On the last day of preseason camp, Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel told reporters with no hesitation that senior Brandon Smith has assumed the No. 1 position on the fullback depth chart with classmate Ryan Lukens behind him and true freshman Jermil Martin No. 3.
Imagining any of those players would be in this situation a year ago would have been difficult.
Smith was a tight end, Lukens a walk-on linebacker and Martin a high school senior at Cleveland Glenville yet to receive a scholarship offer from Ohio State, but one by one they joined the ranks of fullback.
Lukens converted during bowl practice in December and Smith flirted with the move during the spring while Martin joined in August.
In the meantime, coaches also tried another linebacker, Curtis Terry, at fullback but opted to end that experiment toward the end of camp.
Smith rose to the top of the depth chart because of his familiarity with the offense, experience blocking as a tight end and his ability to contribute in the passing game.
"I'm obviously very pleased with his development," Tressel said. "He's been a line-of-scrimmage guy, a good tight end, a special teams guy, a veteran who has worked hard in his career here."
Despite that experience, the coaches wanted to see how well he executed similar duties of a tight end when lining up in a different spot.
"He's been very effective at that," Tressel said. "No hesitation, no stutter in the step. He just goes. I think he sees an opportunity. These guys work hard and long, and I think right now Brandon Smith says, ‘This is a chance and I'm going to grab it and go.'"
Terry has gone back to defense, in part because the coaching staff felt that spreading the reps there too thinly would hurt the overall development of the group.
Tressel said that would have been a disaster, adding, "We knew Curtis could go and get great reps and be ready to play special teams and get after it defensively so he has spent most of his time there."
Ideally, Tressel would like to have three fullbacks ready to play with two alternating in games to keep the wear and tear down on both.
That could mean Martin is headed for a redshirt, but Tressel said that likely would not be determined until the middle of the season.
Both Dick Tressel and his younger brother, head coach Jim, are on record praising what Martin brings to the Buckeye offense, be it as a blocker or a runner, but his skill set could perhaps be better used beginning one year from now, when Smith and Lukens will be gone and there is a possibility junior starting tailback and standout Beanie Wells, despite his stated intentions to return to school for his senior year, might find the pull of the NFL too strong and opt to enter the 2009 draft.
"When you start talking about saving people, those kind of decisions are made like two-thirds of the way through the year," Dick Tressel said. "If someone hasn't played the first two-thirds of the year does it make sense for us not to put them in a cleanup role and waste a year's eligibility when you can come and have that experience and still have four years of eligibility left."