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COLUMBUS — The Buckeyes have put on a brave face and started spring football practice, attempting to proceed with their preparations for the coming season as if things are normal.
But for the Ohio State program at this juncture, business as usual is about as unusual as it can get.
Due to the fact that suspensions will force them to start the 2011 season minus five key players and their head coach, the Buckeyes are dealing with unprecedented changes. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel hopes to avoid making this spring a season of confusion.
"Spring practice and the teaching and the things that go on, on a day-to-day basis, have not changed, and will not change," Tressel said this past week as the Buckeyes prepared to spend the next month getting their house in order.
What they know at this point is that replacements must be found for starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting tailback Dan "Boom" Herron, starting wide receiver DeVier Posey, and starting left tackle Mike Adams. Backup defensive end Solomon Thomas must be replaced on the depth chart as well.
Those five players will serve an NCAA-mandated five-game suspension to open 2011, missing the games against Akron, Toledo, Miami, Colorado, and Michigan State for their roles in selling memorabilia and gear for cash and discounts on tattoos.
Tressel, who was made aware of the infraction almost a year ago via an e-mail from a former OSU player but failed to report it, will miss the first five games due to university-imposed sanctions that the NCAA could stiffen when its investigation into the matter is completed.
In an administrative move last week, linebackers coach and former Buckeye Luke Fickell was named interim head coach in Tressel's absence. Finding the personnel to replace the suspended players, plus the wealth of talent the Buckeyes lost when last season's senior class completed its eligibility, is a much more complicated task.
"It's going to be a little bit different team," Tressel said. "There are some folks that have played a whole lot of football that aren't here anymore. We're going to miss a whole bunch of guys, which gives a lot of opportunity for the next group of people to step up and take over and see what the 2011 Buckeyes are all about."
In the sweepstakes to replace Pryor, who will likely sit out all of spring practice while he continues to heal following surgery to repair an injury to his foot that occurred in Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas, senior backup Joe Bauserman is getting the first look.
Bauserman worked primarily with the first unit when the Buckeyes opened practice on Thursday. Redshirt sophomore Kenny Guiton has been drilling with the second team, while freshman Braxton Miller started with the third team.
Tressel said a lot of the spring will be spent sorting out the situation at quarterback to determine which of the candidates can "lead the offense down the field."
At running back, Herron did most of the first-day work with the top unit, while backups Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry also spent time with that group. Redshirt freshman Rod Smith and sophomore Carlos Hyde have worked with the second and third teams.
Tressel downplayed the significance of a player being assigned to work with any certain group at this point, five months before the start of the season.
"The beauty of spring practice is, whether a guy is working with the first unit, the second unit, or whatever it happens to be, everyone is getting all of the reps," Tressel said.
There will be plenty of personnel shuffling on the defensive side too, since seven starters need to be replaced in that unit. Fickell said the overhaul on the defensive side will be the most significant one Ohio State has experienced in at least five years.
"That's the exciting time for us as coaches," Fickell said. "To me, this is a much more exciting spring, when you're not sure exactly what you're going to have when they walk out there."