April 1, 2008

Walking the line

Statistics may not tell the entire story when it comes to a football season. Throughout the 2007 season the Buckeyes were at or near the top of several defensive categories and finished the season No.1 in total defense. But that doesn't win a team any trophies and after another difficult loss in the BCS Championship game the Ohio State defense is looking not only to pick up where they left off but to even take it to another level.

Up front it will be difficult to replace a player like Vernon Gholston who is a lock to be a top-seven pick in the upcoming NFL draft and could go even higher according to several projections. Only having to replace two on the defense (Vernon and Larry Grant) the Buckeyes come back with plenty of experience but will not rest on their past resume. What are the goals of the defensive unit during the all too brief spring practice sessions?

"To get better," co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "To get better at all positions. We had a young defensive line last year and those guys have to mature and have to be a little bit more dominant up front and that is going to be critical. We have to do a great job on turnovers, I didn't feel like we did as good of a job on turnovers as we needed to so we need to improve in that area. Those are probably the main areas that we are going to make improvements in."

The Buckeyes will lose 14 sacks with Gholston but more importantly a physically dominating and intimidating presence up front. After only the second practice in pads during the spring it is premature to really know how things are going to shape up but the coaching staff has a couple of scenarios to replace the big shoes left by Gholston.

"We have two situations," Heacock said. "We have a look where we could have Lawrence Wilson playing the one end and Cameron Heyward the other end. Thaddeus Gibson is playing that position as well. I like him he is a good tough kid and a competitor and is passionate and wants to play. He went through some growing pains last year and came through them and did a good job for us. He had a great off-season so I think he is going to be one of our guys."

Heacock mentioned that Mark Johnson and Solomon Thomas are both in the mix as well and will have a chance to see some major reps during the spring.

Last season the Buckeyes had to replace the top three defensive tackles with the departure of Quinn Pitcock, David Patterson and Joel Penton and it was a trial by fire for several players seeing their first significant playing time. Returning all four off of the two deep inside will help the Buckeyes and hopefully equate to more production.

"Inside looks like we have probably improved a little bit and we have some age in there now," Heacock said. "Those guys were all new and young and kind of a little bit immature but those guys have all come on now. I think they are a little bit better this spring."

The competition is heated in the middle and Heacock was hesitant to say anyone had pulled ahead a week into practice.

"They are all pretty close right now, the competition is good there," Heacock said.

While Jim Tressel said that the practices would not be as physical as in years past they have seemed pretty tough to the players on the field especially not playing with everyone that is slated to see playing time during the fall.

"We really only have limited number of inside tackles right now because Rob Rose is out so they do a lot of reps," "We are getting after it pretty well."

But even with all the hard work the players wouldn't want to be doing anything else knowing that the work that is put in during the spring session will pay off in the fall.

"I think they are having fun," Heacock said. "That's what they want to do, they love to play football so that is what we are doing."

Tough to sit?

The team was happy to welcome back Lawrence Wilson into the fold after the defensive end suffered a season ending broken leg in the second quarter of the first game of the season. There was a question all season long if Wilson would be able to see any action toward the end of the season. A clean break in the leg didn't require as lengthy of an absence as some type of injuries and the Ohio State nation held their collective breath to see if Wilson would come back.

Lawrence practiced through the bowl preparation season and even though he was cleared by the doctor to participate in full practice during December the decision was ultimately made to hold him out of the BCS Championship game and as tough as it was to sit it was the right decision according to Wilson.

"I had to hide my helmet," Wilson said. "I hid it behind some benches and everything so I wouldn't be tempted to run into the game. It was really tough but overall I felt I made the right decision because I wasn't fully 100-percent and I think I would have been favoring my leg a little bit so I made the right decision."

Hoop it up

With so much talk around Columbus around the play of Terrelle Pryor on the basketball court to accompany his football prowess the current Ohio State players had an opportunity before spring practice got underway to trade the gridiron for the hardwood and play a little basketball of their own.

"This is when the girls played Purdue and we went to watch their game," Worthington said. "Then we play a game against ourselves. It was a great, great thing to get in as a team and come closer with a little brotherhood."

Jim Tressel had made mention of the play of back-up quarterback Joe Bauserman on the basketball court. The former baseball player got some props from his teammates but he wasn't the only player to receive kudos.

"I want to give a shout out to all the guys playing really," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "Jermale Hines had the best play of that game when he dunked on Boom Herron so you need to put that if you can in (your stories)."

So to avoid crossing the big man we are going to be loud and clear about Daniel Herron getting posterized by his teammate.

"Boom Herron got dunked on very bad by Jermale Hines (laugh)," Worthington joked. "That was the biggest thing of that whole night but everybody played really well. Lawrence Wilson still has it I think. Cameron Heyward I know why he wanted to play both sports."

If the basketball game becomes an annual thing the safe money is on Pryor being the dunker rather than the dunkee.

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