Buckeyes Will Rely Heavily On 'Beanie' To Spark Offense

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - There were moments during his freshman season at Ohio State when Chris "Beanie" Wells showed the breathtaking potential that marked him as one of the top high school recruits in the country. Seconds later, he'd fumble the ball away.

But even when things went wrong, Wells turned it into a ray of sunshine.

"That wasn't bad to me," he said of the case of fumbleitis that hit him midway through the year. "That was a learning process and I moved forward from that."

Now Antonio Pittman, who led the Buckeyes in yards rushing (1,233) and scoring (84 points), is gone after leaving a year early for the NFL. And Wells is looking forward to the opportunity to show how much he learned.

Wells went through double workouts - first with the rest of the running backs, then returning to lift and go through conditioning with other units - all summer.

"We have a lot of guys in this world that have a lot of talent," coach Jim Tressel said. "But when you have guys that have the kind of talent that he has and have demonstrated the work ethic that he's demonstrated, he has a chance to do some great things."

Wells didn't wait to find out whether Pittman was making himself eligible for the draft. He began those heavy duty workouts within hours after Ohio State's 41-14 defeat to Florida in the national championship game.

"The day after the season. Not when Antonio declared, not when anybody declared, but as soon as the season was over that next day we were in the weight room," he said.

Wells, who prefers "Beanie" over his given name, made the most of his time a year ago. He gained 576 yards and scored seven touchdowns. His personal highlight reel would likely revolve around a thunderous 52-yard run for a score against Michigan to stake the then-No. 1 Buckeyes to an early lead in what would become a 42-39 victory over the second-ranked Wolverines.

At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, he proved he could muscle for tough yards between the tackles, but also had the speed to turn a corner or outrace a secondary.

"He's a big man. He's a load, and he's fast and he's athletic," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "I definitely have never seen a running back anywhere like him before."

In addition to Pittman, the Buckeyes lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith and NFL first-round draft picks Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez at receiver spots.

"You lose one of those four big-play guys we had last year, and you hope someone can step in there and pick up the slack," said offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman.

With first-year starters at all those spots - not to mention at center, right guard and fullback - it would figure that Wells will end up being a big man in Ohio State's offense.

"Yeah, of course, I'd be happy with it," he said when asked if he'd like to get 20, 30 or more carries a game. "I'd love to carry the ball that much. As long as I'm helping the team and the team is progressing, and we're winning games, then I'm satisfied."

The biggest problem for Wells a year ago wasn't opposing tacklers, but dropping the ball. It was something he'd never encountered before.

Rather than hang his helmet, he watched video to see what he was doing wrong, then corrected it.

"After something like that occurs so many times, you really just have to sit back and look at what you're doing wrong," he said. "I looked at what I was doing wrong and it was a learning experience for me."

Wells just turned 19 this month, and already he carries a lot of Ohio State's hopes on those wide shoulders.

"Beanie's got to have a great year," Tressel said firmly.

Wells couldn't be more ready.

"I've been preparing myself to take the load over," he said.