Ohio State Has Options Without Stoneburner, Mewhort
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tight end Jake Stoneburner and offensive tackle Jack Mewhort have been suspended indefinitely by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
What that means, exactly, we don’t yet know.
We know they cannot participate in any football activities during their suspensions, which means no offseason conditioning with strength coach Mickey Marotti until the two players resolve their legal matters.
At the latest, they have an arraignment on June 11, which is just around the corner. Maybe that will be the end of it, but we don’t yet know the extent of Meyer’s doghouse. He was swift with his punishment of repeat offenders like Dominic Clarke, DerJuan Gambrell and Jaamal Berry, but this is different.
Meyer is not going to bounce Stoneburner and Mewhort — a pair of beloved and respected seniors — off the team for peeing on the side of a building; even if they did run from the police afterward.
Suspending them indefinitely, however, leaves it open to the possibility Meyer will make an example of his two veteran leaders by suspended them for one or more games this fall. It seems harsh, all things considered, but it would definitely set the tone for a “zero tolerance” stance from Meyer and his staff when it comes to breaking the law.
Looking at the Schedule
So what happens if Stoneburner and Mewhort are suspended? Who will fill the void left behind if they have to miss a game or two at the start of the season?
First of all, the Buckeyes open the season with Miami (Ohio) and then Central Florida (UCF) before Cal comes to town in week three. All three games will be played in Columbus at Ohio Stadium, along with Ohio State’s week four game against UAB.
This is not exactly the Murderer’s Row of nonconference schedules for Ohio State in 2012. The Redhawks were 4-8 overall a year ago and 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference.
Their four wins came against Army, Kent State, Buffalo and Akron. They lost by 14 to Bowling Green, 27 to Cincinnati and 21 to Toledo. They hung with Temple, 24-21, but lost the last three games to close out the season.
UCF didn’t have much more luck last year, as they were 5-7 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA. The Knights did beat Boston College 30-3 in the second game of the year, and they destroyed Memphis 41-0 in late October, but UCF also lost games to FIU, SMU and UAB last season. Most of their losses were hard-fought battles, but they probably aren’t going to come into Columbus and give Meyer’s team much of a contest — regardless of whether they have Stoneburner and Mewhort in the lineup.
Even Cal wasn’t a very good team last year, but they showed they could at least hang with elite teams during their 31-28 loss to Stanford in November. The Golden Bears were 7-6 overall following a 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
Looking at Options at TE
Photo by Jim Davidson
If they Buckeyes are without Stoneburner for a game or two, it is going to change the way they attack opposing defenses. Backups Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett should be capable of stepping in to play the tight end position, but Meyer had plans to move Stoneburner around on offense.
He spent the spring working with the wide receiver, and the plan is to flex him out in the slot a lot more than Ohio State did a year ago. That will give him more room to operate, but it will also allow Meyer to get Zach Boren on the field as the H-back.
It’s possible Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman would look at Heuerman or Vannett as a guy who could flex out, but more likely they will be used more traditionally than Stoneburner. With his athleticism, Stoneburner has the ability to stretch the field vertically, while Heuerman and Vannett are probably more mid-range options on crossing or comeback routes.
Look at Options at OT
Where the Buckeyes would really have to do some reshuffling is without Mewhort. The fourth-year junior out of Toledo played left guard, right guard and right tackle for Ohio State last season, but he is slated to be their starting left tackle in 2012.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Protecting Braxton Miller’s blindside is a critical job for anyone, and Meyer isn’t going to just throw someone out there and see how it goes. Former defensive end Darryl Baldwin is listed as the backup left tackle, but he isn’t going to be the guy who fills in for Mewhort if it comes to that.
The Buckeyes could use junior Andrew Norwell out at left tackle, but more likely, that guy would be freshman Taylor Decker. Norwell started the first five games at left tackle last season while Mike Adams was suspended, so we know he’s capable, but offensive line coach Ed Warinner said the new staff likes Norwell much better as a guard in Meyer’s spread offense.
If Norwell moved outside, they would probably use sophomore Antonio Underwood at left guard, but it makes more sense to slide Decker over from right tackle, where he was already pushing senior Reid Fragel for the starting spot.
Fragel might actually be the main benefactor of a potential suspension for Mewhort. Instead of battling Fragel for the starting right tackle spot, Decker would probably slide over and take most of his snaps on the left side during fall camp if Meyer was planning to sit Mewhort for more than a half.
Decker is a true freshman who enrolled early for spring practice, but Warinner called him one of the smartest guys in his offensive line room. Decker is also a physical specimen, at 6-7 and 310 pounds. He is still learning the offense and polishing his technique, but is proving to be the real deal.
Let’s not rehash the fact he would probably be at Notre Dame right now if not for Meyer and Warinner, but it would interesting to see him get some early playing time if Mewhort is held out.
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