This is a position-by-position look at the OSU football team. We are back now with the post-spring 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 week or so, 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 spring roster are also included.
(All class designations are 2006 eligibility; returning starters marked with an asterisk.)
* Departing Seniors (0): None.
* Walk-Ons (1): Ben Kacsandi (So.).
* New This Fall (1): Antonio Henton.
* Analysis: Smith (6-1, 215) is the unquestioned leader at this position and, perhaps, on the entire football team. Everybody – and we do mean everybody – seems comfortable following his lead.
Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels is glad to see oft-troubled Smith emerge as a team leader.
"You can see the way he handles himself, I mean even in meetings," the coach said. "It's a tremendous difference. He is constantly on a learning curve. That's what he wants. He's hungry to learn and he's hungry to learn as much as he possibly can. So, that aspect of it is really good. But he's got a comfort level that he's the guy, and let's go, let's tee it up.
"He has great ability to throw the football. He can throw it as well as anybody. Now combine that with that great athletic ability, so he'll buy time and scramble around a little bit, but not to run, to buy time to find the open guy."
After sitting out the Miami (Ohio) opener due to an NCAA-imposed suspension and coming off the bench against Texas, Smith 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.
Smith is now 13-2 as a starter for the Buckeyes. In the spring game, Smith showed his mettle: He completed all four of his pass attempts on a touchdown drive to open the game, then went to the bench for good.
The remaining quarterbacks spent the spring competing for the backup spot. There were no pronouncements over who won that battle, although most see Zwick (6-4, 225), the only one with appreciable experience, as the backup.
"If I'm those guys, I'd be saying I'm battling for the number two spot," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "They all believe in Troy, but they also know football. I'm hoping they feel the same way."
Zwick 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.
Boeckman, who was 13 of 27 for 189 yards with two interceptions in the spring game, could have a slight edge on Schoenhoft for at least the time being.
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.
He was 9 of 28 for 109 yards with an interception in the spring game.
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.
* Still Looking?: There have been rumblings that Ohio State may not sign a quarterback in 2007. That would leave the Buckeyes with Boeckman as a junior, Schoenhoft as a sophomore and Henton as a redshirt freshman as the only scholarship quarterbacks for the 2007 season.
OSU has flirted with offering a handful of national caliber QBs. There are reports they have offered Maryland's Joe Haden. But at 5-11, 195 pounds, he may not be suited to play the quarterback position at the college level.
The Buckeyes will likely welcome a number of quarterback prospects from the state and the region for their camp in June. It will be interesting to see if Tressel and Daniels decide they see anybody who merits a scholarship.
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). Nowels is planning to camp at OSU.
* Departing Seniors (0): None.
* Walk-Ons (1): Joe Gantz (R-Fr.).
* Verbal For 2007 (1): Brandon Saine
Pittman 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 Pepe Pearson went for 1,484 in 1996.
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.)
With Pittman out, Maurice Wells (5-10, 190) seemed to step into a key backup role in the spring. He had 33 yards on 10 carries in the spring game.
Maurice Wells 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.
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.
Haw seemed to have a decent spring. Running backs coach Dick Tressel wants to see him become more of a complete back, which includes blocking and catching. He had 10 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown in the spring game after ripping off a long TD run in the jersey scrimmage.
Chris Wells (6-1, 225) of Akron Garfield signed with the Buckeyes in February, graduated early and enrolled in time for spring ball. He impressed the coaches right away in the spring, netting a game-high 48 yards on 11 carries in the spring game.
Chris Wells 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.
"Beanie has gotten a lot of attention," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said in the spring. "We have to remember he is learning which way to go and what to do. It may be unfair to him sometimes with some of the things put on him. But he looks like he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it."
* Still Looking?: Ohio State scored a major coup already for 2007 by getting a verbal commitment from Saine of Piqua, Ohio. He is ranked as the state's No. 4 overall prospect by Ohio High.
As a junior, Saine rushed for over 1,300 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. He also had 300 receiving yards in 2005. Saine won the Division I 100-meter and 400-meter state titles last year as a sophomore. He ran a state-record 10.38-second 100-meter time earlier this spring.
OSU may still be after another back, especially since Saine has the versatility and speed to perhaps play receiver at the college level.
The Buckeyes have reportedly made offers to Wisconsin's John Clay (6-2, 220) and Illinois' Robert Hughes (5-11, 227). Indiana's Darren Evans (6-0, 208) could also get a look as could several Ohio prospects, including Winton Woods' Hosea Simpson, Warren Harding's Dan Herron, Massillon Washington's Brian Gamble and Canton McKinley's Morgan Williams.
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. Gamble, one of the stars who helped lead Massillon to the Division I state title game, 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.
* Walk-Ons (2): Ryan Franzinger (Jr.), Trever Robinson (Jr.).
* 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 (6-2, 242) and Johnson (6-0, 234) 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.
"I thought (Johnson) had as good a winter as you could possibly have," Tressel said. "He trimmed down 10 or 12 pounds and ran just under 4.6 in the 40. At 230-some pounds, he has shown he is ready to become an outstanding fullback and special teams player."
Robinson (6-0, 220) has been a valuable special teams player. He was with the linebackers previously, but will rep as a fullback this coming season.
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. Another name could be Canton South's J'Keem Waters (6-0, 250), but he may need to overcome some academic issues to get a look.
* Departing Senior (1): Santonio Holmes (junior eligible for NFL draft).
* 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.
"There are a lot of stats out there, but one of my favorites is explosive gains," Hazell said. "If you can go the distance in two or three plays, I love that. Ted's got that ability and so does (Anthony) Gonzalez. The more explosive gains you have, that offsets a lot of things like penalties and special teams plays. If you can have those explosive gains, you have some things going for you."
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.
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. Hall had five catches for 66 yards in the spring game.
Robiskie (6-3, 195) used the spring to push Hall for the third receiver spot. He had three catches for 59 yards in the spring game.
"Roy has done a great job and Robo has done a great job," Hazell said. Right now, those are the two guys who are battling it out. Competition is good."
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 last year, but only managed two catches in the fall. Lyons (6-4, 214) ended up redshirting in 2005 due to an injury. He then repped as a safety for the first two weeks of spring practice before moving back to receiver.
Hartline (6-3, 180) redshirted this past fall, but figures to be in the mix this fall. He had a game-high seven catches for 88 yards in the spring game.
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. Small reportedly needs to improve his college entrance exam score in June in order to enroll on time in the fall.
"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."
* 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 (6-5, 195) and Chillicothe's Chris Givens (6-3, 195). Givens shined at the Scout.com camp in Louisville.
Outside the state, OSU had offered Louisiana's Aaron Johnson (5-11, 165). There was a report that Florida's Leonard Hankerson also had an offer. Other 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 Greensburg (Pa.) Central Catholic's Nick Sukay (6-3, 205).