What to Watch For in the Spring Game
By Tony Gerdeman
Saturday will be
your first chance to see the 2011 version of the Ohio State football
team. In an effort to keep you focused on something other than the
weather, we've provided you with ten areas of interest to watch out
for during the game.
Each of these
subjects has emerged at some point in the spring, and the Spring Game
will be a good opportunity for the rest of the Buckeye world to see
what has already been talked about. If you want, you can even
form your own opinions—though I wouldn't recommend it.
A Stacked Deck?
All four of the quarterbacks working
this spring have gotten at least some action with the first-team
receiving corps, but those reps vary from quarterback to quarterback.
Only one quarterback is routinely working with walk-on
receivers and a patchwork offensive line, and that's Braxton Miller, yet he's still performing well. Maybe his knowledge of the
playbook is limited and he's being fed in small doses, but you'd be
hard-pressed to convince me that anybody is eating chunks of playbook
meat right now. Watching Miller make plays with limited
resources makes you wonder how well he'd be performing with more
around him. Yes, he'd also have to perform against a first-team
defense, but the defense is deeper than the offense, so it's not like
he's facing a bunch of Wolverines out there. We'll see if he gets
more of a chance on Saturday, but don't be surprised if it's only
cursory in nature.
The Star Trek Backfield
Open space: the final frontier.
Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith, or for the pun-tastic purposes of this
particular header, “Rod -N- Berry”, will certainly be two players
to watch on Saturday. While Smith has been the talk of the
spring (mostly because it's been the first chance for outsiders to
actually see him carry the ball) it's been Berry who has performed
very well while flying under the radar of the fans. With Boom Herron
out for the first five games, and Jordan Hall splitting time between
the slot and the backfield, there are carries to be had here, and
Berry and Smith aren't letting this opportunity go to waste. Watch
them on Saturday and see if you don't agree. Who knows, maybe
when the season is all said and done, these two will boldly go
where only one two-back Buckeye tandem has ever gone before—dual
1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Fullhouse Front Four
Nathan Williams will likely be the most disruptive defensive lineman
on the team, which is why it has been so surprising to see a front
four comprised of John Simon, Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy and
Johnathan Hankins be unblockable at times this spring. You would
think that a line comprised of essentially four defensive tackles
would be a little less mobile than a traditional defensive line with
two standard defensive ends, but you would be wrong. There's probably no such thing as a traditional defensive line at
Ohio State anymore, let alone a standard defensive end. Versatility
has been a key for the Buckeye defense in the back seven for years,
and recently it seems that the front four is joining the fad. When
you see four bull-rushers push an entire offense six yards backwards
on Saturday, don't be surprised when these four are the ones
Drop It Like It's Hot
If you've read anything from anybody
this spring about the Buckeyes, you know that the receivers' have had
their issues catching the ball -all of them - even Devier Posey,though at a much reduced rate. Is it a lack of concentration? New
receivers? Is it the fact that they have to deal with four different
types of football throwers? Or is it just one of those things that
happens in spring? We won't really know until we get into the fall
and some of these questions start sorting themselves out. There are
jobs to be won in this receiving corps, and a guy could go a long way
in earning one of those jobs if he'd just hang on to the football.
Ultimately, it comes down to concentration, and if you can't
concentrate in practice, how in the world are you going to be able to
shut everything out during a game?
Satisfied To Be Second
It's always interesting to see who
steps up and steps out on the second and third teams, showing that
they're not satisfied with being a back-up. Every team has back-ups, but not every team has 14 or 15 starters, and that's where the
Buckeyes need to be. Players on the second unit who make their
presence known not only catch the coaches' attentions, but they also
catch the starter's attention. It makes everybody better, and the
players know that if they produce, back-up or not, they'll see the
field on Saturday. A few players who fit this bill are linebacker
Dorian Bell, safety Jamie Wood and running back Carlos Hyde. Bell is
stuck behind Andrew Sweat, so the coaches will have to get creative
in getting him on the field in 2011. Wood separated his shoulder
last Saturday, but was making plays even up until his last hit. Hyde knows he's in a battle, and instead of moping, he's taking that
battle to a defense that is trying to tackle him. Everybody making
everybody better, because that's what you have to do if you ever want
to see the field.
The Jersey Scrimmage isn't the Spring
Game. For years, you have been told that of the two, the Spring Game
is nice, but the Jersey Scrimmage is the one that you'd rather see.
Only a few have been fortunate enough to see it, until now.
Emotions are higher, matchups are better, and there's actually
something on the line. Granted, it may be tough to follow since
there likely won't be much special teams involvement, and drives will
stop and start with varying degrees of confusion to the public on
hand. But as long as you watch the plays, regardless of where
they're from or where they just were, you'll see that emotion and
desire outlined in each snap. It's the offense against the defense.
History's greatest opponents. What's not to love?
Don't Try To Keep Up
By the way, regarding the Jersey
Scrimmage, if you're scoring at home—don't. It's impossible. Just
about everything that happens is point-worthy. First downs,
three-and-outs, sacks, turnovers, etc. Just know that at some point
the defense is going to be up by about three touchdowns, and then the
offense will come back thanks to red zone and goal line scrimmaging.
Eventually, somehow, it will get to the point where the offense only
needs a touchdown to win, or the defense needs a stop to secure the
victory. Jim Tressel calls this “The Last Play in the World”, of which there may be three or four. I'm not saying it's fixed, but
it's a very convenient plot device. Fortunately there's a good cause
for the shenanigans—it helps simulate the stressful end-of-game
situations that the Buckeyes will surely face this season.
Around The Corners
Travis Howard has emphatically locked
one cornerback spot down for the Buckeyes, leaving three
others—Dominic Clarke, Bradley Roby and Dionte Allen—to battle
for the open one. All have had their moments, and all have their
positives. Clarke is a student of the game, Roby seems to be a
natural playmaker, and Allen is the wily veteran. If you could
combine them all, you'd probably get somebody a lot like Travis
Howard. Saturday will be the last chance for these three defensive
backs to show themselves on the field, so expect to see the best
characteristics of each of them on display. When people talk about
the receivers struggling this spring, rarely do you hear it
attributed to the cornerbacks. Maybe after Saturday, that will
start to change.
With starting right tackle J.B.
Shugarts nursing a shoulder, and starting left tackle Mike Adams
nursing a future five-game suspension, it's unclear how much either
of these two will play on Saturday. In their place will be four
players—Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and true freshman
Tommy Brown. All have gotten reps at tackle, though Brown appears to
be exclusively a right tackle. The other three, however, have moved
around quite a bit. They will likely all get reps at the two tackle
spots, so feel free to keep mental scorecards of how each of them do
against a relentless and reloaded Buckeye defensive line.
Saturday will be
the first time for the fans to see a multitude of players, both on
offense and defense. All they know about them is what they've heard,
and this weekend they'll finally get to see if the information
they've gathered matches up with the wee snapshot they get this
weekend, so let's talk about some players to keep an eye that have
not yet been mentioned.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Graham
has been impressive in the five-wide portion of the scrimmages, and
has also shown a knack for knowing when to tuck and run. Receiver
James Louis has had a quiet spring, but did have a catch or two last
week. Many were surprised that he redshirted last year because he
definitely has ability. Defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin can
collapse an offensive line, and while he may not always clean the
play up, sometimes making the mess is just as good. Even though
he's not a freshman, redshirt sophomore Melvin Fellows may as well
be. He only played in five games last year after redshirting in
2009. He's apparently healthy, and he's been showing it on the
field. He's only going to get better, but after seeing him this
spring, he already seems to be pretty good.
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