Thursday, April 8, 2010

THERE'S A LOT OF COMPETITION GOING ON IN BUCKEYES BACKFIELD

Photo of Dan Herron, left, and Brandon Saine by Darla Dunkle-Hudnell

COLUMBUS — If the Ohio State backfield was under water, it would be deeper than the Mariana Trench.

As of right now, senior Brandon Saine and junior Daniel "Boom" Herron are clearly the top two candidates for the most playing time in the Buckeyes' backfield. But, when you add do-it-all sophomore Jordan Hall and super shifty redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, the battle for carries may be more intense than four lions fighting over a gazelle.

"We really push each other," Saine said, following practice on Thursday in Columbus. "It's more than just me and Boom, we have a bunch of great tailbacks in the backfield. We really compete with one another, but it doesn't keep us from pushing each other to be the best we can be."

Herron reminisced about when he and Saine were the young bucks of the backfield, fighting for playing time just like Hall and Berry are doing now.

"It's very fun to see so many guys fighting hard for the position," Herron laughed. "It's a lot like when me and Brandon came in. We were hungry to get out there on the field and make some plays. But, it's definitely a good thing to see all those guys competing, too. It's good for the team."

Through five practices this spring, Hall and Berry have split carries with the second team offense. Both have displayed some incredible talents that will make it extremely hard for running backs coach, Dick Tressel, to keep these two dynamic players off the field.

Tressel — brother of head coach Jim Tressel — said that he doesn't see Hall or Berry backing down one bit from the competition.

"They have to embrace the competition. That's part of their personality or they wouldn't have signed on to be a Buckeye," Tressel said. "When you decide to be a Buckeye, you're saying 'hey, I want to compete with the best and against the best.'

"I think what you're seeing out of Jordan Hall is a really good football player," Tressel continued. "He's just a good football player, I mean, he's a ball player. He can return the kickoff, he can get the block, make the quick cut, make the tough play — which we saw last year already.

"What you're seeing out of Jaamal Berry right now is his ability to have a little burst, a little juice. But he's hasn't played. So he still has to go through a learning curve. You're seeing his talent, but you're seeing a guy progressing through a learning curve."

During last season's Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship campaign, both Saine and Herron nearly split the carries 50/50.

"I see it going about the same way this year as it did last year," Saine said. "Hopefully, though, we can get on the field at the same time, but we'll see."

Saine finished last season with 739 yards (5.1 per carry), while Herron added 600. With quarterback Terrelle Pryor — the team's leading rusher in 2009 with 779 yards — looking more and more comfortable as a passer, his carries will most likely be cut in half.

So, with more yards to be had in the backfield because of Pryor's progression as a drop back passer, can the duo of Saine and Herron each reach 1,000 yards rushing in 2010?

"It would be odd (to have two 1,000-yard rushers), but you never know." Saine smiled. "I've talked with Boom a lot and we just want to see the team do good. The yards will come, the carries will come and everything like that. Whatever happens, happens. But the wins are the biggest thing."

LET'S GO INSIDE — After the first four practices of the spring were played in mild temperatures, Thursday's session was cold and windy.

Midway through the session Thursday, the coaches moved the practice indoors where the competition got much more intense.

After running a few drills, the team lined up in a circle and played a little game which matched a defensive and offensive player against each other in what seemed to be a football version of sumo wrestling.

One of the most notable matchups was left guard Justin Boren against defensive tackle John Simon. Simon won the battle, drawing the largest roar from the Buckeye players standing by.

After it went back and forth between the offense and defense, Jim Tressel said that the winner would be decided in the final pairing between linebacker Brian Rolle and tailback Boom Herron. Each player clashed, gave it their all and the winner was ...

"Coach said that he'll have to watch the film," Herron laughed. "We were kind of going back and forth. I guess it wasn't really a finish, so he said he would watch the film and see who won."

STAR OF THURSDAY'S PRACTICE IS ... Junior cornerback Donnie Evege.

Evege, who has been filling in on the first team defense for the injured cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, has really come on this spring. Thursday, the speedy Evege was in top form, as he batted away several passes in scrimmage drills and even made the play of the day, when he stepped in front of a Terrelle Pryor pass — intended for DeVier Posey — and raced the distance for the touchdown.

Evege, who was a special teams star for the Buckeyes last season, may get some significant playing time this season as a corner or nickel back.

TOP RECRUIT IN THE HOUSE — Huber Heights Wayne quarterback Braxton Miller — the top recruiting prospect in the nation for 2011 — was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Thursday, along with his father, Kevin Miller, Wayne head coach Jay Minton and Wayne assistant coach Pat Wood.

Miller, wearing Ohio State garb from head to toe, watched the entire practice from the sideline inside the facility.

Following the session, Miller, along with his coaches, were able to hang with Wayne alums Marcus Freeman — now an OSU assistant — and defensive back Donnie Evege. Miller also had an opportunity to chat with head coach Jim Tressel on the sideline for a few moments after practice, sharing a few laughs in the process.

Miller looked very comfortable in the OSU setting. He is definitely the Buckeyes No. 1 target for next year's class.