Buckeyes Aiming For Fast Start

Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to watching the team's defense carry the offense through hard times during the past few seasons. With a number of healthy, returning starters like Justin Boren (picture) suiting up this fall, head coach Jim Tressel has a new level of confidence in what his offensive unit can accomplish.

He might not have been elected a team captain, but Justin Boren sure sounded like one when fall camp began at Ohio State.

Seated in the media workroom at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the senior offensive lineman and one-time Michigan Wolverine was facing his second season as a full-time member of the Buckeyes. Looking ahead to the start of the campaign, he offered up a thought on how the offense should perform once the season began.

"I think it's going to be a disappointment if we can't pick up where we left off last year," he said. "Camp gives you three weeks to get in the groove of things and then coming out that first game we'd better be ready to go. If it takes us a couple games, that's unacceptable. We have to be ready to go come day one."

The last time we saw the Buckeyes controlling the football, they were putting up 419 yards of total offense in capturing a Rose Bowl victory against Oregon. After seeing the offense sputter for much of the season, it gave OSU fans hope that the team had figured out an offensive identity it could carry over to the 2010 season.

In seven season openers against schools not named Youngstown State, Buckeye teams coached by Tressel have averaged 32.6 points. But as OSU has prepared to open Big Ten play, there have been several cases of tough outings for the offense.

Last season, the Buckeyes mustered 15 points in a week two loss to USC against a Trojan defense that would prove to have been overrated as the season began. The year before that was a 25-14 nailbiter against Ohio, a game in which the Buckeyes had to rally for two fourth-quarter scores to earn a come-from-behind victory.

Now in charge of an offense that boasts nine players who started at least nine games last season, Tressel said a healthy offseason has resulted in a sense of confidence on that side of the ball.

"I think we're further along because so many guys have experience and … if you remember, coming out of preseason last year and through the first half of the year, we were never with the same group of guys on the field," the coach said. "It's hard to get good (in that situation)."

Aside from surgery to repair a torn MCL in Terrelle Pryor's left knee performed during the winter, the main injury suffered among the offensive starters since the Rose Bowl has been a shoulder ding that sidelined senior wideout Dane Sanzenbacher for part of fall camp.

That shared health, along with the team's returning experience, could pay early dividends.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of confidence with the guys and it's a quiet confidence," wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. "I think the Rose Bowl did boost that confidence. I think our plan was to take off from the Rose Bowl and not restart again when we got into camp or even spring ball. Just take off from there and keep advancing."

Sanzenbacher said this year's offense has a newfound sense of confidence. The nerves that used to accompany the start of a season are gone.

"There is that weird feeling," the team captain said. "It's kind of unspoken too, but we've gotten to a point where – and I was talking to DeVier about it the other day – that first game is approaching and in the past it's been, ‘OK, you're so anxious to go.' At this point, we're very excited to do it but we're very focused on what we need to do. We know what we have to expect from ourselves."

Many have pointed to Pryor as the key for the offense to improve, and his development since the Rose Bowl has been carefully analyzed. Hazell pointed out that the quarterback is just one part of the puzzle.

"It's everybody," the coach said. "You talk about young linemen growing up, you're talking about two receivers that are young growing up. DeVier (Posey) watched the film from last year and said, ‘Man, I wasn't very good last year.' All those things, you can see guys maturing."

Now, can that help provide consistency throughout the early going?

"The weapons are definitely here," Boren said. "You look around the room and most of the guys are returning starters. The guys that aren't returning starters have game experience and have played. I think there's very few positions where someone is just brand new. You look around the room and there's a lot of familiar faces that played last year.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be a capable team. We just can't get complacent."

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