Saturday, July 01, 2006

Can you smell what Troy is cookin'?

A few days ago, the O-Zone came up with a fairly simple, yet intriguing article. All it really is, is just a recipe for a Troy Smith heisman trophy. Unfortunately, a lot of it rests on Brady Quinn and Adrian Peterson being pretty mediocre this year, which makes it relatively farfetched, but it's still a good, quick read nonetheless. It even takes a low blow at Gino Torretta, which makes it that much better.

Now, on with my Running Backs preview of the Ohio State season.

Key losses: None

1. Projected Starter - Antonio Pittman, Jr. (5-11/195)

In 2004, Antonio Pittman called himself "The next Clinton Portis." And it seemed to be a fairly accurate comparison. Both are small backs, who can make shifty moves, and never really get the credit they deserve. Unfortunately, both also are criticized for their inability to carry the load and be real durable backs that could run between the tackles. However, don't be fooled by his size: Pittman can pack a punch. After dealing with lots of questions surrounding his durability and ability to run between the tackles, it took Pittman until the meat of the Big 10 schedule to finally settle in to his role and prove the doubters wrong. He didn't hit paydirt until a game against Minnesota when he broke a 60+ yard run. He immediately followed later with a goal line touchdown. He finished the season with seven touchdowns, the biggest one coming on the last offensive play against archrival Michigan, where he took a handoff, went off tackle, bounced off the defender and walked into the endzone with ease. Inone short stretch, Pittman partially erased all doubts about his size and durability. He still has to show he can carry the load on every single play, and be used effectively in short yardage situations. Although he is a very under the radar player in the Big 10, expect him to explode onto the scene in 2006.

Strengths: Great speed, one of the faster starting tailbacks in the Big 10...Can make good cuts and break the defender off at the ankles...Has the best homerun-hitting ability of any tailback in the Big 10. Proved that to be true in games against Minnesotta and Notre Dame, in both he had touchdowns of over 60 power that really improved as the season went on.

Weaknesses: As mentioned, power still needs some work. Needs to prove he can consistently be a between-the-tackles kind of runner, and needs to improve goal line running so we aren't so reliant on the Troy Smith speed option. Undersized at 5-11 and 195 pounds. Didn't score a touchdown until late October. Is a good producer, but needs to be a better finisher.

2. Projected 1st Backup - Chris Wells, True Fr. (6-1/220).

Wells was considered by many to be not just the #1 running back prospect this season, but the top high school player in the entire nation. With his rare mix of size and speed, Wells reminds many Buckeye fans of a certain phenom running back to come through Columbus back in 2002. However, Wells seems to be far ahead of Clarett when it comes to field vision, as well as his ability to make cuts. If Pittman fails to be the short yardage producer that the running game needs, there won't be much of a worry with Wells coming in. In fact, if Pittman struggles at all early on, there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on Tressel to start giving Wells more of a workload. He enrolled with the team in the spring to practice, which is a pattern that has delivered positive results with many other past Buckeyes who have done the same thing (Maurice Clarett and AJ Hawk to name a few). If there's one aspect of Wells' game that needs quick improvement, it's obviously his pass blocking ability. He is pretty awful at it, but then again, you can't blame him, seeing as how he was his high school's entire offense.

3. Projected 2nd Backup - Maurice Wells, So. (5-10/190).

Maurice Wells is a pretty interesting specimen. He was a highly recruited back out of Florida, but there was much debate as to whether he should be a running back or a receiver. He was far too small coming out of high school to play on a regular basis, and still needs to put on some weight by next year. Regardless, he still saw plenty of playing time last season for a guy who many thought could end up being a receiver or a defensive back. He's incredibly athletic, and similar to a young Antonio Pittman or Maurice Hall in the fact that he can make cuts, but often has trouble hitting the hole and making smart decisions. He's arguably the best receiving back on the team, so when he's in, he widens out the defense plenty, to open things up for our other weapons out there.

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