COLUMBUS -- Luke Fickell is playing poker with a deck of cards that gets shuffled on every hand. He is playing chess in a format where some pieces are added to the board and others are removed with every move that is made.
The very fluid personnel list for the Ohio State Buckeyes this week will include senior running back Dan Herron, back from a lengthy suspension and returning to the playing rotation for the first time since the Sugar Bowl nine months ago. Herron was a first-team all-Big Ten pick last season, and has almost 2,200 career rushing yards and has scored 30 touchdowns.
Fickell also gets offensive lineman Marcus Hall back. Hall spent last week in Ohio while his teammates were in Nebraska, due to a one-game NCAA suspension for taking improper pay for a summer job. Hall started the first five games of this season, but is listed as a backup for Saturday's Big Ten game at unbeaten and No. 16 ranked Illinois.
Quarterback Braxton Miller, injured in the third quarter of the Nebraska game, is nursing a tender ankle but will likely be available against the Illini. The true freshman Miller was effective prior to being helped off the field, racking up 186 yards of offense against the Cornhuskers.
One chess piece off the board for the remainder of 2011 is senior defensive end Nathan Williams, the team's best pass rusher. Williams had been sidelined since injuring his knee in the season-opener against Akron, and Fickell said yesterday that a second round of surgery will end Williams' season.
Fickell also said that a new player enters the mix this week at quarterback, where the Buckeyes seemed handcuffed once Miller got hurt. Sophomore Kenny Guiton, who has barely had the opportunity to get his uniform dirty to this point, will be more involved with the offensive preparation for Illinois.
"Kenny will get some more reps, and that's a part of it," Fickell said about how Ohio State is addressing its shaky backup situation behind Miller. Senior Joe Bauserman took over when Miller got hurt at Nebraska and the Buckeyes imploded as Bauserman went 1-of-10 passing with a crucial interception.
"Kenny has been getting reps, and some of them have been at the quarterback position, some of them have been on special teams. Kenny has stayed involved a lot and showed the team and everybody how important it is to him. He'll get probably more and more opportunities in the weeks to come."
Fickell said three days of practice this week would produce the final determination on Miller's ability to perform on the injured ankle, but added that he expected the dual-threat quarterback to be ready to start for a fourth time this season.
"I think he's going to be okay. The most important thing is how you can practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday," Fickell said. "I think they keep saying, he's going to be fine, and I think he's going to be fine ... but we'll see how he feels being able to run around on it."
Miller has been gaining confidence with each game, Fickell said. Miller had 91 yards rushing against Nebraska and passed for another 95 yards, including a screen pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner that went for a 32-yard touchdown.
"He was more comfortable out there. We made some plays so that obviously gave him an opportunity to be more comfortable," Fickell said. "He's continuing to grow. I think that's the thing you can continue to be positive about. The growth is there, and there's a still lot potential to continue to grow."
Fickell did not get into specifics about how he plans to utilize Herron at Illinois, since both Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde have been playing the running back position while Herron was sitting out his lengthy NCAA penalties.
"Dan will get some touches. You might see Dan initially on special teams, whether he's on the kickoff team, whether he's on the kickoff return team," Fickell said. "But Dan is a big part of who we are. That's probably what we've missed from him on the field ... just that his personality, his passion, his confidence level. That's something that we are going to try and ride."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.