choice at this point but to redshirt him. If he's not 100 percent and he's already missed four games, why waste the year? All bets are off if Mangold goes down with an injury (even then Doug Datish could play center) but right now it looks like Cordle is headed for a redshirt year.
Rory Nicol: The talented sophomore tight end from Pennsylvania was hoping to return from a leg injury in time to play in front of the home-state fans at Penn State. But now rumors are circulating that Nicol could miss the rest of the season. Again, the only good news there is that he could use this season as a redshirt year since he played as a true freshman. But with OSU's depth situation at tight end (lack thereof) Nicol would have been a key player on this year's squad. Let's hope the rumors are nothing more than that, but it doesn't look like Nicol will be back at this time.
Marcel Frost: That leads right into the next player in question: Frost. The sophomore tight end was likely a doghouse casualty for the early stages of the season. He played against Iowa, so the "suspension" is now over. The only question that remains is: How much will he play? Ryan Hamby and Brandon Smith have received most of the snaps at TE thus far, but there is no question Frost's athletic ability would be a nice boost for the offense. If his head is in the right place, he can help.
Sian Cotton: This guy can be a force at defensive tackle with his blend of quickness and power. But he might have been yet another player who was renting a room in the JT doghouse for the first two or three weeks of the season. For most of the "doghouse gang" my guess would be too much "partying" in the offseason, but definitely do not take that as gospel. As for Cotton, it will be tough to work his way into the rotation at defensive tackle, but he is a talented player who will provide solid depth. If there's an injury, he could step in and more than hold his own in the trenches.