What Will the Offense Look Like?
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The questions surrounding the future of Ohio State football are as expansive as they are unknown.
It has been more than 10 years since the program faced any real uncertainty and more than three decades since this type of adversity.
Where the program is headed and who will be the one leading it remain two of the big picture questions, but the 2011 team is focused on the here and now. With Luke Fickell taking over for Jim Tressel, it is clear that the Buckeyes will continue to be led by their defense, which is in turn led by defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.
What about the offense?
Much like Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel was intimately involved in nearly every aspect of Buckeye football.
While he didn’t meddle too much on the defensive side of things, Tressel made sure to have his finger prints on everything Ohio State did offensively. That often led to boredom, frustration or even anger from fans who grew tired of the conservative Tresselball style of offense, but it is hard to argue with the success.
Although the Buckeyes came up short in back-to-back BCS national championship games, the last decade was marked by dominance from Ohio State over the rest of the Big Ten, particularly Michigan. Ohio State is coming off two-straight BCS bowl victories and it does not sound like Fickell is planning to overhaul the system in the wake of Tressel’s departure.
“Coach (Jim) Bollman has been our offensive coordinator here for 10 years now, and I don't see anything changing,” Fickell said during his introductory press conference.
“I know that they do an unbelievable job over there, making sure that they're focused on their talents and using them in the best way possible.”
That is not exactly reassuring to Buckeye fans, who have long targeted Bollman as the mastermind behind the three-yards and a cloud of Dave offense that often leads to more field goals than touchdowns.
While Bollman served as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator during Tressel’s entire in Columbus, he was not the one with the final say. That of course belonged to Tressel, who took input from both Bollman and assistant head coach Darrell Hazell.
Two parts of that brain trust are now gone, with Hazell taking the vacant head coaching job at Kent State long before Tressel’s departure, but maybe things won’t be so different after all.
“There's a fine line between reality and perception,” Fickell said with a sheepish grin.
“He was our offensive coordinator the past 10 years and he will continue to call the plays.”
Despite his own background as a defensive player and coach with the Buckeyes, Fickell expects to be more involved with the offense as the interim head coach than Tressel was with the defense, which he typically left entirely up to Heacock, Fickell and the other defensive assistants.
“I've got the utmost confidence in the offensive staff and coach Bollman as the offensive coordinator," said Fickell, who played defensive nose guard for the Buckeyes in the mid 1990’s.
“I just want to make sure they understand more so for the kids that I care, that I have a presence and that I care what's going on with them. It's not about me calling a play or asking to do something different.”
In reality, Bollman will likely call the plays with heavy input from running backs coach Dick Tressel—brother of Jim and former head coach at Hamline University—and quarterbacks coach Nic Siciliano, along with new wide receivers coach Stan Drayton.
Drayton is an interesting piece to the puzzle because he is the lone outsider in the group. The former running backs coach both at Florida and Tennessee, Drayton was not a part of the Tressel coaching tree in the past, and would seem to bring a different dimension to the offensive coaching room.
Ultimately, however, the buck stops with Fickell.
“We are going to play to our strengths,” the 37-year old said.
“It's not much different defensively. If we have three tailbacks, we'll put three tailbacks out there. We're going to play to our strengths and we'll find out what those strengths are come fall camp.”
Those strengths used to revolve around quarterback Terrelle Pryor, but the offense will look much different this fall without Tressel, Hazell, Pryor and team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher. The Buckeyes have DeVier Posey back, but not until the sixth week of the season, which means having three tailbacks on the field could very well be a reality for Fickell and the coaching staff.
Even with starter Boom Herron suspended for five games, the Buckeyes have a loaded backfield and the coaches know they need to find a way to get their most talented players on the field. That includes speedy junior Jordan Hall, who will likely find himself lined up in the slot more often this fall, much like Brandon Saine a year ago.
Hall recently Tweeted that his position is “offensive playmaker,” which could open more opportunities for guys like Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith to get time at tailback.
The Buckeyes will also be breaking in a new starting quarterback this fall, with four players vying to replace Pryor under center. Whoever it is, Fickell feels confident the offense will not miss a beat.
“I promise you that they're going to continue to use their talents in the best way,” he said.
“And we have the utmost confidence in coach Bollman and the entire offensive staff.”
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