Spring Burning Questions: Offense

Football geeks rejoice, spring practice is just days away. Unlike last season when many starters were known, this year's 15 sessions will go a long way in determining which talented youngsters will jump up into major roles for the 2009 team. We start a preview today by looking at the major questions facing the offense.

Temperatures are rising, the sun occasionally shines and baseball is on the horizon – in other words, spring is in the air.

As a result, so is spring football.

Many Big Ten schools have started their 15 practice sessions for the spring, though Ohio State is waiting until Thursday to start the process that leads up to the April 25 spring game in Ohio Stadium.

A number of important dates will occur in the interim. Practices will ramp up until the first real competition of the spring, the April 10 kick scrimmage. Eight days later is the marquee event for the players and coaches, the jersey scrimmage that pits the offense against the defense in a live scrimmage that determines which gets to wear the coveted scarlet practice jerseys until the fall. (They currently belong to the offense).

Expect detailed reports of each of those events on BuckeyeSports.com.

Finally, the spring game will be staged on the final Saturday of April. Whether it will be a game in the traditional sense or not is to be determined, but fans hope for a beautiful day to watch the Buckeye players start their final practice session with the OSU lacrosse team staging an important contest with Notre Dame before the game starting at 11 a.m.

In the 14 sessions before April 25, there will be plenty of questions to answer for the Ohio State coaching staff, and it will be up to the players to provide those solutions. With that in mind, BuckeyeSports.com begins a preview of the spring by looking at the burning questions at each position starting with the offense.

QUARTERBACK: How will the position develop?
There's little question that the starting job belongs to Terrelle Pryor after he started the final nine games of the season at the quarterback position and then split time with senior Todd Boeckman in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pryor's development is sure to be the No. 1 question throughout the spring, but he'll likely be under a non-contact order considering the Buckeyes have just two quarterbacks in camp in him and Joe Bauserman.

For Pryor, the spring will be about cementing his leadership role on the team while becoming more familiar with the concepts that drive the Buckeye offense. Those may be different this time around as Ohio State attempts to figure out the best way to get the most out of the freakishly athletic Pennsylvanian.

The rocket-armed Bauserman will be tasked with proving he can be ready at a moment's notice should anything happen to the wunderkind slotted to start ahead of him. The former baseball minor leaguer has looked good in limited time before, but he'll be sure to get plenty of work.

Last year's fourth-stringer, walk-on Ross Oltorik, will not be in camp as he continues his season as a pitcher on the baseball team.

Bonus question: Will Ohio State seek a temporary position move for anyone who played quarterback in high school, such as Zach Domicone, Orhian Johnson or Rocco Pentello, just in case of emergency?

RUNNING BACK: Will Boom Herron and Brandon Saine cement themselves at the top of the heap?
Both class of 2007 running backs have shown flashes, but with Chris Wells and Maurice Wells out of the picture, the bulk of the carries should belong to the two. As a result, they can put some distance between themselves and incoming 2009 recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde.

Herron had an outstanding redshirt freshman season of 2008 by finishing second among the team's running backs with 89 rushes for 439 yards and six touchdowns, including scoring runs against Michigan and Texas. However, Herron stands just 5-10, 193 pounds, not all that imposing for a running back who makes his best moves between the tackles. The upcoming practice time will give him a chance to show that he keeps getting better at plying his trade.

As for Saine, the speedster out of Piqua needs to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire session of practices after nagging injuries slowed him during both the 2007 and '08 seasons. He started ahead of Herron in 2007 and was impressive in the first three games before a knee injury was the first sign of trouble.

Staying healthy will be the first task for Saine; after that, he needs to show that he can refine his game and work on making people miss, thus making his speed that much more lethal.

Bonus question: How much will Ohio State use a fullback? And will it depend on the development of a player like Jermil Martin, who was redshirted last year?

WIDE RECEIVER: Which of the youngsters will step up?
Ohio State certainly has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent at the wide receiver spot. However, none has been a fulltime starter thanks to Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, two-year stalwarts who left after the 2008 campaign.

Ray Small and Dane Sanzenbacher enter with the most experience after two years as the primary backups to the Brians. The tasks for the two are different: Small must show his prodigious gifts and blazing speed can translate into him deserving a starting role, while Sanzenbacher must prove that his precision route-running and good hands are enough to stave off challengers from below.

Ohio State has plenty of others ready to earn playing time. At the top of the list is DeVier Posey, a sophomore who made 11 catches after entering OSU as a five-star receiver. He showed good blocking skills in 2008 and worked tirelessly to earn more playing time before finding such a quest tough given the talent ahead of him. Few question his talent and size, making him the No. 1 contender for more playing time to many observers.

Four other scholarship wideouts will be in camp, but none has yet topped 10 catches in a season. Taurian Washington is a big body who has impressed in limited flashes, but he was passed by Posey last year. Now a junior, Grant Schwartz has often been on the lips of his teammates when asked who has looked impressive in practices, but he has yet to translate that work to the field.

Going younger, sophomore Lamaar Thomas brought speed to burn into the program, but he was too raw to see more than occasional playing time last year. And James Jackson, a 2009 spring enrollee, has been compared to Ted Ginn Jr., so the Michigan wideout has plenty to prove.

Bonus question: Will Pryor find chemistry and develop a go-to relationship with one of the contestants?

TIGHT END: Will the tight ends ever be used in the passing game?
Ohio State's tight ends over the past few seasons have been good blockers and little else, combining to catch just 11 passes a year ago. Certainly part of that was because of the inexperience of Pryor, who often didn't seem to look toward the tight ends when the wideouts weren't open. Spring practice would be a good place to start getting the big bodies involved.

Jake Ballard has made his fair share of important and nice catches during his career but isn't as athletic as players like Kellen Winslow and Jermaine Gresham, tight ends who have become featured receivers in successful college offenses. Still, it seems there is potential for Ballard to become a consistent weapon should the Buckeyes choose to him.

Then there's Jacob Stoneburner, who played wideout in high school and who is rumored to be in the running for an H-back type role that combines his size and his athleticism in an effort to keep defenses off balance. His blocking skills are unknown, and just how consistent he can be could go a long way toward earning playing time. His friendship with Pryor could help make him a viable option.

Finally, Nic DiLillo should get a chance to show what he can do after a redshirt year.

Bonus question: Will Stoneburner's presence lead to more tinkering in the offensive scheme in an effort to incorporate his unique skill set?

OFFENSIVE LINE: Are the Block "O" kids ready?
All three members of the 2008 offensive line haul appear to be ready to challenge for starting spots in 2009, and their development will go a long way in determining how the line will look come fall.

Michael Brewster started the final 10 games of the season and appears to have a spot on the line, wherever it may be, sewn up. With at least one tackle spot open, either Mike Adams or J.B. Shugarts figures to be in line for a starting job.

Guard Justin Boren seems to be the only player who knows he'll be starting and the position he'll have. The rest of the slots depend on player development, with some combination of Adams, Shugarts, Brewster, Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning among the favorites for the other five starting spots. Figuring out the best five will be the coaching staff's first step.

Early enrollee Jack Mewhort is rumored to be ready to join the two-deep early, and players like Josh Kerr, Connor Smith and Evan Blankenship can show they're ready to make a move.

Bonus question: Will we ever see anything out of Smith? This figures to be the five-star recruit's last major chance to shine before more good offensive line crops come in during the next two years.


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