April 23, 2010

Spring game: What to watch out for

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State football team's time off from the Rose Bowl to the commencement of spring football this year seemed to go by in a flash.

The past three weeks of practice have seemed to go even quicker.

Saturday's spring game marks the culmination of those three weeks of practice. During that span there were no shortages of things to keep track of, whether it be position battles, injuries, new faces, or the progression of veterans.

The spring game is a chance for Jim Tressel and his staff to take a good look at their squad heading into summer workouts and is an opportunity to see how everyone has progressed.

BuckeyeGrove.com was there all spring to give you all the info in terms of what has gone in during spring practice, so we provide you one last guide to what to watch for on Saturday.

TP's health, progression, and potential limitations

There is no question that this team starts and stops with quarterback Terrelle Pryor and there is no doubt the most anticipated thing to witness is the quarterback's progression. The question, though, is how much of Pryor will Tressel put on display on Saturday in the Horseshoe.

The first concern with Pryor has to be the health of his knee as the junior is coming off off-season knee surgery to repair a torn PCL. Pryor has been 100 percent through the entire course of spring ball, but don't be surprised if Tressel puts the reigns on him in form of a black "no contact" jersey.

It is hard to truly get a full grade on Pryor's progression when he isn't fully allowed to partake in the game full go, but a lot can still be told in limited action with him if he gets into the passing game. Hitting his spots, timing, and reading defenses are all things both Pryor and the coaching staff have vowed the quarterback has grown tremendously with.

Tressel promised the staff had not come to a decision at the spring draft on Wednesday when it comes to how much he will play, but he was certainly limited in last weekend's jersey scrimmage. Even so, all eyes will be on Pryor on Saturday and there may be something to be learned by his performance, especially coming off a 5-for-16 passing effort in last weekend's jersey scrimmage.

Offensive line vs. defensive line battles

In the jersey scrimmage last weekend the defense dominated the offense in seemingly all facets of the game, but one of the most telling parts of that showing was how the defensive line was able to control the trenches.

Despite the fact that the Buckeyes lost players on the defensive line like Thad Gibson, Doug Worthington, Rob Rose, and Lawrence Wilson, the defensive line seems to be back and deep enough to be just as strong, if not stronger.

But the offensive line returns a lot of talent, too, losing only Jim Cordle after last season. The Scarlet and Gray teams have been evenly split, but it will be interesting to see if the offensive line gets controlled like it did last weekend. There will be a lot of mixed parts, but the depth on both sides of the ball on both teams should be evenly matched and the offensive line has a lot to redeem itself for on Saturday.

"It bothers us. We had a bad day on offense," said left guard Justin Boren after last Saturday's jersey scrimmage. "We are a better team than that. I don't know what happened, we will have to watch the film, but we are better than that. We have gotten better every day this spring and we might have taken a few steps back (last Saturday).

BONUS: The offensive line is where the most heated position battle of the spring takes place and both Andy Miller (Gray) and Mike Adams (Scarlet) will get ample time to prove themselves given they are on different teams. Keep an eye out at left tackle because a lot can be learned with this position battle Saturday.

Can T-Wash do it again?

If there is anyone that has earned a reputation on this team for being a "spring warrior" it is senior wide receiver Taurian Washington. Washington, who has had limited roles the last two seasons, has come up big in the last two spring games.

In the 2008 spring game, Washington was the leading receiver for the Gray team, pulling down four catches for 71 yards which included a 51-yard touchdown strike from current reserve quarterback Joe Bauserman

In last season's spring game Washington struck again when he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback [/db]Terrelle Pryor[/db] en route to leading the Gray Team in receiving for the second consecutive season. In the 2009 game Washington led his team with four receptions for 92 yards.

Washington had thoughts of possibly transferring after last season because he wasn't happy with his role, but instead decided to stick it out. With Duron Carter out with academic issues, Washington has stepped in as the No. 3 receiver this spring.

Washington has had some issues this spring with holding onto the football, but this game could go a long way in telling the coaches if he can handle the pressure. The last two spring games Washington had nothing to lose and he performed beautifully. This season, he has everything to lose. Can he step up again?

Special improvements?

Anyone who has watched Tressel-coached Ohio State football teams over the course of the last decade wont have a hard time understanding how much excellence in special teams means to him. Last season, though, there were some tough areas.

Two weeks ago in the kick scrimmage specifically, it looked as if those issues were yet to be resolved. Ohio State is in search for the most consistent punter and kicker they can find, but in the kick scrimmage two weeks ago troubles still lacked.

When it came to the field goal kicking Devin Barclay struggled to knock through kicks that were from 40 yards out. Barclay finished 8-for-15 in the kick scrimmage, but only made one attempt from 40 yards out or further. Ben Buchanan did show a slightly stronger leg, but finished the same scrimmage 8-for-14.

Last season Ohio State was sometimes hit and miss when it came to punting, and now it looks as if Jon Thoma will be replaced by Buchanan. Buchanan has shown flashes of excellence, but still has some work to do when it comes to being consistent to Tressel's liking.

It also looks as if freshman Drew Basil leads for kickoff duties and there is still a shuffle for the return-man rotation. On Saturday will the Buckeyes special teams look crisp or will it have another lapse like two weeks ago in the kick scrimmage?

Running back shuffle

Tressel has no problem having this many running backs on the roster. In fact, he has said so many times that you cannot have too many weapons at the position. Even with them split evenly on two different teams, it will be interesting to see how the carries are split up.

The Gray team seems to be more stacked than Scarlet in this area, as it boasts a backfield that consists of Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Carlos Hyde, and Jaamal Berry, but there is only one football to be held. The Scarlet team has Jordan Hall as what looks like their featured back, but Jermil Martin and Bo Delande should get their fair share of carries.

In terms of depth, you can't beat it, but when it comes to properly splitting up the carries, it could be a potential problem. After all, walk-ons have usually dominated the carries in recent spring games. That, however, doesn't look like it is going to happen this year.

BONUS: Be sure to keep an eye on guys like Saine, Hall, Berry, and Martin. All four of these guys have suffered injuries in the spring and may not carry the ball as much as they regularly would have. All are expected to play, but expect Tressel to be weary of all their situations.

Replacing defensive playmakers

The defense is locked and seems to be loaded for another year of dominant Buckeye defense, but replacing some of the playmakers from that side of the ball won't be an easy task.

The Buckeyes said goodbye to Gibson, Worthington, Kurt Coleman, Anderson Russell, and Austin Spitler and the team will look to rebound with some youthful, yet talented, players in those positions.

It will be interesting to see how some of those youngsters take on their new roles. Keep an eye out for guys like John Simon, Jermale Hines, Orhian Johnson, and Etienne Sabino, as all three of those aforementioned players are already expected to fill those departed spots without a hitch.

There is no question those four guys have the talent to be playmakers on defense - and that's what is expected - but losing all that talent after one season make for an easy transition. The spring game is the first opportunity for these guys to make a statement that they're ready to carry the torch.

Attendance

Last season the spring game drew a crowd of 95,000-plus fans and it is still yet to be determined what the turnout will be on Saturday. Tressel said in the middle of the week that the spring game's turnout is always contingent to the weather, and right now the forecasts aren't favorable for the Buckeyes.

The temperatures are expected to be down on Saturday and the chances of rain are likely, but it will be interesting to see how many Buckeye fans make the trek out to the Horseshoe on Saturday afternoon.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.




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