Questions Spring Up
COLUMBUS — Jim Tressel tries to avoid prematurely judging his Ohio State teams.
With 31 players gone from last year’s squad heading into the start of spring practice on Thursday, it would be difficult to do anyway.
‘‘I’ve never really walked into a season and said, ’Well, this is a rebuilding year. We’re not going to do as well,’ or ’This is a reloading year, we’re going to be better,’ or ’We’re experienced. Everything’s going to be wonderful,’’’ the Buckeyes’ coach said Wednesday while previewing his team. ‘‘Because none of those are true. There’s such a fine line in how well you do.’’
Most of the more recognizable names are gone from last year’s team that went 10-3 and won its fourth consecutive Big Ten title. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, wide receiver Brian Robiskie and quarterback Todd Boeckman used up their eligibility, just some of the 28 seniors who said goodbye to the program.
In addition, tailback Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells, wide receiver Brian Hartline and cornerback Donald Washington all elected to give up their final year in scarlet and gray to make themselves available for the NFL draft.
So the Buckeyes must rely on the maturation of sophomore-to-be Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, along with the promotion of several players who have been waiting for their big moment in the sun.
Tressel, starting his ninth year with the Buckeyes, addressed several key areas in a wide-ranging discussion of more than an hour:
— On Pryor developing into a complete quarterback: ‘‘I hope he becomes a lot more comfortable in what he’s seeing and where he needs to deliver the ball and enhances his own confidence in getting the ball to the playmakers. … His priorities (last year) were he was only going to throw it if he was sure. I’d rather err on that side rather than, ’Aw, I’ll just throw it.’ But to get real good you have to get to the point where you let it go.’’
— On replacing Wells, who gained 3,382 yards the last three seasons: ‘‘You don’t replace Beanie Wells. There aren’t any guys in the country like him. When you lose a Beanie Wells, you have to get a little bit more creative in some other areas. You’re not going to have a turn-around-and-hand-it-off guy 25 times a game like you had with Beanie. But I like our other guys, (Dan) ‘‘Boom’’ (Herron) and Brandon Saine. They can play.’’
— On the linebackers without Laurinaitis and Freeman: ‘‘This will be a big spring for a lot of those guys. Etienne Sabino, Brian Rolle, Austin Spitler, Andrew Sweat, Tyler Moeller — all of those guys — because, let’s face it, James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman took a lot of the reps. We’re a long way from knowing for sure how it’s going to unfold.’’
— On fill-ins for the departed Robiskie (42 catches) and Hartline (21): ‘‘I do think it’s a big spring for guys like DeVier Posey, Taurian Washington and Lamaar Thomas. Your veteran guys, like Dane Sanzenbacher and Ray Small, it’s going to be important for them but probably they won’t make the quantum leaps that I sure hope that Lamaar and DeVier and Taurian and folks like that make.’’
— On the offensive line, which will be missing longtime starters Alex Boone and Steve Rehring: ‘‘There’s going to be a lot of different mixtures and matches and so forth in there. You’re going to see more combinations this spring than maybe you’ve ever seen all along the board: offensive line, certainly, in the linebacker area where you’re replacing a lot of guys, out wide where you lost your two most experienced guys. You’re going to see a lot of different lineups this spring.’’
— On Josh Springer, a former Ohio State cheerleader who is trying to make the team as a wide receiver: ‘‘I accidentally called him Jerry Springer the other day in a staff meeting. It’s Josh. In fact, there have been more media requests about Josh Springer than any player in the history of our program.’’
— On how good the Buckeyes can be: ‘‘I feel good about the talent. I feel good about their interest in being good. Now we need to see good, rapid growth.’’
The Buckeyes have 15 workouts planned, capped by the annual intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium on April 25. They open the season Sept. 5 at home against Navy before hosting Southern California on Sept. 12.