Just like at the beginning of last season, many concerns have risen about the Buckeyes' offensive line. But is there reason to be so alarmed? Well, if you watched the spring game, or attended any practice, there sure seems to be. The D-Line basically had its way with its counterparts this spring, but it was a patchwork O-Line at best. Let's imagine for a moment that Shane Olivea and Adrien Clarke didn't miss all of spring with injuries. That would give you the projected starting line of LT: Olivea, LG: Clarke, C: Alex Stepanovich, RG: Bryce Bishop, RT: Ivan Douglas. Not bad, not bad at all.
Bottom line: If the five starters go into fall camp healthy, like they are expected to, I will be feeling pretty good about this group. And the depth will eventually be there thanks to the incoming freshman. You should never count on true freshmen to start, but just like the incoming linebackers, the frosh O-Linemen will provide solid depth. At least two (Morris, Datish) should see the two-deep and maybe as many as three or four... Of the reserves who were there this spring, Mike Stafford, John McLaughlin, Andree Tyree and Adam Olds probably made the biggest strides, but can you count on any of those guys in big games come fall?
In conclusion, despite the depth problems, I think we're looking at a pretty good line here. The return of Douglas is huge and all four of the other guys proved themselves last year. Will they dominate? No. But they might in 2003. All five of them are juniors this year.
WHAT TO DO WITH JUSTIN ZWICK?
That question is on the mind of many Buckeye fans these days. Everyone has an opinion on the Zwick situation, but there seems to be two general schools of thought:
Zwick will redshirt his first year - no need to rush a true freshman into the mix. Saving that year will sound like a really good idea in 2006.
He will outperform both Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen in fall camp, or sometime early this season, and will win the starter's job. Coach Tressel proved last year he has no faith in Krenzel and McMullen and even this spring was reluctant to name a starter. The writing is on the wall: Jay-Z will start this fall.
Both of those ideas make sense - you could make a strong argument either way. But my take is that Zwick will do neither of the above. I don't see a first-year player beating out a pair of fourth-year juniors, but I also don't see Justin sitting out the entire year.
So what will happen?
Well, even if Zwick is listed as No. 2, or No. 3 on the depth chart when the Bucks break camp, don't expect a redshirt. Expect him to play, maybe just a little. Here's why...
- There will be plenty of chances to play the backup QB throughout the season and even a few chances to get the third-stringer in. Home games against Kent, San Jose State and Indiana are all blowout possibilities and Zwick could get some extended action.
- Even if McMullen does open the season as the backup, Zwick could beat him out later on (thanks to that sterling 3-for-5, 22-yard performance against the third-team defense from Kent). And with 13 regular season games, Tressel might want to get all three QB's ready just to get through the long haul. This would be a different situation if Rick McFadden had stuck around, but with such a long schedule, Zwick is almost forced into the mix with the numbers shortage at QB.
- If Krenzel or McMullen gets hurt, you need to have someone ready. Of course, Tressel didn't consider this too much last year. Even when Bellisari went "belli up" against UCLA, Wisconsin and others, Tressel didn't turn to Krenzel or McMullen. The argument from most Buckeye fans at the time went something like this "Even if you really think Bellisari is better than both of them, why not give them a chance? What if Belli gets hurt later on this year and one of them needs to play? And don't you want to get one of them ready for next year?" Still not sure about the logic from last year, but don't look for Tressel to follow it again.
- Zwick will not be the typical true freshman QB who reports to camp and has three weeks to learn the playbook before the opener. He has said he will be hanging around campus this summer as much as possible (read, as much as the NCAA allows) and will study the playbook everyday. Some could use this as a reason why Zwick will win the starter's job, which definitely isn't out of the question, but I just don't see Krenzel losing it quite yet.
- Troy Smith is also a big factor here. Smith will likely redshirt - he told Bucknuts.com he plans to - and it would be ideal to have a year in between JZ and TS. (Sidenote: Don't you just love the Smith signing? Some fans questioned it, but go ahead and call Smith "State Farm" because, at worst, he's insurance for the Buckeyes. At best, he ends up as the starter sometime before his fifth year and gives the Buckeyes a competent, athletic quarterback they haven't had in years.)
- St. Henry's Todd Boeckman is another factor. Boeckman was adamant on the Bucknuts Fan Club chat last week that he is not a "silent verbal" as some believe, but you still have to think OSU will end up landing him. If he does become a Buckeye, Boeckman is a strong redshirt candidate. He will have four scholarship QB's ahead of him his first year, as opposed to two for Zwick.
- One more reason why Zwick won't redshirt? Because Tressel probably envisions JZ as the starter in 2003 (or at least sees him making a strong run at Krenzel or McMullen) and the best way to groom him is to give him some, any, playing time this year.
- So, there you go. But keep in mind this is a very uneducated guess. Zwick might be such a distant No. 3 that they do redshirt him and go with Jim Otis Jr. as the third-stringer. Or, Zwick could be the "chosen one" like some think and start from day one. Who knows how it will turn out?
A FAN'S DREAM SCHEDULE
Ohio State's 13 (likely 14) game schedule is intriguing for several reasons. For one, this will be the first and last time that the Bucks will play 13 regular season games. The NCAA will outlaw "preseason" games such as the Pigskin and Kickoff Classic after this season and will limit teams to 12 regular season games. Also, this is probably the last season that OSU will ever have eight home games in one year. Or nine games within the state border. All in all, a 13-game schedule is going to be a fan's paradise because there's two more chances than usual to see your Buckeyes play.
Adding to the intrigue is that all 13 games are very winnable. The actual chance of running the table seems slim, but the Buckeyes might actually be the favorite in all of their games, with one possible exception.
Here's a rundown of the entire season, ranking the Buckeyes' most-difficult game to their least-difficult.
- MICHIGAN - Just because it's "The Game" and, as always, the stakes will be high. The Bucks will be looking to go 2-0 against the Wolverines under Tressel and a possible Big Ten title will be up for grabs... Calling this Ohio State's "toughest" or "most difficult" game of the year is probably giving too much respect to Michigan - because I don't think they'll be that good - but what other game is deserving of this spot?
- @ WISCONSIN - If the Buckeyes are to be underdogs at all this year, it's likely to be in Madison (usually favored against Michigan in Ohio Stadium). Wisconsin has two capable quarterbacks (the best being its backup), the latest in a long line of good tailbacks and a below average defense. Not exactly a roster that will scare you to death, but a game up there is always a tough one.
- TEXAS TECH - The comb