COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Buckeyes practiced Thursday in full pads outside – for about an hour – and inside the Woody Hayes Athletics Center for about an hour as well. The move indoors precipitated, possibly, because it was cold and windy and not real comfortable outside and so, once again this spring, weather was a topic at a spring practice. It just wasn’t a hot topic Thursday.

Football-related topics Thursday included the construction of the new football practice fields behind the WHAC, with work now in full swing. The $5.2 million project, funded primarily through a donor gift, will replace three of the four fields and eliminate all the fencing in between, include the installation of high performance lighting, and add state-of-the-art technology equipment to improve the video capabilities and the transfer of digital images from the field to the football offices.

Two Synthetic; Two Natural Surfaces

The finished area will feature two synthetic FieldTurf surfaces – the same bits-of-rubber-infused surface used in Ohio Stadium – and two high-performance, sand-based natural grass fields. One of the synthetic surfaces is already in place. The second will be a 108,000-square foot expanse east of the current surface.  

According to Don Patko, Associate Athletics Director for Facilities Operations, the project will have two completion dates: the new synthetic field will be completed in early June for the start of the Ohio State football camps; and the remaining work will be completed by Aug. 1 in time for the start of fall practice.

A New Field Hockey Field

Coach Anne Wilkinson’s field hockey program will be moving to a new field and a new location. The team has practiced and played its home games behind the WHAC on one of the old turf fields, but the program will relocate to a new surface that will be constructed north of the Stickney Tennis Center.

Patko said the $1.6 million project will be completed in time for the start of practice this fall. The work will feature a “knitted,” nylon field – a preferred choice to play on, according to Patko – bleachers and IT fiber “runs” for streaming video and other high-tech needs.  

Position of the Day: Running Backs

There isn’t a position heading into the 2010 season that can rival the Buckeyes’ running backs position in terms of returning experience, superb talent, tremendous depth and the ability to make big plays…play after play and game after game.

Coach Dick Tressel’s unit returns every running back who had a carry in a game last year as well as all three fullbacks. Among the 10 players who are engaged in spring drills are four of the top five rushers on the team last year: senior Brandon Saine (739 yards), junior Dan Herron (600 yards despite missing three games), and sophomores Jordan Hall (248 yards) and Jermil Martin (84 yards). Each of these individuals had at least a 39-yard rush to his credit and each had a high game of at least 75 yards rushing. The quartet also combined for 13 rushing touchdowns.

Furthermore, this quartet combined for 29 catches out of the backfield, and when you add in four receptions, including a touchdown reception vs. Indiana, by fullback Zach Boren, the all-around skills of this group becomes increasingly apparent.

“I feel we have a lot of talent,” Tressel said during a 30-minute post-practice interview session that also featured tandem tailbacks Saine and Herron. “We have some depth at tailback, but also at fullback.”

More Special Teams Work  Tressel indicated that the depth at the running backs position may enable more of these players to participate on special teams.

“You could see [increased] contributions on the special teams [from this group],” Tressel said. “There will an expansion here, on kicks, punts and as cover guys, because of the talent we have.”  

Everyone Competes  Responding to a question about watching the younger guys, including red-shirt freshman Jamaal Berry and true freshman Carlos Hyde, compete, Herron said it is not just the young Bucks competing.

“It is fun to watch the younger guys fight for positions…that’s what Brandon and I had to do when we came in here,” Herron said. “The young guys are doing all they can to get on the field. Brandon and I are also competing, though. We all are competing hard and trying to get better.”

Share Time  Herron said that he and Saine splitting time at tailback “is a good thing.” He also didn’t seem concerned about getting the football enough.

“Brandon and I will get our carries,” Herron said.

Saine also chipped in on the sharing time issue: “We understand our roles and we just try to capitalize on them.”

Zoom Cool on Boom”  Here is how Saine responded when asked about Herron’s nickname, Boom: “I knew him as Boom coming in [to Ohio State]. Doc [Tressel] is the only one I know who calls him Dan. I think it’s pretty cool that he’s got a nickname.”

Big B: Loud and Funny  Saine said having four returning starters along the offensive line is exciting for the running backs because the linemen work so well together. When asked who is a leader along the line, he paused for a moment before naming Bryant Browning.

“Bryant Browning is a character,” Saine said. “He is a loud guy with a funny laugh and he can really get you going.”

Stats and Numbers from the Backfield

Three  Number of backs returning, when Terrelle Pryor is included in the mix, with 1,000 or more career rushing yards: Pryor (1,410 yards), Saine (1,071) and Herron (1,039).

3,520 – Total cumulative career rushing yards for the trio.

Five – Number of games Ohio State started a fullback alongside a tailback last year. Zach Boren netted all five of the fullback starts last year. Fellow freshmen Adam Homan and James Georgiades also saw considerable blocking duty in 2009.

Eight – Number of times Ohio State rushed for over 200 yards in a game last year, including five consecutive at the end of the season. This total is the most for a Jim Tressel-coached Ohio State team and three from the team high (11 by the 1973 team).

10-0  Ohio State’s record last year when at least three players had at least five carries in a game. In the loss to USC, Herron had 18 carries, Pryor 10 and no one else with more than one. Pryor had 21 carries and Saine seven in the Purdue loss. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin on the strength of three defensive/special team touchdowns. It’s a good thing, too, because the Badgers had the football for over 42 minutes and as a result, Ohio State’s rushing game featured 14 Saine carries, 10 Pryor carries and no one else with more than two. 

35  Career rushing touchdowns – combined – by current players: Herron (13), Pryor (13), Saine (seven), Jordan Hall and Jermil Martin (one apiece).

22  Rushes of over 20 yards by Ohio State last year with a long of 53 by Herron vs. New Mexico State. Pryor led with nine (his long was 43 vs. Toledo) and Saine had eight (and a long of 49 yards vs. Iowa). Saine also had four receptions of 20-or-more yards.

Seven  To keep this from being a totally offensive stats packet, this total is the number of opponent rushes last year of 20 yards or more. Solid, solid work by the defense.