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The Final Countdown (Football 2010)

 

Tressel getting them ready.      Photo: AP Terry Gilliam

I find it difficult to have a blog titled like this one and not find oneself suddenly humming/singing along to the song of the infamous hair band, and if you are too young or old to understand what that statement means then just – click here . There – now you are scarred for life. It almost made me want to think of a new title but considering how much mileage Trill has gotten out of Mr. Rainmaker – I figured what the hell.

But the final countdown (I did it to you again) is exactly what we are down to with less than two weeks to go until the Buckeyes take on Marshall on the Thursday before Labor Day setting the 2010 season underway finally. There is always anticipation and hype going into a new season but this one definitely has it ratcheted up a few more notches with the big win in the Rose Bowl and a team which essentially returns all the offense and a large part of the starting defense from last season – both of which have the Buckeyes coming into the season with a #2 preseason ranking behind last year’s champ Alabama. Sure, there are always the usual doubters out there about the Buckeyes and Big Ten in general but more or less the Buckeyes by all estimation are in for another stellar season.

Let’s start with Pryor – as with every season since he came to Columbus there is much talk about the Buckeye QB. Sure the type of talk has changed somewhat from “how are we going to use him?” to “how far has he come along since last year?” to “there is just so much maturity about him” – but the overall tone that everyone is that the team goes as TP goes. I have always been a huge fan and do think he turned a big corner in his development as both a QB and a leader with the performance in the Rose Bowl. I think this for a couple reasons – mostly is because we had never really seen TP throw his way to a win while carrying his team on his back. Sure he had some great tackle breaking runs to keep drives alive but there were even more good reads and gutsy throws that he put his stamp on the game with. It wasn’t like turning up field on Wisconsin as a freshman, this wasn’t one big bomb to Posey in Happy Valley – it was a dual threat domination that I witnessed firsthand. And that was with a hurt knee that now is repaired and healed. That was before another offseason of film watching followed by spring practices and fall camp. I am not concerned with the 11-26 performance in the jersey scrimmage (which the offense won 54-48) – the black no contact jersey takes away his ability to run so he is forced to make some throws in situations he normally would just take off.

What is even better is that the Tressel-ification of TP is also moving forward. Watch some of his spring and now fall camp interviews. The days of singing the praises of Michael Vick are gone – now we are hearing more things about the progress of the team, wanting to work hard and be the best…and so forth.

I think we are in for a very entertaining season from TP 3.0 – maybe even legendary as long as he stays healthy. He has all the weapons he needs – two (at least) solid running backs, veteran wideouts with Sanzenbacher and Posey, and now a hybrid TE/WR in Stoneburner.

The O line – yes, it is true that I just said above that the team goes as TP goes. But the fact does remain that without steady line play then the running game does go, nor does spotty pass protection does a successful passer make. This year the line at least comes in with fewer question marks and less skepticism than the previous two since they closed out the last five games of the season with solid performances in which they ground out tough yards on the ground with more and more when they had too (Penn State, Iowa come to mind). Another good sign is that all the starters or time splitters are back this year. Brewster is a third year starter, Browning, Boren and Miller are seniors. Shugarts, Adams are Juniors – pretty stacked up for the first time in a while.

As for the main question mark (outside of can this finally be a group that kicks some ass) – there has not been someone really lock down the left tackle spot. Pre-season talk has been that Adams is showing better motivation in practice so perhaps he now understands that the sticky is not to be tangled with during the season and he is ready to play his way into the reputation he came in with. As of today it appears that he has the left tackle starting job locked up. However, it is good that Miller is there to push him and having two left tackles busting there ass to be the starter is not a bad thing. Additional depth was thought for some time to first be provided by sophomore Marcus Hall who was working out at left tackle, the Glenville product played well last year in spot duty and filling in for injuries – although now he is redshirting to get his grades in order. So after Miller the next man up is freshman Andrew Norwell. I am actually a bigger fan of having five starters and a few backups instead of “platoon-ing” on the O line. It is vital that those five positions function as a unit more so than anywhere else on the football field.

Even though Boren’s comments on the line in the jersey scrimmage “acknowledged some pass protection issues that the line had, but vowed that they would be worked out.” I think this year is one where the offensive line manages to stay out of the doghouse on a weekly basis. But I am not yet to the point where I can call them a known strength (like I can with QB, RB, LB and WR positions) – I have learned from the past to know not to set unrealistic expectations – much better to be cautiously optimistic. But a couple of 200+ yard rushing games to start the season and Pryor staying off his back and I will be the first to start singing their praises. We have the backs to do it as long as they have the holes. And maybe….just maybe I can start to think Bollman is a good line coach.

Special Teams – seems like forever since we had a Buckeye team with special teams that we could call an advantage. I mean the last real big play threat at return we had was Ginn and that was four years ago. And even though Pettrey had a big leg , and Barclay came through in the clutch last year – it seems like equally as long since we have had a kicker as reliable as Nuge (what happened to him in the pros?) for field goals and could boot it out of the end zone for kickoffs. Thoma was a decent punter but he graduated and now we have some new-b’s there as well. Which is even more strange considering how much Tressel relies on the kicking game as a strategic weapon as much as he does. Those points don’t even include the spotty kick and punt coverage we have seen of late. Even in the Rose Bowl time and again the Ducks had big returns – who knows how many points they would have scored if they had to execute against our defense on longer drives.

The spring game was not a huge display of confidence in the kicking game, the kick scrimmage went better with Basil going 11/12 and Barclay going 10/11 – both hit from the 45 yard range. Kickoff and punting will probably be handled by Ben Buchanan who during the kick scrimmage averaged around 40-45 yards on punts and an out of the end zone kick.

Defensive line – so Heacock says that this could be the best defensive line in Ohio State history. Wow. His prediction seems even more outlandish when you consider that we lost – Gibson, Worthington, Wilson, and Denlinger to the draft or graduation last year. So I am not sure if I am as bullish as Heacock is on the new group as a whole but I will say that Heyward will be an absolute beast this year, Larimore will be solid at clogging the lanes, Williams (when healthy) should provide the speed off the edge to replace what Gibson brought – so the veteran leadership is there. Outside of that there is a lot of talent – what remains to be seen is how many of them end up making an impact. Sophomore John Simon played well last year when providing platoon support, now he is starting. Backing up Williams is junior Solomon Thomas that has seen game action. Freshman Melvin Fellows has drawn praise through spring ball and fall camp backs up Heyward. Go much deeper and there are some names you recognize (Hankins, Goebel, Bellamy) and some you don’t.

This group is very much a strong force to be reckoned with but as for best ever – tough call. If they really do bring it they way Heacock thinks then it will be so nice to have that taking some pressure off the secondary.

peaking of the secondary – sometimes losing one player can really paint a different picture, especially when that player is Kurt Coleman. The ball hawk senior captain graduated and not only left a giant hole in the middle of the secondary but also the amazing knack for creating a big play. Also Russell graduated so technically we lost another saftey starter but I mostly remember him dropping int’s, blowing coverages and missing tackles – although he did bounce back and made his fair share of good plays. Who replaces them? A returning starter senior in Hines (who took over many starting duties from Russell) steps into role of safety leader that Buckeye fans have become very comfortable with in Tressel’s tenure (Doss, Whitner, Coleman) and that does take away some of the sting, but he has always been more of a physical hitter in my mind. Orhian Johnson is a former QB who was recruited as an athlete. The redshirt sophomore newbie could be a nice surprise but is more or less untested – but was good enough to beat out seniors like Oliver and Gant. Then again Oliver and Gant have seen action but have been behind other players their entire time at OSU for a reason. Moeller is back from his year off with a head injury and has been getting rave reviews in practice – but again I remember and read about him as a hitter. Nothing wrong with some hard hitting safeties but a deep center ball hawk that can always help over the top is very nice to have. Moeller is currently listed as a backup to Johnson but will also see time as the third db in nickel. So the big question is can Johnson or Moeller step up and take away the deep side of the field from opposing QBs like Harris, Tolzien, and Stanzy? Johnson had a pick in the jersey scrimmage so let’s hope that is a sign of good things to come.

On the outside things are a little different but nothing that makes you breathe a sigh of relief. Chekwa and Torrance are both back as seniors but I am not sure if I look at either of them and see “lockdown”. Veteran leadership will be good (also both out for the jersey scrimmage with a sore hammy is not awesome). Backing them up are a posse of freshman and sophomores (Howard, Brown, Rice, Clarke), and Donnie Evege (Junior) who drew some praise in spring ball from TP.

The secondary is definitely where we seem to be the most vulnerable which is strange when you consider we have three seniors starting. Mainly it is because neither Chekwa or Torrance have struggled from time to time (Chekwa) or just not seen a lot of time on the field (Torrance). Throw in an unproved safety starter in Johnson and it is easy to hope that the front seven are so strong that this group can have some cushion and not be left out in the open too often.

Schedule – so of course everyone is excited about when the U comes to Cbus. It will be a huge game with a great atmosphere – the Hurricane faithful have no doubt already convinced themselves that this game is payback for 2002 and what they are still clinging to as a bad call. Jacory Harris is a talented QB and they are and team on the rise to be sure – I think it may be a closer game than most Buckeye fans would like but at the end of the day I don’t seem the Canes being able to pull off the upset in the Shoe. The hype will be out of this world by the time that the Buckeyes get their biggest tests on the road against Wisconsin and Iowa. Going into Camp Randall ain’t no joke and Iowa will be gunning for us in their house after Barclay sent them packing last year in OT. Outside of those two I think that there are potential trap games (the whole looking ahead thing) with Indiana and Penn State. Michigan…I think will have a better season this year if they can stop getting injured and having players leave. They will have a better offense, but the defense will still be pretty bad. So even though we are wearing the home version of the ProCombat throwback uni’s I see the us being very happy on Thanksgiving Saturday.

Also – on a side note – how messed up would it be for Lebron to show up to the Shoe on Sept 11th in Heat gear? I guess no more messed up than an hour long “stroke me” special during which he bolted on Cleveland.

Of course not mentioned above are the running backs, linebackers, receivers – this was not done because I feel that those units are not important – but just simply because those are two areas that I have really no concerns about.

With running backs – Saine got healthy finally and came on strong last year, Boom is battle tested and reliable – both are upperclassmen who have been in the system for 4 years (senior and redshirt junior respectively). Jordan Hall has proven to be a nice shifty number three – and behind him there is a cupboard full of talent even with the transfer of Jermil Martin starting off with Jamal “I am going to make big plays” Berry, Carlos Hyde and a most likely redshirting Roderick Smith. I for one need to see Berry do his thing in a game before I can really back him, right now he is just a running back version of T Wash. Hyde is big enough to be the short yardage guy (ala Beanie in 06). Oh yeah – and that doesn’t even address the fact that for the first time in a while we have a full back that is actually an offensive weapon more than just a third guard. Zach Boren has soft hands out of the backfield and a lineman’s attitude. I do not see the backfield being an issue other than how to divvy up the carries.

Same with linebacker – Homan and Rolle come back after stellar performances last season. Homan led the team in tackles the last four games and stepped in front of five passes last year. Rolle saved the day against Navy and flies around the field like someone wearing #36 should. Sabino steps in to fill the strongside starting spot and finally gets to showcase the big hitting capabilities on somewhere other than special teams. Behind them are Andrew Sweat backing up (and pushing) Sabino, Storm Klein behind Rolle, and Dorian Bell backing up Homan. All have received praise but another backup sophomore Jonathan Newsome has the coaches and websites talking about probably seeing the field as well either as a linebacker or defensive end. So this unit is led by proven veterans and has young talent in the wings.

Some would say that wide receiver would be an area of question but I am so not even concerned with it. Posey is nasty, Sanzebacher is a savvy senior and Stoneburner has had everyone talking since April about the weapon he could be. Not to mention Saine, Herron and now Zach Boren can both catch passes fairly well. Even with Carter having to go to community college in nowhere Oklahoma there is still young talent ready to step in with Chris Fields, James Jackson, Corey Brown, and James Louis. Okay and senior Taurian “Mr. April” Washington is also available for near catches……or who knows maybe he has a breakout year. So there is plenty of talent available for TP to work with through the air. Not to mention – I am in no way drinking the kool aid that Tressel is putting out there about throwing the ball 35 times a game. No. Freaking. Way.

Hard to believe we are less than two weeks away.