Ohio State's offensive line was the target of a lot of questions coming into the season. Do they have the talent to get the job done? Is there any depth? Will any of the true freshmen see meaningful playing time?
But as we approach the 10th week of the season, the only question about the O-Line is: How good will this group be once everyone is healthy? Well, with Shane Olivea being listed as "probable" for the Minnesota game, we are about to find out.
Jim Tressel talked earlier this week about what Olivea means to the offense.
"Shane is an extremely powerful guy," Tressel said. "You know, when he's healthy, when all things are right, Shane will move anyone in the country... if he's off on the snap count. Obviously, if someone beats him off the ball, even the smallest guy could penetrate. But I think Shane is a good strong guy. He's one of the most powerful guys we have on the team."
As for Olivea's recovery from an appendectomy?
"Saturday will be his 11th day since the surgery, so he should be able to play without any risk of doing damage. Now, if he gets kicked there, he will have some pain, but Shane should be OK."
Can any of the other Buckeye O-Linemen stack up with Olivea's power?
"Probably Ivan Douglas," Tressel said. "I think if we had it to do over again a week ago, we would have maybe done a couple more power things to Ivan's side. We did some, but Ivan, when he's got his footwork and technique right, he is a powerful guy. So I would say Ivan and Shane are the two most powerful guys we have on our front, but don't lose sight of Ben Hartsock. Ben's pretty powerful and quick as well."
"We talk a lot about playing with velocity and I thought we played with better velocity last week," Tressel said. "You know, when you are thinking too much, you don't play fast. But I think our kids have been working hard up front. We haven't had the same lineup for any length of time. It always seems like we are on again and off again there. Guys like Ivan Douglas have to play right side, then left side, then right side and Robbie Sims jumps in there and I thought played very, very well. Mike Stafford has been in and out. Alex Stepanovich has been solid, but has been pressed into some guard duty. So, you know, all of those types of things. I'd like to think as time goes on we can get more consistent and maybe play with good velocity up front because that's still the key."
To me, you are not an Ohio State fan if you've sent Maurice Clarett hate mail. Clarett estimates that half of the mail he gets is hate mail from Buckeye fans saying things like, "You're not loyal. You're a %#$$&. You'll never be considered a true Buckeye." I can't imagine one of our fans (or anyone who saw the Washington State game) sending Clarett e-mails like that. It makes you wonder how many of those messages were sent by fans of opposing teams, posing as Buckeye fans. But, it is always funny how brave some people can be over e-mail. People who would never be brave enough to say something like that to his face.
HOW'S THE SHOULDER?
Those who saw how much pain Clarett was in last week might have a hard time believing he'll be able to play effectively this week. What is Tressel's take on Clarett's injury?
"It's a nerve thing, so it's just a matter of getting back to the right strength that you need to have and I think he's getting close. That's a decision we'll have to make as we go on, but I wouldn't be surprised if Maurice and Lydell Ross and Mo Hall don't share that position for this game."
KEEP THE WHITE TOWELS
Representatives of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl gave out white towels to some fans at Ohio Stadium for the Penn State game. It was supposed to be just a one-time thing, but OSU should look into keeping the towels and should give them to all the fans. It just seemed to add to the intimidation factor against PSU (which was plenty large to begin with). Now, giving away 105,000 towels could get a little pricey, no matter how cheap they are. But considering they are charging $45 for tickets, I think they can manage it.
TWO-YARD HALO IS TOO MUCH
Is there a bigger sissy rule in football than the two-yard halo on punt returns? It penalizes good defense. A couple times this year, I've seen a gunner get down the field, wait for a second or two, back off of the return man and still get called for a penalty. In my opinion, if you don't want to get hit, call a fair catch. As long as the defender doesn't hit the returner before the ball gets there, it should be a legal hit. Obviously they are doing this for protection, but it should be a one-yard halo if anything. Who do we have to thank for the two-yard rule? Probably former OSU safety Tito Paul, who was one of the top gunners in college football from 1993-94. I still remember a hit Paul put on a Michigan State return man that made all the highlight shows for a year.
This season, the two-yard halo is a huge benefit to "Fearless" Chris Gamble, who would rather do just about anything than call a fair catch. I asked Gamble this week if he would ever consider calling a fair catch in any situation and he said, "No, I would never call one. With the two-yard halo, there is no reason to. You can at least get a couple yards."
MORE ON GAMBLE
Some fans have wondered if Gamble's strong play on defense will cause him to be less of a factor on offense. Will he get fewer plays at receiver now?
Tressel addressed that topic this week.
"Well, there's no question about it that Chris Gamble needs his hands on the ball. You know, we have felt that way since he's been here. He had a little bit of an injury bug as a freshman and was in and out and we couldn't quite get him into the flow like we wanted to. This year, certainly he's been the starter at the flanker position and when Chris Vance comes in at flanker and we're in three wides, Chris Gamble is the slot. So we have some things, we work some things to try and get the ball in his hands. Heck, I remember, starting the Illinois game last year, the first play of the game we shifted him out of the backfield because they went corners over and we got him on their strong safety and he ran right by him and we underthrew him. And we've had a number of things that we've designed, because Chris Gamble is a game-breaker.
"Now we have to share him a little bit more with the defensive side, but that shouldn't lessen what we design for him, it might just give us less chances to get him on the field offensively. I don't know that a guy can play 95 plays every game, but, you know, we'll see what happens," Tressel said.
Which of the freshmen who are currently being redshirted are looking good? Tress tackled that topic as well.
"On that defensive front, Joel Penton, Jay Richardson and Quinn Pitcock have been doing a good job banging against our guys every day. I think all three of those young men are going to be very good players for us.
"Justin Zwick and Troy Smith have both done a nice job leading our scout team offense. Justin has one of those quick releases that you can't teach and that puts a lot of pressure on a defense. And I think Roy Hall and Santonio Holmes have also done well on the scout team," Tressel said.
E.J. STILL IN THE MIX
Is E.J. Underwood down and out about losing his starting job to Gamble? Don't bet on it. Underwood is still getting a lot more playing time than your average true freshman and will continue to get some chances.
"From talking to Mel Tucker and Mark Dantonio, I think they feel good about E.J. sharing time with Chris Gamble out there," Tressel said. "Harlen Jacobs has also been out there. Exactly what is going to happen (as far as playing time) is impossible to tell and that's harder for a young guy to handle than it might be a veteran. Veterans have been through the situations where they expected to play maybe 30 plays and only played 15, or were expecting to play 15 and played 60. Veterans have been through those things and can handle them better than young guys. But we still feel good about E.J."
WHAT RECEIVER WILL STEP UP?
We hear a lot about the great depth OSU has at receiver. Well, with Gamble seeing less plays on offense, there is an opportunity for another one of the receivers to prove they can be a playmaker. You know Mike Jenkins is going to step up and make big plays every week, but who else can we count on? Fans expected a lot more out of Chris Vance this year. Could he finally be coming around? What about the other guys?
"Drew Carter is a solid guy out there," Tressel said. "We feel comfortable enough with the fact that if Chris Gamble goes over and helps the defense out and we lose him a little bit on offense, you know, Chris Vance I think is coming along a little bit. He had the one fumble which is a shame there, we were down in the red zone and that could have been a costly thing, but I think he's really had a good week of practice. Mike Jenkins is always solid. Bam Childress and Drew Carter are guys that can step in and help us. So we felt like we could share Chris Gamble with the defense, but we can't let him not be a part of the offensive package, he's too dangerous."
You can contact Dave Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org