Under The Microscope: The OSU Offense

Don't look now, but that sunshine and melting snow means that spring football practice is about to begin. With that in mind, BuckeyeSports.com takes a preliminary look at what might happen by asking the biggest questions at each position and pointing out some players to watch for OSU fans when the pads go on next week.

With Terrelle Pryor committed and the basketball team in the NIT, attention can turn to Ohio State spring football practice, which is set to begin March 27. As the pads are broken out and the team readies for its 15 practices, BuckeyeSports.com takes a look at some of the major question marks surrounding each position group during the spring. Today, the offense goes under the microscope.

Quarterback – What will Todd Boeckman do?
As the incumbent starter after taking every opening snap of the 2007 campaign, Boeckman will be kept under close watch so that the senior will not pick up any injuries that could linger on into the season.

However, the quarterback did leave some room for improvement with his 2007 starts. He finished with a final line of 191 passes complete in 299 attempts (63.9 percent), 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. But after beginning with two or more touchdown passes in each of his first 10 starts, he threw six picks and just two scores over the final three games as OSU compiled a 1-2 record.

Parts of his game will need fine-tuning, including his poise in the pocket under pressure and ability to avoid mistake throws. Both of those are best helped in real-time game and practice situations, meaning the St. Henry, Ohio, native might need to see time in live situations to make strides.

Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said that he was pleased with Boeckman's 2007 performance, largely starting with what he was able to do during the spring.

"I actually think he exceeded my expectations to a point," Daniels said. "I thought from spring practice just watching him grow and mature and have a little better understanding of what we're doing simply because he was getting a lot of reps, overall I was really happy with what he did this year."

Player To Watch: Antonio Henton
The sophomore will be under the gun in 2008's spring. The Georgian was working his way up the depth chart in 2007, passing the now-departed Robby Schoenhoft and completing 3 of 6 passes for a touchdown in limited action. But a solicitation charge stopped that momentum and earned him game time off even though he was allowed to continue practicing.

Now, he will be the No. 2 quarterback during the spring and will have perhaps his best chance to show off, especially with the nation's top-ranked quarterback in Pryor joining the team for fall practice. A favorable showing of his speed and skill will go a long way in helping his cause for playing time over the next few years.

Running back – How much will Chris Wells do?
Looking for "Beanie" during last year's spring practice rarely was a fruitful exercise. The big back from Akron suffered an ankle tweak early in the spring, leaving Maurice Wells the only healthy scholarship tailback on the roster when Beanie was rested in an effort to ensure he'd be at full strength once the fall came around.

Now the question will become how much pounding the staff wants to see Wells absorb during the spring. He was a workhorse in 2007, toting the ball 274 times for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns. With three scholarship backs in Mo Wells, Brandon Saine and Boom Herron in the picture, getting Beanie work might not always be priority No. 1.

Player To Watch: Boom Herron
The Warren, Ohio, native was redshirted as a freshman in 2007, but the coaching staff came close to burning that redshirt as all three scholarship backs suffered some sort of malady at different points throughout the campaign.

However, that opportunity never came, meaning he still will have freshman eligibility in 2008. Spring will be the first chance for the back to make a big splash since coaches constantly talked up the 5-10, 190-pounder's abilities throughout the year.

"Dan Herron is going to be a tremendous football player and he gives great effort," head coach Jim Tressel said at one point. "He's tough. He's willing to do anything that the team needs."

Wide Receiver – Which of the youngsters will make a move?
Ohio State's depth chart at the wide receiver position skews toward the young side as someone looks down toward the bottom. Four players – the redshirted Grant Schwartz and true frosh Dane Sanzenbacher, Taurian Washington and Devon Torrence – were freshmen in 2007, and they will be joined during the spring by the talented and raw Jacob Stoneburner of Dublin.

By the end of the '07 campaign, Sanzenbacher had made the biggest impact, scoring Ohio State's first points of the year and finishing with 12 catches for 89 yards. Washington also had a score, taking one of his three grabs to the house, while Torrence snagged four passes. Schwartz was moved to wideout from safety early in the fall and did not make a catch as a wideout.

Spring is a time for younger guys to make a name for themselves, and with such competition, it figures that one or more has the chance to become a breakout star and earn more playing time behind Nos. 1 and 2 receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline.

Player To Watch: Ray Small
Having said all that, Small would have to have the inside track at more playing time after becoming the clear No. 3 receiver in 2007, finishing with 20 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

Now, the coaching staff would like to see the blazing fast, explosive prospect make the next step into being a constant threat that can stretch the field. Amid reports that the proverbial light has gone on, perhaps Small will make that leap.

"I think he's just got to keep studying the game and understand the movements of the defense before they happen and just keep producing as much as you can produce when you have the chance," receivers coach Darrell Hazell said.

Tight end – Will Jake Ballard make the leap?
Last spring Ballard made big steps at the tight end spot, earning praise from teammates and coaches alike for his blocking. Then during the season he did his fair share of work with his hands, catching 13 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Given the tools he's shown at both facets of tight end game, if the Springboro, Ohio, native puts it all together he could the type of player who has a breakout season.

Player To Watch: Jake Stoneburner
Will the coaching staff stick to the plan of leaving the talented prospect at wide receiver or eventually move him to tight end, where his body projects should he add 10-20 more pounds? Stoneburner figures to stay at WR, but the situation bears watching.

Offensive line – Who will emerge at right tackle? And how will Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts fare?
All right, so that's two questions, but they are intertwined so much that it is hard to separate the two. Both Adams and Shugarts, five-star rated tackles according to Scout, will be enrolled at Ohio State for the spring, and both have to think they'll have a chance at the right tackle spot vacated by Kirk Barton.

There appear to be three scenarios for filling the starting spot. Either a returning backup like sophomore Bryant Browning will win the job, returning left guard and former tackle Steve Rehring will move over to the spot to allow a player like Connor Smith into the lineup, or Adams and Shugarts will emerge.

However, it will be a tall order for the freshmen to make much of an impact during the spring, if line coach Jim Bollman is to be believed.

"They'll be scrambling this spring," Bollman said. "They won't have any idea what's going on in the spring. But what they learn in the spring will be invaluable for them coming back in the fall."

Obviously, the right tackle spot won't be sewn up at this point, but the competition and experimentation will be ongoing during the spring.

Player To Watch: Bryant Browning
The move that would require the least reconfiguring of the offensive line would be if Browning steps up and fulfills his potential to earn the starting nod at right tackle. Bollman has spoken glowingly of the sophomore from Cleveland on numerous occasions, and with his time in the system, Browning is a good bet to have the inside track to the spot.

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