Notebook: Spring Game Draft

What were some of the surprise picks at Wednesday's spring game draft? In this notebook, we go in-depth and look at the interesting decisions at running back, center, and more. Included are comments from Ohio State's Dick Tressel, Troy Smith, David Patterson, Joel Penton and T.J. Downing.

Just like the NFL draft, there are always a few locks, and a few surprises when the Ohio State football team gathers together for its annual spring game draft.

Falling into the "surprise" category was the order in which the Buckeye running backs were selected.

Yes, freshman Chris Wells has only been on campus for a few short weeks, but many felt he would be the first tailback off the board. Even injured starter Antonio Pittman predicted on Tuesday that Wells would be No. 1.

But when the Scarlet team opened up the RB position on Wednesday, they took third-year sophomore Erik Haw. The Gray followed with sophomore Maurice Wells. That meant that Chris Wells was the last scholarship tailback off the board.

But running backs coach Dick Tressel says that Chris Wells has looked good this spring and is definitely not running with the third team in practice.

"I think based on the way practice has gone from this point and who was running with which unit, that is a surprise they were taken in that order," Tressel said. "But the exciting thing is the confidence in the whole group of running backs. Tailback opened late, and I think that's a function that everyone thinks those guys are pretty even. Pittman is not in the group and those other guys are pretty even."

Scarlet defensive tackle/assistant general manager David Patterson explained why his side felt Haw was the best back on the board.

"In my mind, I just know that Eric Haw has made a couple of big plays this spring," he said. "I kind of felt like if we took Eric Haw, they were going to take Maurice Wells, because he knows the offense and was kind of like the safest pick. I thought it could be a two-for-one situation and I like that we've got a little thunder and lightning combination back there. We've got a big bruiser that can go the distance (Chris Wells), and we've got a fast guy that can go the distance (Haw). So, I think it worked out well for us."

Joel Penton of the Gray team was not surprise that "Beanie" Wells fell to No. 3 in the draft.

"No, not really," Penton said. "I heard the talk before hand and there's all kinds of discussion and why we should pick a certain guy. Is he a good blocker? Can he run? They are all good backs and it could have been any order, really."

Gray offensive lineman T.J. Downing – never afraid to tell you what he really thinks – also commented on the tailback situation.

"Well, Beanie still has some things that he needs to learn," Downing said. "Hitting the hole hard, ball security. Those are things that Maurice Wells knows right now after playing a Big Ten schedule last year. We're very happy that we have him on our team. We needed an experienced tailback back there, because a lot of this game is going to be running formations."

Scarlet quarterback Troy Smith will only play the first quarter, and will wear a black "no contact" jersey. He missed his only chance to be a GM, but arrived just as the draft was wrapping up.

Smith was asked if he was surprised that his team ended up with Haw and Chris Wells.

"Well, looking at the board, I'm just trying to figure out who got picked first and who didn't," Smith said. "I'm glad he's on our team though. That gives us a lot of depth, a lot of good speed, power."

Smith knows that the underclassmen take the spring game draft seriously. They will be anxious to see who the seniors and assistant coaches think are the best players at the respective positions.

"Yeah, I think so," Smith said. "When I was a young guy, coming out and seeing who was picked first was bragging rights for the rest of the summer and everything. Until autumn."

Three years ago, coming off a national championship, the 2003 OSU seniors (well, at least half of them) selected Smith as the first quarterback. It made waves at the time because Justin Zwick was supposed to be the next in line. And then again in '04, Smith was taken ahead of Zwick, who was listed No. 1 on the depth chart at the time.

"I was overwhelmed," Smith recalled. "I was very happy. Like I said, it's just bragging rights. It helped my confidence out tremendously."

Smith explained why he was late to the spring game draft on Wednesday.

"You know, I had some things I had to do at my house," he said. "And I had to pick my cousin up at the Greyhound station. But I should have just let him stay there."

Smith didn't seem too surprised when he found out that sophomore punter A.J. Trapasso was the first overall pick. Usually such an honor is reserved for marquee players such as Will Smith and Ted Ginn Jr.

"I don't know," Smith said. "If we can pin them back with the punt, I think our defense is good enough to hold them from there."

Smith will not be on the same team as his good friend Ginn.

"That hurts me a little bit, but hopefully they don't let him play that long," Smith said. (Ginn will only play the first half.)

Smith knows it's for the best that he will be limited on Saturday. There is no reason to risk getting him injured.

"I think that's enough," Smith said of playing one quarter. "I wasn't expecting to play a whole lot. And I'm glad we've got Robbie (Schoenhoft) because this is going to be a good time and well needed time for him out on the field. So, I think Robbie is going to do a commanding job out there with the guys."

Patterson shed some more light on the situation at quarterback. Many were led to believe that Schoenhoft had passed Todd Boeckman on the depth chart. But when Gray opened up QB, it took Boeckman first. That left Patterson's Scarlet team with the strong-armed Schoenhoft. And since the spring game will basically turn into a battle of Boeckman vs. Schoenhoft, it could have been one of the most interesting picks of the draft.

"Well, we know they are both good quarterbacks," Patterson said. "It wasn't a situation where if somebody got Boeckman, Robbie was going to be a drop-off guy. Or if somebody got Robbie, Todd wasn't going to be a drop-off. We know that they are really good football players. But we knew it wasn't a do-or-die thing with those guys."

Patterson truly enjoyed himself on Wednesday. Maybe he has a future in an NFL front office after his playing career ends. And who knows, maybe Al Davis will hire him to run the Oakland Raiders directly out of college.

"It's pretty cool," Patterson said of the spring game draft. "It's kind of like having your own war room and you really have to think about it. This is my first time participating in this, so I didn't really know what to expect when I got here."

Whaley The Man At Center?

Sophomore walk-on center Tyler Whaley is making a serious run to be the Buckeyes' starting center in 2006. As it stands, senior Doug Datish is listed atop the depth chart at center. But since Datish has started at tackle and guard the last two seasons, OSU was hoping to find someone else step up and earn the starting center position. That player was supposed to be redshirt freshman Jim Cordle.

But Whaley was the first center taken on Wednesday by the Scarlet. Cordle landed second with the Gray, and the versatile Jon Skinner went third to the Scarlet.

"When I think about Whaley… there really wasn't a big difference, but the thing about Whaley is he's a little shorter and it's hard to get under him," Patterson said. "He has good leverage. Jimmy is just as good, but it's just a weird thing from playing against them. You have to get extra low playing against Tyler, because he's only about 5-7 (listed at 6-1, 270). I know he can give guys problems."

Like Patterson, Penton goes head-to-head with the centers every day. He was not surprised that his Scarlet counterparts took Whaley as the first center.

"No, not at all," Penton said. "We actually thought Jon Skinner might be the first taken. And honestly, we probably would have taken Skinner first because of his versatility. He can not only play center, but can move to the other positions. Knowing then we would get either Whaley, or Cordle. But, between Whaley and Cordle, the best choice was Whaley, so we were not surprised at all that he was the first taken. There's a lot of strategy in that, too. We were saying, ‘Should we take Skinner and start him at center? That's not really his first position.' So, there's a lot of strategy that goes into it."

Penton thinks Whaley has a legitimate shot at starting in 2006.

"Tyler, ever since he came here – and I've played against him a lot – he's impressed me every single day," he said. "This spring is no exception. He continues to impress me with his work ethic, with his ability to play and play up to other guys' levels. I hope we see a lot of Tyler Whaley on the field next year. He has really impressed me."

Downing was not pleased with the developments at center. His Gray team let two players in particular slip away in his opinion.

"Yeah, two guys we wanted that we didn't get were Whaley and Jon Skinner," Downing said. "We were getting ready to open it up and take Whaley, and I think they (Scarlet) actually overheard us talking over there and they ended up opening it up and taking Whaley, so that was a big loss for us. We really wanted to get him. And Jon Skinner also, because he's such a versatile player. We could put him at guard, center or tackle, so that was a big loss."

Downing was asked if he thinks Whaley has established himself as the man at center this spring.

"He has," he said. "And I love being around him because he's such an underdog. He's 5-10, 270 pounds, not your typical Big Ten lineman. But he's got a lot of heart. And that's something that you really can't measure on paper. Tyler has done a phenomenal job."

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