Cus Words: Some Spring Football Intrigue

Jim Tressel might have a veteran-laden club opening spring practice Thursday, but BSB staffer Marcus Hartman still believes plenty of playing time is - and should be - up for grabs between now and the Scarlet and Gray Game set for April 19.

What a fascinating spring this could be, certainly far more than anyone would normally expect from a team returning 18 starters.

Oh, yes, there may be lots of veterans, but I have to assume there is plenty to be proven by many Buckeyes. The real prizes cannot come until the fall - or perhaps January? - but the work must start now.

And this could be just me talking, but I don't assume every veteran's starting job is safe. Beyond that, I'm certain there are plenty of spots where shares of playing time is up for grabs.

Let's take a look at some battles to watch, shall we?

Right tackle

This could be the most important question of the spring: who will protect Todd Boeckman's front side and clear one half of the way for Chris Wells' Heisman campaign?

Candidates include sophomores Connor Smith and Bryant Browning, senior Steve Rehring (the incumbent left guard) and incoming freshmen Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.

With all possessing plenty of size, perhaps the big man with the best feet will prevail. Knowledge of the offense and two extra years in Ohio State's strength and conditioning program could both provide an edge to either Smith or Browning.

Although more attention is often paid to the left tackle because he protects a quarterback's blindside, this could be a pivotal spot on the OSU offense this season considering Boeckman's tendency to stare down the pass rush and sometimes show the happy feet in the pocket.

Backup running back

Pretty much anyone would assume there will not be many pigskins with the fingerprints of Beanie Wells on them when spring ball is over. The Heisman Trophy candidate's burly body has been prone to plenty of bumps, bruises and sprains in his time in Columbus, and a man that instinctual and physical with the ball needs only so much practice, so it is fair to predict he will do a lot of watching this spring.

That leaves lots of reps for the other three scholarship running backs on the roster. Could Maurice Wells finally become an effective inside-the-tackles runner? Or, will the coaching staff finally get him the ball in space?

Can Brandon Saine stay healthy and continue to develop as a runner? On top of that, what kinds of ways will his role expand?

Then there is Daniel "Boom" Herron. A practice squad legend last year, he finally gets to run with the big boys this spring. Does he bring anther pure running back?

Outside linebacker

Lots of fun could be had with the open strongside linebacker spot.

Curtis Terry, at 229 pounds, could step into the position he may well have earned last August before he suffered a leg injury.

Or Ross Homan, now listed 229 as well, could make the switch from weakside, where he was last season until a foot injury of his own felled him for the last two-thirds of the season. Homan has been compared to weakside predecessor A.J. Hawk since enrolling in time for spring practice in 2006.

But, then again, what if the coaching staff goes in another direction and calls on a smaller, quicker player, such as Tyler Moeller (6-0, 216 pounds) or Brian Rolle (5-11, 221)?

Such a move could change the dynamic of the defense... but would that be the worst idea in the world given the points allowed in the last two national title games? Perhaps not.

Cornerbacks 2-4

Malcolm Jenkins, after two full years as a starter, would seem to have nothing to prove this spring, but the other cornerbacks on the Ohio State roster might not rest so easy. Yes, Donald Washington followed a solid 2006 campaign as the nickel back with a good year as the No. 2 corner in 2007, but was his play so stellar that he could not be beaten out this spring by a hungry youngster?

Perhaps not.

Chimdi Chekwa flashed a lot of talent as the third corner last year, but he also struggled in the Illinois game. He could go either way this season, surging to elite status or slipping behind an up-and-comer, such as Andre Amos.

It was Amos' 2007 spring knee injury that helped make way for Chekwa, after all (though Chekwa was earning lots of positive comments from players and coaches alike before Amos went down).

Then there is sophomore James Scott, reputedly a sticky cover corner, or redshirt freshman Donnie Evege, a more physical athlete who spent the first half of last season learning the ins and outs of corner and the second half rehabbing a knee injury.


Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell are both fine players, but I'm not sure if the two together are the best a team can do.

Perhaps it is my southwestern Ohio bias, but I am a big fan of Coleman. He has a knack for making plays, and I am interested to see what he does with a year's worth of experience under his belt. Though smallish, he is aggressive and can bring the wood. He's a good tackler and built similarly to Donte Whitner, although I don't know if he has Whitner's coverage ability.

I think Coleman should hang onto his spot, but I'm not so sure about Russell.

He is not much bigger than Coleman, and although his stat line was a little better last year, that had a lot to do with the fact he was often playing closer to the line of scrimmage as the "star" in the nickel and dime defenses.

The enduring image I have, then, of Russell, is his being dragged down the field by rugged LSU tailback Jacob Hester.

That is not to say Coleman had a signature positive moment of the title game, either.

So my mind wanders... what could a 6-2, 190-pounder like Eugene Clifford do if he harnessed his ability?

I have suspected all along that Clifford's move to corner was never permanent, much like Coleman spent an apprenticeship at corner before moving to safety last spring, and I still think Clifford's build and skills make him better suited for safety.

Of course, he needs to be sure he stays with the program after being suspended for the BCS National Championship game.

Then let's not forget there is one other veteran who could block Clifford's path and jump Russell.

Yes, I'm thinking of Jamario O'Neal. In this world of Internet overhype, we are often guilty of leaving highly rated players for failures if they do not work their way into the lineup quickly. Thus Ohio State fans have largely forgotten O'Neal after his arrival from Cleveland Glenville as a five-star prospect in 2005.

O'Neal is roughly the same size as Russell, but he does bring some explosion to the table.

Unfortunately, tackling and grasping the defense has been an issue for O'Neal thus far in his Buckeye career.


OK, OK, longtime observers of Jim Tressel's program will call me crazy here, but I can envision a scenario where Todd Boeckman is not the man Ohio State leans on at quarterback in 2008. Don't get me wrong – I'm not saying this is likely, but I truly believe it's possible. Nearly five years removed from his high school graduation, Boeckman, it can be surmised, is as good as he is going to get.

"Well, wasn't that first team All-Big Ten last season?" Yes, it was, at least as far as the media voting is concerned.

Twenty-five touchdown passes? A 148.9 quarterback rating? Completion percentage of 63.9? Yes, yes, that's all well and good.

But is it fair to ask for more?

Could Boeckman be better? Maybe. We heard in December he had some mechanical issues with his throwing that may have contributed to his late-season fade. If those are fixed, will he be able to continue the early-season fireworks through 13 games this time around? Or did teams figure out how to defend Boeckman and his band of good-if-not-spectacular receivers, all of whom are back? Must something different be done?

Hard to say, and a switch as major as this would be unTressel-like, but it is something to think about if Antonio Henton really made the strides he is rumored to have last season.

So the question changes from, "Can Boeckman be better?" to, "Can the Ohio State quarterback position be better?"

The answer could be intriguing, whether it comes thanks to an improved Henton this spring or a learning-ahead-of-the-curve Terrelle Pryor this fall.

The athleticism both bring could be the difference in Ohio State having a good or great offense this fall.

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at

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