Post-Signing Day Big Board: TEs, OLs

We are back with the second installment of the post-signing day edition of The Big Board. This is our position-by-position study of Ohio State football. Today, we provide insight and opinions on the personnel situation at the tight end and offensive line groups. The line will be led by senior T.J. Downing, one of three returning starters.

We are back with the second installment of the post-signing day edition of The Big Board, my position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team.

We opened this five-part series Tuesday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continue today with the tight ends and offensive linemen.

Coming up, we will get inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Then, we will 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 the tight end and offensive line positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons who were on the bowl roster are also listed.

(All class designations are 2006 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)

Tight End

* Departing Senior (1): Ryan Hamby.

* In The Fold (3): Marcel Frost* (Jr.), Rory Nicol (So.), Brandon Smith (So.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Jordan Hoewischer (So.); Will Crall (R-Fr.).

* New This Fall (2): Jake Ballard, Andy Miller.

* Analysis: Hamby was lost at midseason due to an injury, further complicating matters at tight end. Nicol, who was his backup coming out of the spring, was injured before the season and missed the year completely.

The staff summoned Frost and Smith from the defensive side to fill the gap. By season's end, Frost (6-5, 255) was starting to look like a keeper.

"I think Marcel has done a good job," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We brought him over from the defensive side. We had a lot of injuries. He came over and added a dimension for us. We've got, we think, adequate depth there. I know they are all working hard to try and make a difference."

Frost ended up catching nine passes for 70 yards on the year. He had two catches against Michigan and one against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

"Marcel had a lot to learn," said tight ends coach John Peterson. "The key for Marcel is athletically he has all the tools. For him, it's just going to be the mental part and learning and growing in the off-season mentally.

"You don't want to be on the field and thinking. Once he's able to just react and play with his God-given ability, he'll be able to play fast and strong and allow his natural ability to take over and he'll become a better player."

Nicol (6-5, 260) is a fine all-around tight end. He had a touchdown catch against Iowa in 2004. He suffered a foot injury in preseason camp that cost him the 2005 season. But he should be back to full-go for the spring.

"He's coming along," Peterson said. "Our goal is to get him out for the winter and be ready for the spring practice."

Smith (6-3, 240) was only too glad to move over to offense. He was stuck in a logjam at linebacker. He caught five passes for 30 yards as the backup tight end. He is an outstanding athlete who could help OSU at any number of spots. It will be interesting to see where he ends up after spring ball.

Crall (6-3, 263) is a promising walk-on from nearby Bexley, Ohio.

Ballard (6-7, 255) is an impressive, athletic big man. He could remain a tight end at the college level or could continue to grow and develop into an offensive lineman as Coleman and Kirk Barton did for OSU in recent years. He was also a standout defensive lineman at Springboro, Ohio. He caught 22 passes for 363 yards and three TDs on offense as a senior.

Miller (6-6, 260) also has the potential to play tight end or on the offensive line as needed. This product of Washington (Pa.) Trinity caught 11 passes for 270 yards and four TDs as a senior. He is an outstanding blocker and student.

* Still Looking?: It's unclear whether OSU will be in the market for a tight end in 2007. It may depend entirely on how Nicol comes back as well as where the staff truly projects Ballard and Miller for the future. For whatever it's worth, Peterson, on signing day, was adamant that both players will remain at tight end.

There seems to be a dearth of tight ends in Ohio for 2007. The top name may be Hamilton's Charlie Hatcher (6-4, 245). Another may be Grove City's Zach Clark (6-4, 280). Outside the state, Camden (N.J.) Catholic's Mike Ragone (6-5, 230) is mentioning OSU.

Offensive Linemen

* Seniors Leaving (3): C Nick Mangold, LG Rob Sims, OL-TE Andree Tyree.

* In The Fold (11): OG Doug Datish* (Sr.), OG T.J. Downing* (Sr.), LS Drew Norman* (Sr.), OT Tim Schafer (Sr.), OT Kirk Barton* (Jr.), OG Steve Rehring (So.), OT Alex Boone (So.), OG Kyle Mitchum (So.), OG Ben Person (So.), OT Jon Skinner (So.), C Jim Cordle (R-Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (8): LS Harrison Till (Sr.), OL Daniel Dye (Jr.), LS Dimitrios Makridis (Jr.). OL Tyler Whaley (So.), OL Doug Ebner (So.), LS Matt Drummelsmith (So.), OL Drew Parry (So.), OL Andrew Moses (R-Fr.).

* New This Fall (2): Connor Smith, Bryant Browning.

* Analysis: OSU loses a pair of three-year starters in Sims and Mangold. They helped lead the team's offensive resurgence this past season.

The good news is that three starters return with Datish and Barton at the tackle spots and Downing at guard. Plus, OSU has two other guys with some game experience in Boone and Rehring.

There are two prevailing thoughts for 2006. The first has Cordle moving in at center, Datish moving to guard to replace Sims and Boone stepping in at tackle. The second has Datish moving to center, Boone stepping in at tackle and Rehring moving in at a guard spot. Certainly, offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Bollman will mix and match combinations all spring until he sees a combination he likes.

Datish (6-5, 295) started at left guard for much of 2004, then moved to left tackle in 2005 as Sims moved to guard. Run blocking is his forte, but he became more comfortable as a pass protector as well and cut down immensely on his number of bad plays.

Downing (6-5, 305) also brings a nastiness to his work that really suits him well. He started three of the last four games in 2004, then started every game at right guard in 2005.

"Both of them have done a great job in the mental aspect," Bollman said. "Having a year of starting under their belt really helped them. They are both very intelligent players. They take a great deal of pride in knowing what's going on. They have both improved themselves physically. They do a great job in the weight room. They continue to do that. They have themselves in pretty good shape size-wise and everything. A year ago, they may have been a little bit light, looking back on things. But I think they have improved in all aspects of the game."

Bollman said Datish's versatility works in his favor.

"With Doug jumping out there to tackle, that really paid off," Bollman said. "We started doing that last spring, but he still practiced at center some as well. It makes it nice to have a guy like him that can flip out there to any position. He spent (2004) starting 10 games at guard. He could still play there if we need him to do that. He was also our backup center."

Barton (6-7, 325) redshirted in 2003, then opened 2004 as a backup to Schafer at right tackle. Barton ended up taking the position and making it his, starting the last seven games that season. He started seven games in 2005, missing three of them due to a knee injury. He is a big rangy player who brings attitude to the table. He has a bright future in front of him.

"He had a very good year," Bollman said. "There is nothing like experience. He became a mainstay at right tackle in 2004. That hurt us a lot when he went out. It helped that we had someone like Alex Boone who could fill in while he was hurt. He is a very tough guy. He had a very serious knee injury, but he came back and played pretty well after that."

Boone (6-8, 315) was pressed into service as a freshman when Barton went down with an injury. He started five games in 2005. He filled in admirably and branded himself as a starting candidate for 2006, provided he continues to progress in the spring. He came to OSU with a can't-miss tag after earning prep All-American honors at Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward. He seems ticketed to step in at left tackle and could enjoy a three-year run there.

"He steadily improved as the year progressed," Bollman said. "He ended up starting four games in there. I think by the end of the year, Kirk was working his way back in there. But we were lucky to be able to move Alex in there."

Downing added, "I think he gained a lot of experience. I think Alex did pretty well. He's going to be counted on big for next year. I'm excited to see him grow. I have told a lot of people that once he gets on the off-season program and works on his feet and gets some weights pushing around in there, he's going to be one heck of a player before he leaves here. I am excited to see that."

Rehring (6-8, 329) came out of spring ball in 2005 as a contender to start. But Datish's strong showing in fall camp prompted the coaches to put him at tackle and move Sims to guard. Then, three games into the year, Rehring contracted pneumonia and briefly had to leave school. He is back to full-go now and should compete for the open guard spot in the spring. He is a massive player with deceptive quickness and plays to the whistle. He figures to remain a sophomore this year by using 2005 as a medical redshirt year.

This spring will be a chance for the rest of the group to step up and show what they can do.

Schafer (6-5, 290) started several games at tackle in 2004. This past year, he also did a stint with the defensive linemen to shore up depth on that side of the ball. But, by the end of the 2005 season, he was back in the two-deep as a backup at tackle.

Skinner (6-5, 300) is another guy who will be in the mix at tackle. He redshirted in 2004, then spent time in 2005 on the scout team. Spring will be key for him in his bid to get into the two-deep and/or contend for a spot in the rotation.

Mitchum (6-6, 295) was a highly acclaimed prep standout who signed with OSU out of Pennsylvania in 2004. He redshirted that year and has had some injuries that have limited his time. He likely projects as a guard and will try and use the spring to show he, too, belongs in the two-deep.

The same would be said for Person (6-4, 315), who also redshirted in 2004 and will be pushing for a guard spot this spring.

Cordle (6-5, 275) graduated early from Lancaster, Ohio, and enrolled in time for spring football last year, where he was a pleasant surprise at center. But he was lost for the year due to a foot injury suffered in preseason camp. He could possibly be Mangold's replacement in 2006. He was a two-time All-Ohio pick at Lancaster. He was the nation's 30th-best offensive lineman by

Norman (6-0, 230) was put on scholarship last fall and earned it by doing a stellar job as OSU's long snapper. He is back for his senior year in 2006.

Smith (6-5, 295) is considered one of the nation's top five offensive line prospects and a national top-50 pick this year out of Cincinnati Colerain. In two years, he helped Colerain post a 25-2 mark. He had 130 knockdowns as a senior. He probably projects as a guard at the OSU, where he will follow in the footsteps of his father (Joe) as an offensive lineman.

Browning (6-4, 328) is a massive prospect and outstanding student (first in his class at Cleveland Glenville). He has the versatility to possibly play any of the guard or tackle spots. He has worked hard to make himself stronger and faster and is a player with a good bit of potential.

* Definitely Looking: The Buckeyes probably would like to sign at least three linemen in 2007 after netting just two in the 2006 class.

The names in Ohio are starting to trickle in, including Cincinnati Anderson's Mark Wetterer (6-5, 285), Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit's Nick Schepis (6-4, 270), Mentor Lake Catholic's Dan Barry (6-3, 280) and Middletown's Cory Pigg (6-4, 295). Barry was one of the more impressive prospects on display at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine in San Antonio in January.

Outside the state, the Buckeyes have reportedly made offers already to three prospects. They are Josh Oglesby (6-7, 325) of Saint Francis, Wis.; Evan Blankenship (6-3, 300) of Monaca (Pa.) Center Area; and Kris O'Dowd (6-5, 280) of Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe Catholic.

Here are the archives from the previous installments of the post signing day edition of The Big Board:

Part 1: QBs, RBs and Receivers

Buckeye Sports Top Stories