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Last updated: 05/03/2011 8:24 AM

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Football
Spring Forward: Offensive Players on the Rise
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As expected, this spring produced a number of new names in interesting places as the Buckeyes begin to piece together what their offense will look like to start the 2011 season.

They know they will be without four of their key starters on offense, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Boom Herron, which means a whole new look for interim head coach Luke Fickell.

With Jim Tressel suspended for the first five games, Fickell will almost certainly turn the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and his staff, but Ohio State will need some young players to emerge if they are going to survive in the absence of Pryor, Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams.

With an unusual supply of opportunities available this spring, a number of players are headed in the right direction after the first 15 practices of the off-season. As always, fall camp will be much more important in determining who sees the field once the season starts, but here’s a look at some offensive players who helped themselves during the spring.

Taylor Graham
Photo by Jim Davidson
Taylor Graham

QB Taylor Graham — We don’t know exactly how or why Graham slid ahead of Kenny Guiton as the No. 2 quarterback in the rotation, but it seems like he did himself some favors this spring. Most people weren’t exactly sure what to expect from the son of former Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham because of his injury problems. He had a big arm coming out of high school, but it takes more than that to play at the next level. Graham showed he has a few other tools that could make him an attractive option in the fall. He still needs to work on his accuracy, and his foot speed is going to be a disadvantage in the quarterback competition, but this team needs someone who can sling the football to prevent teams from stacking eight or nine in the box.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

QB Braxton Miller — Miller’s first spring in Columbus was a great one as the young freshman proved he deserves a shot to be Ohio State’s opening day starter at quarterback. He didn’t exactly blow past anyone in the rotation, but he did more with less than any of the other three candidates. When he finally got his chance to play with the first-team offense in the spring game, Miller did not disappoint. In his four drives, two of which came against the first-team defense, Miller put 17 points on the board, including a touchdown pass to Corey “Philly” Brown. His quarterback rating was 136.93, better than anyone but Graham, whose rating jumped more than 100 points with his 68-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Williams.

RB Jordan Hall — Ohio State’s No. 3 back from a year ago, Hall was already considered to be the top option to replace Herron at the tailback spot for the first five games. He is undersized, even more so than Herron or Jaamal Berry, but Hall is electric with the ball and has the ability to navigate through traffic. He will likely be one of the Buckeyes’ primary offensive weapons, even after the suspended players return, because of his ability to catch the ball as well as run it. He may be a better receiving option right now than any of the wideouts vying to replace Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher.

Jaamal Berry
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jaamal Berry

RB Jaamal Berry — Berry’s spring game was a bit of an enigma, but this kid had a very strong spring and could be in the backfield on the first series against Akron this fall. He’s that good and only getting better.

RB Rod Smith — When it comes to running the football, it would be hard to top the spring by redshirt freshman Rod Smith. He’s not as advanced as Herron, who showed off his abilities in the spring game, but Smith is a no-nonsense kind of back. He has good burst, but the main thing you look for in a back like Smith is consistent production and that’s what he showed this spring. During both the jersey scrimmage and the spring game, Smith was good for 4-5 yards a pop. He hits the hole hard and it looks hard to slow down his momentum. He is definitely a chain-mover; a perfect complement to what the smaller backs bring.

WR Verlon Reed — We didn’t get to see a whole lot of Reed this spring other than his 17-yard touchdown catch in the spring game, but he appears to have made a name for himself. Even Tressel named Reed as his darkhorse candidate of the spring, but he wasn’t the only one raving about Reed. A number of his teammates on both sides of the ball singled him out as a guy making plays at the receiver position, and everyone knows how desperate the Buckeyes will be for guys who can do that in the fall.

TE Jeff Heuerman — Tressel was already saying good things about Heuerman before he ever hit the practice field, and the freshman out of Naples, Fla. did his best not to disappoint. While he is still running third behind Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel, Heuerman proved he can be that pass-catching option at tight end if the Buckeyes choose to split Stoneburner out wide more while Posey is out.

Andtrew Norwell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Andrew Norwell

OT Andrew Norwell — Considering he looked good last year as a freshman, Norwell’s spring should have come as little surprise to anyone. A natural tackle with a thick, sturdy frame, Norwell was getting reps at both tackle spots this spring and will certainly be a factor on the offensive line in the fall. He could be the opening-day starter at left tackle, but Norwell actually proved himself to be more versatile than expected, playing some left guard along with right tackle this spring. He still needs to work on bending his hips, but Norwell has a bright future ahead of him.

OT Marcus Hall — Not to be outdone by Norwell, Hall will be right there at the left tackle spot when camp opens in the fall. After redshirting last season, he will be hungrier than ever to get on the field this season, and he did everything in the spring to put himself in the right position. Like Norwell, Hall can play both tackle and guard, but probably will be used at tackle considering their lack of depth while Adams is out.

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