Dave Thurman (8:40 pm)
The 2008 season is barely past the half-way point (7 games down, 6 to go counting a bowl bid), and it’s time to give out some grades to our beloved Buckeyes. In truth this is actually a difficult assignment because the team seems to lack a true identity, especially on offense, and I’m not sure we know a whole lot more than we did 4-5 weeks ago. One thing is for sure – nothing has gone the way fans expected it. Nevertheless here are my grades thus far:
Quarterback – C
When the season started we had a sixth-year senior at quarterback who led the team to the National Championship Game a year ago, and expectations were high. But, three games into the season he was supplanted by true freshman Terrelle Pryor, possibly the most acclaimed recruit in OSU history. I still think Todd Boeckman has potential, but he was not a good fit for a team with poor pass blocking, and was especially exposed when Beanie was hurt. As for Pryor, he started like a house of fire, but lately has looked like, well, a confused freshman. We all know he can run like a deer and has a strong arm, but as teams have schemed for him, Pryor has seemed reluctant to throw the ball, and often runs himself into trouble. In his defense, the play calling has been pretty lousy, and his teammates haven’t helped him a whole lot. I am hopeful he will show progress the next few weeks, and turn potential into results.
Backs – B
This is another tough position to evaluate, because in truth there is one grade with Beanie playing and another without him. When he is even close to healthy, Wells is the best back in the nation. With him in the lineup, the team plays with a different confidence, and knows that he may break one at any time. Boom Herron shows great potential, but he is neither overly big nor fast. Still, he hits the hole quickly with authority and is a solid back. Brandon Saine has been a colossal disappointment but at least some of this may be due to injuries and missed practices. And Mo Wells is the same as he has been for the past three years – a great guy who is a poor fit in Tressel’s system. Meanwhile, fullback has lacked one consistent presence, relying on three players, none of whom were recruited for the position. My favorite is Curtis Terry, but he seems to get the least reps of the trio. Go figure! So fullback has been okay, but nothing to write home about.
Wide Receiver – D
This may well be the most disappointing unit on the team. Robiskie was close to being a star in ’07, but has been inconsistent this season, at times playing like he is uninterested. The other Brian, Mr. Hartline, hasn’t been any better, and if you believe the scuttlebutt he has caused some dissension in the locker room. Ray Small has never put it all together, and seems to have problems off the field annually. So not one of the “big three” has delivered and given the Bucks a consistent threat. On the other hand, I think Dane Sanzenbacher has played pretty well, and is a solid possession receiver, and I really like the potential of DeVier Posey, although he often looks like a freshman. By the way, here’s a question for you to mull over: What ever happened to Taurian Washington, star of the spring game? Could he be worse than what we’ve had? At this point I’m ready to give him a try!
Tight End – B-
Jake Ballard could be a star – I believe that with all my heart. But in the OSU system he is little more than a glorified offensive lineman. Both he and Nicol (who has been inured of late) are solid, doing their job, but it would be great to actually throw some passes in their direction.
Offensive Line – C-
I know, I know, you wanted a lower grade. But, the run blocking hasn’t been too bad, and at times has actually been pretty impressive. Between injuries on the line and dealing with different players rotating in at quarterback and tailback, I will cut the big guys a little slack. However, I am not sold on the right side of the line at all, and feel like Ben Person is a complete liability. Rehring is okay as a guard, but please, for the sake of all that is good and sacred, don’t put him at right tackle again – ever! Overall, this group should be a team strength, but whether it is poor coaching or lack of motivation, it has been a very disappointing unit.
Midterm grade for the offense: C-
Defensive Line – C
On what was expected to be a superior defensive unit, the line has been the weakness, failing to get much pressure on the quarterback and being vulnerable to up the middle runs. The good news is that it is still a young line, and is showing signs of improvement. As Thaddeus Gibson becomes better acquainted with the defensive end position he looks like he will be a good one, and is the one player that consistently gets into the defensive backfield. There isn’t one stud at defensive tackle, but a healthy Denlinger looks like he might be the best option.
Linebackers – A-
The lack of a dominant line keeps this unit from being as superior as some thought it would be, but it is hard to argue with the steadiness of senior James Laurinaitis, who just makes tackles. Homan is becoming a beast against the run, and Freeman, while not as consistent as I would like, does make some big plays. There is also some good young talent in reserve, and my only real beef with the linebackers is that they don’t blitz them enough.
Defensive Backs – A
In my opinion this is the most productive unit on the 2008 squad, featuring the most consistent Buckeye, Malcolm Jenkins, who can flat out cover and plays with a bad attitude. In addition, Chekwa has really come on as the other corner, Coleman is becoming a star, and Anderson Russell is solid. It is a luxury to have Donald Washington and Jermale Hines to render nickel and dime coverage, and I love the way Hines hits. One wonders if the coaching staff will bulk him up a little and play him at outside backer next year.
Midterm grade for the defense – B+
Since Tressel considers special teams as important as offense or defense we will hand out individual grades here as well.
Punting – B+
A.J. Trapasso, who seems to have been in Columbus for a decade, is having his best season. He is not quite as consistent as I would like, but has done a very good job overall.
Kicking – B
His statistics are good, but Ryan Pretorius seems to miss at key moments, and I, for one, am ready for a change. Pettrey has a stronger leg, and I believe he offers more consistency. That being said, he baffles me on his kickoffs, with some going eight yards deep in the end zone, and others barely making the twenty. But in case you get too frustrated with our kicking talk to a Michigan or Purdue fan!
Returns – C-
Ray Small is dangerous on punt returns, but scares me every time he catches the ball, as he seems to field the ball much lower than other returners, and often looks downright shaky. Keeping him out of the doghouse is key here, though, because he is by far the best the Bucks have at this job and is the reason the grade isn’t much lower. As a bonus, Jenkins blocked a punt last Saturday which Sabino returned for a touchdown giving the Bucks two scores from the punt return team. Kick returns, on the other hand, have been abysmal again this year, and Brandon Saine is clearly not the answer. However, there is room for optimism after getting a dash of “Flash,” last Saturday, as Lamaar Thomas showed his speed and skills. Here’s hoping he stays back there for the remainder of the season.
Coverage – A
The Buckeye coverage teams look like silver bullets speeding down the field led by Sabino, Torrence, Rolle and Lane. If every unit played with this much passion the Buckeyes would be ranked in the top five. No problems here in the first half of 2008!
Midterm grade for special teams - B