On their first day together, Terrelle Pryor promised to help Jim Tressel get over "that little hump" the Buckeyes had experienced in big games.
As a sophomore, Pryor delivered, earning the MVP of the Rose Bowl. As a junior, he'll try to take the next step, which just might include a national championship.
Critics might remain skeptical of Ohio State, but Pryor leads a rebuilt Buckeyes team with all new faces from the teams that lost to Florida, LSU, Southern Cal (twice) and Texas in a three-year span. This team believes this season can be different, all because of the 26-17 win over the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
"We had to have that," Pryor said. "We'd been losing for years. Nothing against any of the guys back then, but we just had a little drag. We finally picked that up."
Pryor's performance against the Ducks makes him an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Even more impressive, the Buckeyes have won five consecutive Big Ten championships. With 16 returning starters, all the pieces are in place to make a run at six in a row.
A number of the seniors, such as Cameron Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa and Ross Homan, had the opportunity to leave early for the NFL. All but defensive end Thad Gibson decided to return to make one more run at a ring.
"If we didn't all come back, I don't think we'd have a chance," Heyward said. "But we all knew that we'd have a great shot of doing this. It's going to be fun."NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Terrelle Pryor has always admitted idolizing Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Pryor believes he's part of the reason the NCAA has banned players from writing messages on their eye black after Pryor wrote "Mike" and "Vick" on his. Still, Pryor remains a fan. Now he'll join Vick and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in a quarterback "skull session" this summer, according to the Newport News Daily Press.
--Ohio State added lights to its practice fields and another FieldTurf field to its practice facility. Now the Buckeyes have two grass fields and two turf fields for practice. Ironically, they don't have any games this season on natural grass, so all of the practices will be on FieldTurf.
--Jim Tressel received a two-year extension keeping him with Ohio State through 2014. No money was added to his annual $3.5 million salary, but he'll now get a seat in the press box and a luxury suite at all Ohio State games for the rest of his life. He also has the option of becoming an associate athletic director, at an annual salary of $150,000, when he is done coaching. Tressel will be 62 and completed 14 seasons when his contract expires.
TE Jake Stoneburner -- The converted receiver is one of the strongest players on the team and might make the tight end position relevant again in the passing game. Terrelle Pryor has already displayed confidence in him, calling him the real thing. "If he's open, he'll get the ball," Pryor said.
DT John Simon -- The Buckeyes' defensive line was gutted by graduation. Simon, a sophomore, made a strong impression in the spring, drawing rave reviews from coaches.
WR Taurian Washington -- With No. 3 receiver Duron Carter missing all of spring with grade issues, Washington took advantage. Now the two will battle with freshman Chris Fields for the coveted third receiver spot. The No. 3 guy typically gets a lot of time on the field in OSU's offense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's going to be a lot of hype, but I'm going to block that out. It's a big thing when you're young and you start hearing all that stuff. Now it's nothing. You can't think about the Heisman. My teammates mean more than the Heisman Trophy and winning games means more than winning the Heisman Trophy." -- QB Terrelle Pryor, on his Heisman candidacy in 2010STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Buckeyes have won five straight league championships and have all the pieces to make it six. Voters are still skeptical of the Bucks, but if they win the league again, they should be back in the thick of the national championship race. If QB Terrelle Pryor dominates like he did in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes will be a team to fear.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Terrelle Pryor led the team in both rushing and passing yards last season, but this is about the time in his career when Jim Tressel will want Pryor running a little less and passing a little more. At least, that's how Tressel handled former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. There are plenty of other candidates to run the ball for the Buckeyes, who could go five deep at tailback. Senior speedster Brandon Saine is ready for his first 1,000 yard season should he stay healthy. If not, banger Dan Herron is back. Pryor must find more receivers than just DeVier Posey, who caught 60 passes last year. Dane Sanzenbacher was second on the team in catches with 36.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The top two tackle leaders return in Ross Homan (108 tackles) and Brian Rolle (94). Bullish DE Cameron Heyward is an All-America candidate after leading the defense with 6.5 sacks last year and both starting corners (Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence) return. That leaves safety as the biggest question mark. Jermale Hines is a full-time starter after serving as a linebacker/defensive back hybrid last year. The most unproven player on the defense will be safety Orhian Johnson, who missed the first month last season with injuries and played sparingly behind three-year starter Kurt Coleman.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Devin Barclay, a 27-year-old former pro soccer player, will take over as the kicker after going 7 of 10 last season filling in for an injured Aaron Pettrey. Barclay's longest field goal, though, was only 39 yards. Junior Ben Buchanan is the new punter, but struggled in the spring game. Taurian Washington and Jordan Hall will get the first chance as the new return men, but this appears to be the weakest set of special teams in Tressel's nine years.
--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.
--Wide receiver Duron Carter sat out all of spring practice, presumably to work on his grades. Carter was academically ineligible for the Rose Bowl.
--Quarterback Terrelle Pryor participated in spring drills after having arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee. Pryor said before the spring game the knee feels good as new.
--Defensive back Tyler Moeller returned to practice, but didn't take part in any hitting drills after he fractured his skull last summer. Moeller was punched in a Florida bar while on a family vacation and missed the whole season with the head injury. Tressel said the team would be cautious with his return to the field. Police have charged a suspect in the case.
--Running back Brandon Saine was hobbled through part of the spring with a hamstring injury. They seem to be a recurring theme for the talented and speedy senior. Saine has all the potential to be an elite back, but never seems to be able to stay healthy.
--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 was healthy this spring after nagging hamstring injuries forced him to miss all of last year. Berry joins a RB 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: 04/28/2010