Ten Questions Facing the Offense Heading Into Spring Practice
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spring practice starts on Wednesday, and brings with it the first chance for the Ohio State coaches to finally get a look at their new team in helmets and pads.
To this point, all activities have been of the exercise variety. The drills have been football-related, but Wednesday begins the end of "football-related" activities and the start of actual football activities.
That means questions will start to be answered for everyone—including the players. They will begin to learn where they fit in Urban Meyer's program, or where they don't.
Meyer stated earlier in the month that he intends to use the spring to set his depth chart. In order to do that he needs to learn quite a bit more about his team's character and ability, and likely in that order.
A lot of questions will be getting answered over the next four weeks, and it will start on Wednesday with the first practice.
So in order to get you prepared for what will be a learning process for everybody, let's take a look at ten of those pressing questions facing the Buckeye offense this spring.
1. Can Reid Fragel live up to the hype?
Moving from tight end to tackle is not an uncommon move for a player, but doing it in his final year of eligibility and being expected to contribute is. That's where Fragel finds himself right now. Not only is he going to be playing a new position, but the plan is to rely on him heavily this year. I spoke to a former player earlier in the month and was told that the staff has already "penciled him into the starting lineup". Now he'll finally get to show his coaches if he can live up to their billing.
Photo by Dan Harker
2. How will the tailbacks adjust to the new running game?
In the past, power football at Ohio State meant lining up in the I-Formation and running straight ahead into a barrier of defenders who knew exactly what was coming at them. Many of those same principles will still be in place under the new regime, but they will come from different angles, and generally from the shotgun. Carrying the football out of the shotgun isn't new to any of the returning tailbacks, but doing it exclusively out of the shotgun is. Whoever picks it up best will likely carry it most.
3. Will the receivers impress Meyer?
Photo by Jim Davidson
Only recently has Meyer expressed anything other than doubt in the Ohio State receiving corps. However, having gotten to see them in their offseason workouts of late, the praise has begrudgingly begun. But things are about to get really real for the receivers as their non-ball drills go away, and football takes over. Any quality athlete can look good in drills, but now it's time for them to show those same abilities while catching the football and making plays. Will the same players who have stood out in drills (Philly Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, etc.) also be the same players who stand out now that a football has literally been thrown into the mix? For me, this is the most interesting aspect of the offensive mystery, and I am looking forward to hearing what Meyer has to say about his receivers as practice progresses.
4. Is there a battle for the back-up quarterback spot?
Photo by Dan Harker
When talking about the quarterback spots a couple of weeks back, Meyer almost forgot to mention freshman Cardale Jones. This means that as of right now, Kenny Guiton is the back-up. This can certainly change, as that is what Meyer uses the Spring for. However, it appears that Jones will have quite the uphill battle facing him to get Meyer's attention. Jones is the type of competitor to have zero concern who is ahead of him. After all, he committed to Ohio State when Braxton Miller was already committed, and then signed the following year after Miller's freshman season. Competition doesn't seem to bother Jones, which is something that Meyer loves in his players.
5. Does OSU have the east/west speed that Meyer covets?
On more than one occasion leading up to the Spring, Urban Meyer has talked about needing the right amount of speed on offense in order to stretch a defense out, and not being sure that that speed is on this roster. He said that the only way to truly attack a defense from all angles is to have the speed to do it wide, as well as over the top. He will find out where his doubts stand this Spring, and he probably won't hide the results from anybody.
6. Is Brian Bobek ready to be the starting center?
Mike Brewster started 50 games at center in his career for the Buckeyes, and now the torch has presumably been passed to the rising sophomore Bobek. He was in the two-deep behind Brewster for most of the season last year, but only saw action in five games. He is almost completely untested at this point, so an entire Spring of being the starter should either cement him at center, or open it up to a number of other candidates.
7. Are the tight ends oiled up and ready for use?
The running joke around here this time of year for the last decade was if this was the year the tight ends actually caught the ball at Ohio State. When you'd ask one of the tight ends, they would all answer basically the same way, "I think so...I hope so." Under Meyer and Tom Herman, that potential is certainly there, because they both know the type of weapon that a skilled tight end can be. Meyer has made mention of how impressed he is with this group of tight ends, so we should expect them to be busy. They will be given a chance, now they'll just have to produce commensurate with the opportunity provided.
8. Who will be the power back in this offense?
Photo by Jim Davidson
At Florida, when Meyer's offense needed a yard on third and one, it was usually Tim Tebow who was getting the carry. At Ohio State, will his desire to forgo a handoff on short-yardage downs continue even though he doesn't have a 240-pound battering ram taking the snaps? Braxton Miller will certainly be asked to pick up some short yardage situations, but I can't imagine he will asked to handle the bulk of it. That leaves at least three other candidates, with the most likely being Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and incoming freshman Bri'onte Dunn, as they are all 220+ pounds. Will a go-to guy emerge in the Spring, or will this be something that plays out well into September?
9. How much of the two-deep will come from those currently in camp?
Urban Meyer says that the time for earning a starting spot is over by the time Fall camp arrives, which means the job-winning time starts now. However, if Meyer isn't happy with a spot, he reserves the right to put somebody new there when, say, the rest of the freshmen arrive in the Summer. Still, Meyer has stated that for a freshman to win a job in the Fall, he will have to beat somebody out to do it. In other words, the depth chart is set—until somebody convinces Meyer to change it.
10. How will Braxton Miller pick up the offense, including the desired tempo?
Photo by Jim Davidson
It's going to be a very big Spring for Braxton Miller as he finally gets to put into action the playbook that he has likely been processing since last season was over. By all accounts, Miller has worked hard in the offseason to be ready for what awaits him. However, there is still the small matter of showing your work. Not only will he have to be able to handle Ohio State's new offense, but he'll also have to handle it at breakneck speed. Urban Meyer and Tom Herman want this offense to play at a pace that the Buckeyes only toyed with in recent years. Will Miller be able to keep up?
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