Is the sky falling?

"Chicken Little, Chicken Little… The sky is falling!"

After the events of the past several weeks, many battle-tested Buckeye fans are crying out in anguish.  We do not know what to think, we do not know where to turn, and perhaps the worst part of all – we do not know who will be next.  Player after player has either been suspended, left, or injured over the past few months.  What appeared to be a "rosy" upcoming season has now lost its bloom and stuck everyone with its thorns.

How bad has it been recently?  Justin Zwick, expected to play early and often by most fans, has a shoulder injury.  You never want to hear the words "shoulder" and "injury" lumped together when discussing a quarterback.  Adrien Clarke, a guy who Duane Long raves about in terms of potential, has been felled by his tremendous gut and a back injury (along with a broken wrist in the spring).  Shane Olivea may or may not be at full go yet following his rehabilitation from a broken ankle suffered in the Michigan game 8 months ago.  Derek Morris – expected by many to be a starter in game one – is not eligible, and some Buckeye fans are now wondering if he will ever suit up for the Scarlet and Gray.  Redgie Arden has been suspended for the first game because of his irresponsible decision to get behind the wheel after imbibing a few cold ones.  Branden Joe will miss the Texas Tech game following his similarly stupid decision.  Chris Vance, a.k.a. "Spiderman" because of his incredible hands, has been suspended for two games for a violation of team policy of some sort.  And as if this were not enough to handle?  Jesse Kline, penciled in as a starter (since Schnittker is hurt, Joe is out, Muhammad transferred, and Martin went professional) has reportedly quit the team…

What in the name of Wayne Woodrow Hayes is going on at Ohio State?

Well, like everybody else, I have a little theory… 

Wanna hear it? 

I knew you would…

Nineteen months ago, Jim Tressel was hired to clean up a football program at Ohio State.  He was brought in following a disgraceful performance on and off the field by the once proud Buckeyes; fans were not just disappointed in the wins and losses – they were being humiliated by the players' antics.  Nineteen months ago I wrote:

Jim Tressel is inheriting a program in disarray.  John Cooper's players out and out blew it the last few seasons both on and off the field.  This team is full of attitude problems, selfish players, players without discipline, and poor students, and Jim Tressel is going to have to thin out the wheat from the chaff.  How many will slink out the nearest exit?  Who knows?  Some will transfer (see Richard Hall), some will be unceremoniously shown the door, and some will just leave.  The bottom line?  It is very unlikely that OSU will have everyone currently on the roster dressing this fall on Saturdays.  Will we still be talented?  Yes.  Will we be as talented as anyone in the Big Ten?  No.  That title should belong to Michigan, Penn State, or possibly even Michigan State before the mantle is laid about our shoulders. 

I think the fruition of this prediction is exactly what we are seeing right now.  Tressel and his fellow coaches came in late last season without the chance to thin out and replace players during the recruiting season.  Because of this disadvantage, Tressel bit his lip most of last year while trying to win over players behind the scenes.  He knew that because of a tremendous lack of depth he could not afford the current batch of seniors engaging in a revolt, so he paid them great public homage.  He bided his time until he could recruit his type of players to replace the attitude problems.  Tressel was waiting until he had the depth to tell any team members who did not like his way, "If you don't approve of my methods, then I will be sorry to see you go.  You can leave, and please – don't let the door hit you on the way out.  I just had it repainted how I would like it, so don't ruin the paint job."

Last season, Tressel coddled and cajoled his way to a 7-5 record by not only patching numerous holes in the team's abilities but also by massaging the egos of the right players.  This year, he no longer has to massage the egos because close to 40 on the roster are his recruits.  I.e. – they are the kind of young men he would like to build his program around in terms of character and ability.  That gives Jim Tressel the ability to clean house while not worrying about losing every game.  Tressel is no dummy.  He knows that if you are going to clean up a program – you have to set the tone within the first couple of seasons.  He also knows that if you are going to lose a large number of games, you better do it within the designated "grace period" awarded by fans and alumni (generally the first two seasons for a new coach).

Though right now, many fans are anxious about the recent suspensions and defections from the team, I would ask you to consider each of the players who have left over the past two seasons (either by going pro early, transferring, quitting, becoming academically ineligible, or being kicked off the team). 

- Richard Hall – Hall was part of the disastrous recruiting class of 1999.  This class lost 6 players before school even started.  Richard worked tremendously hard to get to OSU but left before Tressel established himself.  He transferred to Cincinnati, and I wish him well.  If OSU was no longer for him – I am glad we parted ways.

- Ryan Pickett – Pickett showed flashes of brilliance in a couple of games in 2000, most notably the Arizona contest.  However, in the end Ryan was a disappointment to me.  He did indeed have first round talent but never seemed motivated and hungry while at OSU.  

- Nate Clements – Nate was a very talented player.  Undoubtedly with he and Ross at the CB slot last season OSU could have been very formidable in pass coverage.  However, if Clements had decided that college ball was not for him any longer?  He merely would have been a distraction and might have even done himself harm by slacking off in his classes, etc.

- Derek Ross – Ross was a brilliant talent.  He was absolutely so bright that to look at just his talent would blind a man.  How do I know this?  It blinded John Cooper.  Derek Ross made too many of the wrong kinds of headlines while at Ohio State.  This is not the kind of player you want to build a team around.  My hope for him is that all of his brushes with the law are behind him, and he is a model citizen the rest of his life.  However, the clouds of arrests, suspensions, jail time, and academic issues that surrounded him were not healthy for Ohio State football.

- Jamal Muhammad – Muhammad was a bruiser.  He appeared to have solid talent to play the LB spot, but given our need for a solid fullback to get behind Martin last year (remember that Joe was coming off of academic problems, Stead was having academic problems, and Kline was battling health problems) Tressel moved him to the FB slot.  Apparently he was not happy at that position, so he transferred.  I say more power to him because last time I checked the way to build team unity is NOT to have disgruntled players…

- Rick McFadden – McFadden, like so many of the quarterback recruits of the 1990's for Ohio State, did not work out.  He had the height but not the ability to start for Ohio State.  I wish him well, but I would guess that most fans would not want him on the roster taking up a slot that was given to a guy like Troy Smith.

- Marco Cooper – Cooper has talent in abundance.  Still, the off-field issues are a quick way to destroy the reputation of an entire school (ask Nebraska, SMU, Oklahoma, etc. about this phenomena).  I hope he finds better folks to hang out with in the future, and I wish him well.  The question is – would you want him on our roster right now?

- BJ Barre – BJ would have come in handy over the past season.  He would also likely have come in handy this season given our need at CB.  However, if BJ no longer wanted to compete and be on the team?  I say good luck to him and would like to offer him my thanks that he is not just sitting on the pine and taking up a scholarship OSU could award to someone else.

- Ricky Bryant – Bryant showed up as a raw but talented recruit for OSU.  His problem was simply that OSU recruited an absolutely stunning group of wide receivers in the years following his signing.  Bryant left to get playing time elsewhere, which is good in my book.  Does anyone seriously think that Bryant would even have smelled the stadium (let alone played) with this current group of receivers on our roster?

- Sam Maldonado – Sam Maldonado came in as the #1 running back recruit in the country.  He showed some nice moves his freshman season in breaking a few tackles, but those flashes of brilliance were short-lived.  He did not seize the job from Wells in 2001.  In fact, by the end of the season, he was running 3rd and 4th team behind Wells, Ross, and Hall.  I wish him well.  Again, does anyone think that Maldonado could beat out Ross, Clarrett, Hall, or Riley?

- Rob Stover – Stover was a walk-on who showed real promise in the Spring game in 2001.  Yet, he left last year after being passed on the depth chart by Dustin Fox.  Two points here… 1.  Stover received a scholarship from Ohio University where he transferred.  He now can play football and get his education taken care of while doing it.  2.  Do you want a disgruntled player on your team when you are trying to rebuild unity?

- Nate Stead – Nate has talent.  I would like to see him succeed.  However, Nate cannot be relied upon in my book right now.  Why?  How can you rely on a player if you do not know whether they will be eligible from quarter to quarter?  I for one do not want a repeat of the Germany fiasco – do you?

- Julius Yeast – Yeast was a top defensive line recruit from Kentucky when he came to Ohio State.  The problem was that the proverbial light never seemed to come on for him, and he said he missed home.  So, he went home.  Being away from home is not for everyone; just ask all the Ohio State recruits who said they wanted to be close to home…  I wish him well in life, and I pose the question – could he play over any of the following?  Anderson, Thompson, Smith, Peterson, Scott, Frasier?  I personally doubt it.

- Darnell Sanders – Sanders was a potential All-American Tight End playing on the same team with a quarterback who was not fond of hitting the tight end.  So, Sanders apparently decided if he was not going to get the ball and be developed/utilized by the Ohio State offense, he would declare his eligibility for the professional draft.  Sadly, the Buckeyes now have multiple quarterbacks (in particular the starting quarterback) who understand the need to pass the ball to running backs and the tight end.

- Jesse Kline – Kline is on the list for right now.  He may be back on the team, but he may be gone for good.  Jesse worked hard here at Ohio State, but his body just did not seem to want to take the pounding.  If all of the facts currently presented are correct, then Jesse is no quitter in my book.  He is a young man whose heart was betrayed by his body.  I would love to see him be involved with this year's team even if he does not play.

- Jason Ott – Jason came in a heralded linebacking recruit.  He was said to be as good as Andy Katzenmoyer by some.  He was not.  Jason left following a chronic injury and had to decide for his health over his gridiron career.

- Fred Stirrup – Fred was a guy who was on the rise when he arrived at Ohio State.  However, his career has taken a downward turn since then because he cannot consistently stay eligible.  I hope he can put it together before he exhausts his eligibility, but I am not holding my breath.

What is my point with this rundown?  My point is this:  Buckeye fans may be concerned about the loss of players, but I ask you – which of these players would you start over our current crop?  Of all the players on the list above, the only ones that I would have liked to have seen spend another year in the Scarlet and Gray are Kline and Chris Sanders.

And as for the spat of suspensions and incidents with authorities?  Which of the following would we suggest that Tressel ignore or handle differently?  

-         Steve Bellisari – Tressel's handling of the situation showed both justice and mercy.  Mercy because he did not just boot Steve to make a statement, and justice because Steve could have killed someone with his foolish decision.  Hopefully Steve learned a lesson from this and will be a better man for it.

-         Reggie Arden – Arden also deserved some serious punishment for his actions (DUI).  The loss of game time is the one thing that will grab the attention of players.  Don't buy it when folks like Bobby Bowden cry that this only hurts the players because it does not.  Hopefully, this type of action will not only help Arden long term but maybe save some innocent person's life.  Maybe it will even save his own life because alcohol can kill a person quickly (via an accident) or slowly (ask the family of Mickey Mantle).

-         Branden Joe – See Reggie Arden

-         Quinn Pitcock – I feel sorry for him because his career is off to a "headlining start."  At the same time?  I don't know all of the details of his arrest, but I do know that you are not normally arrested if you have done absolutely nothing wrong.  At the very least, Quinn was somewhere he did not need to be.  According to former Dean Smith Players at North Carolina – this alone was enough to garner them a suspension from Smith.  Let's hope this suspension is illuminating for Pitcock.

-         Derek Ross – Again, like Bellisari, this suspension showed mercy and justice.  Tressel gave him one last shot, and he did not disappoint while at OSU.  He kept his nose clean from all reports and even played hurt for the Buckeyes. 

-         Chris Vance – Right now there is no official word on the offense committed by Vance.  Whatever it is, it was apparently pretty serious to merit two games.  Perhaps the more severe suspension was handed out simply because he is a senior who was being looked to for leadership.  Whatever the situation, I think that Tressel is showing serious integrity for suspending the only returning senior on our offensive unit the week before kickoff. 

Overall, I think there is no real reason to panic.  I think the cumulative effect of all of this is leaving many in serious angst.  However, I personally believe that Tressel is not losing control or alienating all of his players but rather is TAKING CHARGE.  He is laying down the proverbial law now that he has enough of his kind of players to do it.  He has given the players from the past regime ample time to shape up or ship out.  Now, he is shipping them out or slapping them with suspensions when they are making decisions detrimental to the team.  It took a whole lot longer than I anticipated, but it is now happening.  

Oh, and before I go…

I have some randoms thought to throw out there…

1.  Last season, we Buckeye fans collectively looked at the depth chart and exclaimed, ""We need to thin out the FB position.  We have more FBs than offensive linemen!"  Considering that Schnittker is hurt, Joe is suspended, Jamal M. transferred, and Kline just quit the team?  We have only one fullback left for Texas Tech – Jack Tucker.  

Too many fullbacks we said?

Problem solved ladies and gentlemen.

2.  I have been preaching all year to anyone who would care to listen that TTU is not going to be a cakewalk.  That has never been more obvious than the past several weeks when the Buckeyes started suffering some serious attrition.  Don't be surprised if the cumulative effect of the suspensions and injuries put a serious hurt on OSU's chances of winning this contest.  If I were a player, coach, or fan at TTU – I would be salivating when reading the preseason report on the Buckeyes…

We are currently without our- Top 2 fullbacks
- The QB being groomed as the backup (Zwick)
- Pitcock (who likely would have logged some PT)
- A starting WR (Vance)
- Two offensive linemen (everyone was counting on both Clarke and Morris for this game since last February)

Not bad eh?  Just think, we have another 3 days to go...who knows what could happen between now and then    

3.  Maurice Clarrett' comments…    

I don't know totally what to think about this.  I am not sure it is good for the team.  Normally you call out players in practice but not in public.  It is an unwritten rule in athletics that you don't embarrass your teammates.  Still, I have to say that Maurice has been kicking rear ends and taking names the last 6 months in practice – passing 3 players on the depth chart.  So, if anyone has the ability to say it and back it up?  It is Maurice.  Let's hope this was a wake-up call and not a sign that some of the players from the former regime are still not on board with the new coach and program direction.

4. One final note...

Memo to Kirk --- Shackle Mr. Bucknuts to his desk if he even thinks about going out of town between now and Saturday.

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