Wells due back for Gophers

Published 10:05 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

COLUMBUS — Tailback Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells is likely to return to No. 14 Ohio State against Minnesota on Saturday.

‘‘It adds to our arsenal,’’ coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday, shortly after announcing that Wells was probable for Saturday’s game.

Wells has been out of action since injuring his right foot early in the second half of the opening victory over Youngstown State. Dan Herron has been the tailback in victories over Ohio and Troy and a lopsided defeat at top-ranked Southern California.

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Ohio State could use the boost. Even though freshman Terrelle Pryor threw four touchdown passes last week in his debut as a starter against Troy, the offense has been erratic since Wells left.

His teammates were happy to see him doing all the drills at Tuesday night’s practice.

Asked how Wells looked, offensive lineman Alex Boone said, ‘‘Fast. Very fast. He was running all over the place. He looked physical and fast. He looked like nothing had happened to him.’’

Against the Trojans, the Buckeyes led just 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter before punts downed deep inside the 20 helped Ohio State set up two short touchdown drives to pull away 28-10.

Pryor gives the Buckeyes a mobile quarterback who can avoid a collapsing pocket and transform a loss into a gain. He escaped from severe pressure on several occasions to frustrate Troy defenders and perpetuate drives.

The Buckeyes also experimented up front with several other fresh faces on the offensive line. Jim Cordle, who had started the last 16 games at center, moved to left guard to fill in for the injured Steve Rehring. Another true freshman, Mike Brewster, then took Cordle’s spot.

Brewster wasn’t the only youngster in the rotation up front, either. True freshman J.B. Shugarts and sophomore Andrew Miller also saw action.

Suddenly, the huddle that Wells returns to doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one he left.

Todd Boeckman, the fifth-year senior who led the Buckeyes to a second consecutive outright Big Ten title and the national championship game a year ago, played just two plays against Troy and is now cemented to the bench as a backup to Pryor.

With the cat-quick Pryor on the field at the same time as Wells, who rushed for 1,600 yards a year ago, defenses will be in a quandary.

‘‘Who are they going to defend?’’ Cordle said.

Asked what it would be like for a defense to face both Pryor and Wells, safety Kurt Coleman just shook his head.

‘‘Scary,’’ he said. ‘‘Scary.’’

Tressel said Pryor did not handle himself like a 19-year-old kid who had yet to attend his first college class.

‘‘He knows where everyone is,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘He’s got a great ability to keep his head up, a calmness about him.’’

The presence of Wells — if indeed he is healthy and ready to play — should take some of the pressure off the young quarterback.

‘‘Yesterday in practice (Wells) was running up my back and he was saying, ’Let’s go!’’’ Cordle said with a laugh. ‘‘He almost ran me over on one play. He’s ready to go. You can see how bad he wants to play.’’

Just two years ago, Tressel reined in quarterback Troy Smith so he wouldn’t run so much, increasing the chances he would get through the season without being injured. That approach worked wonders. Smith almost never missed a snap while leading to the Buckeyes to a perfect regular season and winning the Heisman Trophy.

Reminded of that on Tuesday, Tressel was asked how he would try to preserve Pryor throughout this season.

‘‘Hand it to the tailback more,’’ he said.

With Wells now back in the fold, that’ll be a popular alternative.