With one flashy expedition of offensive prowess to their names in the box score, the rapidly approaching 11, um, warriors of 11W take to the field for their second drive, this time with a new playmaker on the edge. On the quarterback's wristband this week: our 1st annual state of the LiC address, Chimdi Chekwa - true #1 corner: fact or fiction?, and who is
John Galt Nick Siciliano?
Luke:The LiC-era is in full force. While expecting a national championship or Heisman in just his second season may be a bit lofty, even by our standards, what would you view as the next logical step in the evolution of arguably the highest ceilinged weapon Ohio State's ever had? We'll let the newest Eleven Warrior hit leadoff.
Keith: Despite his hype being off the charts, my expectations for Pryor are somewhat tempered. He has already shown me he has the prodigious athletic skills to warrant his ballyhooed status. Now it's time to show he has command of the offense and the team. I fully expect him to know the entire offensive package - from calling the right protection to correcting alignment of his teammates. He should be able to breakdown any defense and, if need be, check into another playcall. During the play, when the defense takes away his primary read, he needs to work through his progression until he finds an open receiver. I want his ball handling skills to be improved so that he freezes defenders on the read option or sucks up safeties during play action. And for the love of Woody, please stop taking sacks outside the pocket. Sounds like basic stuff, I know, but the combination of these traits will make defenses have some level of reverence for tOSU's passing attack.
Joe: Yesterday I was watching a replay of Michigan's victory over Florida in LLLLLLoyd Carr's last game, and I was struck by the way that Chad Henne repeatedly threw to his receivers either before the break or as they were breaking off the pattern and looking for the ball. On one occasion, the receiver was surrounded by three Florida defenders but none of them could make a play on the ball because the receiver broke right into it and made the catch for big yardage. I think that's probably what I'm looking for from Pryor this year is that laser-sharp throw right on the break. Last season we saw a lot of lofted passes because he was waiting for the receivers to be open before throwing. That's good for a conservative offense that just wants to avoid the turnover, but to be truly explosive, you need to throw into tight spots in rhythm and let your receivers make the catch in stride. Of course, there's going to be the occasional situation where the receiver makes a different read and some of those may end up as INT's, but I'll take those if we get a lot of crisp downfield throws as part of the deal.
Corey: I think 2500 yards passing and 1000 rushing are realistic steps for LiC this season. If he can put up those types of numbers, another Big Ten title and BCS game are obtainable. We saw the steps he made during the spring in regards to his throwing mechanics, and you know he will have a much better understanding of the overall offense come this fall. He threw for 190+ yards in the first half of the spring game, so 200 yards passing for each game this fall is not out of the question. He did a great job of not turning the ball over last year, and that will have to keep up as well.
Alex: I think it all starts with opening up the offense and letting Terrelle's natural ability mesh in with a greater understanding of the offense he's developed in the last year. His mechanics are improved and the mental part of the game (reading defenses, breaking down film, etc.) are advanced, so I say Tress must let him do his thing. I truly believe the offense will rely on how TP performs, and unlike the last few years where Beanie could carry the team to victory, the weight of the season rests on Pryor's shoulders.
Luke: As is the case with near-once-in-a-generational figures, the historical precedents are so rare, so limited in occurence that we may not not know what exactly to be looking for until we see it unfold before our eyes. I'm not even so convinced "The Vince Young arc" is even apt here; VY didn't garner any real, significant field time until his redshirt sophomore year. Perhaps Michael Vick's transcendent redshirt freshman campaign is the closest we've witnessed, or maybe the only real parallel is what's going on concurrently down in Waco right now. Even guys of this caliber, this profile aren't supposed to make the kind of dent TP2 has to this point, but I'll error on the side of optimism and say the drive-for-5 (consecutive Big Ten titles) and a Rose Bowl victory would set the table nicely for some Glendale redemption in early 2011.
Alex: I know the comparisons keep coming, but I would like to see Terrelle have a season like Young had in 2004 where he lead UT to a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan. He had a break out year and really took the steps to the next level, letting the country know at season's end that Texas would be a force to be reckoned with in 2005. What happened in 2005? Well the Horns went on to beat OSU in the 'Shoe and win the National Championship against USC. I'd take a Rose Bowl win this year and a MNC next year in two seconds if it was offered to me and I think anyone else would too.
Jason: There are probably a million metrics that, if improved, would be part of defining of my vision for his next logical step, but the next thing I'm looking for is really just teams respecting the Ohio State passing game. Vince got to a point where you had to play the Longhorn's receivers as threats and then you had to have somebody athletic enough to shadow the quarterback. And there are only a handful of FBS teams with that kind of talent. Assuming Alex's Rose Bowl scenario, that step would unfortunately occur after the USC game, but if that step takes place this year, the Buckeye offense could be hilariously impossible to stop in 2010.
Chris: For me, the next logical step, in general terms, is for Pryor to show command of the offense by dictating and anticipating what's going to happen versus reacting all the time. Last season, he was forced to rely on his athletic ability alone and that, along with a terrible line and shrunken playbook, stunted his growth. This season, I’m hoping an open playbook and better protection will enable him to show us what he worked on this off-season: better passing mechanics (footwork) and improved recognition of defensive alignments allowing him to punish defenses with both the improved physical and mental aspects of his game. It’s no secret that the entire season rests on his shoulders. If he has improved in those two aspects, I think a Rose Bowl is realistic and would serve as an excellent springboard to a Heisman worthy 2010 season.
Luke: If Team 11W have half the clairvoyance we profess to have in confidence, y'all better start booking your New Year's Day's plans in Southern California now. So roughly a week back, the 11W readers atlarge stated their greatest trepidation for the '09 season was the idea that Chimdi Chekwa would have to step up and match up against opposing offense's best receiver. Can Chewka live up to the billing and does this secondary have the kind of depth necessary to have an impact this year?
Corey: I think Chekwa is going to be fine. He has been in the shadow of Jenkins for the last 2 seasons and has proven capable of doing the job. He will get tested twice in the first four weeks against USC and Illinois, so we'll have out answer soon enough. I'm anxious to see if Andre Amos can man the other side or if Devon Torrence will step it up. I think the depth in the secondary is a strong point this year, especially if a couple of the freshmen corners pan out.
Joe: I too don't really have a lot of concern about Chekwa. He's got a lot of experience and he has always been solid in my mind. While it is true that he got burned in the spring game, I think the deal on that play was that Pryor had all day to throw. Everyone gets burned on occasion. We saw Leon Hall burned pretty well by Ted Ginn in 2006, and of course Marlin Jackson has the back of Santonio Holmes' jersey memorized after getting burned repeatedly by Holmes in 2003 and 2004 yet those guys are playing on Sundays, and I think Chekwa will do the same eventually. I have more concern about the depth, because beyond Chekwa and the safeties there's not a lot of experience. I know that Torrence is a great athlete and Amos has always been solid, but I'd be more comfortable with guys that had more games under their belts. Still, we really need to see if these guys can play, and now is as good a time as any.
Jason: I guess the optimist in me hopes he's better than a number two corner, but I must admit to being a little worried about that. I know Heacock said they were working on him becoming a more physical defender this season and hearing that leads me to believe they're trying to offset some coverage problems he might have against elite receivers. Beyond that, our last memory of Chekwa is getting toasted by Washington in the spring game. However, the kid has a ton of experience and played well against the Trojans last year. If he can add a physical element, he has the speed to be a very good cornerback and one I wouldn't be surprised to see playing on Sundays.
Alex: I really think Chimdi is a #2 corner and will never be a lock-down CB for OSU or in the NFL. His skills in coverage are above average at best and while he has good tackling skills, it is not enough to fill the shoes of Malcolm Jenkins. I think the defensive line will make Chekwa look really good though, as pressure on the QB means less pressure on the secondary. Chekwa will have a good year statistically, but against teams like USC he will get exposed for the #2 CB he is if the d-line doesn't get to Corp/Barkley. On a positive note though, I do think the secondary is deep. I like having Amos and Torrence in the fold opposite Chimdi and I really think Travis Howard is going to be a star. Barnett, Clarke, and especially Corey Brown can all contribute immediately as well so look for those guys to provide solid depth. At safety Russell and Coleman are very good and Hines as the Star will shine too (no pun intended). I really like Orhian Johnson and I think either Nate Oliver or Zach Domicone will provide solid depth too.
Luke: Going into the '07 season I harped on to just about anyone that would listen that the most limiting factor of Ohio State's success in the forthcoming season to be played would be the elevation of career #3/#4 receivers into the top slots. That worked out ok, so this go around I'm trying to remind myself as often as I can that aside from USC and possibly Florida or LSU, no school has recruited at the clip the Buckeyes have the past two seasons and that depth is at an all-time surplus. Particularly given the safeties they have serving as, ahem, safety nets, I think these corners will have some room to grow into their roles, and I fully expect this bunch's potential to be all but fully realized come the weekend before Thanksgiving in A^2.
Chris: I don’t see Chekwa as a lockdown #1 corner but I’m thinking a few variables will make the loss of Jenkins less impactful. First, I expect the defensive line to create a better pass rush without the aid of a blitz meaning there should be better coverage/traffic underneath (LBs) and over the top (safeties). Second, whether we like it or not, Heacock will employ more than his fair share of zone coverage meaning a true lockdown corner will again not be as necessary as it might be for other team’s defensive scheme. Overall, I can live with Chekwa. He’s a solid, if not spectacular, tackler and he’s got lots of experience. I expect he’ll continue his improvement and surprise some fans with his play. As a fanbase, shouldn’t we expect a bit of a drop off when we lose a Thorpe Award winner?
Regarding the secondary as a whole, I feel pretty comfortable about the collection of talent though I see some question marks. Coleman will provide leadership on his way to all conference honors but Hines is the one I expect to truly breakout and earn some notice this season. With Chekwa as a solid performer, that means the question marks are Russell at safety and either Amos or Torrence at corner. I know it’s easy to pile on Russell for the decisive TD against Texas but based on my recollection of last season, my biggest concerns with Russell are what I saw as continuously poor pursuit angles and less than stellar tackling ability, especially in space. As for Amos/Torrence, I expect one to step up but it’s hard not to view that spot as a concern considering their combined lack of meaningful experience.
Keith: At this point, I don't share the concern others do with Chekwa. No, he's not elite level corner but he's shown enough to be able to handle himself fairly well. I have more trepidation on the other side of the field where either Amos or Torrence will emerge. Neither has much experience and opposing defensive coordinators will likely test one of them before Chekwa. And, I'm not all that enthralled with Anderson Russell who seemingly likes to backpedal and react more than diagnose and play instinctively. I like our overall depth in the secondary (I agree with Alex, Travis Howard is our next great corner) - I only wish for a tad more production.
Luke: Finally gentlemen, we turn our attentions to the coaching ranks. With Joe Daniels finally transitioning into more of a consulting role and Nick Siciliano's elevation to quarterbacks coach, despite having never so much served as a coordinator at the FCS or FBS level, do you worry at all that this is more of the same cronyism that many have criticized Tressel for in the past? Are there any worries that the potential lack of fresh, outside-the-family perspective could have a detrimental effect on the next couple season's teams?
Chris: I am excited about the Siciliano announcement though he was essentially acting in this role last year anyway. Of all the coaches, he probably deserves the most credit for what Pryor was able to do last year. I like his youth since player development is really his role. I hear he’s a great buffer between Tressel and the quarterbacks.
Joe: I imagine Daniels will still be actively involved, so it's not like we're completely losing the veteran guy. I would have to say I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to evaluating Siciliano. I trust the coaches, even if I do sometimes second-guess them. I don't think the guy would have been promoted if he didn't know what he was doing.
Corey: I think Siciliano is going to be just fine, he's a hard worker and his age allows him to relate to the younger kids better. I don't think there will be any negative impact from not hiring from the outside, Tressel has built a winning program and the highly rated high schoolers are still flocking to play for him. Now, if TP doesn't progress like we think he should this year, then Siciliano might have the most pressure of any assistant by season's end.
Jason: Tressel is going to do things his way and that's something that's frustrating at times, but the good usually outweighs the bad so I'm fine with it. He'll never have the all-star staff that you see in Tennessee and other places, so I'm looking forward to Siciliano's touches. He's the only member of the offensive staff that had access to video games his entire life (don't be fooled, Darrell Hazell just looks young) and despite how preposterous any connection between video games and coaching football might seem at first, there is something to be said for seeing hundreds (if not thousands) of diverse digital playbooks your entire life.
Keith: Sure, the worry is there but as Jason mentions, JT will do things his way. That may not be a bad thing because by all accounts, Coach Daniels and Coach Siciliano are beloved by the quarterbacks themselves. I am open-minded and hopeful that we will see the positive changes in Pryor and the other young QBs. However, if we don't and a few seasons pass with marginal results, then it's only natural to think a change is philosophy is in order.
Alex: I've actually had a chance to meet Coach Sis and hear his philosophy on the QB position. He is really intelligent and knows his stuff so don't think this hire was all about cronyism. I know there is some calls for bringing in a QB or offensive guru to help with the offense, but something most fans overlook is the relationship with our current QB's, especially Pryor. Pryor really enjoys working with Sis and he helped in his recruitment and development as a freshman last year. Siciliano was the guy working with Pryor on the field the most last year and you can't replace that comfort zone he has built with TP. So, in terms of Sis, I think it was the right move, but if the offense struggles the next year or two like it did last year (we are in big trouble if it does) I would like to see someone from the outside brought in to take over Bollman and JT's play calling responsibilities, but other than that have no problem with our coaches that Tress has chosen to employ.
Luke: Other insiders have waxed ecstatic similarly about the staff's internal reaction to Siciliano's elevation, so despite my instinctive inclination to be weary, I'll take the pulse of his peers and the players as the barometer for my attitude for the time being. I think the sentiments that the on-the-field results will speak for themselves are accurate ones, and I think if Terrelle's growth is anywhere near where we batted around earlier it could be, Siciliano's the man for the gig.