March 31, 2008

Not lost in the shuffle

Going into the 2008 season the Ohio State football team has an embarrassment of riches on the roster. The team returns starters at almost every position (must fill RT, FB, DE and SLB) coming off of a second straight BCS Championship game run and has a wealth of experience on the depth chart (BuckeyeGrove.com's projected spring 2008 depth chart).

A lot of attention has been focused on the class of 2008 and why not? The talented class of 20 players for the class of 2008 was ranked as the nation's No. 4 recruiting class and boasts the nation's top recruit in Terrelle Pryor. On the other side the Ohio State class of 2007 was not as highly ranked but eight of the 15 players in the class managed to avoid the redshirt in their first season in the scarlet and gray (Eugene Clifford saw minimal action but was able to get a redshirt after injury).

With seven players from the class of 2007 looking to see their first meaningful action this season it would be easy for them to slip off the radar of many observers but not for head coach Jim Tressel who was beaming about his young players during an interview last week with the assembled media.

"That group (the 2007 redshirts), it is going to be interesting to find out (what they can do) but we have high expectations for them," Tressel said.

It is easy to see why the staff is excited to see what the group of seven has in store with five of the players coming in as four-star recruits and the other two coming in with a three-star rating. A pair of players (Donnie Evege and Evan Blankenship) either came in with or suffered an injury pretty quickly to make the decision to redshirt academic but with the other five players it just came down to a fact of the Buckeyes having so much depth that an extra year of separation would be a good thing plus give Ohio State that much more on the scout teams.

Of all of the players that didn't see game action last season it was Daniel Herron that most people were most curious about. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound running back changed his uniform number from No. 2 to No. 1 this year but the Warren (Ohio) star will see a crowded depth chart ahead of him with players like Chris Wells, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine all ahead of him but there is no question that Boom Herron has what it takes to be a star in his own right.

"We think that Boom is going to be a special back," Tressel said. "Now we will have a chance to see. His biggest thing will be the learning part because he just read a card all fall. Preseason when you are true freshman you are just trying to survive and then you go to reading cards for 13 games. This is going to be a big learning time for him but he has demonstrated athletically that he is really going to help us."

Spring practice will be critical to players coming off of the redshirt season because it will be essentially the first chance to run Ohio State's plays since last spring after working out as the competition in scout team drills. A player that Ohio State would have loved to have last year was Blankenship. With injuries taking Jon Skinner and Kyle Mitchum out of the mix essentially all year last year Ohio State was thin on the line and getting the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder in the plans will only help the team.

"Evan Blankenship is a guy that we would like to think we are going to have more depth on the offensive line," Tressel said. "Evan is a guy that came in with a broken foot and didn't get to practice as much and as soon as he is ready he is reading cards and just going from there."

Also coming off of an injury was Donnie Evege. The four star prospect out of Huber Heights (Ohio) enrolled early at Ohio State along with James Scott but injuries kept Evege out of the mix a good part of the way. Will he be ready to go this spring?

"Donnie Evege is coming off of an injury and he will probably be able to do part of the things for a week or two," Tressel said. "Hopefully by the end of the spring he will be able to be full-contact and all that."

Joining Evege in the defensive backfield is Nate Oliver and Rocco Pentello. Both players had their names mentioned often when it came to scout team honors with the 6-foot-0, 215 pound Oliver and 6-foot-0, 194-pound Pentello both looking to make an impact wherever they can for the team.

"Nate Oliver and Rocco Pentello, to have that depth in the secondary at the safety position and the special teams," Tressel said. "Those guys ought to be guys that step right up in there."

Some players just need that extra year to grow into their position and that was just the case with Solomon Thomas. The West Chester (Ohio) defensive end came to the Buckeyes at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and now at the check of the last official roster is up to 6-foot-5, 240-pounds and will be a speed end for the Buckeyes. With some attrition off the line there will be a chance for Thomas to work his way into coach Jim Heacock's line rotation.

"Solomon Thomas is a guy in that front, we lose Vernon (Gholston) and you lose Alex Barrow and you never have enough guys up front," Tressel said.

The final redshirt is Clifford and most people didn't know that he earned a redshirt until the last week. The Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain star saw action in the first four games of the season and was credited with an assisted tackle for loss against Northwestern in the fourth game of the year. The 6-foot-2, 191-pounder had to shut it down after that game and managed to squeeze in and get that extra year of eligibility.

"Eugene Clifford is a guy that ended up redshirting because of injury so he got a little bit of a taste of it," Tressel said. "So he is a guy that we would like to think can step up."

And with a roster as deep as it is all seven of these players know their time is now and stepping up in spring will go a long way in setting themselves up for a good fall camp and ultimately a chance to get their named called on the field.


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