COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has a difficult time keeping track of just how far quarterback Terrelle Pryor has come.
"Today I was trying to close my eyes and think back to last spring," Tressel said Thursday after the Buckeyes' first spring workout. "He just seemed to have a little bit more confidence than he did a year ago at this time."
With good reason. Pryor grew into the job last year as the fifth-ranked Buckeyes went 11-2, won an outright Big Ten title and then beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Pryor did not appear to have any limitations during the 2-hour workout in sunshine and temperatures around 70 degrees. He underwent surgery on his left knee two months ago to clean out damage sustained during an Oct. 31 victory over New Mexico State. Pryor, who will be a junior this fall, suffered a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament. But after intensive rehab over the past eight weeks he appeared to have no restrictions in movement.
Perhaps of larger concern for the Buckeyes is whether he continues to develop after being thrust into the job two years ago. He played well at times and not so well at others a year ago, with Ohio State playing its best football coming down the stretch when he spent most of his time handing off to the running backs.
After not throwing more than 17 passes in each of his previous five games, Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while being named MVP of the Rose Bowl. He also led the Buckeyes in rushing with 72 yards for 338 yards of total offense.
Pryor was not available to speak after the first practice. But Tressel said he was impressed with the steady improvement his quarterback has made.
"People like to use, 'Did the switch go on?' or 'Did the light go on?' I'm not sure I've ever seen that," said Tressel, starting his 10th year with the Buckeyes. "Is the light getting brighter? Yeah. You can see that. Did it take an extra step of brightness through the bowl preparation and bowl performance. I think so. But it's got to keep getting brighter."
This should prove to be an interesting 15 practices this spring for the Buckeyes. They welcome back nine starters on offense and six more on defense. Early projections have them ranked among the top handful of teams in the nation.
They must replace safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson and linebacker Austin Spitler. Jermale Hines and Ohrian Johnson, both of whom showed flashes of good play a year ago, should fill in the spots in the secondary. Even without Gibson, the Buckeyes still have a big-time talent on the line in Cameron Heyward, who mulled going to the NFL a year early.
"I'm definitely happy with what I've done so far, but I'm not satisfied," Heyward said. "I still want a national championship. I think everybody on this team does. We've been there two times before [losses after the 2006 and 2007 seasons], but there's still a lot to accomplish on this team."
There are several candidates to take over Spitler's vacant spot, including Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein. The newbie will be helped along by the presence of holdover starters at linebacker Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, both seniors.
"We've got some experience, but the depth is going to be critical," co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "The young guys are really going to have to come on fast. They've got to learn a lot, they've got to learn the defense. We were fortunate last year we had a lot of older guys in the two-deep."
The major losses on offense were tight end Jake Ballard -- who made a leaping catch that may have been the most memorable play of the Rose Bowl win -- along with tackle Jim Cordle.
The Buckeyes will hold their annual intrasquad scrimmage on April 24. Then come 29 August workouts leading up to the Thursday night opener against Marshall at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 2.
"[We will] just kind of figure out who can do what and who's going to mature, which young guys are going to look more like veterans and who's going to fight for playing time," Tressel said. "Hopefully we'll progress each day."