Buckeyes Looking For Returns To Glory

Ted Ginn Jr. put on a show as a return man during the past three seasons, leaving big shoes to fill for the current squad. There's no shortage of players wanting to do so; 11 players have at least been mentioned as having a chance to see some time with the ball in their hands on special teams. Who has the inside track? Read on for more.

He might not have won the Heisman Trophy – or any major award – but it's hard to deny the effect that Ted Ginn Jr. had on the Ohio State program.

In addition to the deep threat he provided on offense, Ginn excelled as a kick and punt returner on the way to rewriting the record books. He burst onto the scene with four punt return touchdowns as a true freshman in 2004, enough to set the school career record, and also set the school single-season record with 25.6 yards per return. By the time his career was over, he owned the conference record with six career punt return scores and added two kickoff return touchdowns to tie the school record there.

Some of his best times came with fellow burner Anthony Gonzalez deep for both kick and punt returns with him. Now that the pair left early for the NFL, the Buckeyes have some holes to fill in the return game, something head coach Jim Tressel is quite aware of.

"When you graduate Teddy and Gonzo, you're in the audition stages for a lot of things," Tressel said.

There is no shortage of players hoping to earn at least a call-back. No fewer than 11 players – safeties Anderson Russell, Jamario O'Neal and Kurt Coleman;, tailbacks Maurice Wells, Brandon Saine and Boom Herron; receivers Ray Small, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline; and cornerbacks Malcolm Jenkins and James Scott – have at least a hat in the ring when it comes to a return spot.

"They're all hungry," said receivers coach Darrell Hazell, who coaches the kick return unit. "‘Coach, put me back there, put me back there.' They all think they can do it. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds when we start next week."

Expect that group to narrow itself down now that Wednesday's kick scrimmage is over.

"I think we're getting it narrowed down pretty quickly," Hazell said. "The kick scrimmage helped us on making that decision. We'll probably be making a four deep by the end of maybe Monday or Tuesday after evaluating the film from yesterday."

Some candidates have more on their résumés than others. With Small on the shelf nursing an ankle injury, Russell and Wells have been tabbed as the two players who would be deep if Aug. 24 were Sept. 1. Wells was the third on the depth chart a year ago behind Ginn and Gonzalez last season, while Russell averaged 19.1 yards per return and 8.4 yards per carry as a senior at Atlanta Marist High School.

"He's an old high school tailback," Tressel said. "He was a very good tailback, so he brings good explosion."

The winner of the kick scrimmage might have been O'Neal, who returned a kick 52 yards. He also had a 17-yard return, while Russell had a 20-yarder and Scott could muster only a 15-yard return.

Whichever player does win the job should have plenty of opportunities to show his wares. The kick was moved back to the 30-yard line this year, meaning touchbacks will be few and far between for Buckeye opponents in 2007, something that has Hazell licking his chops.

"It's a beautiful thing," Hazell said. "It really is. It's going to help teams that are good kickoff return teams. It's probably the most major rule change that's occurred in a long time."

Based on early returns, so to speak, it appears that Jenkins has the inside track at a starting spot at punt return. He had the longest return of the kick scrimmage, a 20-yarder that was called back because of a penalty. It wouldn't be surprising come Sept. 1 if, when the defense is done on the field, Jenkins jogs to a deep spot 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage, a la Chris Gamble, and Jenkins even wore No. 7 during the kick scrimmage.

"I thought Malcolm did a good job," the seventh-year head coach said. "He really wants to be the deep guy."

Of course, so does everyone else, Tressel realized.

"Hartline wants to be the deep guy, Robiskie wants to be the deep guy," Tressel said. "Ray, I thought, at the end of the spring if we had a game on April 22, would be our deep guy. So there is some competition."

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