COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — There is no question Ohio State’s offense has been sluggish.
Before Buckeyes fans begin panicking, however, it’s important to remember it’s only spring.
With quarterback Terrelle Pryor recovering from foot surgery, and with not enough offensive linemen, the Buckeyes have foundered.
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Work needs to be done at wide receiver and at quarterback, especially since Pryor will serve a five-game suspension to open the season.
Otherwise, it’s been a normal spring with lots of worries, experiments and questions.
After the defense dominated in a weather-shortened scrimmage last Saturday — not allowing a touchdown and barely allowing a completion — lineman John Simon was asked if there was reason to be worried about the offense.
“We see them in practice every day and we know that the offense is very good,” he said.
It all begins at quarterback. Pryor did so much cheerleading this spring he should have carried pompoms. He has been a constant presence at practice, hovering around the younger players, shouting encouragement and walking around the perimeter of drills.
He had surgery in January to stabilize ligaments in his right foot. After wearing a boot, he’s now close to 100 percent but will still skip spring workouts, which will be capped by Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium.
With Pryor limited to just soft tossing on the sideline, for the most part, the spring has been a massive audition for senior-to-be Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and incoming freshman Braxton Miller. Each has had his moment in the sun — as much sun as there has been in this otherwise rainy, dreary spring — but all also have miles to go to gain the confidence of coaches and their teammates.
“They’re all working extremely hard,” said right tackle J.B. Shugarts. “They all want that spot but the thing about it is they’re all helping each other while they battle for that spot. They’re doing a great job reading the coverage, learning the offense and having command in the huddle and keeping their poise on the field.”
With Pryor’s suspension for accepting improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo shop owner, the four top quarterback candidates are vying for the starting job with the Sept. 3 opener against Akron a full 19 weeks from Saturday.
Starting left tackle Mike Adams, tailback Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey and backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas are also suspended, and all are practicing this spring.
“Some people will say perhaps this guy should be the quarterback or whatever,” said coach Jim Tressel, also suspended for the first five games for knowing about the players’ violations and not reporting them to anyone except Pryor’s “mentor” back in Jeannette, Pa. “But we have to just keep evaluating every little thing they do.”
The Buckeyes have been hamstrung up front because of a lack of linemen. Starting guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning, along with valuable backups Andrew Miller and Connor Smith, graduated. With only one of four incoming recruits (Tommy Brown) participating this spring, that means the Buckeyes had just eight scholarship linemen available.
Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley have been working out at a variety of spots this spring, with Shugarts at right tackle and Mike Brewster at center.
The Buckeyes are also thin at wide receiver. Team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher graduated, but Posey (53 catches, 848 yards, seven TDs) is back.
There have been frequent dropped passes, bad routes and missed assignments. Part of the problem has been the uncertainty surrounding the quarterbacks. That’s why tight end Jake Stoneburner and the backs have been playing a larger role in the passing game than usual.
“It’s nowhere close to what it’s going to be next year,” Brewster said of the offense. “You’ve got guys playing everywhere. You’ve got eight to 10 linemen, just trying to mix it up, just to try to get guys out on the field. (Pryor) is not getting any reps right now — all that. It’s definitely a little foundation we need to build on going into the summer and fall.”