Tressel Hoping For A Healthy Spring

During last year's spring practices, Ohio State's list of the walking wounded was a lengthy one. That fact was offset by the team's overall experience, something this year's Buckeye team does not have in spades. In order to have a successful fall, head coach Jim Tressel said the key for this spring will be keeping his players as healthy as possible.

On the eve of the start of spring practice, Jim Tressel read a list of four scholarship players on the roster who will either be limited or out of commission for Ohio State.

For this spring to be a successful one for the Buckeyes, the head coach's hope is that the list will not grow much – if any – further. Gone are 28 seniors and three juniors from last year's team, a figure that represents around one-third of the roster.

Each practice repetition is now key for a now-young OSU roster, meaning that staying healthy this spring will go a long way toward determining how quickly each player can develop.

"To me the important thing, we need to stay healthy so we can get reps," Tressel said. "The worst thing that happens in a spring practice or a preseason is you have a young guy who really needs reps and he hurts and ankle and misses 12 practices."

As case in point, Tressel brought up tailback Brandon Saine. An injury last fall kept him out of action for 26 practices, and when he returned he was unable to crack the depth chart for the remainder of the season and finished with 26 carries for 65 yards and one touchdown.

"We can not afford that with this group," Tressel said.

The spring roster includes 16 seniors who have earned at least one letter. This year's recruiting class includes 25 players, seven of whom will be in camp for spring drills. In addition, 14 new walk-ons dot the roster.

It does not add up to a team that can afford to suffer a spate of spring injuries like last year's team did.

That is just one of the myriad challenges Tressel and his coaches face with this new group. Last year, the challenge was keeping such a senior-heavy group from getting too comfortable on account of having been through spring practice several times already.

This year plenty of juniors, sophomores and even some freshmen work their way into the spots vacated by last year's upperclassmen. The evaluation process might start when the first whistle blows April 2, but it will not end with the spring game 23 days later.

According to Tressel, having such a young group means that the task of seeing who will fit where will be ongoing until the season opener Sept. 5 against Navy.

Asked if he feels he is rebuilding or reloading, Tressel declined to look at it in those terms.

"I've never walked into a year saying, ‘Well, this is a rebuilding year so we're not going to do as well' or ‘Oh, it's a reloading year, we're going to be better' or ‘Oh, we're experienced so everything will be wonderful,' " he said. "None of those are true. There's such a fine line in how well you do.

"But I feel good about the talent. I feel good about the interest in being good. Now we need to see good, rapid growth."

As for the players who are already injured, Tressel said Lawrence Wilson will be limited as he attempts to return from a second consecutive season-ending injury. In addition, Zach Boren, J.B. Shugarts and Keith Wells had off-season surgeries that will affect their spring availability.

Throughout his hour-long press conference, Tressel appeared looser than he has in previous similar situations while taking questions on everything from the state of his depth chart (there will be more combinations across the board than ever during his OSU tenure) to Twitter.com (a website Tressel said he is aware of but does not have an account with).

With the loss of a bruiser like Chris "Beanie" Wells at tailback, the Buckeyes look to field an offense that will be more wide-open. However, Tressel cautioned against completely embracing that line of thought.

"We might not be more diverse than we've been because we had an unusual situation and we had different style guys all playing (last year)," he said. "(With) Beanie, let's line up in the I and feed him the ball for a while then we're in the shotgun spreading them all out. We may be a little more focused in (this year)."

Tressel said he does not have a bell cow who can handle the mail 25 times a game like Wells did last season. Despite that, Tressel said one key aspect the coaches are harping on is being more physical up front.

How quickly those new players can grow into big-time players for the Buckeyes will depend on how quickly they can grasp everything the coaches throw at them. For many first- or second-year players, this will be their first opportunity to learn the entire offense after spending the previous year either on scout team or in high school.

"To me the magic is, ‘Here's what we've been doing well, here's why we have so we'd better keep emphasizing it so we keep doing it well,' " Tressel said. "We'd better have some new people doing that well. Now what can we add? There's nothing from a grand scheme of things. It's not like all of a sudden we're conceptually going to become a 3-4 rather than a 4-3.

"We're going to try to be as comprehensive as we can in all phases of the game and fit what our guys do best into ultimately what we'll try to do. We've got 15 practices, then we have an evaluation period again, then we have 29 practices then you have the early season to see how things are emerging. Then you go from there."

As long as the Buckeyes stay healthy, that is.


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