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March 30, 2011

Spring Football: Top Storylines

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The dust has yet to settle around the Ohio State football program after NCAA violation committed by Jim Tressel came to the surface weeks ago.

But football at Ohio State doesn't stop for anyone, even Tressel.

Though Ohio State is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on Tressel's five-game self-imposed suspension for the violations he committed, the Buckeyes will take the practice field this week to prepare for another highly anticipated football season.

With Tressel's situation currently in flux and four key players also suspended for five games next season, this year's spring football practices may be the most interesting of any during the 10-year Tressel era.

Tressel will be available to the media Wednesday for the first time since his press conference regarding his violations. Before spring officially kicks of, we give you the top storylines to look for in the coming weeks.

  • Watching the head coach - Tressel was noticeably uncomfortable during his press conference when talking about the infractions he committed. That's because it was the first time in 10 years where Tressel wasn't fully in control of a press conference, let alone owning up to significant wrongdoing in front of a packed media audience.

    With rumors floating around about his dismissal and/or resignation, Wednesday's press conference to preview spring should be an interesting beginning to a spring football session that could closely resemble a soap opera.

    Watching how Tressel operates this spring will be unique. Not only will he have an pending NCAA ruling following him, the head coach also has to put together a team that has to replace many key offensive playmakers. Will Tressel maintain his even-keel, in control management style that we've grown to know or will things be different with all the outside commotion?

  • Quarterback battle - Braxton Miller may have been widely regarded as the future, but did anyone think the future would come this soon? With Terrelle Pryor out for the first five games of next season, Ohio State has a quarterback battle on its hands it didn't anticipate having until after the 2011 season.

    With many options to choose from - whether it be the freshman Miller, seasoned veteran Joe Bauserman or the other options in between - watching how the reps are split up between the signal callers will quite interesting.

    With Pryor sitting out it is hard to anticipate how the senior quarterback will be used in the spring. And while the senior is recovering from off-season surgery, he will likely be limited for health reasons also.

    With guys like Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham also hoping to grab reps to prove they're worthy, it is hard to imagine Pryor being the focal point of the offense in practice. The quarterback battle should be the biggest story of the spring, but how Pryor is utilized in the next three weeks will also be worth monitoring.

    But who are we kidding? The biggest story isn't so much how the quarterback battle will turn out as much as it is about whether or not Miller is ready for the challenge. Perhaps the most anticipated recruit since Pryor, Miller will get an opportunity to step in this spring and try to claim the starting spot. His development, of course, will be the center of everyone's attention come the first open practice.

  • Who'll be the interim head coach? - It's hard to imagine any Ohio State football practice with Tressel not calling all of the shots. Though he's suspended for the first five games of next season, this spring that will still be the case. But while he's out serving his suspension on Saturdays next year, who will be the interim head coach?

    There's no telling what coach will step in and take that duty, but that doesn't mean the speculation won't start as soon as Wednesday's press conference. And Ohio State has more than two viable options.

    There are only two coaches on the current staff with head coach experience, one of which is Dick Tressel, obviously the head coach's brother. Offering him the position would change the least amount about Ohio State's structure during game week, as both coordinators Jim Heacock - who also has head coaching experience - and Jim Bollman could continue their normal roles.

    It is uncertain who will be named the interim head coach and it may not even be announced this spring. But it will be a tough decision for Tressel, as his brother Doc, Bollman, Heacock, and even Luke Fickell all have arguments.

  • Other position battles - Though Miller and the quarterbacks will be center stage this spring, those aren't the only position battles happening on the field. Other stories include the following:

    Will this be the year Etienne Sabino breaks out and grabs one of the linebacker spots? Sabino has become a fan favorite ever since joining the Buckeyes and his size and athleticism seem to make him a shoe-in to be the next great Ohio State linebacker. Last year, however, he took a redshirt season after Andrew Sweat beat him for the starting job. Will Sabino finally be ready to claim that starting spot?

    Then of course you have the running backs. With Dan Herron out for five games, there are so many players in the backfield that could carry the load. Is Roderick Smith ready to be the stud people have made him out to be? Or will Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, and Carlos Hyde do the heavy lifting? Reps should be split up between all four backs this spring, but the race for primary back couldn't be any more wide open.

    Cornerback is quite the uncertainty, too. After losing Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence, Ohio State has more than a few guys ready to step in and compete for starting jobs. Travis Howard may be the front-runner, but Florida State transfer Dionte Allen and Dominic Clarke hope to give him a run.

    The last but certainly not least is the offensive line. Ohio State lost both senior guards Bryant Browning and Justin Boren and Mike Adams will miss the first five games with suspension. Who will step in and make the line's transition is seamless as possible?

  • Media access - With all the above storylines set to unfold in the next three weeks, it will be interesting to see what access for the media looks like. Last year the media was invited in to watch roughly half the practice sessions, giving us a good idea of how things were going.

    But with all the Tressel news currently surrounding the program there is some concern that access will be tightened this spring. If Ohio State's first schedule to the media is any indication, this season's spring may be exponentially harder to be a part of.

    Tressel is available Wednesday to preview the spring, but Ohio State's first practice will be open to the media for only 30 minutes, a far cry from what was allowed a year ago. Whether or not that will be a trend remains to be seen.

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



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