Big Ten spring practice preview: Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes
2009: 11-2 (7-1)

What a difference one game can make in changing the perception of a quarterback — and possibly an entire program. As Ohio State opens spring practice Thursday, Columbus is still abuzz over Terrelle Pryor's dynamic Rose Bowl performance. The question on many Buckeyes fans’ minds now is whether head coach Jim Tressel, fresh off a two-year contract extension, will open up the offense for the signal-caller and allow him more freedom in the passing game or if conservatism will continue to rule the OSU playbook.

After the bowl victory over Oregon, Tressel called Pryor’s performance a turning point in his quarterback’s career — one that has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. However, keep in mind that although the highest of expectations were bestowed upon him since he was aggressively recruited out of high school, Pryor will only be a junior with the arrival of fall. We know that he will never have perfect throwing mechanics, but we also know that not many quarterbacks possess his rare set of skill and athleticism.

In 2009, Pryor threw for 2,094 yards and 18 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. The biggest areas of improvement for him will be his accuracy and taking some steam off his throws, as he only completed 56.6 percent of his passes last season. Just stick in a tape of the Rose Bowl and that’s the quarterback Tressel and his staff would love to see on a consistent basis.

Imagine if Pryor continues to make strides and the offense indeed becomes more balanced. That’s a scary thought for Big Ten opponents.

So what about his health? Pryor dealt with a bum knee throughout ’09 and finally had arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially torn PCL ligament in his left knee in February — a surgery that was more thorough than initially expected. Should Buckeyes fans be worried? Pryor said he’ll ready for spring drills, but it will be interesting to see if he’s fully mobile or if there’s noticeable favoring of the leg during the spring game on April 24.

Tailbacks Brandon Saine and Dan Herron highlight a loaded Buckeyes backfield that also will feature Jaamal Berry and the heavily hyped Carlos Hyde. Saine averaged 5.1 yards per carry in racking up 739 rushing yards, while Herron added seven scores and 600 yards on the ground. Saine also was dependable catching the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 17 catches for 224 yards last year. Hyde will definitely have a chance to move up the depth chart this spring, but he will also be competing with Jermil Martin and Jordan Hall for the limited number of carries behind Saine and Herron.

Whoever is carrying the rock will do so behind a solid offensive line. Guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning return, along with center Mike Brewster and right tackle J.B. Shugarts. Left tackle Jim Cordle does depart — and he protected Pryor’s blind side. Junior Mike Adams should be able to step in and adequately fill the role, as long as Buckeyes fans forget about the comparisons to the great Orlando Pace. Another option would be for Marcus Hall to move in at right tackle and have Shugarts shift to the left side. That will be an area to watch this spring.

Wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell won’t be as busy a man this spring as he was last year when he was tasked with finding replacements for starting wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Senior Dane Sanzenbacher and standout junior DeVier Posey are back after combining for 17 catches in the Rose Bowl victory. Posey emerged as a go-to threat with 60 catches for 828 yards and eight scores on the season. Taurian Washington also returns, so Hazell will be working closely with the inexperienced receivers to improve the Buckeyes’ depth in that area. James Jackson and Chris Fields, from the 2009 recruiting class, will join Grant Schwartz in the quest for more reps. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Duron Carter will be declared eligible as he deals with academics. Most important, however, Pryor will have the receivers with whom he built chemistry back for a full season. Plus, arriving for fall practice will be highly touted freshmen James Louis and 6-7 Tyrone Williams.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the tandem of Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, both of whom have the chance to be first-team All-Big Ten performers in the fall. Homan was the playmaker on defense last season, making 108 tackles with five interceptions and defending 10 passes, while Rolle was in on 95 stops — seven for loss — and is an emerging standout. Etienne Sabino likely will fill the void left by Austin Spitler, while Storm Klein, Andrew Sweat and Dorian Bell add depth to the unit.

Besides Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn, there is not a more dominant defensive lineman returning to the Big Ten next fall than future pro Cameron Heyward. He showed up on the biggest stages for the Buckeyes in ’09 — great games against USC, Penn State and Michigan — and led the team with 6

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