Football is back!
That's right, folks. While the OSU basketball team is in the midst of a Final Four run, the football team is quietly preparing for the Spring Game set for later in April. The official spring depth chart has been released, and despite the fact that this very well may be a "rebuilding season," the very sight of a two-deep, much less some early previews from coach Tressel himself, makes me weak in the knees.
Initial Depth Chart overview:
note: This depth chart does not include any incoming freshmen
Boecking the trend
It makes sense to begin with the one area that will undoubtedly be the most heated topic of discussion to hit the Buckeye nation since last November: the Quarterback battle. Some of you may remember, but I took a brief look at all three of Boeckman, Schenhoft, and Henton shortly after the season ended. In short, I voiced that "my guy" in this race was the oft-overlooked Schoenhoft, while the general public would vouch for Henton due to his Troy Smith-like talents, and the coaching staff would almost unquestionably give Boeckman the first shot at quarterback because he has been with the team the longest. Well, as the depth chart unsurprisingly reveals, the man at quarterback is none other than Mr. Boeckman, followed by Robbie Schoenhoft. The depth chart does not venture any further than that, but it can be assumed that Henton is third in the pecking order and Joe Bauserman, a 2004 recruit that opted for professional baseball but is now walking-on, is buried at the end of the bench.
The real Block-O
The offensive line has three familiar names taking up starting roles: junior Alex Boone (LT), junior Steve Rehring (LG), and senior Kirk Barton (RT). It is especially important to note that two of the returning starters will be on the left side of the line, the side that has the responsibility of protecting the quarterback's blind side. The less an inexperienced quarterback gets sacked, the more confidence he will have, so the importance of the overpowering talent of Boone and Rehring on the left cannot be emphasized enough (whether or not Boone can learn to pass block consistently is a matter for another time, as of now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt). One of the two new guys penciled in to start is center Jim Cordle, a man who for a couple years now has been referred to as an "heir apparent" to Nick Mangold, but a mix of injuries, inexperience, and being buried in the depth chart has postponed his chance to truly prove himself until now. The new right guard, junior Ben Person, is thought of very highly by Jim Tressel. In fact, Tressel admits that Person was pushing former Buckeye T.J. Downing extremely hard for the right guard position towards the end of last season.
No Small Task
Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez accounted for roughly 54% of all receiving yards by Buckeyes last season. Now that both of them are on to bigger and better things (although nothing is better than being a Buckeye, right?), it is up to three underclassmen to help fill that offensive void. Those three are Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and...Ray Small? Of course, Robiskie and Hartline come as a surprise to nobody, as Robiskie went from a relatively unknown to a guy scoring touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Michigan in less than a season, and Hartline's "100% effort, 100% of the time" attitude didn't go unnoticed from fans and coaches alike. However, Ray Small is currently listed as the starter at flanker over the likes of the more experienced and long-time-waiting-for-their-chance players Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons. True, Small was a top receiver prospect, posting consecutive 4.38 40 times and drawing comparisons to another ex-Glenville Tarblooder speedster, but he played very sparingly last season as a freshman, and was much more raw a receiver than Ginn was as a freshman (and Ginn was pretty raw, too). He must have done quite a bit this off-season to jump over more experienced players at the same position, something Tressel rarely does.
The Bottom Line on the Defensive Line
The area that was hardest hit by graduation this offseason was by far the defensive line. Three starters (Quinn Pitcock, Jay Richardson, David Patterson), as well as the most reliable backup (Joel Penton) all completely exhausted their eligibility last season, leaving junior Vernon Gholston the old man of the line. Lawrence Wilson, a man who most thought would emerge as a premier defender last season, will finally get his chance to be a full-time player, and not a guy that spelled Gholston a year ago. In limited time, Wilson has drawn comparison to Ohio State's last great pass rusher and current NFL Pro Bowler Will Smith. Backing up Gholston and Wilson at the ends will be Dublin Coffman-native Alex Barrow and the highly-touted Robert Rose. If Rose and Wilson are ever in the game at the same time, it will probably be in short yardage sets, as both are now well over 275 lbs. and could be used interchangeably as a DT or DE. The DT position will probably be the biggest question mark this season for the Buckeyes, with Doug Worthington (a converted DE), and Todd Denlinger being penciled in as starters, while the mammoth Nader Abdallah and the unproved RS-Fr Dexter Larimore are both in the two-deep.
Linebacker U. is back
There really aren't any surprises at Linebacker, but the depth at the position is once again beginning to look quite scary (for the opponents, that is). Laurinaitis will be on preseason All-American teams in no time, and if Marcus Freeman can continue where he left off in the championship, he'll be in contention for All-Big 10 honors. Ross Homan really shouldn't be considered a "backup" because he'd be starting at a ton of other major colleges around the country. Larry Grant and Curtis Terry very well may go back and forth between 1 and 2 and the strong side linebacker spot all season, and I have no problem with that, because all it means is that their competition would be making each other a better player. Even though just about all of the same names are back from last year's good (but not as great as made out to be) group, the extra year of experience should help escalate this group from good to great.