Whether dotted by Beanie, Boom, Brandon or someone else, the "I" does not figure to die at Ohio State, even if it takes a backseat a bit more often from one year to the next.
"I don't think the I-formation will ever die, or Woody will rise up and come after us," OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel, seated on a couch inside the Woody Hayes Athletics Center, told reporters Thursday night.
The question of the state of the "I" after 41 years in the Ohio State playbook – famed head coach Hayes first adopted it in the national championship season of 1968 to help take advantage of the talents of sophomore quarterback Rex Kern – came as a result of the changing of the guard afoot in Tressel's position group meeting room, where sophomore Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine are working this spring to replace departed star Chris "Beanie" Wells.
"I don't think it changes too much," Tressel said when asked about the approach the Buckeyes will take to moving the ball on the ground without the 6-1, 237-pound Wells. "You have to realize what some guys' strengths are. Beanie's strength was not changing direction. Dan Herron's strength maybe is changing direction. Brandon Saine maybe changes direction a little bit better than Beanie, so you do some counter things, you do some start-one-way-and-go-the-other kind of things."
The coach stressed Wells was a complete back capable of a variety of things on the football, and he believes the same is true of the 5-10 sophomore Herron, who told reporters he is now weighing in around 205 pounds, and 6-0 junior Saine, whom Tressel said is around 220 nowadays.
"With Beanie, you just wanted to get him going one way and hope someone could get just an arm on him – not a whole body because he would run through an arm," Tressel said. "I think that's one thing. The other thing is you've got to hope the offensive line and a fullback and those type of people are giving us space, maybe a little more space to get a little less arm on you. Dan Herron can run through an arm, maybe not a shoulder. Beanie could run through a shoulder. Maybe if somebody is moved a little farther or backed up off the ball a little bit, maybe these guys will make every bit as many yards."
As far as fullbacks go, Tressel expressed excitement in the trio working under him this spring.
The coach called 6-1, 240-pound walk-on redshirt freshman James Georgiades a "husky, lineman-type" who can run, and Tressel raved about the explosive athletic ability of 6-0, 227-pound Jermil Martin, another redshirt freshman.
Rounding out the trio is Adam Homan, an early enrollee from Coldwater, Ohio, who has already been spotted working with the first-team offense occasionally during practices the first week of spring ball.
"Along with being a tough guy like those other two, he's a big guy," Tressel said of Homan. "He's all of 6-3. That gives you a lot of flexibility. Some of those things before we might have had to bring in a second tight end, now a fullback does."
The Buckeyes will have to be able to rely on one or more of those players to be able to maintain the "I' as a significant formation in their playbook this season, but Tressel said the development of the fullbacks will not necessarily hurt or help how they try to move the ball.
"That affects the formations, probably not the specific plays, because most of the things we do you can do with a tight end as well as a fullback," Tressel said. "I think they're different kinds of guys. The development of the fullback certainly adds to the running game because they are point-of-attack guys. If you have a good guy blocking at the point of attack and a little movement at the point of attack always, then that's going to help you."
Motivation for preserving the "I" comes from the staff's desire to prevent quarterback Terrelle Pryor from too often being the focal point of defenses. Pryor's presence should create space for the tailbacks, too.
"You hope that Terrelle effects the running game by them having pay a little more attention to the edge," Tressel said. "One of the things about Terrelle is he can just run around you and you don't realize it. So if everybody all the time has to think about, ‘Wow, this naked boot play, maybe we've got to keep some guys back there,' so there is one less guy chasing the tailback."
In recent years, athletic quarterbacks such as Pryor have found great success running the ball out of the shotgun in spread formations, leading many to suspect Ohio State could follow a similar path to best take advantage of the 6-6, 235-pound sophomore's multiple talents, but Tressel pointed out the "I" can have benefits for a running quarterback, too.
"The evolution of this quarterback-off-the-line-of-scrimmage kind of football where backs are running laterally and they're reading things, when to give it to them and when not to, the defenses have caught up to that, bottom line," Tressel said. "They know where you're going just like that."
In an earlier interview, Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman expressed concern too much shotgun could leave Pryor vulnerable to too many hits.
"Certainly there are going to be some run situations for us out of the gun, but certainly not are we going to be in a situation where that quarterback is going to be getting smacked every play because it's an option-read-run-kind-of a deal. That ain't going to happen," Bollman said. "Certainly, there is going to be some of that, but to sit here and think that Terrelle is going to get hit every play, you're nuts."
From a slightly different perspective, Tressel seemed to agree that balance between Pryor in the shotgun and under center will be necessary.
"As a running back coach, the disadvantage I see in that for Terrelle as a runner is that they are gunning for him in (the shotgun)," Tressel said. "When he's taking the ball under center and in the I-formation, they're not really accounting for the quarterback running the ball or having it in his hands. That's a passing situation. So maybe that's the best way to get a big play out of Terrelle.
"Once he goes back in the gun, they're going to pay even more attention to him, and I don't know if that's a plus for us. We'll find out."
For their part, neither Herron nor Saine is too worried about how he gets the ball or where he lines up as long as he can produce.
"I love running the ball," Herron said. "Whichever way you want to put the ball in my hand is the way I run it.
"I like running inside and outside. I just want to get the ball and do what I have to do to get in the end zone. I'll do it all."
Saine said his favorite plays are the draw and the outside zone run.
"I feel like I can get the ball and go, and I can make a cut also," he said. "You just have to follow the blocks, really. I just need to see the field. As a runner, I just need to trust the line of scrimmage. If it's straight ahead, I'll go straight ahead. If it's left or right, I'll go there."