SvoNotes: Sorting Out Spring Hype

Any news about Ohio State football is big news across the Buckeye Nation, but so often much of the ink spilled over spring football turns out to be irrelevant come fall camp. So which of the major stories from this past spring will have staying power? Jeff Svoboda has some guesses in this edition of SvoNotes.

For the first time in years, Ohio State's spring football practices were open to the media. As a result, report upon report came out of practice from the local outlets, including BuckeyeSports.com, giving Buckeye fans a sort of information overload about their team.

But which of the news was truly important and which was full of sound and fury but signifying little in the grand scheme of things? In this piece, I'll point out some things that deserved the attention and some that were more smoke than fire.

Worth the hype: Terrelle Pryor's overall progress
Anything the 6-6, 235-pound wunderkind does from here on out in his Ohio State career will invite tons of media scrutiny – just as its been for the past two years of his life – but Buckeye fans can't help but be encouraged by his fantastic 13-for-19, 191-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game.

That showing was the culmination of plenty of spring work from Pryor, who looked shaky and inconsistent on short and intermediate passes at the start of camp, talked to the media as though he's the unquestioned leader of the offense and then in the end backed it up by taking what appeared to be a quantum leap forward in the passing arena.

During the final days of the spring, Pryor was poised in the pocket and threw with the confidence and accuracy of a Division I quarterback. That's major positive progress for a guy who had lots of hits in 2008 but a good number of misses as well.

Overhyped: Pryor's final week of the spring
While Pryor's improvement as spring developed is a tremendous positive, one has to remember that his spring game work came against a hodgepodge of first teamers and reserves in an intrasquad scrimmage. A standout final week of practices, while encouraging, does not mean he has done all the developing he needs to do.

Last year, Pryor performed about as well as a first-year quarterback could given that he had little reason to learn the intricacies of passing the football in high school, but he still had a long way to go upon finishing his freshman campaign with a less-than-stellar Fiesta Bowl showing that came amid swirling rumors of a nagging arm injury.

So while his progress through spring – especially during the final week – was good to see, Pryor still has 29 practices in August that will mean a heck of a lot more than the ones he just went through.

Worth the hype: The team's "3-4" look
Whether you want to call the way the team lined up on defense throughout the spring as a 3-4 look, a 4-3 look or some sort of hybrid is up to you. The team maintained that the responsibilities of the players on the field are largely unchanged, but there's little doubt that the look is at least different when the "Leo" player of Thaddeus Gibson or Solomon Thomas is standing up near the line rather than in a three-point stance.

Time will tell just how much the Buckeyes use this setup during the fall, but it was pretty much the default set for the team during the spring, so one would have to figure it will end up being put to use extensively.

Overhyped: Figuring out the linebacker rotation
Simply put, there are just so many different combinations that the Buckeye coaching staff can throw out there that interpreting what we saw out of the spring – especially in the absence of the team's most experienced linebacker in Ross Homan – is a tough exercise.

What we do know is that Austin Spitler and Brian Rolle were on the field with the first unit during pretty much all exercises. However, the Buckeyes have so many versatile parts – for example, Spitler rotated between the middle and the strongside spots with Rolle doing the same between the Mike and the Will positions – and will face opponents with so many different styles – see triple option squad Navy and pass-happy Purdue – that picking three linebackers and calling them "starters" is a bit hollow. Different players could very well be on the field at different times in 2009, it appears.

Worth the hype: The play of Brandon Saine and Boom Herron
During the offseason, fans concerned about the loss of Chris Wells to the NFL draft began to wonder how the reps at running back would take shape, and many turned their eyes toward incoming four-star recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde and three-star back Jordan Hall. But Herron and Saine, both of whom have had their moments at Ohio State, served notice in the spring that they still plan to be at the top of the heap when fall rolls around.

Herron was an underrated complement to Wells in 2008, earning 4.9 yards per carry and six touchdowns on 89 tries. Reports had him working endlessly in the weight room before the spring, and he showed his determined running style was complemented by increased strength once practice began. As for Saine, his disappointing 2008 season looks to be in the rearview mirror after the finally healthy Piqua native got better and better as spring went on. He again ran with the power and speed that made him Ohio's Mr. Football in 2006 and earned him early playing time from his very first game at OSU.

Overhyped: The "struggles" of Mike Adams
Thought to be a shoo-in to take over for Alex Boone at left tackle, the five-star recruit shared first-team reps with Andy Miller and was drafted after the former tight end in the spring game draft. He occasionally was beaten in both one-on-one drills and in scrimmages and even had his on-field toughness challenged at one point by a defensive lineman.

But was it really all that bad for Adams? No doubt, the battle at LT will continue to rage on and Adams needs to keep improving, but there were encouraging signs for the Dublin Coffman product as the spring wore on. He started to fare better in drills and showed glimpses of the form that made him one of the top offensive linemen in his class as he began to understand how to use leverage to his advantage, a tough task given his 6-8 frame. One also has to remember that Adams played in just four games in 2008 because of a shoulder injury that also limited practice reps, so he should continue to get better and better come August.

Worth the hype: The defensive line's play Coming into the season, most people agreed that the Buckeyes should boast a dominating defensive line given the experienced players returning. The spring did little to shoot down that thought, starting with an interview session with line coach Jim Heacock in which the normally demanding coach praised the work ethic and skills of his crew.

Even without Lawrence Wilson, Nathan Williams and Keith Wells for large portions of the spring, the defensive line constantly put pressure on the quarterback during the spring, most famously with backup leo Solomon Thomas' seven sacks in the spring game. Thomas and Thaddeus Gibson showed strides, meaning that Heacock's long-stated goal of affecting the quarterback should be achieved in 2009. In addition, the tackle trio of Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger showed improvement.

One caveat: The first-team's offense ability to run the ball in many scrimmages either shows that the Buckeyes will have a dominant group on offense or the D-line needs to make up ground.

Overhyped: Denlinger's time at tight end
He looked good at tight end when the Buckeyes played him there, so there's a pretty good chance the experiment will continue. However, the outcry over the move didn't quite match how often the coaching staff actually had Denlinger on offense, which wasn't very often.

Simply put, expect Denlinger to play tight end only in certain short-yardage situations in which the Buckeyes would like to run the ball. He won't be catching many passes or taking much playing time away from starter Jake Ballard or second-teamer Jacob Stoneburner, who continues to learn the finer points of blocking as he gets used to his move from wide receiver. Denlinger, who has an extensive knowledge of play in the trenches, should help move piles in some short-yardage situations and could be used to break tendencies occasionally.

Worth the hype: The multiple offensive sets used
Much has been made about how the Ohio State offense will look in 2009 as the team figures out how to get the most out of the unique combination of skills that Pryor brings to the table. If the spring is any indication, expect plenty of three-wide sets, but the I-formation won't be leaving OSU entirely, either.

The I, whose death has seemed imminent at times over the past few seasons, still was used at times, but the departure of Wells – a big, downhill runner whose talents were best served out of that formation – should bring down the percentage of the time the Buckeyes line up in that traditional formation. Also, backs like Herron and Berry are quicker runners who could do well out of shotgun and single-back sets. Even with that all said, the coaches still believe there's a time and a place for some good old-fashioned I looks, especially with the development of Adam Homan and James Georgiades at fullback.

The Buckeyes ran a higher percentage of plays out of the shotgun and seemed quite enamored with formations that included three wideouts. Only twice in 2008 did OSU start a game with three wideouts, one of which was in the Fiesta Bowl when Pryor joined Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline out wide.

One thing to note is that there weren't all that many called quarterback runs during the spring. One would have to think that the black jersey that Pryor sported for most of the practice sessions had a lot to do with that, but there's no denying that the option plays were less featured in the spring scrimmaging than they were in '08.

Exactly what will be run when – and out of what formation – will remain to be seen, but there were some clues evident during the spring.


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