Signs Point To More-Open Offense

Ohio State closed out another Big Ten title last season by abandoning most of the bells and whistles that go with an explosive offense and instead kept things going on the ground. There is still a lot of time before the first game of the season, but early signs are that the Buckeyes might be better equipped to do more offensively this season.

There are five reasons why Ohio State feels it can have a more wide-open offense this fall.

Those reasons read as follows: left tackle, left guard, center, right guard and right tackle. A poor performance in Saturday's jersey scrimmage notwithstanding, the Buckeyes believe that their more experienced offensive line should allow them to be more versatile on offense this season.

At least, that's what they are saying and demonstrating through spring practice.

"The playbook is a little bit bigger this year than it was last year," wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. "I think it's because (Terrelle Pryor) is better, which is where you have to start, but I think also the offensive line is better and the receivers are a year older and the backs have been there for a while."

The biggest key to all of that is the offensive line. Every spot minus left tackle is essentially locked up by a player who started at least 10 games last season, and together Justin Boren (left guard), Michael Brewster (center), Bryant Browning (right guard) and J.B. Shugarts (right tackle) average more than 21 starts each. Of the four, only Shugarts will be entering his second year as a starter.

Mix in either Mike Adams or Andy Miller at left tackle, each of whom started at least three games last season, and the Buckeyes have a returning group of linemen that is confident in its abilities.

"Those guys were young last year and they fought their tails off and did a good job," Hazell said, "but you can tell just by watching them protect now, they feel so much more relaxed and comfortable."

Said Boren: "Whenever you can communicate and you're real close, things are going to work better. We can communicate better and we know what everyone else is doing. It definitely helps."

As the OSU offense evolved last season in Pryor's first full season as a quarterback, the identity that emerged was one of a rush-first, throw-second team. After rushing for 66 yards in an upset loss to Purdue, the Buckeyes rushed for at least 200 yards in each of their final five regular-season games before Pryor threw for a career-high 266 yards in a Rose Bowl victory against Oregon.

The hope among Buckeye fans was that the win against the Ducks signaled the dawning of a new era in which the team's offense started to play up to its explosive potential. During spring practice sessions that have been open to the media, that has seemed to be the case.

Asked if he got the sense that this year's offense might be more open, Boren said, "I don't know how the coaches plan on doing things, but I get that sense. We're doing a lot of things out of empty and five-man protections and us getting the ball out quicker."

Pryor has worked on numerous passing drills with the tight ends and running backs. As the quarterback has grown more experienced in the pocket, he has become more adept at reading his progressions.

"Checkdowns add a whole other dimension too because we have great running backs," he said. "You get them the ball and they can do something and make a difference underneath. Now it sets the backers up and you have a whole other game plan. If you go back and check your three reads and if you don't have it go to your checkdown."

Those checkdowns are more likely to be available because the Buckeyes have gone through spring often utilizing their five linemen but splitting everyone else out wide.

That includes tight end Jacob Stoneburner, who might become the first player at his position to be a factor in the passing game since Ben Hartsock and Ryan Hamby combined to snag 51 passes during the 2003 season.

"I think we're just building off the things we did in the Rose Bowl," Stoneburner said. "I think that is helping us be able to develop more stuff, use the tight ends more and use the running backs more because we have more confidence from what we did in the Rose Bowl."

Buckeye safety Jermale Hines said things have been different this spring.

"It's a challenge," he said. "You've been here for so many years, you're accustomed to seeing the regular (offensive) formations but now they've been doing all types of freaky formations that make you think a little bit."

Freaky formations like going five wide with a tight end and a running back among the targets, for starters.

"I think we have guys on the line that have been around for at least a season and have proven themselves," wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "It never hurts to have another back in the backfield to help check down, but I think we trust the line. I think we've got a lot of backs who are able to come out of the backfield and prove that they can catch the ball. It mixes it up a little bit."

However, head coach Jim Tressel offered a dissenting viewpoint to what his coaches and players have been showing and demonstrating all spring.

"We were watching the third quarter of the Ohio State-Michigan game … (and) I think we ran two different plays and had a great answer drive when they made it 14-10," he said. "I think we ran two different plays, so more is less or less is more. We're not looking for more plays."

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