April 3, 2011

Spring Football: Five Bold Predictions

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The media has been permitted to watch a grand total of 30 minutes of Ohio State's spring practices.

An immense contrast to how much of the first week of practice was open to the media a year ago, the permitted time is still more than enough for BuckeyeGrove.com team writer Ari Wasserman to come up with five bold predictions for what the next month holds.

Though the following predictions are complete guesses on Wasserman's part, here are some of his guy feelings walking away from Ohio State's first spring practice:

  • Miller won't take consistent reps with first team - With the current situation at quarterback, freshman Braxton Miller is the fan favorite to win the starting job for at least Ohio State's first five games of next season. Though that may certainly be the case, Miller won't be the clear-cut choice when spring concludes.

    Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said it wouldn't even be fair to evaluative Miller on the merits of his play until after the first eight practices of spring, allowing him time to adjust to the college game and the thick Buckeyes playbook.

    There's no question that getting here in the spring increases his chances of being the guy for Ohio State's season opener, but he won't have enough time to assert himself as the best in the spring.

    Though you can turn to Pryor's freshman season as proof that Jim Tressel is fine going to a freshman signal caller, the fact still remains that Art Schlichter is the only Ohio State freshman to start the year as the starting quarterback. Starting spring practice as the No. 4 quarterback, Miller has a long time to go before considered the up and away favorite. Three weeks of practice isn't enough time to accomplish that.

    "I'm going to have as much fun watching as you guys are as to who is going to step up and emerge," Tressel said. "You can only emerge if you demonstrate production. You can only emerge if you demonstrate that commitment. You can only emerge if you take them down the field."

  • Jaamal Berry will be the guy at running back - The running back competition may be the only other position battle that is just as up in the air as Ohio State's quarterback battle. With guys like Berry, Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, and Carlos Hyde, how the carries will be split up in Dan Herron's absence is a guessing game.

    So here's a guess: Berry will be the running back that trots out onto the field with the first team in Ohio State's season opener next year. And here's the explanation as to why:

    Not only did Berry look like the best and most explosive back on the field in the limited time the practice was open to the media, the front-runner Hall doesn't seem to have the body needed to take the brunt of carries in Ohio State's offense. That's particularly the case because the Buckeyes offense will likely be run-first with a newbie at quarterback to kick off the season.

    The fan favorite is probably Smith and though all descriptions by the team in regards to the redshirt freshman are positive, he still has a lot of experience to gain before he's thrown in as the primary back. If he's as good as the hype, Smith could be the guy to prove this prediction wrong.

    But the prediction stands. Berry is Ohio State's home run threat that had big plays in limited action last year. With Herron serving his suspension, Berry seems to be putting himself in position to be the guy at running back for the Buckeyes next year.

  • Travis Howard asserts himself as top cornerback - Ohio State lost both of its top cornerbacks in Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa after last year. The need for someone to step up and be the next shutdown cornerback for the Buckeyes is a primary concern this spring.

    Now is Howard's time. The clear No. 3 cornerback for the Buckeyes last year, Howard made some big plays during the regular season, including a pick-6 against Penn State in a game with upset potential in the Horseshoe.

    In Ohio State's first practice, Howard was up and away the best defensive back on the field, registering the only interception during the 30-minute window the media was watching. Howard was also in on a few nice pass breakups.

    Right now Ohio State's defensive coaches would likely deflect any statements about Howard moving into one of the two vacant starting cornerback spots. Though he is the favorite to do so heading into spring, the prediction is that it won't even be a decision after the spring game.

  • Etienne Sabino's time is here: This statement may have been seen on the internet in multiple places a year ago when spring practice was just starting. The end result was different, as Sabino took a redshirt year after being beaten out of for the starting spot by Andrew Sweat.

    But now the Buckeyes are looking for some new guys in the linebackers corps after saying goodbye to Brian Rolle and Ross Homan. And frankly speaking, if Sabino isn't one of those guys this year, it's probably never going to happen.

    After taking a redshirt season to preserve time as a starter for the Buckeyes, another year in the system should have been enough for Sabino to fully get down the mental part of the game. The physical tools are there for Sabino, who has the perfect combination of size and speed to be a standout at the position. This year could be the year he comes to full form, proving he's capable in the spring.

  • Chris Fields will solidify himself as a contributor - Ohio State is looking for guys to step up in the wide receivers room. Having said goodbye to senior Dane Sanzenbacher and with DeVier Posey missing the first five games of next year, the Buckeyes are going to be counting on a lot of new faces at the position.

    Corey Brown, affectionately referred to as "Philly," is the guy that many feel is going to step in as the Buckeyes No. 1 wide receiver, but Fields is in the position to make a difference.

    Starting the spring as the No. 3 wide receiver, Fields continued to show the things that were impressive about him a year ago, running crisp routes, showing solid quickness, and flashing solid hands.

    The impressive spring didn't translate into last fall as Taurian Washinton spent most of last season as the team's No. 3 wideout. Washington, however, wasn't a big factor, so one has to question what held Fields back from playing time.

    But with the wide receiver cupboard bare with returning talent, the magnifying glass will be on Fields and the other youngsters. The next four weeks will be huge for Fields as he tries to springboard himself into a steady contributor for the Buckeyes.

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


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