Pryor’s future as Ohio State’s QB begins now

Published 10:38 am Friday, September 19, 2008

COLUMBUS — When he signed his letter of intent with Ohio State last March 19, Terrelle Pryor was praised as the Buckeyes’ quarterback of the future.

The future is now.

Pryor will not attend his first college class until Wednesday, but he is the choice of the week for coach Jim Tressel in the Buckeyes’ surprising quarterback derby.

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In the wake of the Buckeyes’ 35-3 loss to top-ranked Southern California last weekend, Tressel came away impressed with Pryor and down on fifth-year senior and second-year starter Todd Boeckman.

He said during preparation for Saturday’s game against Troy that Pryor would get most of the snaps with the top offensive unit in practice this week. Boeckman, 14-3 as a starter, is suddenly an afterthought. Joe Bauserman, listed as the backup just two weeks ago, doesn’t currently even figure into the coaches’ plans.

Pryor and Boeckman are likely to split duties against Troy. Tressel said he did not know who would start.

‘‘It’s been about 60-40 with Terrelle getting about 60 percent of the reps,’’ Tressel said Thursday. ‘‘As we go into the game after we review today’s practice, I think we’re still in the thought process that it’ll be about equal. … Both of them are doing pretty good.’’

Neither quarterback was permitted to speak with reporters this week. Nor was offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.

Three games into the season, the ultraconservative, stick-with-what-works Tressel is basically re-evaluating his offense. Boeckman or Pryor? Who’s the tailback in place of the injured Beanie Wells? He is even taking a look at seven different offensive linemen, any of whom could start Saturday.

Tressel gushed over Pryor’s play against USC. In 25 plays, Pryor completed 7-of-9 passes for 52 yards and ran for 40 yards. The Buckeyes averaged 5.1 yards per play when he was under center. Boeckman started and played almost all the difficult downs — when the Trojans knew the Buckeyes had to pass — and completed 14-of-21 passes for 84 yards with two interceptions and one fumble.

‘‘Terrelle has progressed with the lack of snaps in practice and the game more than you think he would,’’ Tressel said earlier this week. ‘‘I’ve seen a freshman get kind of thrown into the fire and grow every practice and grow every game.’’

The coaching staff sat down with Pryor, the 6-foot-6 Pennsylvania prep star who chose Ohio State over Michigan, Penn State and several other major programs, to tell him what was expected of him this week.

‘‘Our expectations above all others are these: you make big plays, you make great decisions, you don’t turn the ball over, and that’s how you’ll be evaluated above all other things,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘We’re going to evaluate your footwork, how you carry out your fakes, we’re going to evaluate every little thing. But not like we’ll evaluate what we call those ’big three.’’’

Pryor leads the Buckeyes in rushing, but with a scant 129 yards in three games (5.2 per attempt). He has rushed for one touchdown, but has yet to throw a touchdown pass or an interception.

Sometimes it’s risky business to play a freshman and bench — or at least severely limit the playing time of — a senior. Teammates are loyal to each other, particularly the guys who have paid their dues for a number of years.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis doesn’t think there’s a possibility of a mutiny.

‘‘I think coach loves this group of seniors, loves this team,’’ he said. ‘‘He wants to do whatever is best for the team. All of us trust coach and his decisions, whether that’s playing Todd as the starter and playing him the whole time, or whether that’s Terrelle the whole time, or a little bit of both, we support him.’’

Tressel said Boeckman hasn’t exactly clicked his heels over the decision.

‘‘He’s handled it well. It hasn’t been what he’d wish for. And I’d have been disappointed if it was,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘Because I want a quarterback who says ’I want to be in there every play and I want to show you why.’’’

Boeckman was brilliant the first 10 games a season ago after carrying a clipboard the year before while Troy Smith was winning the Heisman Trophy. Boeckman faltered down the stretch but still led the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record — one of the best records in the last 50 years by a first-time starting quarterback at the school. They won a second straight outright Big Ten title and made a second consecutive trip to the national championship game. Boeckman was voted the Big Ten’s top quarterback.

While fans debate the two quarterbacks in forums and chat rooms and on call-in shows, some of the players want to avoid the distractions.

‘‘I would like to see some consistency but at the same time, for my opinion, what’s the best for the team? I don’t know,’’ punter A.J. Trapasso said.