Spring Football: 10 Changes to Watch for this Spring
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spring football is an annual time for new beginnings and fresh starts. It is filled with untapped potential and unlimited opportunities for just about everyone on the roster.
This year especially.
As Ohio State prepares to open its first spring camp under new head coach Urban Meyer (March 28), we take a look at 10 important changes to watch for around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this spring.
Photo by Jim Davidson
1. Braxton Miller. No element is more important to Ohio State’s future—not to mention the 2012 season—than the development of quarterback Braxton Miller. Meyer has raved about his first impressions of the youngster from Wayne High School, but now he will get his first chance to really get his hands on the second-year signal caller in spring practice. It will be interesting to see how much Miller has improved already from his rookie season at Ohio State, and also how he will grow in his role as the facilitator of Meyer’s new offense.
2. Urban Meyer’s new-look offense. Speaking of which, it will be exciting to see something new around Ohio State this spring after so many years of bland Tresselball. That’s not meant as an attack on Tressel or anything he accomplished during his time in Columbus, but even the staunchest Tressel defenders can admit his offense was about as boring and vanilla as they come. It will be interesting to watch how much of the new system Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman are able to implement in the spring.
3. A new killer mentality. Meyer doesn’t claim to be an offensive “guru,” but he understands two key philosophies that will drastically change the look and feel of Ohio State’s offense. The first is the importance of stretching the field, both vertically and horizontally, and the second is getting the ball into the hands of the top playmakers on the team.
Photo by Jim Davidson
4. The emergence of new playmakers on offense. There was a serious drop-off for Ohio State offensively last season after the losses of Terrelle Pryor and Dane Sanzenbacher. It didn’t help much that Boom Herron and DeVier Posey were suspended, and the Buckeyes never seemed to really find a rhythm offensively. There were a few players who emerged as potential playmakers for Ohio State on offense, but right now they are all potential. Guys like Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Devin Smith have shown glimpses, but Meyer is looking for a whole lot more than glimpses. About the only established playmaker on offense for the Buckeyes is Jake Stoneburner, and even he has a lot to prove heading into his senior season.
5. Luke Fickell as Defensive Coordinator. Having served under Jim Heacock as the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, it doesn’t seem like a lot is going to change defensively for the Buckeyes under Luke Fickell. Heacock was also his position coach at OSU during his days as a nose guard for John Cooper, which means basically everything he knows about defensive has come from the now-retired Heacock. It will still be interesting to see what, if any, changes Fickell makes in his first year as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. He is working with an entirely new staff, outside of his good buddy Mike Vrabel, so there are bound to be some interesting tweaks on defense from guys like Everett Withers and Kerry Coombs, the recently hired cornerbacks coach.
6. New faces looking to make their mark. Another thing to keep an eye on this spring will be the handful of newcomers from the class of 2012 who are looking to earn a spot in the two-deep. That includes guys like Jacoby Boren, Josh Perry, Tyvis Powell, Cardale Jones and, likely, Luke Roberts. The guys who will be most interesting to watch, however, are guys who could legitimately challenge some veterans for playing time. That includes tailback Bri’onte Dunn, wide receiver Mike Thomas, defensive end Se’Von Pittman and offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who is scheduled to enroll at Ohio State in March.
7. Familiar faces in new places. It will also be interesting to watch some of the returning players who are in new roles, or even new positions for the Buckeyes this spring. Headlining that group is senior Reid Fragel. The 6-8 Michigan native actually started the Gator Bowl at tight end, but he is up to 298 pounds this off-season and could be in line for the top spot at right tackle. Former defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin is another guy to watch. He is listed at 6-6 and nearly 300 pounds, and is also making the switch to offensive line this spring. Another guy to watch this spring is Kenny Hayes, who goes from a potential rush end, to a 285-pound guy who can play inside or out.
Photo by Jim Davidson
8. Mickey Marotti’s off-season overhaul. Fragel and Hayes were two of the players assigned to a strict nutrition plan in order to add weight this off-season, but there were a number of guys expected to lose weight in Mickey Marotti’s first winter conditioning program. That includes defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins, who is now listed at 317 pounds after playing at over 340 pounds last season. It will also be interesting to see how Marotti’s program will help some of Ohio State’s massive offensive linemen.
9. Constant competition. Make no mistake about it, Jim Tressel and his staff were competitive guys. They wanted to win, but that didn’t always trickle over into daily practices. Drills like the Hoot-N-Holler certainly promoted competition in practice, but Meyer is going to bring a whole new meaning to the word this spring. It will be interesting to see how intense things get at practice with so much riding on the line. Meyer is going to reward the winning team with Gatorade, while the losers drink from a hose. More importantly, however, is the respect of the head coach. He doesn’t like losers, so right there is all the incentive the players will need to take every day seriously.
10. A renewed sense of excitement. Last year was rough on everyone at Ohio State. There was a lot of emotion, both good and bad, surrounding the program and the team in 2011, and most of it was bad. Losing a beloved head coach was only the start of a roller coaster year that ended with a 6-7 season. By the end, it was pretty tough to watch some of the guys who were obviously emotionally drained from all of the controversy surrounding the University. It will be refreshing to watch a team practice with a renewed sense of excitement this spring. Heck, the hiring of Urban Meyer has brought a renewed sense of anticipation to just about everything surrounding Ohio State football.
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