COLUMBUS — At some undefined point, between the end of the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas and the start of spring football three months later, the Ohio State Buckeyes became “his” team.
The phenom and former national high school player of the year spent a season in apprenticeship, and although he took over the starter's role only four games into the 2008 schedule, Terrelle Pryor was a rookie trying to cram months' worth of study into just days as the games kept coming, week after week.
“Last year, it was all new. I didn't know the offense, didn't know the defenses. I pretty much just jumped in,” Pryor said as the No. 6 ranked Buckeyes went through fall camp in preparation for tomorrow's season opener against Navy.
“I didn't get here until the summer, and there was so much to learn. Now, I know the defenses like that [Pryor snaps his fingers].”
That snap is indicative of the confidence oozing from every pore on his body as Pryor seeks to lead Ohio State to a fifth straight Big Ten championship. With 31 players gone from last year's Buckeyes, a lot is new, but not Pryor's swagger. He kept it throttled back in 2008, deferring to veteran quarterback Todd Boeckman and the glut of other seniors on the roster, but Pryor has put in the work and drawn the respect of his teammates.
“With so many guys gone, we are a different team now,” junior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
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“A lot of us have had to step up and take on new roles. Terrelle has done that from really the start of winter workouts. We're different and he's different. He just looks a lot more in command out there, and in the huddle. He looks comfortable and confident, and I like that look.”
Pryor directs an offense that likely will feature a half dozen new starters. Dan “Boom” Herron and Brandon Saine should tag team the tailback spot and present more slipperiness and less smash than the departed Chris “Beanie” Wells did over the last two seasons. At fullback a couple of freshmen — Adam Homan and Zach Boren — are making a case to play right away.
Sanzenbacher is the veteran in the receiving corps, while senior Ray Small works his way back into the lineup after an off-season suspension. DeVier Posey figures to start opposite Sanzenbacher, with Taurian Washington and freshman Duron Carter in the active receiver rotation.
Jake Ballard and Jake Stoneburner offer Pryor two huge targets at tight end, while the picture along the rest of the offensive front is a bit more fluid. Michigan transfer Justin Boren is a lock at one guard, with Bryant Browning at the other guard. Senior Jim Cordle mans right tackle, with junior Andrew Miller likely to go at left tackle. Sophomore Mike Brewster starts at center. Freshman Jack Mewhort is currently listed as Brewster's backup, but he is still a candidate to redshirt this season.
“There are a lot of new faces in the mix, but we have confidence in these guys to grow and develop into great players,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “Some of them haven't been on the field a lot yet, but they've been putting in the work in the weight room and on the practice field, and we hope they take full advantage of the opportunity.”
The Buckeyes' defense was more established coming into fall workouts with Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger returning at the tackles, and Thaddeus Gibson, Nathan Williams, Lawrence Wilson and Cameron Heyward back at the end positions. The front goes even deeper and should be the strength on the defensive side of the ball.
Ross Homan is the lone returning starter at linebacker, where the heavily decorated James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman must be replaced.
Likely starter Tyler Moeller was lost for the season to an off-the-field injury just before camp opened, so Austin Spitler and Brian Rolle should start at the other two linebacker posts.
In the secondary, Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell are back at the safeties, while Chimdi Chekwa again mans one corner, and Andre Amos returns after two seasons cut short by injury to start at the other corner.
“I like the way our defense has been coming together,” said Worthington, who will captain the Buckeyes along with Spitler and Coleman.
“I think we have more guys who can really contribute than in any other year since I've been here. There's a lot of depth at just about every position, and that should keep us fresh, and always attacking.”
The kicking work for the Buckeyes goes to Aaron Pettrey, who was the starter in 2006, then primarily handled kickoffs the past two seasons. Jon Thoma inherits the punting duties, while Herron and Saine are expected to return kicks, and Small will handle punt returns.
After opening with Navy, the Buckeyes jump into the national spotlight when No. 4 ranked Southern California comes to Ohio Stadium. A road game against Toledo in Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the Big Ten opener at home against Illinois complete what the Buckeyes are calling their “September to Remember”.
Contact Matt Markey at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6510.