Thursday, January 11, 2007

Moving on with life: Gonzo leaves, Outback Bowl '08 imminent

Well, that wasn't what anyone was expecting. I'd love to sit and chat about that debacle on Monday night, but I feel that there are less painful things to do, such as lighting my shorts on fire and/or drinking the stuff under the sink.

So, as if this week wasn't already depressing enough, the Junior that had the best chance at returning has decided to go pro. Anthony Gonzalez announced earlier this afternoon that he will enter the NFL draft. Although he is the first to announce it, he is more than likely to be joined by teammates Ted Ginn and Antonio Pittman. As a matter of fact, the only thing that is going to hold back Ginn from declaring is his ankle, which was reported today to be "just a sprain." Assuming it heals without any odd complications, he should be able to work out for the scouts and boost his draft stock.

Going back to Gonzo, he said that the deciding factor in his decision to go pro was the risk of a career-threatening injury which would obviously cost him millions of dollars. I have no problem with him looking out for himself in this situation. He's clearly given the team everything that he possibly could in his three seasons here, and although he finally got some much-deserved attention this season, he was still being greatly overshadowed by his teammates. Also, his so-called "draft stock" is about as high as it ever will be right now. Although he'd be far and away the #1 target on the team next season, he'd have adjust to a more conservative-style offense and a quarterback platoon (wooo!!). He's a tad undersized compared to most "prototypical" wide receiver prospects (Calvin Johnson and Dwyane Jarrett to name a couple), but I have faith in him that he can make it work at the next level. Chances are, he'll have to begin with getting a spot as a punt returner to hold on to his job, but as he adjusts, he very well could be one of the better receivers in the league in a few seasons.

Looking to Next Season:
Key Losses
QB Troy Smith (Graduation)
C Doug Datish (Graduation)
G TJ Downing
WR Roy Hall
DT Quinn Pitcock
DT David Patterson
DT Joel Penton
DE Jay Richardson
S Brandon Mitchell
CB Antonio Smith
G Tim Schafer
FB/TE Stan White Jr.
QB Justin Zwick (Graduation)*
LB John Kerr (Graduation)
WR Ted Ginn (Early Entry)
WR Anthony Gonzalez (Early Entry)
RB Antonio Pittman (Early Entry)
RB Maurice Wells (Likely transfer)
*denotes backup

What it Means: Wow. Let that list sink in for a minute. 18 key contributers will be gone next year, 13 of which are starters. Of those 13 starters, the seven that are on the offensive ball are going to be much more difficult to replace than on defense. Obviously, one of those guys is a Heisman trophy winner and will NEVER be replaced. The two lost wide receivers will absolutely kill the depth at Wide Receiver. Brian Hartline has earned quite the reputation as a hard worker and has rocketed up the depth chart, and he will finally get his chance to start alongside Brian Robiskie. Robiskie, of course, is a bit more of a commodity, often times coming up with clutch touchdown passes in big games from Troy Smith this season (the final TD against Michigan and the infamous reversing-field pass against Penn State to name a couple). If he continues to play with that "it" factor that he has displayed over the course of the season, his contributions will be thought of as that much more important.

Defensively, there are going to be huge shoes to fill at the defensive tackle position. The likely candidates at this point to step up and take the starting role are Todd Denlinger and either junior-to-be Alex Barrow or sophomore-to-be Doug Worthington, both of whom are converted defensive ends that are capable of creating an effective pass-rush from the middle. At the moment, Worthington has more of the "tools" to become an excellent player, but he has had to battle through injuries whereas Barrow has remained relatively healthy and has much more in-game experience. John Kerr will be the least missed of the starters, just because the team played in a Nickel formation so much, and his ineffectiveness when he was in the game. It will be interesting to see how the secondary pans out. The potential is definitely there, with Andre Amos, Donald Washington, and Nick Patterson all battling for the corner spot. Patterson also has a shot at landing the void at the safety position left by Mitchell. What will make the secondary that much more interesting is the impending return of Anderson Russell. Before tearing his ACL on a touchback (?) against Iowa, Russell was establishing himself as a key member of the secondary with a nose for the ball.

The Replacements:

Who should be able to step up, even if not quite at the level of their predecessor:
RB Chris Wells (Pittman)
LB Curtis Terry/Larry Grant (Kerr)
DE Lawrence Wilson (Richardson)
WR Brian Robiskie (Ginn)
FB Dionte Johnson (White)
DT Todd Denlinger (Pitcock)

Need some work:
WR Brian Hartline (Gonzalez)
G Kyle Mitchum (Downing)
C Jim Cordle/Tyler Whaley
QB Rob Schoenhoft/Todd Boeckman (Smith)
CB Donald Washington/Andre Amos (Smith)
S Nick Patterson (Mitchell)
KR Ray Small/Brandon Saine* (Ginn)
DT Alex Barrow/Doug Worthington (Patterson)

QB Antonio Henton (Smith/Zwick)
RB Brandon Saine/Boom Herron (C Wells as Backup)*

S Eugene Clifford (Mitchell)*

*-Denotes 2007 recruit

What does it mean?: First off, I'd like to state that the "Should be able...." group doesn't necessarily mean that those guys will be able to make people forget about the guy before them, it just simply means that those are the guys who I think are the backups that are most ready to start immediately. For example, Todd Denlinger will probably be a very average Defensive Tackle next season, possibly even a bit above average. However, he has been down in depth chart for quite some time now and has made the most of his limited opportunities (see: domination in Scarlet and Gray game). That doesn't also mean that these guys are bad football players, either. That is simply due to the fact that bad football players do not start at The Ohio State University. As long as Jim Tressel is the head coach, he will almost always get the most of his players on a weekly basis. The "Need Work" category are the players that I view as the biggest hit/miss prospects that could start next season. Fortunately, a lot of them are battling for jobs, which means that the odds of finding a "hit" player are much greater than they would originally be if one of them were to just get the job handed to him. Competition will only make these players better, and I feel that the coaches will pick the right guy in the end. As far as the "Someday" category is concerned, those are the players that will need to work their tails off in order to get significant playing time this season, simply because they are put at the disadvantage of being either buried in the depth chart, an incoming freshman, or both. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of those guys make an emergence next season and positively impact the team on the field, but the odds are against them initially.

On that note, I'd like to say that I hope to make a more elaborate post in the near future about the quarterback situation. I would promise that the post would get made, but when I make promises on here, they always get broken.

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