Tressel Starts Spring By Looking At Personnel

The spring of 2009 will be one of competition for the Ohio State football team thanks to a multitude of open spots left by graduating stars from two different classes. As the coaching staff prepares to tinker, head coach Jim Tressel discussed some position groups on Wednesday, providing the latest updates on some key spots.

The Ohio State football program enters the spring with more questions than in the typical spring.

The problem for many – fans and coaches alike – is that the answers might not come very quickly.

That the Buckeyes graduated many seniors and lost key juniors – famed players like Chris Wells and James Laurinaitis – is no surprise. Same for the fact that OSU has recruited at a high level over the past couple of years, meaning that there are plenty of talented young players champing at the bit to see the field.

But just how those players will line up come early September against Navy will continue to be a work in progress throughout all of spring and even into fall.

"We're hoping to be able to mix and match and have a lot of guys play with each other, a lot of guys compete with each other," head coach Jim Tressel said. "We probably won't be as locked in on each side of the ball as to who the 1s are, who the 2s are. I think you're going to see a lot of different groups playing together."

While spring might not necessarily cement players' roles, it will provide a measuring stick for players and coaches alike.

"I'm anxious for when we get down to that last week to see who thinks who did well in the draft by position because there's a lot of position competitions," Tressel said.

Every journey has to start somewhere, and Ohio State's road of 15 spring practices begins today. With that in mind, there are some things that Tressel acknowledged about some positions as the team was on the eve of practice, which we detail below.

QB: There are few very questions about the pecking order at this position as camp begins. Terrelle Pryor enters as the clear-cut No. 1 option with Joe Bauserman right behind. Last year's fourth-stringer, Ross Oltorik, will not be with the football team as he plays for the nationally ranked OSU baseball team.

One thing learned Wednesday is that the Buckeyes will have a new face in the quarterback room in walk-on Justin Siems of Charlotte, N.C. Tressel was unable to give much of a scouting report on the newcomer.

One major question about the group will be its role as far as live situations given how little the Buckeyes can afford an injury, something Tressel addressed.

"Virtually we have two quarterbacks," he said. "We're going to make sure we take care of those two guys. We're not going to bang the heck out of them and so forth. I'm not sure that there will be some things that we do in the fall that we'll be doing as much of this spring."

He said the two won't be tasked with running the ball or wearing live jerseys early in the process, a reality that could change as the players get antsy to make plays in practice situations.

RB: There was little doubt that when Wells was healthy, he'd be the man getting the ball anywhere from 15-25 times per game. With the star from Akron gone, the Buckeyes will hope to see improvement out of Boom Herron and Brandon Saine, who is finally healthy after being limited in 2008 because he missed nearly the entire fall practice season.

"Boom and Brandon Saine can play," Tressel said.

Walk-ons like Marcus Williams and Joe Gantz, who often have impressed in springs past, will also get their chances.

Jermil Martin, Adam Homan and James Georgiades are the fullbacks.

TE: Jake Ballard split time with Rory Nicol a year ago and will enter the spring as the undisputed No. 1 tight end. After that, there have been some changes.

Jacob Stoneburner came to Ohio State as a wideout but will begin his redshirt freshman season at tight end because of the natural progression of his 6-5 frame. He signed with Ohio State at around 215 pounds, but he's listed at 230 on the newest roster.

Ohio State views Stoneburner as a possible matchup nightmare at tight end in the passing game.

"We feel as if we can pressure with the inside receivers perhaps better than we've been doing," Tressel said.

Stoneburner and Nic DiLillo, a redshirt freshman who checks in at 237 pounds, haven't had the experiences of blocking at the major college level, prompting Tressel to toss out a scoop on April Fool's Day: the possibility of Todd Denlinger's move to tight end for some short yardage situations.

"I think Jake Stoneburner and guys like Nic DiLillo are going to come along but maybe not as quickly as a Todd Denlinger," the ninth-year head coach said. "Whenever you're working with your seniors you're always looking for more roles he can do."

Former fullback Spencer Smith has been moved here, and Andrew Moses could give it a whirl as well.

OL: There will be lots of mixing and matching at this spot, something personified by Jim Cordle. A former starter at guard and center, he could play those positions and tackle in his final season at OSU.

"I think Jim Bollman felt that, for instance, when Doug Datish had one of his best years, it was with his quickness at a tackle position," Tressel said. "He feels as if Jimmy because of his intelligence and his footwork and so forth can be helpful at all those positions."

As for other players who could do double duty, Bryant Browning looks to play tackle and guard. Michael Brewster could play both center and guard, and Jack Mewhort has the ability to play all across the line.

On the other hand, Mike Adams and Andrew Miller are set at tackle, while Justin Boren is a guard.

Then there's J.B. Shugarts, who continues to rehab from shoulder surgery.

"The only guy you won't see is J.B. Shugarts coming off of injury, which you'd really like to see," Tressel said.

In addition, sophomore Evan Blankenship was discussed as a player who is emerging.

DL: Keith Wells will be held out of contact work because of offseason surgery, while Lawrence Wilson, who missed the second half of the year with a knee injury, will be evaluated as the spring goes on. His role is unclear.

LB: Like they do at other positions, the Buckeyes go into the spring planning to play numerous players at each of the linebacker spots. But Tressel did tip his hand when asked who might be starting if Navy were on the horizon.

"We'd probably be playing nickel, so Jermale Hines would probably be at the nickel and Ross Homan would be in the game," he said. "If a game was tomorrow, probably Austin Spitler."

Also, true freshman Zach Boren will be held out of contact drills, as expected, as he continues to rehab from surgery.

DB: Returning starter Chimdi Chekwa is obviously the No. 1 cornerback, but Tressel tipped no favorite in the race to replace players like Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington. As a result, one is to assume that guys like a healthy Andre Amos, Devon Torrence, Travis Howard, C.J. Barnett and Donnie Evege are in the running.

"The one that's clearly out front and will lead that corner group will be Chimdi," Tressel said. "After that you're going to see a lot of different combinations this spring. I would think that at a lot of positions you're going to see different things different days."

Special teams: Tressel said that Aaron Pettrey has lost just shy of 10 pounds and is, in his opinion, an "extraordinary kicker." Ben Buchanan and Devin Barclay will battle for the backup spot.

Buchanan and Jon Thoma are both possibilities at punter to replace A.J. Trapasso, and Tressel said they will have the opportunity to compete.

Ray Small is back to return punts with possible chances going to Torrence and Dane Sanzenbacher. As for kickoffs, Lamaar Thomas, James Jackson, Saine and Herron were mentioned as possibilities.

The annual spring kick scrimmage has been moved up from the days before the spring game to 15 days beforehand, giving the team plenty of time to shore up any issues that crop up.

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