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Monday, August 8, 2011

Fickell's First Practice as Buckeye Head Coach - 40 things to watch for in OSU Fall Camp

Fickell's First Practice as Buckeye Head Coach

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Luke Fickell had difficulty sleeping he was so wired about his first official practice as Ohio State's interim head coach.

"It's been a long time coming I guess you could say -- a couple of months," he said after Monday's workout. "The biggest thing was the excitement that at about 2:30 in the morning you're ready to go. Hopefully a bunch of guys felt that way."

But he also knows it's just another mile marker on what will likely be a long, strange journey for the Buckeyes this season.

"Will it be a little bit of relief just to get that first (practice) under your belt? Yeah. For everybody," he said.

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More than eight months after a memorabilia-for-cash scandal rocked the program, and several weeks after 10-year coach Jim Tressel's forced resignation and Ohio State's self-imposed sanctions, the Buckeyes finally got back to playing football on Monday.

Just over 100 players were on hand for the first practice in comfortable, 80-degree temperatures.

They have been faced with a mountain of changes since this past spring's practices, let alone their last game -- a 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.

Fickell, a defensive assistant under Tressel the last nine years, took over after Ohio State officials convinced Tressel to resign on May 30 in the midst of a lengthy NCAA investigation. Tressel has admitted he knew players had accepted improper benefits -- money and discounted tattoos -- from the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor who was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking probe. But Tressel, with a record of 106-22, did not tell his superiors or the NCAA as required by his contract and NCAA bylaws.

Last December, five players were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. They included three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has since given up his senior season for a shot at playing in the NFL, along with starting wide receiver DeVier Posey, leading-rusher Daniel Herron, starting offensive lineman Mike Adams and backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Another, linebacker Jordan Whiting, was suspended for just the first game. (A sixth player, linebacker Dorian Bell, has subsequently been suspended for the first five games but he is no longer with the team.)

Ohio State goes before the NCAA's committee on infractions Friday. The university has vacated the 12-1 season in 2010, including the bowl win, in addition to self-imposing a two-year NCAA probation. The committee can add to those sanctions with a bowl ban or by restricting Ohio State's recruiting, or it can accept the penalties the university has proposed.

After months of unending scrutiny and a series of embarrassing revelations of possible violations, getting back on the field served as a tonic for Buckeyes fans and everyone on the team.

"It's therapeutic for a lot of us -- as much for the coaches as it is the players," Fickell said.

The Buckeyes open the season on Sept. 3 at home against Akron.

Even in a typical year, this would be a chaotic month of practice. The Buckeyes must replace seven starters on defense and three on offense -- and that doesn't include those who will miss almost half of the season due to suspensions.

Fickell and his staff will be keeping a close watch on four candidates to replace Pryor. Joe Bauserman, a 25-year-old former minor-league baseball prospect who was Pryor's backup last season, has the most experience. The best passer might be redshirt freshman Taylor Graham, the son of former Buckeyes signal-caller Kent Graham, who spent 11 years in the NFL. Perhaps the best athlete is sophomore Kenny Guiton, capable of moving the chains when running or passing. And the wild card is freshman Braxton Miller, an acclaimed recruit from suburban Dayton, given every chance during spring ball to take the job.

Of course, that was when Tressel was the head coach. But there have been no other substantial changes to the offensive staff and Fickell, a former defensive player in addition to coach, says he will rely on his offensive coaches' decisions.

No matter, Fickell isn't getting involved. He repeatedly declined to discuss individual players or positions, saying he preferred to focus on the whole team.

Of the situation at quarterback, he said, "We're going to let it play out."

First Day of Fall Camp: 40 Things to Watch For
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is finally here, Buckeye fans.

The countdown clocks finally read “0 days” as Ohio State opens camp with the first of 29 fall practices. That means 29 practices to find a starting quarterback and 29 practices to get this team ready to play on opening day without a handful of its best players.

We give you 40 things to watch for this fall to get ready for the season-opener against Akron on Sept. 3:

1. What the offense will look like in the post-Jim Tressel, post-Terelle Pryor era.

2. Joe Bauserman’s ability to move the offense, or lack there of.

3. How much Braxton Miller has expanded his knowledge of the passing game since the spring.

4. Which of the other two quarterbacks—Taylor Graham or Kenny Guiton—will make a serious push for the starting spot. 

5. How often Miller gets to work with the first-team offense early in camp.

6. Where they choose to use Jordan Hall offensively.

7. Which tailback(s) get the bulk of the carries with the first-team offense knowing Boom Herron cannot play until week six.

8. How the staff choose to handle guys like Herron and DeVier Posey, who are used to taking all their reps with the first group.

9. What Rod Smith and Jaamal Berry can do when they finally get to run behind the first group of offensive line.

10. How they fair finally going up against Ohio State’s first-team defense.

11. Where Carlos Hyde fits and what type of shape he is in at the start of fall camp.

12. How much the staff plans to use Jake Stoneburner as a wide receiver knowing that Posey is suspended for five games.

13. Whether Reid Fragel is ready to jump back in the mix after his recent trip to the hospital for a staph infection.

14. How much Jeff Heuerman has progressed from the spring and what role he will play behind Stoneburner and Fragel.

15. Whether Philly Brown is ready to take the next step by adding dependable hands to his amazing speed.

16. Which of the other receivers step up in Posey’s absence.

17. If freshmen Devin Smith and Evan Spencer will put the pressure on some of the more veteran receivers like Chris Fields and Verlon Reed.

18. What role T.Y. Williams can have on an offense desperate for playmakers.

19. Which of the freshmen offensive linemen are ready to contribute right away.

20. Which of the veteran offensive linemen are going to slide into the spots vacated by Justin Boren, Bryant Browning and Mike Adams, who will miss the first five games of the season.

21. How much of a leadership role will seniors like Michael Brewster and J.B. Shugarts take offensively.

22. How far ahead the defensive line will be considering the guys they have coming back and the talent they brought in.

23. If Garrett Goebel can lock down the nose tackle spot, allowing Johnathan Hankins to slide over and play the 3-technique like Jim Heacock and the staff would prefer.

24. Which young player will step up to play behind Nathan Williams at the Leo position while Solomon Thomas is suspended.

25. If any of the freshmen are good enough to crack the rotation on the defensive line.

26. Whether the Buckeyes will be hurting at linebacker after all the attrition they have faced since last season.

27. How much Heacock and the staff decide to use the Sam linebacker position now that they have a healthy Tyler Moeller playing the Star.

28. Whether this is finally the year where Etienne Sabino locks down a starting role on the defense.

29. How good Curtis Grant can’t be from the moment his feet hit the ground.

30. What kind of impact Mike Vrabel can have as a first-time coach.

31. Whether Moeller is completely recovered from the head and pectoral injuries that have cost him the bulk of his playing career.

32. Where Christian Bryant will find a home and how the Buckeyes will get him on the field.

33. Who will step up to claim the starting corner spot across from Travis Howard.

34. What kind of impact Doran Grant can have as a freshman at the cornerback position.

35. Whether Orhian Johnson can take the next step and avoid having his starting job taken by one of the talented youngsters behind him.

36. How ready C.J. Barnett will be coming off the knee injury that derailed a promising 2010 season.

37. If Corey Brown can overcome his injury and return to any semblance of the kid who was a 5-star prospect as a high school senior.

38. How much Drew Basil has improved as kicker from his freshman to sophomore season.

39. The legend that is Bryce Haynes.

40. Luke Fickell being in charge of his very first practices in the post-Tressel era at Ohio State.

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