Some Things I think

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Last updated: 11/13/2011 11:55 PM

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Football
Some Things I Think on Sunday Afternoon
By Brandon Castel

Games like the one Ohio State lost Saturday at Purdue always make us think long and hard about this team, this season and the future of the program.

Many people want change, all the way from the top down, but I couldn’t help thinking about a few football-related issues Sunday as I went over the Buckeyes’ 26-23 loss to the Boilermakers in my mind.

1. Mewhort’s future should probably be at tackle. After watching him for a half of football yesterday, I believe Jack Mewhort has what it takes to be this team's starting right tackle next year. The Buckeyes are going to need someone to fill that spot with J.B. Shugarts leaving, just like they will need someone to take Mike Adams’ spot at left tackle and Michael Brewster’s spot at center. That’s a lot of talent and experience to replace.

Jack Mewhort paves the away for Braxton Miller.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jack Mewhort

Clearly Antonio Underwood is not ready to play tackle at this level. That could change by the start of next season—the kid hasn’t even had a spring practice at Ohio State yet—but Mewhort just looks like their best option at right tackle, at least for the moment.

Sophomore Andrew Norwell will almost certainly be the team’s starting left tackle next year—he started the first five games of this season—which leaves Mewhort, Underwood and Marcus Hall as the only real options at right tackle. Hall hasn’t played tackle since his freshman year (2009), so it will be interesting to see what they do with him.

Inside, the Buckeyes have to start Corey Linsley at right guard, unless he is going to play center. He had a great game against Purdue, but it kind of depends on the progress of freshman Brian Bobek. Ideally, he would be the starting center next year with Linsley at one guard spot and either Hall or Underwood at the other guard spot.

It’s also possible they could move tight end Reid Fragel to offensive tackle. He has the size. He is a legitimate 6-8 and has not even begun to fill out his frame at 280 pounds. Fragel is an excellent blocker who could become a Nate Solder type for the Buckeyes (best case scenario would be Joe Thomas).

If that happens, Fragel would play right tackle and Mewhort would move back inside to play guard (it’s amazing how valuable it is to have a guy who can play all five spots like Mewhort).

2. It might be time for a change in the secondary. I like Christian Bryant, don’t get me wrong. The kid is a football player and he brings a necessary confidence to this Ohio State defense that I don’t see at many other positions this year. He is a playmaker. Maybe it hasn’t happened the way people expected this year, but don’t forget that he missed a lot of last season because of a scary foot infection. This is really Bryant’s rookie season at OSU.

He is only going to get better, but if the Buckeyes want to win these last two games, they might want to think about putting Orhian Johnson back at safety along with C.J. Barnett. Johnson is a poor tackler and not much of a playmaker, but he does a better job playing centerfield and not giving up the big play.

He came up with a nice pick at the end of the fourth quarter against Purdue, but if they don’t want to use Johnson more then maybe give Zach Domicone a try back there. The guy has been lights out on special teams this year and is as solid a tackler as this team has on the back end.

That doesn’t mean they should take Bryant off the field. He is one of their best 11 players, but right now he seems to get mixed up on the back end and doesn't understand what the term “safety" means.

Bryant needs to understand he can't go for the big play when he is the last line of defense. I have said all along that he will likely move back to “Star” next year; it just fits him better. It allows him more freedom to make plays, and his ability to cover the slot receiver is a bonus they don’t have with Tyler Moeller at the “Star.” Coverage is not Moeller’s strength.

His best strength is the ability to rush the passer off the edge (think 2008 against Illinois) the way they did early in his career and the first part of last year. He really excels a that, and yet the Buckeyes have not used him in that manner much, if at all, this year. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins could use some help putting pressure on the quarterback, and there has to be a way to get Moeller more involved.

3. Ryan Shazier has to stay on the field. I mentioned this in my 10 Things We Learned piece from yesterday, but the more I think about it the more I realize it is time for Shazier to be in the lineup. He is the one guy who seems to make a difference every time he steps on the field and this team needs difference-makers in the worst way.

Ryan Shazier makes a tackle against the Boilermakers.
Photo by Dan Harker
Ryan Shazier

The freshman out of Plantation, Fla. played extremely well over the last three quarters of the Purdue game after stepping in for Andrew Sweat, who left the game with a head injury. Shazier finished second on the team with seven tackles (6 solo). He also had a sack and there was one play where he ripped the ball out of tight end Crosby Wright’s hands and scooped up the fumble himself. The play was eventually reversed, but it is the kind of play we don’t see many other guys on this team making right now.

Even if Sweat is able to return this week—and that seems unlikely considering the nature of his injury—Shazier needs to be out there. If that means they have to shuffle some guys around at the linebacker spot, so be it. It’s time to stop worrying about hurting feelings and start worrying about winning football games.

I have been on the Shazier bandwagon since the first time I saw him in the spring, so welcome aboard all newcomers. The kid is fast and hits hard. He needs to add some serious bulk in the off-season if he wants to be the every-down Will linebacker next year—and I believe he will be—but he gives them a spark they desperately need on the defensive side of the ball right now.

4. Nathan Williams injury may have been the difference for this team. Injuries happen all the time in football. Good teams figure out a way to overcome them, but I can’t help thinking about the knee injury to Nathan Williams. He hasn’t played since the season-opener against Akron, but maybe that is why this defense has not gotten much better over the course of the season. John Simon is playing out of his mind this year, and Hankins is having a solid sophomore campaign, but this OSU defense really struggles to get pressure up front late in games.

Adam Bellamy has started to come on as of late, but so many guys are playing out of position, it’s hard to tell how good this defense really could be if they had a true rush end like Williams. Imagine for a second that Williams is on one end—remember, he led the team in sacks last season and was third in tackles for loss—and Simon is on the other.

That would allow Hankins and Bellamy to stay inside with Garrett Goebel and Michael Bennett rotating in. Just having that one extra guy who can create havoc and put pressure on the quarterback might be enough to take this from a pretty average defense to a pretty darn good one.

The injury has been compounded even more by the fact Ohio State doesn’t really have another rush end who can make plays. Senior Solomon Thomas is getting a little playing time, but Heacock realized pretty quickly that freshman J.T. Moore and Steve Miller aren’t ready to play at this level yet.

Both Miller and Moore could become pretty good ends for the Buckeyes in the future, but right now Heacock has been forced to play Simon out of position—remember, he was a starting defensive TACKLE last season. Now he is playing the Leo position, which is often asked to drop into coverage. If Williams were healthy, it would have allowed Simon to play strongside end, the position Cam Heyward played a year ago.

OK, that’s enough daydreaming for one Sunday afternoon. Back to the reality of the 2011 Buckeyes.

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