In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, Ohio State won its sixth consecutive Big Ten championship in 2009. So what can the Buckeyes do with a roster full of experience?
Certainly a seventh straight title seems within reach and maybe, just maybe, even more.
Ohio State will spend the spring sorting through a handful of personnel decisions, but more importantly will try to fine-tune what could be an explosive offense, all while ensuring quarterback Terrelle Pryor doesn't suffer any setbacks following knee surgery.
Tressel has always been cautious with players coming off winter surgeries, but sounds like a man who will let Pryor loose this spring, two months after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to clean up a slight tear in his PCL. Although Pryor said the surgery was a little more complicated than expected because of unforeseen damage, Tressel deemed his budding star 100 percent healthy for spring camp.
"He's fine," Tressel told a Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon club in early March. "We had a 6 a.m. workout this morning. He was there and did the whole workout wearing a weighted vest. Now I'm starting to worry about his intelligence."
Pryor is hoping his explosion in the Rose Bowl last year is the first step in his long-awaited coming out party. Pryor set career-highs in attempts (37), completions (23) and passing yards (266) all while rushing for 72 yards in the Buckeyes' huge 26-17 win over Oregon.
It was a much-needed win in a marquee game for a program that had become the focal point of the Big Ten's collapse. Despite all the league titles, the Buckeyes have been a punch line nationally since getting hammered in the national championship game against Florida following the 2006 season.
The Buckeyes hope the win over Oregon was the first step in a new direction. Beginning this spring, the offense will be more explosive than at any point since Troy Smith was winning the Heisman during that '06 season.
"Since we've been here, we've had the capable talent to become anything we wanted to become," Tressel told the Columbus Dispatch. "Sometimes we did the things we needed to do and sometimes we didn't. I think we're very capable, talent-wise, with this team. Now we need to make sure we make the right moves and learn the right lessons. And, of course, you have to have some good fortune."NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The first order of business is finding a left tackle to replace versatile Jim Cordle. The most obvious candidate is Mike Adams, who two years ago was rated the No. 1 lineman in the country. Injuries and setbacks have kept Adams from living up to the potential, but he now has a clear path to the starting job.
Defensively, the Buckeyes must find a new pair of safeties after the departures of Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman. Jermale Hines is one obvious replacement after taking over for Russell early last season when Russell was struggling in coverage. Hines has been good enough to start for the last two years. The other safety will come from a group that includes sophomores Orhian Johnson and Travis Howard and sixth-year senior Aaron Gant.
Austin Spitler leaves a hole at middle linebacker, but junior Etienne Sabino has that all but locked up as his replacement.
BUILDING BLOCKS: This offense has the potential to be just as explosive as the 2006 team that went undefeated throughout the regular season and produced a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Troy Smith.
QB Terrelle Pryor is ready to prove the Rose Bowl was his coming out party and not a fluke. The Buckeyes have perhaps their deepest backfield under Jim Tressel and the four top players in receptions all return. With minimal losses up front, the only question is whether or not Tressel trusts Pryor enough to let him drive the offense.
His progression with Smith was slow and steady until his senior year, when Smith exploded behind the No. 1 team in the country. Pryor could be on the verge of a similar type of breakout.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's fine. We had a 6 a.m. workout this morning. He was there and he did the whole workout with a weighted vest on. Now I'm starting to worry about his intelligence." -- coach Jim Tressel, speaking to a Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in early March about Terrelle Pryor's surgically-repaired kneeSTRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Buckeyes return 14 starters from the team that won the 2010 Rose Bowl. The last time the Buckeyes had about that many returners, they were playing in the national championship game.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor returns to lead a group of skill position players that includes RBs Dan Herron and Brandon Saine and receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. The defense lost DE Thaddeus Gibson early to the NFL, but DL Cameron Heyward is a budding superstar and LB Ross Homan returns after leading the defense with 108 tackles. If Ohio State can successfully replace both starting safeties -- and it has plenty of worthy candidates to pick from -- the Buckeyes could be well on their way to a remarkable sixth consecutive conference championship.
--OL Andrew Norwell -- Might be the best overall recruit of this incoming class. Norwell is still recovering from a broken leg, but should be fine by the fall.
--WR James Louis -- A little more polished than the other receivers in Ohio State's freshman class, Louis could get onto the field in four-receiver sets. The Florida native has already drawn comparisons to Santonio Holmes, another OSU receiver from the state of Florida who went on to win a Super Bowl MVP award.
--LB David Durham -- The coaches like him to eventually be a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, but he could also have a future as a middle linebacker. For now, his quickest path to the field is on special teams.
--RB Carlos Hyde -- Being around for spring ball helps, but Hyde has a long road ahead of him. The Buckeyes are loaded at tailback this year. Those early high school graduates who show up for spring ball at Ohio State typically find ways to slip onto the field as freshmen.
--QB Terrelle Pryor had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February to clean up a PCL injury suffered prior to the Rose Bowl victory. Pryor told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that the knee was worse than expected. He said he'd be 100 percent by spring ball, but coach Jim Tressel tends to err on the side of caution when dealing with spring surgeries.
--RB Jaamal Berry is healthy this spring after nagging hamstring injuries forced him to miss all of last year. Berry will begin the spring fourth on the depth chart behind Dan Herron, Brandon Saine and Jordan Hall. He'll also have to combat freshman recruit Carlos Hyde, who is already enrolled and on campus.
--S Aaron Gant is back for a sixth season after the NCAA awarded him a medical redshirt for last season. Gant, who has been limited by injuries throughout his career, missed all of last year to a serious knee injury that required two surgeries.
Previous Report: 04/21/2010