Redshirt freshman Jim Cordle was billed as the center of the future, and Datish had played tackle and guard throughout his OSU career. (Datish received practice reps at center, but his game experience was limited to guard and center.) It seemed like a matter of time before Cordle earned the spot and bumped Datish back to one of his familiar spots.
And while Cordle didn't play poorly this spring, he by no means locked up the job. In fact, with Datish on the sidelines, many observers felt sophomore walk-on Tyler Whaley was the most impressive center on the field.
Whaley and Cordle will continue to make a push, but Datish as the Buckeyes' starting center appears more like a reality every day.
The center in Ohio State's offense needs to be a heady player who can make all the protection calls. No one did it better than three-year starter Nick Mangold, the first center taken in the 2006 NFL draft (No. 29 pick of the first round by the New York Jets).
"I don't know if Doug will be at center, or guard, but I definitely don't think he'll stay at tackle," Mangold said. "He did that last year because the team needed it and he did a good job. But I think he'll be somewhere inside this year."
If Datish does in fact stay at center, OSU's "jumbo line" will be in full effect. The projected starting line is: left tackle Alex Boone (6-8, 315, So.), left guard Steve Rehring (6-8, 330, So.), Datish (6-5, 295, Sr.), right guard T.J. Downing (6-5, 305, Sr.) and right tackle Kirk Barton (6-7, 325, Jr.).
That's an average height and weight of 6-6 ½, 314 pounds. And you can probably push that weight up a few pounds because guys like Boone and Datish are likely heavier than their listed weight.
Other than the folks cooking the training table dinners, having a jumbo line should make Buckeye fans very happy. Not only are the projected starters big, they are experienced, and relatively athletic. Datish will get flack for as long as his lives on the Ted Ginn "fly-by" in the Fiesta Bowl, but the fact remains that he's a tough, strong kid that can move pretty well.
Either Datish or Downing will likely be an offensive captain, along with quarterback Troy Smith. Downing is another nasty player who has made steady improvement throughout his career. Like the majority of linemen that have started for Jim Bollman at OSU, Datish and Downing will be playing in the NFL one day.
Barton missed four games last season with an injury, but when he was healthy he played very well. He has the chance to be a dominant right tackle this season with his size and agility. And since his one-year ban from talking to the media is now a thing of the past, we'll even get to hear what he thinks from time to time. (Just don't ask him about the quarterbacks.)
Rehring redshirted last season after coming down with pneumonia early in the year. He dropped a lot of weight, but is now back at full strength. He can play guard or tackle, but I think he will develop into a nice mauler inside. I originally thought he might be a "super sub" that would play a lot off the bench at guard and tackle. But with Datish now likely staying at center, Rehring will probably have a spot in the starting lineup.
Boone might not start the opener against Northern Illinois as punishment for his DUI – he could miss as much as the first half. Or maybe any disciplinary action will take place over the summer in the form of calisthenics and Boone won't miss any game action. He will be the man protecting Troy Smith's blind side and the Buckeyes will need to get him ready for Texas in week two. Boone played fairly well as a true freshman last year and it will be interesting to see how much he has improved.
The Buckeyes appear to be in good shape in terms of depth as well. Jon Skinner (6-5, 300, So.) can play all five positions up front and will likely be a starter in future seasons. The team can also turn to guards Ben Person (6-5, 290, So.) and Kyle Mitchum (6-6, 295, So.), centers Cordle (6-5, 275, Fr.) and Whaley (5-10, 270, So.), and veteran tackle Tim Schafer (6-5, 290, Sr.).
There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the skilled position players at OSU – and rightfully so. But the offensive line will be just as key to the Buckeyes as they hope to make a run at Jim Tressel's second national championship at Ohio State.
Another positive for OSU is that other than strength and conditioning coach Al Johnson, the entire coaching staff returns in tact.
Hopes were high last season, but many people glossed over the fact that the Buckeyes had a major shuffle on the defensive coaching staff. Jim Heacock was entering his first year as defensive coordinator, and Luke Fickell was entering his first season as the co-defensive coordinator. In addition, OSU was breaking in two new secondary coaches in Tim Beckman and Paul Haynes.
The fact that these men have now had a full year to work together should bode well for the Buckeyes this fall. It will make losing nine defensive starters a little easier to manage. This is a very talented four-man staff we're talking about. And it is interesting that there are just four of them. Usually, college staffs have five defensive coaches. Since Tressel is the de-facto offensive coordinator, the Buckeyes actually have six offensive coaches, and four defensive.
As for the strength and conditioning opening, I still think that former OSU assistant strength coach Mike Cochran is the guy Tressel has in mind. Cochran was Tressel's head strength coach at Youngstown State, and is now the head S&C coach at Marshall.
Ohio State said in a press release that it will conduct a "national search" for the new strength coach. But since Tressel usually thinks about 10 moves ahead, I find that hard to believe. Chances are good they know exactly who they want.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
ABC has announced its plans to televise prime time games throughout the college football season. My reaction? What took so long?
I love this idea, and frankly I'm amazed it didn't happen earlier. There have always been a few prime time Saturday games on ABC – such as OSU-Texas last year – but usually no more than three or four per year. Now the average football fan will have two or three games to choose from each Saturday night (including games on ESPN and FSN).
This is bad news for struggling Saturday night sitcoms, and good news for football junkies. If Thursday night football on cable does as well as it does with some of its, um, less-than-stellar match-ups, you can bet that Saturday night games on network television will be a hit with the viewing audience.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, it has to go on the road for both of its prime time tilts this year: Texas and Iowa. The Buckeyes have dropped four straight night games, including three on the road. Could this be the year their fortunes change? I think so. The Texas game – with redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy likely at the controls for the Longhorns – has the makings of a 10-point OSU win. I just do not see Texas being even close to the same team without Vince Young. Of course, I'm sure the Longhorns are saying the same thing about OSU losing nine defensive starters.
Iowa, on the other hand, will be Ohio State's toughest game of the season. I think Kirk Ferentz is one of the top 5 coaches in the country (along with Tressel) and I believe that senior quarterback Drew Tate is headed for a big year. Kinnick Stadium is one of the toughest places to win at in the Big Ten and playing the game at night will make the Hawkeyes that much more dangerous. I still think OSU will scratch out a victory, but it will be tight.
DEPTH A PROBLEM FOR OSU HOOPS?
Senior guard Sylvester Mayes has left Ohio State and will not be a part of the basketball program in 2006-07. His departure leaves the Buckeyes with just five returning scholarship players, as well as the five incoming recruits, for a total of 10 scholarship players. That is three short of the NCAA maximum.
If the Buckeyes stay injury free, like they did in 2005-06 for the most part, the lack of numbers won't hurt them. They will be as talented one-through-10 as any team in the country. But if a few injuries pop up and they are forced to play walk-ons, that's when the sting will be felt.
Mayes was one of the top JUCO guards in the country in 2004-05 and was expected to be a big part of OSU's team last year. But he fell out of favor with the coaching staff and didn't react well after being benched. Basically, he landed in Thad Matta's doghouse and was never able to break the lease.
So, will the Mayes departure hurt Ohio State next year? Probably not. He wasn't going to be anything more than a reserve guard fighting for time behind Jamar Butler, Ron Lewis, Daequan Cook and Mike Conley. But going into the season with just 10 scholarship players – as OSU did in 2005-06 – is a risky move. Last year, only Matt Terwilliger came down with an injury (appendicitis) and until then the Buckeyes were never hampered by their lack of numbers.
And if having just 10 scholarship players on the roster makes you a little un-easy, it won't make you feel better to know that incoming junior college transfer Othello Hunter – the only non-freshman in the "Thad Five" – is still battling to be eligible academically this fall.
But with 7-foot freshman Greg Oden around, chances are good Matta isn't too concerned about what is in front of them. The Big Ten will be relatively weak next year with only Ohio State and Wisconsin looking like top 25 locks. Michigan State is losing its top three players to the NBA. Illinois, Iowa and Indiana are also losing a lot.
The Buckeyes will likely be a top 10 team next year and they have the makings of a national title contender… if it can remain healthy. Playing three scholarships short of a full squad is my only concern.
IU's AIR BALL
When Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson as its head basketball coach, it seemed like a shaky decision at best. And now that the former Oklahoma coach has been hit with a one-year recruiting ban (Sampson cannot make any recruiting phone calls, or recruit off-campus) the move appears even worse.
If Indiana was going to go "outside the program" (not a former Hoosier player or coach) it should have made a bigger splash than Sampson. One name that was thrown out there was Marquette coach Tom Crean. And of course Matta's name was also frequently mentioned.
Many observers felt the Hoosiers would go after Iowa coach Steve Alford – a former All-American and national champion at Indiana.
Even if the recruiting violations could be wiped from the slate, the Sampson hire was less than impressive for one of the top basketball programs in the country.
As for said violations, we're not talking about a few honest mistakes. Sampson and his staff made 577 illegal phone calls to recruits – 233 of which were made by Sampson himself.
"I think there are more documented (improper) calls in this case than any other I'm familiar with," said NCAA infractions committee chairman Tom Yeager.
If the NCAA would have went one step further and completely banned Sampson from recruiting for a full year (as it stands, he can recruit on campus) I think Indiana would have looked to get out of the contract and hire someone else. But all indications are that the administrators are standing by their man. They knew when they hired him that there could be recruiting violations forthcoming. (Which makes it even stranger that they felt this was the best coach available on the market.)
Should be an interesting year in Bloomington.
If there are any Chris Rock fans out there (and I'm sure there are plenty), make sure you catch Mike Epps' new stand up act on HBO. I'm not going to put Epps in Rock's class yet, but he is outstanding. Laugh out loud funny throughout the hour. If he just could have somehow mixed in some material on the Detroit Pistons' public address announcer, it would have been perfect.