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Last updated: 01/04/2013 10:44 AM
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Around The-Ozone Water Cooler: Other than Braxton Miller, which player needs to have the biggest offseason for the Buckeyes heading into 2013?
By the-Ozone Staff

WaterCoolerLike it or not, the Buckeyes went undefeated in 2012 and now more of the same is expected in 2013. For that to happen, however, a number of players need to step up and emerge on a level that they have yet to achieve.

There is more than just one player who fits this description, which is why we brought this discussion to the Water Cooler where we can settle things once and for all. Sure, sometimes the arguments get heated, but it's nothing that a week's long grudge can't cure.

After reading our picks, feel free to agree, disagree or include your own in the comments below.

WaterCoolerBrandon Castel – This is going to be a big offseason for a lot of returning players. Maybe not as big as last season, when the Buckeyes were coming off a 6-7 season and were in desperate need of a complete makeover – both physically and mentally – but these next few months will be critical for the Buckeyes.
 
Some guys need to get stronger, others faster; some need to slim down and others need to take the next step in their development as football players. The most pressure will be on Braxton Miller, who must develop his passing ability along with his understand of how to make the right decisions on read-option plays.
 
He’s not the only one entering a big offseason, however, as a lot of players on the OSU offense have to take another giant leap forward if this team is going to play at a national championship level next season. Wideouts Devin Smith and Corey Brown are both candidates to answer this question, as is center Corey Linsley and freshman Taylor Decker, who could be asked to step into the starting lineup as a sophomore next season.
 
My choice, however, comes from the other side of the ball. Both Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are candidates here, but my choice is Michael Bennett. The Buckeyes have not replaced all four starters on their defensive line in the same year since the 1980s.
 
Washington and Spence will be called upon to provide the pass rush, but Bennett is likely going to be the guy who steps in to fill the shoes left behind by Johnathan Hankins. That is no small task in and of itself, but Bennett is also heading into his junior season and he has yet to live up to the high expectations placed on him when he got to Ohio State.
 
The Centerville product showed a lot of promise a freshman in 2011, but a groin injury derailed his 2012 campaign before it really got going. He was expected to be the starting strongside end this season, but ended up playing more inside. That’s probably where he will be next year as the Buckeyes look for someone who can clog holes but also apply pressure up the middle.
 
Bennett has got to get stronger and faster. He needs to get nasty and get himself in the best playing shape of his life to handle all of the responsibility that will be thrust on him next year as the leader of a very young OSU defensive line.

WaterCoolerKen Pryor – It is absolutely critical that Devin Smith works hard this off-season to not only take his game to another level, but to take the Ohio State offense to another level.

Urban Meyer was not pleased with the receiving corps all last winter, spring and summer.  He lamented the receivers' lack of game-breaking speed, their inability to get off the line of scrimmage, their poor route running, and their inconsistency with catching the ball.

Smith, while very good, must increase his personal production in every one of these categories, which would allow Ohio State’s offense to improve in a major way.

Speed is not the real problem with Smith.  He scored points for Ohio State's track team at both the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships last season while also competing in the 100-meter dash for the Buckeyes. 

He has clearly shown an ability to get behind defenders in the passing game. Not an easy task considering he is essentially Ohio State’s lone deep threat and defenses need only game plan for him alone when prepping for the Buckeyes' deeper routes.

But three things must happen if Smith is to break into that next level of upper tier receivers across the nation.

1.Smith would do himself a world of good by getting in the weight room this off season to increase his upper body strength. I believe this would do wonders for him in terms of defeating the man press coverage he’s seeing from stronger defensive backs. It also makes him more competitive when fighting for 50-50 balls thrown up by Braxton Miller. Moreover, Smith’s blocking would improve as he would be strong enough to lock onto his defender thereby sustaining the block that might spring a touchdown run versus an eight-yard gain.

2.If Smith’s route running is problematic, this too would be enhanced with proper strength and conditioning. Strength allows him to get off the line and into his routes much quicker thus making the play more effective. To be fair, route running and blocking could also be improved with a little attitudinal adjustment.

3.Then there is that little issue Smith has had with catching the ball consistently. He’s probably left three or four touchdowns and close to a couple hundred receiving yards on the field due to dropped passes.  Smith needs to double up his time with the jugs machine to increase his muscle memory for catching the ball.  When he’s done with that, he ought to be banging on Braxton Miller’s door to go catch more balls in conjunction with running routes.  Some men have dogs for a best friend, Devin Smith’s dog should be named ‘Jugs’.

If Smith can adhere to this simple regimen, he could be in the running for B1G Player of the Year, he is that talented. He will be a junior next season and the time has come for him to make a significant year-long impact on this team. If he can do this, it just may be the most impactful improvement any one player could have on the Ohio State team next season.

Defense will be filling some holes, so any extra offensive output would do wonders for the good of the team next season. Those three or four touchdowns and couple hundred yards that Smith left behind last year will be more than necessary next year.

WaterCoolerTony Gerdeman – When I think about the one player who has to step up this offseason, I look back to the player who arguably had the biggest impact on the 2012 team – Zach Boren.

Prior to the 2012 season, Urban Meyer said on multiple occasions how important Curtis Grant excelling at middle linebacker was to this team. When that didn't happen, we saw the extremes that Meyer and this defense had to go through to make things work.

To this point, I have no reason to think the same doesn't hold true in 2013. Ohio State needs a middle linebacker in the worst way, and right now the leading candidate for that job is sophomore Camren Williams.

Williams, like a lot of players last year, battled injuries all season long. Meyer has stated publicly that he doesn't know which two linebackers will be playing alongside Ryan Shazier, but if Williams would like to ease some of Meyer's doubt, the convincing starts now.

The offseason is where Williams can establish himself as the presumed starter. There's no rule that says sophomores can't be leaders, just ask Shazier and Braxton Miller.

With an untested front four paving the way for the Ohio State defense in 2013, the Buckeyes can't afford to have the same issues at linebacker that they've had for the past two seasons. A defense can't expect to give up big plays on the ground week after week and also remain undefeated.

With the number of linebackers the staff has brought in in the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, it doesn't appear that patience will be a virtue for the coaches. In other words, if Williams can't nail down the job in the offseason, it will be up for grabs, and the candidates may include a certain five-star freshman linebacker from Texas who should be committing to the Buckeyes sometime Saturday afternoon.

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