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Ohio State spring preview

The Buckeyes hope to put the focus back to activity on the field. Dave Miller

Print This March 31, 2011, 11:00 AM EST

As we expected, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel didn’t deliver any news of merit during his press conference on Wednesday. The university made it evident that The Vest would not comment on the ongoing NCAA investigation. Instead, Tressel offered another apology for not coming forward with valuable information about players selling memorabilia to a local tattoo shop owner. And he quickly moved onto going through the Buckeyes’ roster and performing a thorough positional breakdown.

Yes, spring practice has arrived in Columbus. But there’s certainly a different feeling around the Big Ten campus this year because of the Tressel saga, the Buckeye Five scandal and the HBO Real Sports episode that aired on Wednesday evening.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, team spokeswoman Shelly Poe said that the school couldn’t comment on the allegations from that HBO special until more information is known.

What is known is that the Buckeyes begin spring drills on Thursday. So let’s take a look at some of the storylines surrounding the annual Big Ten contender.

Wounded leader

Terrelle PryorICONTerrelle Pryor will sit out the first five games of the 2011 season.

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor may be able to lose his walking boot by the end of the week after undergoing foot surgery in January. However, he will remain limited this spring. But does it even matter considering he will miss the first five games of the new season?

This spring is all about getting reps for the backup signal caller who will need to be ready to lead the offense once the 2011 season commences. Joe Bauserman has the edge over Kenny Guiton and recent top signee Braxton Miller, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of playing experience. Miller is the unquestioned future leader under center, but would the Buckeyes send the true freshman out on the field next season knowing that he’ll just be returning to the sideline when Pryor’s suspension ends? Barring exceptional camps in the spring and fall by Guiton or Miller, Bauserman is the likely choice to keep the place warm for Pryor.

The absence of Posey and Herron

The Buckeyes already had concerns at wide receiver with Dane Sanzenbacher gone and DeVier Posey the lone returning major contributor from last season. But now that the 6-2, 213-pounder will miss the first five games of the season, the pressure is ramped up even more for Corey Brown, who had just eight catches for 105 yards last season. Chris Fields, James Jackson and James Louis will also have to step up with Posey’s 53 receptions for 848 yards and seven scores out of the lineup. Perhaps true freshman Evan Spencer could enter the mix if he adjusts to the college game quickly. Certainly, new receivers coach Stan Drayton has his work cut out for him with this group.

At running back, the Buckeyes can rely on their great backfield depth to fill Herron’s void early in the season. Jaamal Berry is a quick and elusive back, as evidenced by his 67-yard dash last season against Eastern Michigan. He only had 32 rushes in 2010 but averaged over eight yards per carry. Jordan Hall is also very fast and had a strong offseason of conditioning. But Rod Smith is the real wild card of the bunch. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Smith has long been compared to Beanie Wells. He was a high school stud and would really complement the styles of Berry and Hall.

The offensive line returns three starters, including left tackle Mike Adams, who improved dramatically throughout last season. However, he was part of the Buckeye Five group that will miss the first five games of the year. Andrew Norwell is expected to step in on the left side. Guards Bryant Browning and Justin Boren are gone, so the Buckeyes will be looking for replacements at both spots.

Fickell’s promotion

It was officially announced that co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell was promoted to assistant head coach and will serve as interim coach during Tressel’s five-game suspension to start the season. However, the team’s offensive play-calling duties have yet to be determined. But as Tressel pointed out, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal because they don’t have that many plays. Yes, something many Buckeye fans would tend to agree with based on the head coach’s conservative nature. In addition, Tressel has always said that the play-calling is more collaborative than anything else, with himself just having the final say on matters. It’s a safe bet that coordinator Jim Bollman ultimately will fill in as the designated play caller, perhaps with assistance from running backs coach Dick Tressel. Jim Tressel, of course, will shape the weekly game plans but it will be interesting to see how in-game adjustments are made in his absence. Plus, the Buckeyes will be running an offense without Pryor at the helm for the first five games, as well.

The five-game ban

Jim TresselICONHow will the team respond to Jim Tressel's absence on game days in the fall?

At the end of the news conference, Tressel was asked if he thinks the self-imposed five-game suspension will stand in the eyes of the NCAA. While Tressel said it’s the last thing he could talk about, it remains a big issue. While the investigation may not be completed in time to affect the rest of the 2011 campaign, I still believe Tressel will miss more than five games. Will it be in 2011 — or later down the road?

Tressel cited the leadership roles that Pryor and the other four players serving five-game suspensions had during preparations for the Sugar Bowl and how they will have similar roles this spring. Citing leadership was kind of odd considering the players committed NCAA violations, but nonetheless that’s how Tressel sees it. But how will the NCAA view Tressel’s leadership? That’s really what is most important.

Ohio State will conclude spring practice on April 23 with the annual Scarlet & Gray game at Ohio Stadium. However, Tressel noted on Wednesday that depth issues across the board could prevent the team from having a normal contest. Instead, the Buckeyes could hold a scrimmage in place of a game.

Finally, while the Buckeyes always trot out a stifling defense year after year no matter the personnel losses, finding replacements for standout defenders like end Cameron Heyward, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and safety Jermale Hines remains one of the more overlooked issues entering spring.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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