July 2, 2011

Fickell to be heavily involved in QB battle

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Luke Fickell will be the first to admit that he has a lot to learn about coaching players on the offensive side of the ball.

He probably never expected his job could depend on the development of that skill.

Fickell - who spent his four-year playing career at Ohio State as a nose tackle and nearly a decade as an assistant coach mentoring defensive players - plans on being heavily involved in a quarterback battle that could determine the success of his team.

He has one year to make the impression needed to keep his job on a long-term basis. He has to select the quarterback he feels gives his team to give him the best shot to accomplish that.

Maybe that person is 25-year-old Joe Bauserman, the veteran signal caller on the roster that has the most experience of any quarterbacks on the roster.

Maybe it is Braxton Miller, the hotshot freshman that fans have already anointed as the next best thing for Ohio State football.

Or maybe it could be Kenny Guiton or Taylor Graham, quarterbacks who fall in between but don't quite garner as much attention as the aforementioned two.

What he does know is the quarterback won't be Terrelle Pryor, who left Ohio State one year prematurely after leading the Buckeyes to three-straight Big Ten titles and two consecutive wins in BCS bowl games.

Fickell has his work cut out for him.

"Like I told Joe the other day sitting down in a meeting, in the spring I was focused on what I was doing (defensive coaching). That's what this summer is about," Fickell said. "I'm going to sit down and make sure I understand where we're headed and what you guys have done in the past."

But the 37-year-old with no previous head coaching experience isn't going to defer the decision to Jim Bollman, who served as the offensive coordinator for the past decade under former head coach Jim Tressel.

He's going to get his hands dirty - knowing fully that this decision may be the key in whether or not Ohio State takes him from being a stopgap for one season or the long-term answer for a program that is currently in the midst of considerable turmoil.

And he's starting from the beginning, calling the race "completely wide open" when asked about it by reporters last week in a brief meeting in the Woody Hayes Center.

Unlike the previous regime where it would be expected that the experienced quarterback would be named the leader heading into the fall, at least initially, Fickell plans on seeing what each and every candidate has to offer.

"I think Joe and I understand that. He understands that," Fickell said. "We're going to have the opportunity when the fall comes to make sure everyone knows what's expected and then we're going to evaluate on a daily basis."

Given the current situation with the program and the NCAA, fans may have partially written off the Buckeyes' 2011 season. Fickell's expectations have only increased.

Bauserman is the only quarterback of the four that has played a series with vast implications in the game, replacing Pryor in the middle of a close game at Illinois last season when the star quarterback left with injury.

It didn't go well for Bauserman, who threw an interception and showed no signs of life for a Buckeyes team fighting to keep their record perfect. Bauserman was removed from the game upon Pryor's return, but that image has become synonymous with what's expected out of the senior.

Players on the team see it differently.

"He's a smart player who knows the game and knows the offense," senior center Mike Brewster said of Bauserman. "And he knows how to manage a game, so those are all things that make you feel comfortable when he's back there."

The general public, though, saw Miller's explosiveness in Ohio State's spring game after only weeks of practice with the Buckeyes offense.

His ability to keep plays alive with his legs could be the most attractive option for an Ohio State team that has become used to having an athletic playmaker under center the last three years.

But like Fickell, Bauserman has one shot to succeed. The three weeks of fall camp is where the senior knows he'll have to turn it on if he wants to be considered a viable option for the Buckeyes.

"I feel like I should be able to put myself in the best position," he said. "I feel like I can play with the best of them. I don't know if I have anything better than the other guys. Everybody has their own talents, but I think it's whatever the best fit is for this team and the coaches will understand that.

"You have to know there's going to be a fight. There's going to be guys competing. Nobody wants to come here and be the backup. We're all going to compete and do the best we can, whether it's five games or the whole season."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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