This is a position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team. We are back now with the post-national 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 listed on OSU's Fiesta Bowl roster are also included.
(All class designations are 2006 eligibility; returning starters marked with an asterisk.)
* Departing Seniors (0): None.
* In The Fold (4): Troy Smith* (Sr.), Justin Zwick* (Sr.), Todd Boeckman (So.), Rob Schoenhoft (R-Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (2): Ben Kacsandi (So.), Matthew Ciepiela (So.).
* New This Fall (1): Antonio Henton.
* Analysis: After sitting out the Miami (Ohio) opener due to an NCAA-imposed suspension and coming off the bench against Texas, Smith (6-1, 215) regained the starting spot from Zwick for the third game of the season. The rest was history.
Smith held on to the job from that point on, enjoying one of the best seasons ever for an OSU quarterback. He threw for 2,282 yards and 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Plus, he rushed for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ended the year with back-to-back 300-yard performances against Michigan and Notre Dame, giving rise to talk that he could be a Heisman Trophy contender in 2006.
"Troy's always been a leader," said flanker Ted Ginn Jr. "He'll always be a leader. Troy sat down, watched film and started to see more things from a defensive standpoint. He knew where he wanted to go. He just wanted to make sure everybody who was in that huddle was on the right page. He wants to do everything right."
Smith is now 13-2 as a starter for the Buckeyes.
"I think he is a natural leader," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "He just has that special something about him. Leaders have that aura. You want to follow certain people for what they stand for and what they do. Some people talk and others have that ability to lead."
Zwick (6-4, 225) threw for 359 yards with one touchdown and one interception in 2005. His career mark as a starter is 5-4. He maintains he will return to Ohio State for his senior season, debunking transfer rumors during the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. However, unless Smith gets hurt or has another off-the-field problem, Zwick's only way to play as a college seniors seems to be through a transfer down to a lower level school.
Boeckman (6-5, 235) played in three games in a mop-up role for the Buckeyes in 2005. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He grayshirted in 2003, then redshirted in 2004. That gave him two years of separation between Zwick and Smith, meaning he would be in line to potentially start in 2007-08.
Schoenhoft (6-6, 225) redshirted this past season. As a senior at Cincinnati St. Xavier in 2004, 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. Sources indicated that the strong-armed Schoenhoft did a good job with the scout team during the fall.
Henton (6-2, 210) is seen by many as a larger version of Smith – an athletic quarterback who can run and throw. He led Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County to a Class 3A state title this past fall, throwing for 1,890 yards and 29 TDs. He figures to redshirt this fall, then enter the battle for the vacant starting job in the spring of 2007.
* Definitely Looking: OSU loses Smith and Zwick after the upcoming season, leaving them with just three scholarship quarterbacks. The Buckeyes will certainly be in the market for at least one quarterback signee for 2007.
Ohio has some interesting prospects at the quarterback position, including Clayton Northmont's Clay Belton (6-6, 215), South Point's Chris Smith (6-3, 215) and West Milton Milton-Union's Mitchell Evans (6-3, 195). Belton threw for 2,700 yards and 30 TDs as a junior. Smith, already offered by West Virginia, may have one of the strongest arms for an Ohio passer in recent memory. Evans threw for 1,920 yards and 20 TDs as a junior.
Two more names to consider from out-of-state include Washington (Pa.) Trinity's Cody Endres (6-4, 220; same school as OL signee Andy Miller) and Clearwater (Fla.) Central Catholic's Andrew Nowels (same school as LB Colin McCarthy, who visited OSU this past year).
* Departing Seniors (0): None.
* In The Fold (4): Antonio Pittman* (Jr.), Erik Haw (So.), Maurice Wells (So.), Shaun Lane (So.).
* Walk-Ons (1): Joe Gantz (R-Fr.).
* New This Spring (1): Chris Wells.
* Analysis: Pittman (5-11, 195) is coming off a huge first year as the starter. He ended up with 1,331 yards on 243 carries (5.5 average) and seven touchdowns. The yardage total was the 10th-best single-season mark in OSU history. He was OSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since Maurice Clarett in 2002 and had the most yards of any back since Raymont Harris went for 1,344 in 1993.
"I think I came a long way from last year to this year," Pittman said. "I just want to get better at everything in the off-season. I want to get bigger, stronger and faster. I want to watch a lot more film and come out next year and have a better year. We want to keep this going. This is Running Back U. It fell off for a couple of years. Ohio State is not Ohio State without a 1,000-yard back.
"I prepared myself for it this year, but I could have done more. While we're watching film, I would say, ‘If I had done this more in the off-season, I would have broken that tackle.' We have a long season ahead of us with no bye. There is no time during the season to rest your body, so you need to make yourself durable. You have to push yourself over the limit in the off-season to prepare for it."
Pittman graduated early from Akron Buchtel and enrolled early for spring football in 2004. He ended up as a backup to senior starters Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, finishing that 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, 212) brings a combination of power and speed. An off-season arrest for smoking marijuana outside his dorm stymied his progress. After redshirting in 2004, he logged just 14 carries for 61 yards and one touchdown in 2005. He came to OSU off a 3,000-yard season at nearby Columbus Independence. There is talk he could move to defense, but, either way, this spring will be huge for Haw.
Maurice Wells (5-10, 190) was pressed into service as a true freshman, working as one of Pittman's key backups. He ended up with 61 carries for 199 yards and one touchdown. He was reputed to have breakaway speed, but that never really came out during the 2005 season as his size seemed to work against him. He 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.
Lane (5-10, 180) was moved over to tailback midway through last season to assist mainly in practice. With the depth situation slightly better, he may move back to corner in 2006.
Chris Wells (6-1, 225) of Akron Garfield just signed with the Buckeyes. He plans to graduate early and enroll in time for spring football. He was ranked as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect by Scout.com and seems to be OSU's highest ranked prospect ever. He tallied 2,134 yards and 27 TDs for a 5-5 Garfield team as a senior. Then had 67 yards and three TDs in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January, earning MVP honors. He is expected to push Pittman for the starting job beginning this spring.
* Still Looking: The Buckeyes still need to build their depth at tailback. They figure to take one or two in the upcoming class. OSU has reportedly already offered Bolingbrook, Ill., standout Dale Martin (5-11, 190). Illinois, West Virginia, Minnesota, Nebraska and several others have done likewise for Martin, who had 1,100 yards as a junior.
OSU will reportedly entertain another Chicagoland prospect in Chicago Hubbard's Robert Hughes (5-10, 227) this weekend for the OSU-Illinois basketball game. Hughes had 1,920 yards as a junior. Illinois and Michigan have already offered him.
Other out-of-state prospects to consider include Racine (Wis.) Park's John Clay (6-2, 220), McAllen, Texas' Bradley Stephens (5-10, 176, visited for Texas game this past year) and Mendota Heights (Minn.) Henry Sibley's Andre Tate (6-1, 206).
Within Ohio, some intriguing prospects include Canton McKinley's Morgan Williams (6-0, 190), Massillon Washington's Brian Gamble (6-0, 190), Warren Harding's Daniel Herron (5-10, 190), Macedonia Nordonia's Jordan Mabin (5-11, 185), Piqua's Brandon Saine (6-1, 205) and Cincinnati Winton Woods' Hosea Simpson (5-10, 205).
During the 2005 regular season, Williams piled up 1,935 yards and 26 touchdowns. Simpson tallied 1,675 yards and 25 TDs for the year. Herron reportedly has offers from Illinois, Michigan State and Boston College. Mabin, offered recently by Pittsburgh, could also be looked at as a defensive back at the college level. The same could be said for Gamble, one of the stars who helped lead Massillon to the Division I state title game. He had 1,512 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on offense and 90 tackles and three interceptions on defense for the Tigers.
* Departing Senior (1): Brandon Schnittker.
* In The Fold (2): Stan White Jr.* (Sr.), Dionte Johnson (Jr.).
* Walk-Ons (4): Steve Fender (Jr.), Ryan Franzinger (Jr.), Matt Daniels (So.), James Aston (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (1): Aram Olson.
* Analysis: Schnittker played some at tailback and was injured for most of the last half of his senior season, paving the way for White (6-3, 242) and Johnson (6-0, 250) to see more action.
OSU was predominantly a spread team in 2005 as it worked without a fullback or H-back most of the year. But White paid huge dividends as a blocker for Pittman, clearing out two defenders on the winning touchdown in the game at Michigan. With bullish tailback Chris Wells in the fold, the Buckeyes may, indeed, be heading back to their roots as an I-formation team in the years to come.
Neither White nor Johnson logged a carry in 2005. White started three games and caught three passes for 21 yards. He is the son of former Buckeye Stan White.
Johnson is the son of former Buckeye Pepper Johnson. He is a former offensive lineman at nearby Columbus Eastmoor Academy and has the mentality to be a great blocker.
Olson (6-2, 252) comes from Columbia (S.C.) Irmo with the reputation as a devastating lead blocker. He picked OSU over Auburn so he'd have the chance to block for Chris Wells.
* Still Looking?: Maybe, if it's the right fit. One name that could apply would be Catawissa (Pa.) Southern Columbia Area's Henry Hynoski (6-2, 243), who attended an OSU game this past season with his highly touted teammate OL Josh Marks.
* Departing Senior (1): Santonio Holmes (junior eligible for NFL draft).
* In The Fold (7): Roy Hall (Sr.), Devin Jordan (Jr.), Tony Gonzalez (Jr.), Ted Ginn Jr.* (Jr.), Albert Dukes (So.), Brian Robiskie (So.), Brian Hartline (R-Fr.).
* Walk-Ons (5): Derek Harden (Jr.), Brent Ullery (Jr.), David Lisko (So.), Kyle Ruhl (So.), Dan Potokar (R-Fr.).
* New This Fall (1): Ray Small.
* Analysis: OSU will certainly miss Holmes, who had 11 touchdown grabs among his team-high 53 receptions. He announced his intention to jump to the NFL in 2006 while still on the field after the Fiesta Bowl.
But the speedy Ginn (6-0, 175) was starting to come into his own as well. He ended up with 51 catches for 803 yards and four touchdowns. Plus he had one touchdown each rushing, on a kick return and on a punt return.
"I think everything came together for me," Ginn said. "You've got to be able to learn coverages. You've got to be able to know what the protection is. Once you get that down, everything is going to roll. I've got them. Sometimes things look a little new, but in the end you figure out and learn them.
"(In 2004) I started with the defense. This year, coming in knowing defenses and reading defenses, it helps you out a lot. With a good coach and great players and a good quarterback and a great line, you can go out and do a lot."
Wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said the sky is the limit for Ginn. In his career, Ginn now has 15 TDs with 12 of them going 56 yards or longer. In the Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame, Ginn had eight catches for a career-high 167 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown catch. He also had a 68-yard TD run on a reverse.
"Teddy is Teddy," Hazell said. "We just have to make sure we can't put him in positions where he's not going to get doubled and we can get him the football as much as we can.
"He's become a very good receiver. He still has room to grow. I think he is going to be a phenomenal receiver. I think he understands what it means when he sits down and what it means when he transitions and catches the ball away from his body and playing with complete balance.
"He's starting to see the light. A year from now, he is going to be phenomenal."
Gonzalez (6-0, 195) worked as OSU's third receiver in 2005. He hauled in 28 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He made one the biggest catches of the year with his acrobatic grab to set up the winning touchdown at Michigan. He figures to move into a starting role in place of Holmes at split end and would move to the slot, perhaps, in three-wide receiver sets.
"I love the kid," Hazell said. "He's a student of the game. He's a play making machine. Last year, when ‘Tone would get the double team or Teddy would get the double team, Tony always showed up. He's a kid that works tremendously hard and he has really good skills. I need to get more leadership out of him this year with Santonio gone, but I think he will step up and do a good job there. I think he'll have a great year."
Hall (6-3, 240) will be back as a fifth-year senior. He is still waiting to put it all together, although he has played behind some pretty good people. He was the fourth receiver in 2005 and finished with 16 catches for 134 yards.
"Roy's got to have a great spring, in my opinion," Hazell said. "We need him to help us. He can do it. He just needs to do it consistently. We need him to have a great senior year."
Beyond those three, Hazell wants to see his young receivers take the next step.
Jordan (6-2, 205) will be back for his fourth year, but he has never seen the field due to injury. Dukes (6-1, 190) showed some things in the spring, but only managed two catches in the fall. Robiskie (6-3, 190) came in and played as a true freshman, catching one pass. Hartline (6-3, 180) redshirted this past fall, but figures to be in the mix this spring.
"Some of those young guys, we need them to step up," Hazell said. "Robiskie had a great fall. We need for Dukes to step up and Jordan as well. We need some of those guys to help us out. You need to go into the season with four or five guys ready to go."
Small (6-0, 175) ended up being OSU's only signee at wide receiver. He is an all-around threat with 10 touchdown catches, two punt return TDs, two kick return TDs and a rushing score as a senior at Cleveland Glenville. He could also rep on defense if needed.
"He's as explosive as a guy I have been around in a long time," Hazell said. "He covers a lot of ground. He plays with great body control. He has natural hands. He can make you miss. We think he can be a good returner for us and also stretch the field for us on offense because he has really good speed."
OSU was unable to sign longtime verbal Josh Chichester of West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West due to academic concerns. He signed instead with Louisville.
Also, it seems that Andre Amos and Devon Lyons, each recruited as wide receivers, repped mostly on defense late in the season.
* Definitely Looking: I would think OSU will sign two to three receivers in 2007. Three of the key names in Ohio would be Lakewood St. Edward's Kyle Hubbard (6-3, 225), Glenville's Kyle Jefferson (6-3, 160) and Chillicothe's Chris Givens (6-3, 195).
Outside the state, some names to keep an eye on include Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central's Deonte Thompson (5-11, 183, same school as Holmes and Dukes), New Kensington (Pa.) Valley's Tony Clemons (6-3, 185) and Becker, Minn., standout Shane Potter (6-1, 185).