August 3, 2010
Who will emerge?
CHICAGO - Before the start of fall camp there is always a level of uncertainty when it comes to positions that see a significant amount of turnover. The loss of Duron Carter and Flash Thomas to transfer coupled with Ray Small using up his eligibility have opened up some spots at wideout and while that is good for opportunity with several players who have been waiting in the wings it has kept many fans a little bit off-balance when trying to predict Ohio State's future success via the air.
In 2009 the Buckeyes ranked 103rd in the nation in passing offense with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher totaling a combined 96 receptions, 1,398 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns via the pass. But the light at the end of the tunnel shined brightly at the Rose Bowl where the offense erupted for 266 yards via the air and a pair of touchdowns.
Even with that newfound success there is still that nagging question of who will step up into that third receiver spot let alone the number four and five spot. There are many players who are well versed in the program and have the athletic ability to do it including seniors like Taurian Washington and Grant Schwartz but neither have been able to rise to the top of the chart to take a lead going into fall camp. But this game is not about being able to out-athlete the other team and there has to be a more complete component to it all to find success on the field.
"I think a lot of problems stem in the receiver room from the mental side because when you are out there and they snap the ball there are so many people running around that you really have to have it mentally or the other part doesn't matter," Sanzenbacher said. "When (all of the receivers) get this put together, and I think they will, they are going to have an impact."
Washington has been the most interesting case when it comes to not having had everything put together. The senior pass catcher has been in the mix for a couple of seasons but has not been able to crack the rotation. The 6-foot-1, 181 pound receiver has been plagued with a career of drops and disappointment to date and was rumored to be on his way out of the program via transfer before deciding to come back for a final go with the Buckeyes.
But there are no more chances now with the clock ticking louder and louder toward the end of his Ohio State career.
"I think you always approach your senior year a little bit differently," Sanzenbacher said. "It always feels like there is more urgency to it because it is your last shot at it. Taurian is a guy that has definitely had the talent to be able to do it, to be able to step up in a situation like that. I think it has all been mental for him."
Players like Sanzenbacher and Posey have been there with Washington the whole way and while they try and counsel their friend and teammate they also know that this is not something that they can wish upon him and is something that has to come from within himself.
"We have talked to him but he knows," Sanzenbacher said. "There is really nothing you can say to a guy that has been in his situation that he hasn't already heard."
Washington took an apparent step in the right direction with the 2009 spring game after catching a pair of big touchdowns including the game winner but catches in a controlled scrimmage do not give a player a free pass into the starting rotation.
"He has always been able to have good spring games here ever since our first spring game together," Sanzenbacher added. "I think he has scored in everyone one of them. So it is good to have that and it is a matter of translating that success when it comes to camp."
Other young guys would like to be able to step into that role however and play critical roles in 2010. Chris Fields arguably had the most impressive spring of the receivers and has been on the fast track in the minds of many when it comes to moving up the chart rapidly.
"I think Chris is a guy that is obviously very talented or you don't get recruited here," Sanzenbacher said. "He has very quick feet and an impressive... his side-to-side quickness is very impressive."
Incoming freshmen like Ty Williams and James Louis are also vying for the attention of the coaches and a possible chance to contribute from the word go. At this point it is hard to really know what to expect of either player not having seen them in pads but the senior wideout sees a lot of positives in both players.
Ty is a guy that has impressed me for how well he can move for how big he is. You don't think a guy like that would have decent feet or be able to do that but he can actually move himself around pretty well," Sanzenbacher said. "James has kind of got that Florida style to him and he is a speedy guy. I think that all of the incoming freshmen are guys that can potentially help us. It is always a matter of putting it together in camp when they get those pads on so we will find out a lot."
Of course there is always the tight end role and while the contributions from that position have not been tangible by way of a stat sheet through the years there is a chance that this could be the year where the position could expand into the pass catching part of the offense. The receivers are pulling for that added wrinkle to come, even if it means having to share the football some.
"We hope so," Sanzenbacher said. "We have some talented guys and I think that Jake Stoneburner is in a situation now where he can be able to step up. Spending a year at receiver and having that experience and then spending a year at tight end and getting that blocking scheme and everything figured out I think this is the year now where he can put that together and be an impact player for us."
So if one man looks at the lack of depth as a bad thing there is someone else that will see it as a chance for big opportunities. The biggest fan of it all may be quarterback Terrelle Pryor has he would like to see as many targets out on the field as possible as he continues to refine his own game and mature into a more consistent passer.
But the grade for the passing game will not be handed down after a number of practices or even just a couple of games and it is going to take a team effort by the Buckeyes to raise that ranking of 103 and prove to their opponents and themselves that they have what it takes to be a threat in the air.
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