Buckeyes ready for fresh start after all the departures....
New era, fresh air for OSU
Buckeyes eager to fill roles of departed seniors, erase memories of lopsided, high-profile losses
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 3:06 AM
By Ken Gordon
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
CHICAGO -- Rarely has a passing of the torch been so apparent as in the University of Phoenix Stadium locker room in January.
In that personal haunted house for Ohio State -- a place of mumbled words and shellshocked stares -- the Buckeyes spoke of their last-second loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. On one side of the room, departing fifth-year senior linebacker Marcus Freeman was defiant.
The Buckeyes had proved their mettle in giving third-ranked Texas all it could handle, he said. This was at least partial redemption for lopsided losses during his career to Florida, Louisiana State and Southern California.
Freeman's sentiment was understandable given the withering storm of abuse heaped on Ohio State for those losses. This time, nobody could say the Buckeyes did not deserve to be on the same field as their opponent.
But just a few feet away, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor sounded a glaringly different tone. He was disgusted at the suggestion of a moral victory.
"It's not good enough," he said.
Nearly seven months later, as Ohio State prepares for preseason camp, there's a feeling of breaking away from the chains of the past, of casting loose from the moorings.
Although the Buckeyes will miss three-year starters such as Freeman, James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Alex Boone, they are sailing into the unknown, and there's something liberating about that.
"It's a good feeling," senior safety Kurt Coleman said. "We have a new little I guess you could say swagger, or new little confidence about ourselves, and it's a little bit different. I'm not going to lie -- the team is a little bit different. I really like it; we have a young group of kids."
This is nothing new, of course. College teams constantly churn their rosters, with untested young players eager to step up into new roles.
"Change is exciting for everybody," coach Jim Tressel said. "There's a new energy when someone else is handed the torch and let's see how they do."
Inexperience certainly presents a challenge. The Buckeyes have major voids at offensive tackle, running back, receiver, linebacker and cornerback.
Much is being placed at the feet of Pryor. How much has he grown in his first full offseason in the program?
"It's a younger group," Tressel said, "and with us not knowing as much about them, it's a little bit harder to feature the things that they do best when you're really not sure yet exactly what they do best."
August will be a frantic month of teaching and evaluating, to be sure, and with USC looming Sept. 12, there is little time to ease into the season.
There's more to it for Ohio State, though. It's impossible to say what psychological toll players paid for the repeated high-profile failures, but surely, there had to be a cumulative effect.
With the departure of last year's seniors (and early-entry juniors), nobody who played a significant role in a 41-14 loss to Florida in the 2006 national championship game remains on the team.
The current players don't bear nearly as many scars. In some ways, Ohio State's inexperience might actually be a blessing.
"They say ignorance is bliss," Coleman said. "I think a lot of the guys, like (senior defensive tackle) Doug (Worthington) and I are never going to forget about (the losses), but I think the young guys don't really know what it feels like to lose like that -- which is a good thing."