Tuesday, August 16, 2011

THOUGHTS ON TUESDAY'S PRACTICE: OSU QB PICTURE BECOMING CLEARER

Braxton Miller (right) and Joe Bauserman.
AP/Terry Gilliam
COLUMBUS — Although Ohio State head football coach Luke Fickell won't admit it, the Buckeyes quarterback picture is becoming clearer, or so it certainly appeared on Tuesday morning in Columbus.

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller seem to have separated themselves from the pack, running with the first and second offense during practice Tuesday, while Ken Guiton and Taylor Graham split reps with the third unit.

Thus far in camp, the Buckeyes have run the quarterbacks equally with each of the three offensive units, so having Bauserman and Miller taking all the reps with the first two groups, gives one an idea of which players the Buckeyes are favoring under center.

Fickell stated after practice — although without conviction — that he doesn't have a depth chart set in place at quarterback as of yet.

"It's day-by-day maybe," Fickell said. "I think the biggest thing is we're going to challenge those guys mentally and move them around and see how they react and respond. I think that everything will be a test."

This week is the biggest test for the four quarterbacks involved in the race. Not only are the pads on and the practices live, the fall camp jersey scrimmage is this Saturday morning at Ohio Stadium and the performances in that session will surely paint the picture.

Still, Fickell won't divulge whether the job will be won by this weekend.

"We haven't set any dates, but on a daily basis we kind of move them around just to see how they react," Fickell said. "That's the thing about any position is how they react when things happen, whether that's moving from ones to twos, or ones to threes ... We're just trying to do things to challenge them mentally."

Miller looked more comfortable running the offense on Tuesday than he has during all of camp thus far. His passes were thrown with confidence and his presence in the pocket was more under control. He delivered some crisp, precise passes during practice Tuesday, including a 20-yard bullet over the middle to Zach Boren — in live 11-on-11 action — that the fullback took another 30 before being touched.

Although Bauserman took the majority of the reps with the first team on Tuesday — and fared pretty well — there is no doubt that Miller will see the field early and often once the season begins. Or so it seems that's the plan.

Miller is getting a lot of extra attention from quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano after each series, and he even received some counsel throughout practice from senior wide receiver DeVier Posey, who was inactive on Tuesday.

Another hint that Bauserman and Miller are the top two quarterbacks on the Buckeyes' depth chart is that neither player is helping call in signals from the sideline, something usually assigned to the backups. Guiton and Graham, along with Justin Siems, have been performing those duties thus far in camp.

However, even with the apparent signs, Fickell insists there is no leader in the clubhouse.

"It's too hard to tell," Fickell said. "The thing about camp is, you know, one day goes up, one day goes down, someone has to win, someone has to lose. That's just the name of the game. I think we've all done our fair share of having our moments.

"The most important thing is that we're seeing some consistency. The energy and effort has been there and that's what has been exciting."

I have a feeling the excitement will heat up even more the week progresses.

BACKFIELD BATTLE JUST AS INTENSE ... The quarterback race is getting all the ink thus far in camp, but the battle going on in the Buckeyes' backfield is just as intriguing, as four players are vying for playing time.

Actually five players if you count senior Dan "Boom" Herron, who won't see action until October — after being suspended the first five games by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits.

The other four runners — junior Jordan Hall, sophomores Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde, and red-shirt freshman Rod Smith — are all fighting for playing time in the crowded Buckeye backfield, and doing it at an extremely high level. All four backs are impressing in camp, and making Coach Fickell's job quite difficult, to say the least.

"That's one of the tougher positions on the field, because it's the one position that takes the most hits," Fickell said. "Our kids got to keep on getting up and keep on coming back after it and wearing people out. I think we've got a group of guys that are very impressive and I'll be curious to see how they stand out when we get to the scrimmages and things that are really live."

Although Hall and Herron took most of the reps with the first unit Tuesday, Hyde, Berry and Smith have all gotten equal opportunities to show what they have to offer. Hall has also run quite a bit at slot receiver, so a backfield committee could be in the offing.

"You know what, you never know," Fickell said, about the possibility of a running back by committee approach. "That's the thing, when you get your opportunities you've got to take advantage of them. If you take advantage of them, obviously there will be more opportunities. There's no substitute for competition."

Even though the competition is intense, Berry said the guys are close and pushing one another to be the best they can be.

"We're just working on making each other better," Berry said Tuesday. "Just working hard, getting our playbook down pat and see when that day comes who will be the starter.

"All the backs are doing really good. We're just helping each other get better, playing every rep like it's a game."

A STORM IS BREWING ... After losing their leading tackler last season to graduation in Brian Rolle, the Buckeyes need someone to fill the hole in the middle of the linebacker corp. that the now Philadelphia Eagle has left behind.

Thus far, junior Storm Klein seems to be that bill filler.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound native of Newark has been making plays all camp long and has gotten the attention of Co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

The veteran coach thinks Klein could be the next Rolle at middle linebacker.

"We've been talking a little bit about Storm," Heacock said. "He hasn't done anything, you know, he really didn't play a lot last year. Right now, he looks like he might step up and take that role. I think he's done a good job."

PLAYS OF THE DAY ... The defense stole the show on Tuesday in the live two-minute drills, preventing the Buckeyes' offense from scoring by intercepting passes on all three possessions.

The first interception came from red-shirt freshman cornerback Bradley Roby, who picked off a Bauserman pass in the end zone. The Georgia-native read the play beautifully and hauled in the potential touchdown attempt.

The second pick came compliments of sophomore defensive back Christian Bryant. The Clevelander intercepted Miller, who was trying to connect with freshman receiver Devin Smith on a corner post.

The final interception was made by red-shirt freshman cornerback Adam Griffin, who picked off a Guiton pass, after the throw was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

That would be the final play of practice.