We opened this five-part series on Monday 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 spring roster are also listed.
(All class designations are 2006 eligibility; returning starters marked with an asterisk.)
* Departing Senior (1): Ryan Hamby.
* Walk-Ons (1): John Larson (R-Fr.), Will Crall (R-Fr.).
* 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. 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. At the end of spring, Frost was listed as the starter.
Nicol (6-5, 250) 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. Nicol was full-go in the spring and is right there neck-and-neck with Frost.
Smith (6-3, 252) 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 is fun to watch the young tight ends," coach Jim Tressel said. "Marcel Frost has gotten good marks from (coach) John Peterson and Coach Bollman as to his improvement. Rory Nicol is back from being injured a year ago. Brandon Smith is coming along."
Crall (6-3, 263) is a promising walk-on from nearby Bexley, Ohio. Larson (6-4, 220) hails from Ventura, Calif.
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?: The Buckeyes seem to be in the market for a tight end in the 2007 class. They offered Pennsylvania's Jon Ditto just days before he verbaled to Penn State.
Some other names to watch for possible offers include Indiana's Adrien Robinson (6-5, 225), Grove City's Zach Clark (6-4, 240) and Xenia's Zach Furlong (6-5, 225). Clark and Furlong attended the first session of OSU's senior advanced camp.
This decision may depend entirely on 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.
* Seniors Leaving (3): C Nick Mangold, LG Rob Sims, OL-TE Andree Tyree.
* In The Fold (12): 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.), OL Josh Kerr (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 Andrew Moses (R-Fr.), LS Kurt Schnittger (Fr.).
* Analysis: OSU loses a pair of three-year starters in Sims and Mangold. They helped lead the team's offensive resurgence in 2005.
The good news is that three starters return with Datish and Barton at the tackle spots and Downing at guard. Plus, OSU has three other guys with some game experience in Boone, Schafer and Rehring.
Datish (6-5, 295) missed spring football due to injury, but the staff was counting on him stepping in at center to replace Mangold. Datish started at left guard in 2004 and at left tackle last season.
Downing (6-4, 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.
Barton (6-6, 310) 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 eight 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.
Those three solidify the center and right side of the line.
The massive Boone (6-5, 325) is a former can't-miss prep All-American. In fact, last year as a freshman he filled in admirably and made five starts during the stretch where Barton was out of action. He is penciled in as the starter at left tackle. But he was cited for drunken driving in the off-season and it is unclear how that will impact his availability for the fall.
Schafer (6-5, 290) has bounced back and forth between offense and defense. He seems to have found a home at left guard.
But Rehring (6-8, 329) and Skinner (6-5, 300) were poised to push for serious playing time well – particularly if Boone is disciplined and misses one or more games.
Rehring came out of spring ball in 2005 as a contender to start. But, three games into the year, Rehring contracted pneumonia and briefly had to leave school. He was redshirted last year and was back to full-go in the spring. He is listed as Boone's backup at left tackle. He could also play guard in a pinch.
Skinner is another guy who will be in the mix at tackle. He redshirted in 2004, then spent time in 2005 on the scout team. The spring was big for him to push his way into the two-deep behind Schafer at left guard.
Three more guys in the two-deep coming out of the spring appeared to be Whaley at center, Mitchum at right guard and Kerr at right tackle.
Whaley (6-1, 270) is a walk-on who has wowed the coaches with his attention to detail in his short time at OSU. With Datish on the shelf in the spring, he and Cordle (6-4, 280) split time at center in the spring. Cordle suffered a preseason foot injury in 2005 and was redshirted.
Mitchum (6-5, 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 enjoyed a decent spring to show that he, too, belongs in the two-deep.
Kerr (6-5, 283) is classified as a true freshman. He originally signed with Miami (Fla.) several years ago, but never enrolled there. Kerr, brother of OSU senior linebacker John Kerr, is somewhat of a find and he showed well in the spring to push his way into the two-deep.
Person (6-4, 315) is also in OSU's plans as a guard. He also redshirted in 2004.
"With Rob Sims and Nick leaving, we are losing 74 starts between these two guys," said OSU offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Bollman, whose status for the season was unknown after undergoing successful heart bypass surgery. "But, as happens every year, there will be a couple of guys who leave. That's part of the process. We're very fortunate to have three starters back with Doug (Datish), T.J. (Downing) and Kirk Barton.
"We have a number of other people fighting for those positions and we are changing a number of guys back and forth between guard and tackle. We'll try and end up with the best five to eight guys who can play.
"Besides T.J. and Doug, Tim Schafer is another senior who has played a lot of football for us and gone back and forth between offense and defense. He's in there fighting for some playing time. Kirk Barton is the only guy in the (junior class).
"We have Steve Rehring, who played a lot of football for us two years ago and, last year, got pneumonia and was redshirted and missed the whole season. Then we also have Kyle Mitchum, Ben Person and Jon Skinner. They are all fighting for time and fighting to contribute.
"In the class after them, we have Jim Cordle and Alex Boone. They were both freshmen last year and we expect them to help us. Jim missed all of last year with a foot injury. He had a great start, but then he missed the whole season."
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 two and possibly as many as 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). None of them had done enough yet, though, to merit a scholarship offer from OSU.
Outside the state, the Buckeyes have reportedly made at least a few offers. They were to Evan Blankenship (6-3, 300) of Monaca (Pa.) Center Area; Kris O'Dowd (6-5, 280) of Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe Catholic; James Wilson (6-5, 305) of St. Augustine (Fla.) Nease; and Nick Claytor (6-6, 315) of Gainesville, Ga. Claytor recently attended the June 3 OSU advanced camp and has said he is strongly considering the Buckeyes. O'Dowd is due in for a camp trip later in the month as well.
Here are the archives from the previous installments of the post-spring edition of The Big Board: