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Last updated: 04/20/2011 2:43 PM

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Football
What to Watch For in the Spring Game
By Tony Gerdeman

Saturday will be your first chance to see the 2011 version of the Ohio State football team. In an effort to keep you focused on something other than the weather, we've provided you with ten areas of interest to watch out for during the game.

Each of these subjects has emerged at some point in the spring, and the Spring Game will be a good opportunity for the rest of the Buckeye world to see what has already been talked about. If you want, you can even form your own opinions—though I wouldn't recommend it.

A Stacked Deck?

All four of the quarterbacks working this spring have gotten at least some action with the first-team receiving corps, but those reps vary from quarterback to quarterback. Only one quarterback is routinely working with walk-on receivers and a patchwork offensive line, and that's Braxton Miller, yet he's still performing well. Maybe his knowledge of the playbook is limited and he's being fed in small doses, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that anybody is eating chunks of playbook meat right now. Watching Miller make plays with limited resources makes you wonder how well he'd be performing with more around him. Yes, he'd also have to perform against a first-team defense, but the defense is deeper than the offense, so it's not like he's facing a bunch of Wolverines out there. We'll see if he gets more of a chance on Saturday, but don't be surprised if it's only cursory in nature.

The Star Trek Backfield

Open space: the final frontier. Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith, or for the pun-tastic purposes of this particular header, “Rod -N- Berry”, will certainly be two players to watch on Saturday. While Smith has been the talk of the spring (mostly because it's been the first chance for outsiders to actually see him carry the ball) it's been Berry who has performed very well while flying under the radar of the fans. With Boom Herron out for the first five games, and Jordan Hall splitting time between the slot and the backfield, there are carries to be had here, and Berry and Smith aren't letting this opportunity go to waste. Watch them on Saturday and see if you don't agree. Who knows, maybe when the season is all said and done, these two will boldly go where only one two-back Buckeye tandem has ever gone before—dual 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Fullhouse Front Four

Defensive end Nathan Williams will likely be the most disruptive defensive lineman on the team, which is why it has been so surprising to see a front four comprised of John Simon, Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy and Johnathan Hankins be unblockable at times this spring. You would think that a line comprised of essentially four defensive tackles would be a little less mobile than a traditional defensive line with two standard defensive ends, but you would be wrong. There's probably no such thing as a traditional defensive line at Ohio State anymore, let alone a standard defensive end. Versatility has been a key for the Buckeye defense in the back seven for years, and recently it seems that the front four is joining the fad. When you see four bull-rushers push an entire offense six yards backwards on Saturday, don't be surprised when these four are the ones responsible.

Drop It Like It's Hot

If you've read anything from anybody this spring about the Buckeyes, you know that the receivers' have had their issues catching the ball -all of them - even Devier Posey,though at a much reduced rate. Is it a lack of concentration? New receivers? Is it the fact that they have to deal with four different types of football throwers? Or is it just one of those things that happens in spring? We won't really know until we get into the fall and some of these questions start sorting themselves out. There are jobs to be won in this receiving corps, and a guy could go a long way in earning one of those jobs if he'd just hang on to the football. Ultimately, it comes down to concentration, and if you can't concentrate in practice, how in the world are you going to be able to shut everything out during a game?

Satisfied To Be Second

It's always interesting to see who steps up and steps out on the second and third teams, showing that they're not satisfied with being a back-up. Every team has back-ups, but not every team has 14 or 15 starters, and that's where the Buckeyes need to be. Players on the second unit who make their presence known not only catch the coaches' attentions, but they also catch the starter's attention. It makes everybody better, and the players know that if they produce, back-up or not, they'll see the field on Saturday. A few players who fit this bill are linebacker Dorian Bell, safety Jamie Wood and running back Carlos Hyde. Bell is stuck behind Andrew Sweat, so the coaches will have to get creative in getting him on the field in 2011. Wood separated his shoulder last Saturday, but was making plays even up until his last hit. Hyde knows he's in a battle, and instead of moping, he's taking that battle to a defense that is trying to tackle him. Everybody making everybody better, because that's what you have to do if you ever want to see the field.

Serious Business

The Jersey Scrimmage isn't the Spring Game. For years, you have been told that of the two, the Spring Game is nice, but the Jersey Scrimmage is the one that you'd rather see. Only a few have been fortunate enough to see it, until now. Emotions are higher, matchups are better, and there's actually something on the line. Granted, it may be tough to follow since there likely won't be much special teams involvement, and drives will stop and start with varying degrees of confusion to the public on hand. But as long as you watch the plays, regardless of where they're from or where they just were, you'll see that emotion and desire outlined in each snap. It's the offense against the defense. History's greatest opponents. What's not to love?

Don't Try To Keep Up

By the way, regarding the Jersey Scrimmage, if you're scoring at home—don't. It's impossible. Just about everything that happens is point-worthy. First downs, three-and-outs, sacks, turnovers, etc. Just know that at some point the defense is going to be up by about three touchdowns, and then the offense will come back thanks to red zone and goal line scrimmaging. Eventually, somehow, it will get to the point where the offense only needs a touchdown to win, or the defense needs a stop to secure the victory. Jim Tressel calls this “The Last Play in the World”, of which there may be three or four. I'm not saying it's fixed, but it's a very convenient plot device. Fortunately there's a good cause for the shenanigans—it helps simulate the stressful end-of-game situations that the Buckeyes will surely face this season.

Around The Corners

Travis Howard has emphatically locked one cornerback spot down for the Buckeyes, leaving three others—Dominic Clarke, Bradley Roby and Dionte Allen—to battle for the open one. All have had their moments, and all have their positives. Clarke is a student of the game, Roby seems to be a natural playmaker, and Allen is the wily veteran. If you could combine them all, you'd probably get somebody a lot like Travis Howard. Saturday will be the last chance for these three defensive backs to show themselves on the field, so expect to see the best characteristics of each of them on display. When people talk about the receivers struggling this spring, rarely do you hear it attributed to the cornerbacks. Maybe after Saturday, that will start to change.

Tackles Eligible

With starting right tackle J.B. Shugarts nursing a shoulder, and starting left tackle Mike Adams nursing a future five-game suspension, it's unclear how much either of these two will play on Saturday. In their place will be four players—Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and true freshman Tommy Brown. All have gotten reps at tackle, though Brown appears to be exclusively a right tackle. The other three, however, have moved around quite a bit. They will likely all get reps at the two tackle spots, so feel free to keep mental scorecards of how each of them do against a relentless and reloaded Buckeye defensive line.

Fresh Faces

Saturday will be the first time for the fans to see a multitude of players, both on offense and defense. All they know about them is what they've heard, and this weekend they'll finally get to see if the information they've gathered matches up with the wee snapshot they get this weekend, so let's talk about some players to keep an eye that have not yet been mentioned.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Graham has been impressive in the five-wide portion of the scrimmages, and has also shown a knack for knowing when to tuck and run. Receiver James Louis has had a quiet spring, but did have a catch or two last week. Many were surprised that he redshirted last year because he definitely has ability. Defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin can collapse an offensive line, and while he may not always clean the play up, sometimes making the mess is just as good. Even though he's not a freshman, redshirt sophomore Melvin Fellows may as well be. He only played in five games last year after redshirting in 2009. He's apparently healthy, and he's been showing it on the field. He's only going to get better, but after seeing him this spring, he already seems to be pretty good.

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