Buckeyes Looking for ‘Next Guy Up’
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Replacing star players is nothing new for Ohio State. Like most major football programs around the country, the Buckeyes typically do more reloading than rebuilding.
When they lose a 1,000-yard rusher like Antonio Pittman, they replace him with a top prospect like Beanie Wells. It doesn’t always work out quite that well, but Jim Tressel and his staff did an excellent job of replacing talent over the years, especially since 2004.
The Buckeyes have lost plenty of talent over the last six seasons, but it hasn’t stopped them from winning Big Ten titles, beating Michigan or playing in BCS bowl games. The program seemed to be cruising in the right direction when scandal brought things to a screeching halt.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Everything from the head coach to recruiting has been affected by the events of the last seven months, but the players know that feeling sorry for themselves is not going to help them prepare for next season.
“Everyone has a plan until they're hit,” senior safety Nate Oliver said.
“We've been hit pretty hard this offseason with everything going on, but the guys have come closer together and we're just going to move on from here and continue to work.”
That work starts in the summer with off-season workouts and 7-on-7 drills with the seniors. Those guys have some big shoes to fill from last year’s senior class, including NFL 1st round draft pick Cameron Heyward and six other starters on defense.
“Our main theme as far as losing seniors is concerned is 'Next guy up,’” Oliver said.
“I know we lost a lot of people on defense, but that's the beauty about Ohio State. You're always going to have guys that can step up. As long as we have people out there doing their 1/11th, we should be fine.”
The concept is hardly unique to Ohio State, but things are a little bit different in Columbus than anywhere else in the country. Along with replacing team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher and the rest of the senior class, the Buckeyes now must also find a replacement at the most important position on the field.
Junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor had led them to two-straight BCS bowl victories, but he excused himself from the 2011 season after mounting allegations surfaced that he accepted improper benefits beyond the money and tattoos that were reported in December.
Along with replacing Pryor for the entire season, the Buckeyes are charged with the task of holding down three critical spots on the offense while tailback Boom Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams serve their mandatory five-game suspensions.
“Our theme has been 'Next guy up', so with these younger guys we're really gonna push them a lot harder than we have in the past to see who's going to be able to make plays for us and who's going to be ready to step up if need be,” said Oliver, a little-used senior competing for a spot on the defense.
“We have a great group of young guys; a lot of athletic guys, big guys, who are hungry. They're happy they're hear at The Ohio State University, and they're ready to play football.”
The concept for their summer theme came from an unexpected source, who happened to be visiting Columbus this off-season.
“'Next guy up' actually came from a speech that Jon Gruden gave to us,” Oliver said.
“He was talking to the Green Bay Packers and everything that happened to them in the Super Bowl how guys got injured and they had to have guys step up. They basically said the next guy up needs to go, so that's where we got it from.”
The Packers lost all-pro tight end JerMichael Finley and tailback Ryan Grant during the season. They also suffered a number of losses on defense, including middle linebacker Nick Barnett, and yet nothing could stand in their path to winning the Super Bowl.
The Buckeyes are taking on a similar mentality in 2011. They may be without their MVP, their quarterback and even their head coach, but the team is rallying around new head coach Luke Fickell.
“He's been here. He's played here. He's been in the trenches. He's a great leader,” center Michael Brewster said.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. I'm very excited about him being the coach here.”
The challenge of replacing Tressel will be immense; the pressure immeasurable. Those rooting against him will far outweigh those in his corner, but that’s what he signed up for.
After all, next guy up.
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