Jard Work: Zone Your Gaps

Is the Ohio State offensive line doing more zone blocking than blocking of the gap variety, and what sort of effect is it having on the team? Why hasn't Jamario O'Neal cracked the lineup? How are Zach Domicone and Rocco Pentello doing? What do the Buckeyes joke about each week? The answers to these questions and more are in this week's edition of Jard Work.

There have been plenty of reasons floated as to why the Ohio State offensive line has underperformed so far this season. Theories from injuries to the calling of plays and everything in between have been debated, and senior tight end Rory Nicol even addressed the group to take every player to task.

But senior Steve Rehring, who is preparing to play at either left or right guard this weekend, said there might be a change in philosophy that has made things more difficult for the guys up front.

"I think we're trying to change it up a little bit with techniques and styles," Rehring said. "We did more gap blocking last year with (Chris Wells) in the I. Now he's in the shotgun so it's more zone. It's going to take us a little time to get used to more zone, more read-option stuff. It's going to take a little time and hopefully we'll get it fixed this week."

Rehring's comments make sense given the fact that the OSU offense has undergone a transformation. Now with freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor under center, the Buckeyes are using more of an option attack that allows Pryor to make plays with his feet.

However, offensive line coach Jim Bollman said that might be exaggerating the point a bit, saying that the offense has always had both aspects in its game plan.

"Perhaps (we have) changes of emphasis – I don't know about (having) difficulties in that," he said. "It's a week-by-week kind of thing, what kind of emphasis you're having. There will always be both aspects of that."

Freshmen Toiling: As mentioned in this space a week ago, freshman defensive back Orhian Johnson has been making a name for himself on the scout team as he adapts to playing at the collegiate level.

This week, safeties coach Paul Haynes said both Johnson and classmate Zach Domicone are impressing so far this season.

"Both of those guys look good," he said. "Both of them have great size. They're definitely what you want, looking-wise, in safeties. They can run and they're athletic. Very, very athletic and smart. Both of those guys sit in all our meetings so they're taking notes and they're what you want."

To help keep them both in the loop, Haynes said he spends a little extra time with each player Friday afternoons. In a sit-down meeting, he will break down base coverages and try to explain a little bit more of the team's defensive schemes to help in their development.

A big week could be coming for both those players as well as the team's other underclassmen. Following OSU's home tussle with Penn State on Oct. 25, the Buckeyes will have an open week for the first time since the 2005 season.

As the coaches rest some of the team's more veteran players in an attempt to help them get more healthy, players such as Johnson and Domicone will get to play bigger roles in practice.

"A lot of times we may go a little more with them practicing and trying to get everybody back healthy and not a lot of hitting with our older guys but let our younger guys play," Haynes said. "They have fun with it. I don't know if that's exactly what we're planning to do, but that's what we've done in the past."

Another safety who has not seen any game action yet is Rocco Pentello. Haynes said the redshirt freshman is working his way through an injury situation.

"Rocco's dealing with a couple injuries still," Haynes said. "He messed up his knee and he has a hamstring again, so he's out there practicing but he's still ailing over some of those things."

Different Types Of Sacks: Last season, the Buckeyes gave up a total of 19 sacks as a team totaling 136 lost yards.

This year, through seven games the Buckeyes have given up 19 sacks for a loss of 117 yards. Looking at the two statistics, however, Bollman said they are not comparable.

"You'd have to go back and look at all those things and how they happened," he said. "I'm not saying we don't have to improve our protection. We certainly have to improve our protection. There's a lot of variances in there, types of passes and things that happen to cause some of those."

Making His Peace: Throughout the spring and summer months, OSU senior safety Jamario O'Neal was being whispered as a guy who could play a big role in the team's defense this season.

Then O'Neal was suspended for two games to begin the season, losing the tenuous grasp he had on playing time. In his absence, sophomore Jermale Hines has seized the starting nickelback spot and is the primary backup for junior free safety Kurt Coleman.

But rather than be bitter, O'Neal said he has accepted the fact that he apparently does not fit into the coaches' plans.

"I just go in every day to get better," he said. "I think the coaches have who they want in right now that fits the team. I respect that. I'm definitely a team player. We are a team. I'm just doing the things right now to get me better whenever I get in."

The fact that his playing time has been affected by his suspension has not been lost on the former five-star prospect.

"I know me getting in trouble has definitely hurt me," he said. "When I came into fall camp I think I had a really great fall camp. That's what the coaches said. I guess they wanted to go a different route."

The Walking Wounded: Now one game past the halfway point, the 2008 Buckeyes are dealing with the reality that is a football season: nagging injuries. Most players can be seen walking around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with bags of ice to soothe sore joints or muscles on a daily basis.

One of them is senior linebacker Marcus Freeman, who typically has a bag of ice taped around each knee once practice is over.

"Three games into the Big Ten, it's our seventh game of the season and the physicality is starting to take a toll," he said. "People are getting injured. There are little injuries, nagging ones that you try to take care of but they keep coming back and back."

Rehring came out for postgame interviews following the Purdue game with a bag of ice, placing his injured left foot on top of the bag. After being injured during the team's loss to USC, the senior said he could have been out for several weeks but that he decided to play through the pain.

He returned and saw limited action against Wisconsin three weeks later.

"For a 300-pound guy, a foot injury is pretty serious," said Rehring, who is listed at 335 pounds. "Some guys take a couple months to get back. In my case, I'm playing through some pain and I got back in two weeks. The more I do, the more I play."

Rehring's foot injury is dissimilar to the one Wells is still nursing.

"Beanie's is a little different than mine," Rehring said. "Mine is closer to my arches. It's frustrating, but I don't do all the cutting he does."

Movin' On Up? Heading into Saturday's game against Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC), the Buckeyes found themselves 12th in the Associated Press poll, 11th in the coaches poll and 13th in the Harris poll.

Junior safety Anderson Russell said the fact that the team has barely moved since losing to USC in week three has become a laughing matter among his teammates.

"We just joke about it now," he said. "We say everybody could lose and we would still stay where we're at and maybe even drop a spot. We don't really care about it."

That has not deterred the team's focus since the loss to the Trojans, he said.

"I guess we lost that game so badly, but it's no way they're 32 points better than us," Russell said. "We just didn't play well that game. It was good for us though because it let us know we weren't as good as we thought we were. I think as a team some of the teams that are ranked ahead of us we could beat.

"There's nobody in the country that we just flat-out can't play with. The media sees that we should be ranked where we are then that's fine. We know we could play."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories