Watch out for running back Rod Smith.
Ohio State always uses part of bowl practice to give the younger players a chance to shine as the veterans step to the sidelines.
This year, the star of what the Buckeyes call showtime won't be on the field at the Sugar Bowl. But it sounds like Ohio State may have to find a spot for him next season.
"Somehow, some way, he will have the football," senior cornerback Devon Torrence said.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound back from Indiana, was the second-highest ranked player in Ohio State's 2010 recruiting class according to Rivals.com. But he didn't join the team until several weeks into the season as he waited for his transcript to be approved by the NCAA, and with the backfield already crowded, the Buckeyes made an easy decision to redshirt him.
Brandon Saine is graduating and there's always a chance fourth-year junior and 1,000-yard back Dan Herron could go to the NFL, but even if that happens, there should be plenty of running back options next season with Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde. And it sounds like Smith has to go near the top of that list.
"Today everyone was talking about Rod Smith," senior linebacker Ross Homan said. "He's going to be an unbelievable back, I'm telling you. He has all the physical assets, he's got size, speed, but Rod really just sits back and takes everything in. He's a humble guy, he's always in the weight room ... I always tell him, 'There's Beanie Wells' and he always smiles."
Wells, a first-round draft pick after the 2008 season, is the obvious comparison for Smith, though Wells was about an inch shorter and 15 pounds heavier. Smith is certainly that style of back, which is something OSU didn't have this season.
"It's just how he runs, where he finds creases, explosion and stuff like that," senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. "And he's a bigger guy, which Ohio State always loves.
"He cuts very well for a bigger back, and I just watch him on and think, 'Man, that kid's going to be good.' I mean, obviously, he's not going to juke somebody out of his shoes—actually, he probably could do that if he wanted to. But he's able to be physical in the hole, which we always kind of liked."
Even Jim Tressel first mentioned Smith when asked for the younger players who have stood out. Maybe some big runs Smith made in Tuesday morning's practice right before interviews put his name on everyone's lips.
Safety Jermale Hines mentioned first-year cornerback Bradley Roby as someone who has impressed him, while Torrence also threw out linebackers Dorian Bell and Storm Klein and receiver Chris Fields of Harvey High School as guys making the most of their shots. Tressel mentioned a nice catch Tuesday by receiver T.Y. Williams of Shaw High.
But on Smith everyone agrees.
Though Tressel had mentioned him a few times during the year as Smith showed his potential on scout team, it's always a little bit different when the young players start running the Ohio State plays in bowl practice. Now, the praise means even more.
"I think he's going to make a lot of noise in the coming years," senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.
Written by Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Cleveland.com