Practice Report: Bucks Make Changes before USC
By Brandon Castel
On Saturday, Ohio State safety Anderson Russell was burned for both of Navy’s touchdown passes, including an 85-yarder in the fourth quarter that completely changed the feel of the game.
By Tuesday, Russell found himself working with the second-team defense in practice as the Buckeyes appear ready to start junior Jermale Hines at safety in their biggest game of the year against USC this Saturday.
“Jermale is definitely a versatile guy,” said senior cornerback Andre Amos after practice Tuesday. “He can do a lot of different things; he can cover and he can stop the run, so he can definitely play ball.”
Playing a base defense, the Buckeyes used Hines on the strong side of the field with the first-team defense because of his ability to play to run, while sliding senior captain Kurt Coleman over to play the free safety spot to better utilize his skills in pass coverage.
Russell found himself playing free safety with the second group next to redshirt freshman Orhian Johnson, who was back in practice after missing the opener with a leg injury, but there’s a good possibility Russell will still be heavily involved in the OSU defense going forward.
“Anderson’s made a lot of great plays here and he’s been a really big part of the defense. He knows the things he has to get done, now it’s just that time where he can focus in and get back,” Amos said.
The Buckeyes had been toying with the idea – at least in practice – of switching Hines and Russell in the nickel package, putting Russell back at the “Star” position where he played as the nickel-back in 2007. The decision probably has a lot to do with the staff’s desire to get more reps for Hines, who likely takes over as one of OSU’s starting safeties next season, but there’s question it comes as a direct result of mishaps by Russell in the passing game Saturday.
“The last game he wasn’t saying he let the team down or anything. He knew what he was doing, he played out of his one-11 th,” senior captain Doug Worthington said.
“We just have to be sure we don’t have that this week, have those same mistakes. It’s something I would rather have happen last week than this week.”
According to Worthington and a number of other teammates, Russell is in good spirits after giving up the last three touchdowns Ohio State has allowed through the air, including the game-losing score in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas.
This decision to bench Russell, however, says something different about his psyche.
“As you play this game, at a young age, the older you get the more you just forget,” Amos said.
“Once you get to this level you’ve got to understand that guys are going to make great plays, there’s a lot of people on scholarship besides yourself and you just have to put the good and the bad behind you.”
Cut and Run
The safety spot wasn’t the only position that saw changes on the defense Tuesday. After facing cut blocks all afternoon from the Navy offensive front, OSU nose tackle Dexter Larimore was replaced by senior Todd Denlinger on the first-team defensive line Tuesday as he tried to recuperate from some major soreness.
“He was just a little sore this practice. Were trying to get him healthy for Friday,” Worthington said. “He’s (healing). He’s had his bad days but he’s getting better and he’s going to be ready for Saturday.”
Another starter the Buckeyes are hoping to have back in the lineup against USC is wideout DeVier Posey. The sophomore out of Cincinnati caught two passes against Navy in his first start as the replacement for Brian Robiskie, but missed the entire second half with an ankle injury.
Junior Dane Sanzenbacher is hoping to see No. 8 back out there in the very near future.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m always hoping he’s back out there and I’m pretty sure he’s feeling better,” Sanzenbacher said.
“He does give you that extra element, being a longer guy, a taller guy, to go out and get that ball.”
Although Posey was in full pads Tuesday, he also had on a yellow jersey and did not take part in team drills. The same cannot be said, however, for senior Ray Small, who returned to practice after missing the season-opener with an unknown illness.
“I think he feels fine. I think he feels pretty good,” Sanzenbacher said of Small, who was working primarily with the second-team offense Tuesday.
With Small out of the lineup, Sanzenbacher found himself returning punts against Navy and admits it was a little intimidating the first time he ran out there on what Head Coach Jim Tressel calls “the most important play in football.”
“I felt comfortable after the first one,” he said.
“The first one out there you’re always a little bit nervous, but our job as a return, we’re always told that all we need is the ball and everything else is a bonus.”
That would make Small the best in the Big Ten at getting bonuses last season, and Sanzenbacher expects No. 82 will assume his role as the team’s primary punt returner against USC despite being listed as Sanzenbacher’s backup on this week’s official depth chart.
“I’m sure if Ray’s back, he’ll be out there doing that, but if they need me to help out there I’m fine with that,” he said.