In looking back at Ohio State's spring football practice, I am struck with the impression that the outlook is very good down low, but I can't shake the feeling that questions remain at the positions farthest away from the ball.
The offensive line is brimming with talent if most everyone returns to health as expected.
I'm not one who expects the freshmen to make significant contributions this fall, but that is not because I think they are incapable. I simply believe the veterans ahead of them all can really play. Now it seems we can finally return senior Kyle Mitchum to that group, and spring offered no reason to doubt how much sophomores Connor Smith and Bryant Browning can contribute if called up (and it seems Browning will be the right tackle).
For those counting, Mitchum, Smith and Browning join returning starters Alex Boone, Steve Rehring, Jim Cordle and Ben Person as seven highly recruited players all headed for at least their third preseason camp.
What the young'uns bring is gravy, then. More competition makes the older guys that much better and more quality reps will help bring the defensive line along as well.
Speaking of those boys in the defensive trenches, I think I'll choose to be optimistic about them as well. I don't believe any of the tackles are Ryan Pickett or Quinn Pitcock, but I think there is every reason to believe they will play much better than they did last year as a group.
I was a long-time Nader Abdallah skeptic – meaning I figured he was not playing for two seasons because he didn't deserve to be – but now that he's slimmed down and has turned more of that remaining weight into muscle, he seems to have a knack for disrupting offenses and rushing the passer in particular.
Conversely, Dexter Larimore always had the ability to twist free and cause a running back or quarterback to change course in the backfield, but the extra 30 pounds he has put on since arriving on campus looked to have made him that much more effective, better able to hold his ground.
Juniors Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington are effective players, as well, and both are well-spoken leaders off the field. Although we have seen more of them on the field than Abdallah and Denlinger, they've never entered a season with a significant amount of reps under their belts, either.
They were oozing confidence in the postgame interview room Saturday, assuring reporters that the good work done this spring will pay off in the fall.
At end, Lawrence Wilson and Cameron Heyward are as good as they come, and Thaddeus Gibson is a nice wild card to have up the sleeve. But will a fourth guy step forward there this fall to help keep those guys fresh? Perhaps a healthy Robert Rose.
And in the fall, there will be re-enforcements, too. Relying on too much from a frosh is always dangerous, but one has to like the odds that one or two of the five incoming boys can find a niche somewhere.
Every little bit helps, especially for a group that was hit hard by injuries last fall.
Of course, not every position looked stellar this spring, including a pair we once thought were deep but that might not turn out to be.
The wide receiver corps was hindered greatly by injuries, but there is a real need for one or two of the fellows in that group to shed the "potential" tag and turn grab one instead that reads "producer."
Aside from them, Brian Hartline was the only receiver who showed much of a knack for getting open either day. This could also have something to do with his familiarity with the quarterbacks, but should not the backup QBs have plenty of time in with the younger wide receivers?
For all the excitement over the arrival of Terrelle Pryor and those three five-star offensive linemen (Shugarts, Mike Adams and Michael Brewster), I see receiver as a spot youngsters could make a huge impact.
Jake Stoneburner was one of those walking wounded out wide, but he undoubtedly got valuable experience this spring.
Count me as one of those anxious to see if Posey can stir things up in the receivers meeting room. Having seen him as a high school junior and again as a senior, I can tell you he made a quantum leap from a physical standpoint. He was a gangly junior who only caught my eye because he was a long strider with good hands if the ball found its way in his area. Last season he had clearly packed on 10 pounds of muscle and looked a lot more polished as a route runner. He's also an impressive interview - confident and well-spoken for a 17-year-old.
Hartline and Brian Robiskie have made big plays in the past, but to truly be explosive this offense needs a third weapon in the passing game. Whether that turns out to be Dane Sanzenbacher, Small, Washington, one of the frosh or even running back Brandon Saine, the spot will be worth watching this fall.
Safety also is an interesting position these days. Two starters return, but even position coach Paul Haynes was downplaying the significance of that when he met with the media in the first half of spring practice because Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell are still not all that experienced.
The big talk that day was about Jamario O'Neal and Eugene Clifford, and why not? They are the only two five-star recruits among the eight safeties on the roster, and there was a building buzz among program insiders that those two were making moves to earn playing time.
Sure enough, Haynes confirmed that the duo had risen to the level of second string with O'Neal in position to get significant playing time as the team's fifth defensive back. He said he hoped the light had come on for the senior and identified Clifford as a player who had the ability to erase mistakes with his athleticism.
But then those two, along with starting cornerback Donald Washington, did something not publicly identified to draw the wrath of their head coach and now all three find themselves at the back of the line at their respective positions
Meanwhile, those two returning starters went about spring working on getting better. There was less buzz about them, but they will be back. Both are hard-working kids and should be considered candidates to up their production this season, but I still see this as an interesting spot.
One could argue the situation there - before Clifford and O'Neal got in trouble - was representative of the rest of the team. There are experienced, steady guys seemingly at every position, but those are also guys who absorbed one or more BCS championship game losses, and there are undoubtedly talented players behind most of them.
Could some of those players give the team a better chance to change the outcome at the end of the upcoming season?
How will things shake out in preseason camp?
Should be fun to watch.