Defense Likes What It Sees From Offense

The worry entering the 2007 season for many Ohio State fans is that the offense will struggle to hit the heights of a year ago. But in the first week of practice in pads, the defense has had nothing but good things to say about the offense. That continued after Saturday's scrimmage win.

Saturday's return of the scarlet practice jerseys to the offense, spurred by the unit's jersey scrimmage win over a vaunted defense, might have been seen as a surprise to many.

After all, anyone who has been paying attention knows that the offense lost a Heisman Trophy winner, its top tailback and two first-round draft picks at the receiver spot. On defense, the Nagurski Award winner as the nation's best defensive player is back, as are a defensive end and a cornerback who figure to merit All-America consideration. Add on a dominating defensive performance in the spring jersey scrimmage, and the favorites Saturday had to be the stop troops.

So who wasn't all that surprised when the offense stuck with the defense throughout the event and pulled away to a win with two late touchdowns?

The defense, actually – to a certain extent. While they didn't go into the scrimmage expecting to lose, members of the defensive group said the offense's day in the sun was merely a continuation of a strong camp the unit has had thus far.

"The offense has been tough all camp," said linebacker Marcus Freeman. "They did lose a lot of guys but we've seen all camp that they're not an offense to be pushed over. They showed today how good they can be."

That included solid play from each of the three quarterbacks in the battle to take over the most important position on field. The presumed starter, junior Todd Boeckman, did not throw an interception and found tight ends Jake Ballard and Rory Nicol for touchdown passes. Sophomore Robby Schoenhoft tossed two scoring passes as well.

Those touchdown numbers look even better when compared to the lone interception thrown by the offense. That went from the arms of Schoenhoft to playmaking safety Kurt Coleman, but Boeckman and redshirt freshman Antonio Henton refrained from tossing picks.

Couple that with a lack of lost fumbles and the offense turned the ball over just once in around 150 plays, an encouraging sign to noted turnover-hater Jim Tressel. Should the offense protect the ball in a similar fashion during the regular season, it can only help to better a defense that won't have to be forced into action with a short field behind it.

"It's a good combination," defensive end Vernon Gholston said. "An offense that takes care of the ball and a defense that plays solid with great special teams can win a lot of games."

"That helps us out a whole lot," safety Anderson Russell said. "You want to keep your defense off the field even if you have a lot of talented players out there. If the offense can do that, I think we'll be a great team."

So far in camp, the buzz surrounding the offense, other than its ability to hold onto the football, centers on its balance. The Buckeyes tossed for 2,791 yards a year ago thanks to that Heisman winner, Troy Smith, and ran for 2,208 yards. It sounds as though those numbers could be even closer in 2007.

"What has impressed me the most is that instead of having a single player that's very good, we have an offense that jells together," linebacker Larry Grant said earlier in the week. "We're not just a running offense and we're not just a passing offense. Everything is balanced. That's what impresses me the most."

Gholston said that ability to both run and pass the ball continued Saturday even though starting tailback Chris Wells was on the shelf as a precaution because of an earlier ankle injury.

"They worked together well collectively," Gholston said. "They ran the ball and they threw it when they needed to. The quarterbacks managed the game well. It was just a great gameplan."

Another encouraging sign for all involved was the play of the tight ends, who were led by Nicol and Ballard's scores through the air. After the scrimmage, Tressel lauded both the running back unit, which the coaches have repeatedly said has more depth than any other they've had at Ohio State, and the tight end group. Add in a solid, experienced offensive line, and plenty of attacking options open.

"Any time you have to account for a good receiving tight end, it gives a chance for the running back to find holes," Freeman said. "Any time you have a good successful running back that is very powerful and can create yards, that gives a chance for playaction. They go real hand in hand, I think. We have two, three good tight ends and three or four good running backs, and I think it's going to be impressive to see all of them work together this year."


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