Jim Tressel has no questions about whether or not tailback Chris Wells is up to the task of being the team’s go-to guy this weekend. As Ohio State prepares to host No. 3 Penn State for a night game in Ohio Stadium, the Buckeye head coach said his running back is continuing to get better after suffering a toe injury in the first game of the season.
Wells carried the ball a season-high 31 times against Michigan State on Saturday, and as a result Tressel said he was sorer than he was after previous games this season.
“That’s a bunch, getting banged,” Tressel said. “They were hitting. But all of a sudden by Wednesday, just like I’m sure Archie Griffin could tell you, on Sundays and Mondays and Tuesdays it’s like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be ready.’
“Then that Wednesday comes around and you get that little burst of adrenaline and your body has quieted down from those hits. He looked to me like he was ready to go yesterday and I’ll be he looks even faster today.”
Wells’ primary backup in Dan Herron is ready to return to action after missing two games with a concussion. Tressel said Herron is 100 percent ready to go, but he will not immediately assume all his regular duties.
As one of the team’s two kick returners before the injury, Herron was designated as the off returner in charge of delivering a big hit to a defender streaking downfield. When the Nittany Lions kick off to OSU for the first time, he will not be on the field.
“Those are explosive hits,” Tressel said. “I’d rather have him get in there and carry the ball and ease into the getting hit rather than having an explosion to start the game. He may go a little bit more after that back deep.”
Freshman Lamaar Thomas has taken Herron's place on the kickoff unit, but he has been the primary returner for the last two games.
The Buckeyes also expect to have cornerback Chimdi Chekwa available for action after the sophomore sustained a left shoulder injury against the Spartans. That is a notable change from what Tressel said he felt immediately after the game, although at the time he told reporters that Chekwa would be all right.
“Chimdi’s looking fine,” Tressel said. “We’re excited about that because honestly, on Saturday I wouldn’t have said we’re going to have him this Saturday. At this moment – it’s Thursday – we feel as if we’ll have him.”
However, OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said Wednesday night that junior Donald Washington will likely be the starter in Chekwa’s place. Chekwa was held out of contact drills during Tuesday’s practice but was not limited in how many reps he was able to participate in.
Along the offensive line, Tressel said on his weekly radio show that the rotation between Steve Rehring, Ben Person and Bryant Browning figures to continue but that at least one thing has changed. After pegging Browning as a likely candidate to eventually move inside to the guard spot, the Buckeyes are now leaning toward keeping him at his current starting right tackle spot.
Although the Buckeyes have played in a number of night games in the past few years, their last home night game was during the 2005 season. Tressel said the coaches are getting used to the preparation for playing at night and keeping their players from getting too hyped too early in the day.
“What we typically do is have a late-morning walkthrough and do some reminders and so forth, have some short meetings,” Tressel said. “Then a couple hours before the pregame meal we want them to get off their feet and be nervous the way they’d like to be nervous.
“Once the game starts, it’s irrelevant.”
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be carried by ABC.