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Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

JordanHall5The 2011 college football season is only 60 days away. It really sneaked up on us because...boy, that off-season sure flew by this year, didn’t it? Nothing going on in Ohio State football for sometimes minutes on end. It is actually a quiet time for the public face of the program right now, outside of some 2012 recruiting activity. The players won’t report until August 8 and 9, the dates for freshmen and returnees respectively. And preparing OSU’s answer to the NCAA this summer is the job of Athletic Director Gene Smith and President Gee, not that of Luke Fickell or his coaching staff.

Fickell’s office is not a quiet place these days, you can be sure. He has about one month to plan....everything...and three more weeks to practice before the Akron Zips come to Columbus on September 3rd.  Okay, he has four weeks to practice.

Knowing that Jim Heacock is running the defense must allow Fickell at least a few moments of fitful sleep. The Buckeyes lost some good defensive players in Heyward, Rolle, Homan and Larimore, but there are talented and tested players moving up and...did I mention that Heacock is in charge?


Never knowing what you’ll get.....

So we already know what the defense will be, and we know pretty much who it will be, at the starting positions at least. It is the 2011 Buckeye offense, on the other hand, that will be unwrapped this fall like the proverbial Gumpian box of chocolates, with all the uncertainty that entails.

The Buckeye player suspensions hit the offense at its four most important positions: quarterback, wide receiver, running back and left tackle. The “skill positions” as they say...and yes, lately the quarterback’s blind-side offensive tackle is included in that group by most football people. Most important or not, they are the ones we keep stats on, and the ones that score touchdowns.

No matter who ends up as the starter at QB for the Buckeyes, it will be his first significant playing time in an OSU uniform. The same goes for wide receiver, and to a slightly lesser extent, the running back and offensive tackle spots as well. There is a lack of experience, and in the case of the offensive tackles, a lack of all four position groups.

In addition to the suspensions, which remove the team’s best tackle (Adams), their top rusher (Herron), top passer (Pryor) and 2nd best receiver (Posey) from last season, the staff is replacing two three-year starters at offensive guard (Boren and Browning), the team MVP and leading receiver (Sanzenbacher) and the starting placekicker (Barclay).

Small wonder most of the pundits have Wisconsin as the preseason favorite in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten...(someday I might get used to saying those division names...I still can’t make myself start typing the capital “B” and the capital “G”, with that “1” in between them.)

My standard rule of thumb for years has been that a first-year starter at quarterback usually translates to one or two losses in conference play. There are exceptions of course, (Craig Krenzel being one) but you can usually just write down two L’s when you’re starting a newbie QB  in the Big Ten.

Then there’s the problem of taking away the team’s touchdown makers, either through graduation or suspension, and figuring out where the points are going to come from, especially prior to October 8th.  Herron (16 TD), Sanzenbacher (11), Posey (7), Saine (5), and Pryor (4) totalled 43 touchdowns rushing or receiving in 2010. Returning backs and wide receivers eligible for the first five games this year totaled 5 last season. Returning tight ends Stoneburner (2) and Fragel (1) had three more.

JaamalBerry1Please don’t say “Somebody is going to have to step up”

Okay, you win...but if Ohio State in 2011 is going to beat most of the good teams, and continue the Tressel tradition of almost never losing to the mediocre ones, it will be on the performances of offensive players who have not yet made their marks as Buckeyes.

I list below some of the players I think are major keys to OSU’s offensive success in 2011. In some cases they are names you already know...guys that have flashed the skills but haven’t received the playing time as regulars. Others are players the public has only seen in limited game action...or spring ball....but that I think must play big roles in this offense if they are going to succeed...


Andrew Norwell - offensive tackle - The 6’ 5”, 308 lb. tackle from Cincinnati Anderson is probably the leading candidate to start at left tackle during the suspension of all-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams. Norwell played very well in spot duty as a freshman in 2010, after coming to OSU as one of top-rated tackles in the country. His development is crucial to the OSU offensive line in 2011, and even more so for 2012 and 2013, after Adams and J.B. Shugarts are gone.

Marcus Hall - offensive tackle/guard - Hall is a big, talented lineman from Glenville who took a redshirt year in 2010, not only because he was playing behind an entrenched and experienced set of offensive linemen at OSU, but also because it was felt he needed to get his academic house in order. Hall (6’ 5”, 321 lbs.) had an excellent spring, playing both guard and tackle, and he has a good chance to wind up as one of the best five offensive linemen to start the new season. Barring injuries, he’s likely to play more guard than tackle in 2011, but could still wind up outside as an upperclassman. Like Norwell, Hall has three years of eligibility remaining.

Running Backs

Jaamal Berry - tailback - Berry (#4 above) is one of the guys who made the most of his limited opportunities last season. The 5’ 10”, 200 lb speedster from Miami will be featured this year because he has a dimension of acceleration that none of the other OSU backs possess. He has tremendous quickness and a lateral cutting ability that makes him elusive in the open field or in traffic. Berry averaged 8.3 yards on his 32 carries in 2010 for a total of 267 yards rushing, with one touchdown. OSU coaches aren’t expecting 8 yards a pop again this year, but they are expecting more big plays out of this sophomore as his carries increase.

Rod Smith - tailback -  OSU fans got their first look at the 6’ 3”, 220 lb. redshirt freshman in a Buckeye uniform this spring, and he immediately began evoking comparisons to Chris Wells, Eddie George or Robert Smith. Nice company. With Smith, it’s power combined with speed and toughness. He rarely goes down on first contact, and it usually takes more than one guy to do the job. He’ll be sharing carries with the other young OSU backs, but Smith has the look of a special player.

VerlonReed1Wide Receivers

T.Y. Williams - Returning OSU receivers Chris Fields and Corey Brown are talented in their own right, and at the moment may be ahead on the depth chart, but if you’re looking for “upside” in the receiver corps, it’s hard to look past Tyrone Williams, the 6’ 5”, 218 lb. redshirt freshman from Shaw High School. He got the attention of OSU fans in this year’s Spring Game, hooking up with QB Taylor Graham on a 69-yard TD reception (see 3:45 mark here), and his size and athleticism combine to make him a matchup problem for DB’s. He’s still a bit raw, but when he figures out what he’s doing out there, look out.

Verlon Reed - Reed (pictured) was a quarterback at Columbus Marion-Franklin, and came into OSU as a safety. But if spring football is any indication, he has taken to the wide receiver position like a fish to water following a position change in the off-season. Reed (6’ 0”, 190 lbs.) has a fluid gait, great speed and exceptional hands. He just looks the part of a receiver, and I think he could be one of the real surprises on this 2011 offense.

Devin Smith - Smith is one of just two true freshmen on this list, but the lack of experience at wide receiver on this team gives the multi-talented Smith at least an outside shot at early playing time. Smith won state championships in Div. I in both the long jump and the 100M dash for Massillon this spring, and then starred in the Big 33 game with two TD catches for the winning Ohio squad. Smith is 6’ 3”, 190, and tenacious going after the ball in the air. His sprinter’s speed is now a matter of record. The only question is “when”, and not “if” he will help the Buckeyes’ offense.

Running Back - Slot Receiver - Kick Returner

Jordan Hall - The junior from Jeannette, PA (pictured at top) gets a category of his own here because he contributes in so many different ways. He’ll line up in the backfield and carry the ball from scrimmage, but his hands are very reliable, and his ability to make people miss in space makes him extremely valuable catching the football out of the slot as well. He was easily the team’s best punt returner last season, and he took a kickoff return to the house against Michigan. By now you probably know that TV personality Jon Gruden called the 5’9”, 195 lb. Hall “pound for pound the best player on the team” after spending a week in Columbus observing practice this spring. Hall will need to score and score and score some more in 2011.


Braxton Miller - Miller (pictured) has been touted as the Next Big Thing at OSU for months now, after taking his Huber Hts. Wayne team to the state finals as a senior, and achieving a ranking as one of the nation’s top two prep quarterbacks. The 6’ 3”, 200 lb. Miller graduated from high school in January, enrolled early at Ohio State, and played spring ball, which definitely leveled the playing field for him in the competition to start the 2011 season behind center. Even if he doesn’t start the first game, he’s a cinch to get extensive playing time as the season goes along. Miller’s physical skill set is unmatched by the other QB contenders, and only his inexperience and lack of familiarity with the system will hold him back.

If it is indeed Miller Time in Columbus, the freshman will surely play like one at times, probably costing the Buckeyes a game or two in the learning process. But Miller has a confidence that belies his tender years, and he shows a command of the huddle and the line of scrimmage that could make believers of OSU fans (and opponents) fairly quickly. (Spring Game highlights)

At quarterback, as with so many other areas with this program, I think 2011 will be seen by Ohio State football as a time to get on with The Future. The 2011 OSU offense will sink or swim based largely on the kind of performance they get out of Braxton Miller. It will help immensely if the other eight guys above him on this list can deliver the goods too.


Loose Leaves

Nebraska officially became a member of the Big Ten on Friday, and there were welcomes all around. Along with some other moves, that also made Friday the day that college football officially turned logic on its head, featuring as it now does, a Big Ten with 12 teams, and a Big 12 with ten teams.

As incoherent as that turns out to be, I guess it still generates less confusion that having the two “Bigs” switch names altogether. The new PAC-12 had an easier call, deciding to adopt a name reflecting the number of teams they actually have in the conference. Must be nice.


The NCAA came back to Columbus last week, reportedly to look into the allegations about players accepting courtesy rounds of golf from program hanger-on Dennis Talbot. Hard to say what the impact of this issue could be, trivial as it seems relative to the bigger picture of OSU sins, but it’s another example of it never being “over”, even when you’re sure it must be.

To the extent that the golf issue represents a second instance of Tressel being warned about a possible player violation, the NCAA might see it as one step closer to a pattern of “failure to monitor” at OSU. The university has just undergone a compliance colonoscopy by the NCAA for three months or so. I’m guessing the issue of whether a couple guys got a free round will probably not tip the scales of justice.

The possibility remains that a second notice of allegations (NOA) could be sent OSU’s way by the NCAA, perhaps even something citing an institutional failure of monitoring or control. But there has been no indication yet that they intend to do so.


There were reports on Sunday (including one from former Buckeye Jeff Logan) that Luke Fickell has hired his replacement as linebackers coach for Ohio State, and speculation on the new coach’s identity has been flying around for days. The announcement will be made when Fickell returns from a short vacation, and I have no insight whatsoever as to the choice. But if you were to guess that it might be a former Buckeye from the Akron area with multiple Super Bowl rings and a penchant for catching TD passes...well, that wouldn’t be the craziest thought you ever had.


(photo credits - Jim Davidson -

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