Babb's Bits: Scrimmage Good, Bad, Ugly

Bucknuts correspondent Charles Babb shares his view on the high points and the low points from Friday's jersey scrimmage, which was won by the defense 66-65. Among the high points was the play of freshman running back Chris Wells, who tallied 95 yards on 20 carries.

We had the good fortune to attend Friday's Ohio State jersey scrimmage, won by the defense 66-65. Here is a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from what was, well, an ugly and rainy Friday afternoon at Ohio Stadium.

The Good

* Stormy Weather -- Ohio State's offense and defense were forced to play on a wet, though perhaps not sloppy field. Since they have had more than enough hot days this summer, this helps the Buckeyes prepare for fall weather. According to head coach Jim Tressel, "It was a pretty good downpour there. Our field was pretty good. You didn't see a whole bunch of slipping."

* The Defense -- The defense hung onto the scarlet jersey. Despite losing 9 of 11 starters, they led much of the scrimmage, fell behind late, rallied to tie the game, and won on the final play. What does that mean exactly considering the coaches admittedly try to keep the score fairly close?

"I think it means they are going to compete hard," said Tressel. "I think we have the makings of a good defense."

* Chris Wells -- When asked about his performance Tressel stated, "Chris (Wells) ran well. Chris is a good back. We've been saying that since he has been here."

Get used to hearing it: Wells is all that and a bag of chips. He tore up the Ohio State run defense for several monstrous carries. Unofficially, he had 20 carries for 95 yards to lead all tailbacks and often carried a couple of defenders (along with the pigskin) for more than one yard.

Only on rare occasions was he stopped in the backfield or prevented from falling forward for at least a couple of yards. He also lowered his shoulder and embarrassed more than one defender at the point of contact.

Big Juan Garnier was shaken up after one tackle on the big back while Thaddeus Gibson ended up road kill when Wells ran him over like a possum on the freeway. The latter is the type of play that makes team highlight reels if against an opponent. Look for Wells to get the football on a regular basis this fall.

* Quarterback Competition -- While some would prefer one player grab the reins and run, it is probably a good sign for the Ohio State football program that this has not happened as of yet. Todd Boeckman may be slowly separating from a now injured Zwick and redshirt freshman Robby Schoenhoft and true freshman Antonio Henton.

However, the battle for second string is likely to run right up to kickoff with Northern Illinois and perhaps through the entire fall. Competition makes teams better, and it has been a while since the Buckeyes had as much talent returning behind center. This means an injury to Troy Smith may not completely derail the Buckeye locomotive.

* The Young Pups Bite -- Like other recent recruiting classes for the Buckeyes, this group seems high on speed and energy. Ray Small saw action on offense though he was unable to pull off any spectacular plays.

Kurt Coleman absolutely lit up anyone coming his direction on defense; if he continues at this pace he will be pushing his way up the depth chart this fall. Chris Wells obviously played above and beyond expectations (if that is possible).

Larry Grant, a JUCO transfer, forced several negative or short yardage stops by knifing through would be blockers to reach the ball carrier. Antonio Henton clearly lacks knowledge of the offense and mostly handed off the ball to tailbacks, but he did have a nifty quarterback keeper for solid yardage and a first down.

Robert Rose has the look of a possible star at defensive end while Thaddeus Gibson and Tyler Moeller were constantly around the football; all three could probably use a redshirt year to improve their technique and strength -- though Rose and Moeller seem as though they might earn their way onto the field with special teams.

Dexter Larimore made several plays and was frequently found at the bottom of the pile when on the field, and Jake Ballard saw extensive action and looked the part of a tight end (not offensive tackle). Walter Dublin may need a year to add weight and muscle, but he will be heard from before his career ends.

* Face Time for Reserves -- While it is easy to forget, the Buckeyes have more than just their 22 starters and key 20-25 reserves. There are a plethora of players who come to practice every single day without the hope or expectation of playing on a national stage.

Through their blue collar efforts they push the star quality athletes to perform at a higher level, and only rarely are they recognized. In fact, if they have their name mentioned in a paper it is normally a sign of a tragedy like the case of Tyson Gentry or embarrassment off the field.

Several backups played well today, among them: Brent Ullery, Marcus Williams (who ran with determination and gusto), Derek Harden (who Coach Tressel singled out for praise), Joe Gantz, Nathan Schwartz, Kyle Ruhl (scored a touchdown) and Juan Garnier.

* Antonio Smith -- While outsiders continue to wonder if he will hang onto the starting cornerback position, he continues to perform. Defensively the secondary forced a coverage sack of Smith and after a James Laurinaitis tip, Smith piled into his man (who wasn't open anyway).

What this means is Smith is handling the corner slot and has no intentions of going away quietly. Amos or Coleman or another underclassman is going to have to outwork and outperform this senior walk-on; he has earned the position.

The Bad

* Special Teams Kicking -- While there were no punts, and this certainly was not the best of conditions to try and attempt a field goal or extra point, Aaron Pettrey and Ryan Pretorius did not have their best afternoon.

At one point, the two of them were O-fer on all of the extra points and field goals. Eventually they would right the ship and get back to .500, but it wasn't exactly encouraging.

* What did We Learn? -- If one is honest, probably not too much other than to note several young players who are performing on the field as well as gaining insight into the current depth chart.

First, this is simply a scrimmage – just one of a plethora of practices this team has completed following their bowl but prior to the kickoff against Northern Illinois.

Second, every time the defense makes a great play (or the offense), it normally means someone on the other side of the football didn't do their job well. The million dollar question is how the Buckeyes stack up against the opposition, not one another.

* Absentees at Linebacker -- Ross Homan and Mike D'Andrea were not to be found on the field. While Homan's hamstring injury appears minor and is likely more an inconvenience than an insurmountable wall, it still is not good for the defense.

Homan appeared to be in the thick of the competition for playing time in the spring, and with the additional time to learn the offense as well as the shifting depth chart; this was his opportunity to make an impression.

D'Andrea, meanwhile, came out of high school as the wunderkid linebacker who could leap tall blocks with a single bound, but now he cannot even run. Tressel was less than optimistic and indicated he wouldn't be playing for a while. The tone of voice and expression seemed to say more than his simple quote, "Not right away ... not right away."

* Defensive Line/Offensive Line: The Battle in the Trenches -- Either the Buckeye defensive front is going to be better than advertised or the Buckeye offensive front misses Nick Mangold and Rob Sims more than expected.

Flip a coin and you have your answer, though indications are it is more of the former than the latter. Richardson, Patterson, Pitcock and Gholston appear to be ready for breakout seasons while Worthington, Penton and Wilson are going to round out a solid rotation.

Several times the offensive linemen were forced to hold or give up a sack, and occasionally the referee even threw a flag.

Tressel's take: "That first group of six or seven guys I think is pretty solid. They are tough to block, and they put pressure on you. I think Doug Worthington is really coming along. Rob Rose is a guy coming along. Todd Denlinger I think is in the first six or seven, and he is playing steady. Lawrence Wilson didn't play but will be back Monday I'm sure. We have a chance to be good there."

* Gonzo -- Anthony Gonzalez had only a so-so afternoon. Normally a clutch receiver, he dropped a couple of passes early and tipped a ball that ended up in the hands of a defender. None of the bobbles were extraordinarily difficult to catch but were simply not handled. However, he did come back to catch a critical third-down pass late for a 17-yard gain.

* Maurice Wells -- Putting Wells with the ‘Bad' probably isn't quite fair. He did show several nice moves and cuts. He also had a couple of runs in which he broke tackles for a workmanlike 13 carries and 32 yards. Still, while he runs second team, he all too often is taken down by the first tackler in space or at the line of scrimmage in traffic.

He clearly knows the offense and is working hard. The key for him will be to break tackles against the top flight competition, block when asked, and be a weapon in four- and five-wide sets.

His best fit in this reporter's opinion is likely as a ‘Maurice Hall' type role; allow Antonio Pittman and (Chris) Wells to hammer a defense all afternoon. Then, when they are tired and a step slow, toss in (Maurice) Wells to burn them for large chunks of yardage or critical scores. He has the speed to take the heart out of the opposition if he has the ball in the open field or can round the corner.

The Ugly

* Justin Zwick -- Justin Zwick, the fifth-year senior most fans and pundits expected to back up Troy Smith, left the game with what appeared to be a banged up left shoulder.

Tressel commented, "The thing that sticks in my mind the most is I hated for Justin to get banged, but I wanted him to have the chance to compete with the other guys because I think Schoenhoft is doing a good job and Boeckman is doing a good job, and there is a real battle going on there. I didn't want to not give Justin a chance to compete under the same circumstances. I wish he wouldn't have gotten banged, but that's one of the perils."

* Turnovers -- One can look at this in one of two ways: One, the offense was a bit hapless at times and looked helpless. Schoenhoft and Jim Cordle appeared to have serious difficulties with the center exchange, putting a couple on the ground.

The defense recovered one of those, which in some senses can be viewed as the way in which the offense blew their late game lead.

Said Tressel in a not so glowing endorsement, "We made some mistakes. I think we had 4 or 5 picks and a couple or three fumbled snaps so…General impression…It was pretty fair."

On the other hand, the young secondary managed to pick off several balls that were put into the air with the front seven also making noise grabbing balls on the turf. While the field conditions played a large role, it is also to be noted that last year's defense didn't exactly light up the scoreboard taking the football from the opposition. Perhaps this should be viewed as an encouraging sign.

* Losing the Lead -- While the Buckeye defense rallied to win on the final play of the scrimmage, at one point they held a commanding lead of 19 points with the score of 48-29. When it came time for goal line situations however the defense struggled and the offense charged back into the game. That is not good news for those hoping to see the Buckeyes win a second national title in only five seasons.

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