Special Teams preview
Last but not least, I wrap up my Ohio State preseason unit breakdown with the most important factor of Tresselball: Special Teams. The main factor of Ohio State's special teams throughout the Tressel era has been using an excellent kicking game to create poor field position for the opposition. Then, our defense would force them to go three and out, and we would end up with the ball around our own 30 or 40 yard line. It was a recipe for success that led the Buckeyes to three Big 10 championships and a national championship. Now, our 2006 special teams unit could very well be stronger than we've ever had before. We may not have a Nugent or even a Huston on this team, but we do have two guys who are reliable enough to make field goals on a consistent basis, and with an offense that should be able to drive deeper into opponent territory, that's all we need. Not to mention our stellar return game which will shorten fields down drastically for our offense. I know there's a saying out there that goes the best offense is a good defense, but with the way things are shaping out this year, the best offense may be a good return game.
Projected Starting Kicker:
Aaron Pettrey (6-1, 195 pounds) RS-Fr.
Although most of the attention on the Buckeye squad focuses on who will replace the nine defensive starters that left, the most interesting position battle very well may be at Kicker. Gone is Josh Huston, who was one of the most reliable kickers in the nation last year, and left in the wings are two young guns in redshirt freshman Aaron Pettrey and redshirt sophomore Ryan Pretorious. The competition for the job has been pretty neck and neck ever since the spring, but I have to give the edge to Pettrey right now. In the spring kicking scrimmage, Pettrey edged out Pretorious, and just a week ago in the fall kick scrimmage, Pettrey was a perfect 9/9 on field goal attempts, whereas Pretorious had a few misses. Pettrey is also a far superior kicker when it comes to kickoffs, and has developed a regular routine of kicking balls out of the back of the endzone. We may see a trial and error throughout the season until we settle on a kicker (much like in 2001 between then freshmen Mike Nugent and Josh Huston), but right now I have to give the edge to Pettrey.
Projected starting Punter:
AJ Trapasso (6-1, 220 pounds) RS-So.
For the first time in what seems like decades, Ohio State will have a starting punter for more than just one season. In 2002 there was Andy Groom, BJ Sander in '03, Kyle Turano in '04, and now finally, we will know what we are getting on fourth down. Trapasso averaged 40.42 yards per punt last season, a number that, while not bad, certaintly leaves room for improvement. After reading that last sentence, I kind of feel spoiled as an OSU fan. 40.42 ypp is a great number, but the way I see it, the sky should be the limit for Trapasso. Expect that number to steadily climb up until he is a senior, and Trapasso should fit into that BJ Sander/Andy Groom category as great OSU punters. Seeing how I don't know how else to critique a punter other than his average yards per punt, I guess I'll move on now.
Projected starting returners:
Ted Ginn Jr (6-0, 180 pounds) Jr.
I don't know how much there is to say about Ginn returning that hasn't already been said, so I'll try and keep this brief: This kid can flat out run. By now we've all seen the highlights, and Ginn should only add on to those this year. His ability to make defenders can only be compared to one other collegiate player in the past decade, and that guy has a heisman trophy and a video game cover to his credit. If there is one knock on Ginn, it's that he has trouble holding onto the ball at times, especially on punt returns. However, all the reports on Ginn from practice are positive, and I don't really see this being the least bit of a problem all season long.
Other returners to watch:
Anthony Gonzalez, Jr. - Gonzalez may have one of the best 40 times of anyone on the team, but as I look around at the potpourri of Ohio State websites, I can't find any information on him returning kicks this season. He may be used solely as a receiver due to his expected increased role in the offense this season.
Malcolm Jenkins, So. - Reportedly had some excellent returns in the kick scrimmage. He's a fantastic athlete with great speed, and very well could be the number 2 returner on opening day.
Brian Hartline/Brian Robiske, So. - There isn't much to say about these guys that I didn't just say about Malcolm Jenkins. Both played big roles in the kick scrimmage, but they may see bigger roles on the return team because they won't be seeing nearly as much time on the field as Jenkins will.