5 Questions: Ohio State vs. Navy

Issues abound as the season opener approaches for Ohio State and Navy. This week we look at the Buckeye offensive line, the passing game, stopping the option and more.

1. Can the newest edition of the Ohio State defense contain Navy's option attack?

This one is easy. Few who follow the Buckeyes could be unaware Ohio State's season-opening opponent brings with it an offense that is unique to major college football in 2009: the triple option. The Midshipmen have led the nation in rushing in four consecutive seasons, but against Ohio State they run into a team that has been tough to run on for most of Jim Tressel's eight-year tenure as head coach.

Discipline is the buzz word for the Buckeye defenders.

"It's something that we've never seen before and we're going up against the best rushing offense in the country," said Ohio State defensive tackle Todd Denlinger. "It's going to be a big game for us up front and really for the whole defense to be able to stop the option attack."

2. How will the retooled Buckeye offensive line perform?

One day cannot wipe away a season's worth of disappointing offensive-line play, but the new-look Ohio State offensive front would do well to get off on the right foot in 2009. A veteran group was not able to do so last season and never really found a groove as time went on. The mid- and late-season struggles were in part symptoms of injuries that led to reshuffling, but with an infusion of new blood and a pair of returners in new spots, there is a feeling better things can be expected this season.

On Tuesday, Tressel sounded bullish on the way his line of (from left to right) Andy Miller, Justin Boren, Michael Brewster, Bryant Browning and Jim Cordle had come together in the past week or so.

Cordle shared his head coach's enthusiasm.

"The offensive line is ready to show after underperforming for a couple of years we can come off the ball and hit some guys and create some running lanes," Cordle said. "We got Justin back and then Andy settled in at the beginning of last week and we feel good about it now."

3. How will the Buckeyes run without Chris Wells at tailback?

More than a couple of times, the man they call "Beanie" made something out of nothing last season, but he has taken his burly frame and breakaway speed to the NFL, leaving a crowded stable of backs to divvy up the 481 carries he logged the last two seasons.

Sophomore Dan Herron and junior Brandon Saine both lack Wells' bulk but can still run between the tackles or outside while true freshmen Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry have both had impressive moments in camp. Hall and Berry both offer more open-field elusiveness.

All of the weight of the running game does not figure to fall on those four, however.

The leading returning rusher is quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who finished No. 2 on the team last year with 631 yards despite suffering 21 sacks. He is a dynamic open-field runner with breathtaking speed in a 6-6, 235-pound frame, but just how much Tressel and his staff ask Pryor to run has been up for debate for much of the offseason.

"We can run the ball," Cordle said when asked what he expects the offense's No. 1 strength to be as the season dawns. "Nothing against Navy, but we're a good offense and I guess if he had to hang our hat on something we'd hang it on our running game."

4. How has the Ohio State passing game progressed?

Most season previews on newsstands and across cyberspace touch upon this query in one way or another after Tressel pared the playbook to fit his freshman signalcaller last season.

In the final 10 games of the season when Pryor was the primary quarterback, Ohio State threw the ball on just 30 percent of its plays, but Cordle said Tressel has expressed a desire for a 50-50 split is the goal this season.

Despite the focus on Pryor, he is only part of the passing equation. His top two targets of last season, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, both were selected in the NFL draft, leaving an open competition for snaps. DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington have looked like the top three in preseason camp, but Ray Small and true freshman Duron Carter and senior Ray Small figure to earn some snaps as well. The buzz word for the defense this week - discipline - might serve this group as well after an offseason in which consistency was sometimes lacking.

Also worth watching: how many passing plays are called for the tight ends and running backs as well as how many times Pryor checks down to a member of either position group.

5. Just what will the Ohio State defense look like?

The 4-3 has been a staple of the Buckeye defense through three different coordinators in Tressel's eight years, but there were signs throughout the spring and preseason practice that could change this seasonto take advantage of personnel that fits a 3-4 look better. Such a move could allow disruptive-but-undersized end Thaddeus Gibson to rush the passer from a stand-up spot on the edge as well as free linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle to flow to the ball more easily behind a three-man starting line of Dexter Larimore, Doug Worthington and Cameron Heyward. Linebacker Austin Spitler balances things on the side opposite Gibson.

The possibilities are tantalizing, but with coaches and players somewhat evasive about just what they might be working on despite appearances, what is in store remains anyone's guess until the Midshipmen take the field for their first possession Saturday.

Of course, given Navy's unique, run-based attack, the rest of the world might have to wait at least another week to get a true gauge of what to expect from defensive coordinator Jim Heacock's defense in 2009. USC comes to town Sept. 12 with a pro-style offense.

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