For all you Buckeye football addicts out there, the fix known as spring ball is now just a couple weeks away.
There will be several position battles to keep a close eye on this spring. Here are a few.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Who will step in for All-American Matt Wilhelm? Right now, the smart money is on Rob Reynolds moving from the outside, but there are several options.
A lot of fans would like to see Mike D'Andrea come on this spring and prove that all the hype was warranted. There has been some talk about D'Andrea possibly moving to defensive end, but I don't see that happening (at least not this spring). The coaches will want to give him every chance to prove that he can be the playmaker they want at the Mike.
Fred Pagac will also be in the mix, but most likely will be coming off the bench in 2003. He's not exactly the sideline-to-sideline tackler you want in your MLB and is undersized as well.
As for Reynolds, there are two reasons I think he will be moved inside this year: So Bobby Carpenter can start at OLB and so Air Force transfer Anthony Schlegel, a born middle 'backer, can slide right in when he becomes eligible in '04.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Will Dustin Fox stay at corner, or move to safety? The coaches swear that a decision has not been made and have said they might leave it up to Fox, who of course says he doesn't care what position he plays (gotta love that attitude).
Lately, I have taken the easy route and guessed that Fox will play both corner and safety in 2003. He will probably be on the corner against Washington and N.C. State, but hopefully by the Big Ten season one of the young corners will emerge as a stud.
Obviously, Chris Gamble will start at one of the corner spots. Freshman Donte Whitner will probably be in the starting lineup at some point and if he is not, then E.J. Underwood is your man. Both of them will also see time at nickel back.
As for the safety spots, Will Allen will be counted on to be a playmaker (again) and could have a huge senior year. If Fox stays at corner, then Tyler Everett, Thomas Matthews, Nate Salley and LeAndre Boone will fight it out for that last starting spot.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Basically, the Buckeyes have seven starters returning. Eight if you count tight end Ben Hartsock.
There has been a lot of discussion about who will start on the O-Line this year, but it really doesn't matter. Much like the D-Line the last few years, fans can expect a rotation on the O-Line this year. Each of the seven returning "starters" are too good to keep off the field and guys like Clarke are going to be a whole lot more affective with some rest.
As for this spring, I will be paying close attention to what kind of shape the linemen are in, as well as who is emerging as the top backups.
Round one (the 2002 season) probably went to the strong-armed Smith, but Zwick was also very steady while running the scout team. Whoever wins the battle this spring is the early favorite to be the starter in '04.
WIDE RECEIVER: Who will start alongside All-American candidate Michael Jenkins? I'm in the "get Chris Gamble on the field as much as possible" camp, but the early word is that Gamble will be used as a part-time receiver this year. So, who will step up and take the other starting spot? You have to like Drew Carter's chances. The coaches want to see a little more desire from the 6-foot-5 Carter, but everyone knows what kind of athlete he is.
That's about it for spring ball right now, but here are some other tidbits...
NO MORE HALO
The NCAA Football Rules Committee has decided to eliminate the two-yard halo rule on punt returns.
This is a very smart move by the NCAA (a rarity) because the halo rule basically penalized good defense. How often did you see a gunner get down the field early, but was forced to back off because of the rule? Probably quite often.
Even with the rule change, defenders must give punt returners an "unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick," but they can get as close as they want as long as contact is not made. A violation of this rule will be a 15-yard penalty.
Unfortunately for Gamble, this means that he will have to learn what a fair catch is. With the halo rule, there was no reason to ever call for a fair catch and he never did.
Why is grayshirting a good thing for both the school and player? Well, let's use quarterback Todd Boeckman as an example.
Boeckman, who won't go on scholarship until 2004, now has the option of redshirting the '04 season. This will give him basically six years at OSU if you count this fall. It allows Boeckman to have two years between he and Zwick/Smith and not just one.
As it turned out, Ohio State didn't need to save an extra scholarship this year, but that is why it originally wanted to grayshirt Boeckman. The Bucks were low on 'ships this year and wanted to free one up just in case.
TRESS AND OB...
Are the best coaching combo in the country in my opinion. Andy Geiger's legacy will be the great coaches he hired (you can throw women's hoops coach Jim Foster in there as well) and the facilities he helped build, or renovate.
WASHINGTON GAME AT NIGHT?
There has been some talk about it, but I am not holding my breath. It seems to make too much sense. Late August game (90-plus degrees), defending national champions on national television against a big-name program. Yeah, that makes way too much sense to happen.
If Geiger isn't careful, his legacy will also be "the AD who didn't like to schedule night games." I am on record saying the Bucks will never lose a night game in the Horseshoe. If the crowd was that electric for freakin' Northwestern two years ago (I know NU was ranked at the time), imagine what it would be like for the opener against Washington.
JOHN L. SMITH...
Is the highest paid coach in the Big Ten. No, seriously, John L. Smith is the highest paid coach in the Big Ten. I still see that you are laughing. I am not joking. John L. Smith is the highest paid coach in the Big Ten (six years/$10 million).
I was at the victory celebration and I think everyone was under the impression that Lane Avenue was going to be changed to Champions Lane forever, not just one year. It's pretty lame that they are only doing it for one year after making such a big deal about it. Funny how we never heard the word "temporary" until a few weeks later.
Bill and Ted (think "Excellent Adventure") might be under the impression that Krenzel just won the "So-Krats" Award, but rest assured it was the Socrates Award.
The honor is given to one college athlete per year who has a "strong mind in a strong body." Krenzel accepted the award at a banquet on March 11 at the Ford Theatre in Detroit. He is the fourth athlete to win the award, joining Andre Davis of Virginia Tech, Ben Hamilton of Minnesota and Drew Brees of Purdue.
80K AT SPRING GAME?
That is what some are projecting. I think the most they've ever had in the Horseshoe for the spring game was about 65,000, back when admission was free. Tickets are a very reasonable $5 again this year.
DARBY 2ND TEAM?
Sounds like a snub, but isn't. Last year, Purdue's Willie Deane led the league in scoring and wasn't on the first-team. Darby was third this year (18.1 per game) and would have definitely made the first-team if the Bucks finished in the upper-half of the conference.
2003-04 BASKETBALL BUCKS...
Are going to be loaded. Check out this projected lineup:
PG-Brandon Fuss Cheatham
SF-Matt Sylvester/J.J. Sullinger
F-Ivan Harris (I thought OB didn't recruit McDonald's All-Americans)
This team will be definitely be a top 20 squad, maybe top 10. Having Vel and Dials in the starting lineup together is probably wishful thinking on my part, but any way you look at it the Bucks are going to be back in a big way next year.
WANT SOME CHEESE COACK K?
Did Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski seriously whine about the Cameron Crazies not being loud enough during the Blue Devils' 72-56 win over Florida State on March 6? That would be like Bill Gates whining that his $100 bills weren't crisp enough.
SHOOTING FOR MORE NOISE
As for Jim O'Brien, he has reason to complain. Every game the Bucks played on the road this year, there was a raucous student section heckling them at full force. Darby was on the receiving end of most of it (a sign of respect), but it had to drive OB crazy that the Bucks didn't get the same noise level from their students at the Schott. But it's not the students' fault. It's the way they are seated. They are scattered around the arena, with the biggest pocket being behind one of the baskets.
But, maybe there is hope on the horizon.
"After the season, we are going to have discussions to see what can be done," O'Brien said. "But the arena had to be paid for (in reference to the boosters who take up most of the floor seats). We are going to look at our options. I am also going to go out to the dorms next year and try and get some more support that way."
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