What follows are some of those random observations from the spring. Members of the media were allowed to watch the team's jersey scrimmage April 12 and that was followed up one week later by the annual spring game.
Etienne Sabino was one player who caught my eye. On the second series of the jersey scrimmage, he nearly came up with an interception on a pass thrown by Antonio Henton. Sabino is a kid who obviously has a long way to go as far as grasping the defense and was mostly relying on guts, skill and adrenaline to make plays, but it served him well. Impressive for how young he is.
The linebacker I was most impressed with was Tyler Moeller. I remember meeting Moeller on National Signing day in 2006 when he was officially joining the Buckeyes and thinking he was way too small to be an effective player in the Big Ten. What I've seen this spring has led me to discount that notion because Moeller can flat-out make plays. The kid is always around the ball no matter what the play is. I can't even count the number of times I saw him in on a tackle. Ohio State has to find a way to get him on the field this year.
I think the Antonio Henton ship has sailed, which is unfortunate because I think he's a skilled player. It's no secret he's going to have to beat out Terrelle Pryor for playing time this fall, and for him to do so this was a big spring to demonstrate an increased understanding of the offense. The fact that he is obviously still struggling with that shows he is not ready, and there is precious time left for him to become ready. The coaches talked about him needing to take the next step in his development, and I think he would have taken it by now if he was going to hold off Pryor.
Dan Herron is going to play a major role on this team, as is Brandon Saine. I felt both had something to prove when the got to Columbus: Herron, that he was physical enough to make an impact and Saine that he would be able to make defenders miss. I know Saine is plenty of fast, but I felt he lacked true field vision. I'm happy to say that both of these players have excelled in their respective areas. Herron is shifty and finds holes I can't see developing while Saine is going to have a monster year in every facet of the game.
Another early enrollee who caught my eye was J.B. Shugarts. Several players have told me how much the Texas native has impressed during his time in Columbus already and that was clearly evident during the spring game. Going against guys like Lawrence Wilson right off the bat is a daunting task, but Shugarts more than held his own. Just think – if he is getting this kind of training already, how good will he be when the season starts?
Thaddeus Gibson clearly loves his new, expanded role on the team, but he is still experiencing some growing pains. During the jersey scrimmage, he lined up at the left side of the line, then ran to the right side. After pausing for a second he darted back to the left side. In sequence with his moves, defensive coordinator Jim Heacock yelled out: "Thad! Thad! Nooo!" Needless to say, it was a little humorous.
I think Todd Boeckman is going to be Todd Boeckman but slightly improved from last year. This guy has put in all kinds of time in the film room watching and learning from his mistakes. He's gutsy and stood in the pocket against an all-out blitz to hook up with Brian Hartline on a nifty diving pass in the near corner of the end zone that covered 25 yards. He still needs a little more touch on the deep ball, but I look for him to have a big season.
I noticed Nate Oliver make a few plays this spring. I hadn't heard much about him and figured he might go the way of Nick Patterson and disappear on the depth chart, but he forced a fumble in the jersey scrimmage and showed some signs of being able to put it all together.
Curtis Terry should be the team's fullback when Youngstown State comes to town. Every time I saw him hit a hole, I saw defensive players flying backward. He still has to learn more about the position, I'm sure, but his physical abilities make him the best candidate for the job – and the only one to distinguish himself this spring in my eyes.
Assuming the injury he suffered during the spring game was not a serious one, I'd look for Jermale Hines to potentially lock down the third starting linebacker spot alongside James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. Much like Moeller, Hines was a player who showed he has a nose for the ball. He did spend time working with the ones in the jersey scrimmage.
I've always thought that Ray Small has been trying too hard to be something he's not, and playing in the shadow of Ted Ginn Jr. has never helped. Although he was apparently in Jim Tressel's doghouse this spring, the effort he showed during the spring game makes me think something is starting to click for the Cleveland Glenville product. Consider this simply a vibe I'm feeling. Still, I wouldn't be expecting any sort of game-changing season for Small – I would simply hope for a year of consistent play.
That's how I see some of the Buckeyes as they head into summer conditioning. Obviously there is plenty of time between now and Youngstown State (or, much more importantly, USC) and progress made during the spring is no guarantee of continued development during the fall.
But if the players listed here put up big seasons this year, you heard it here first. If they don't, what do I know anyway?