10 Things We Learned from First Day of Spring Ball
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s easy to draw all kinds of instantaneous conclusions after watching a two-hour practice at Ohio State, mainly because we don’t get to do it very often.
Like Urban Meyer mentioned after practice, there isn’t a whole lot written in pen after the first day of spring camp, especially when the team is indoors in shorts and helmets. There were a lot of interesting things written in pencil on day one, however, and we take a closer look at some of them in our latest 10 Things We Learned feature.
Photo by Dan Harker
1. Jordan Hall has a chance to be really good. I know, I know, first day of spring practice. No pads. No hitting. Really not much actual football going on, but shouldn’t the best playmakers on the team look like playmakers no matter what the circumstances? If this practice took place in a parking lot or an open field or Ohio Stadium, it would wouldn’t change the fact Hall looked like the most elusive player on Ohio State’s offense Tuesday.
Fortunately we have more than just a two-hour practice to fall back on. Meyer himself said Hall was the only guy last spring who could “make someone miss” other than Braxton, and he showed that Tuesday. Yes, it was only shorts, but already we can see how this new hybrid role will really fit Hall much better than tailback ever did.
Hall is a great route-runner and has very solid hands for a running back. He made a catch on Tuesday about 40 yards downfield with Christian Bryant draped all over him that not many guys on the team would have made. The new position should allow him to get more one-on-one matchups in space.
2. Bradley Roby, as good as he ever was. If Hall was the first-day winner on offense, the easy choice on defense was cornerback Bradley Roby. In fact, one could argue Roby was the best all-around player on the first day of spring camp. He was out there running around, making plays in the secondary, and he had two interceptions that almost certainly were going for six the other way. The problem for Roby in the past has been inconsistency when he gets bored or loses interest. When he’s dialed in, Roby is as good as any defensive back in the country.
Photo by Dan Harker
3. Braxton has improved his mechanics. Maybe this is a little bit of a reach after just one day of practice, but it certainly looked like Braxton Miller was throwing the ball with more authority on Tuesday. Coach Meyer praised his footwork and it was especially noticeably on plays where he rolled out of the pocket. That’s usually when Miller’s fundamentals completely abandon him, but he actually looked good throwing the ball on the run Tuesday evening. It was only the first day and there were no 260-pound defensive ends trying to take his head off, but I thought Miller made two perfect throws he probably doesn’t make at this time last year. One was a pinpoint pass to Evan Spencer along the right sideline. Spencer dotted his toes inbounds after hauling in a perfectly thrown ball. Miller made the identical same throw to his left, hitting Michael Thomas along the sideline for a big gain.
4. The Buckeyes should be just fine at right tackle. It’s always nice for a coach when he returns not only his starting quarterback but also four starters on the offensive line. Even better if all four of those guys are seniors. That doesn’t mean Meyer wouldn’t love to have Reid Fragel back for another go-around. The former tight end emerged as one of Ohio State’s best offensive linemen last season, and he may have been their best run blocker across the board. While sophomore Taylor Decker isn’t quite on that level yet, he actually should be an upgrade in pass protection. The 6-7 monster out of Vandalia Butler doesn’t just look the part before the snap, he has also shown natural instincts when it comes to pass blocking. He has great footwork and seems to have improved his knee-bend. Decker should get the first chance to replace Fragel at right tackle, but the good news is he won’t be their only option. Redshirt sophomore Chase Farris also took a few snaps with the first-team offense Tuesday and he looks a lot more polished than he did a year ago.
5. Michael Thomas is going to be a good one. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not this year, but Thomas is too darn talented not to make it as an outside receiver at Ohio State, so long as he is willing to put in the work. Every indication is that he has been working hard this offseason, and it certainly showed on Tuesday. With apologies to Devin Smith, Thomas looked like the best outside receiver on the field during the first day of spring practice. He runs hard and plays physical. He seems to have improved his route-running tremendously, and at 6-2, 200 pounds, Thomas proved to be a matchup nightmare for the OSU defensive backs. Add in the fact he caught just about everything thrown in his vicinity and it’s hard to imagine this kid won’t make an impact in year two.
Photo by Dan Harker
6. Curtis Grant is out there. That, truthfully, is about all we learned on day one about the one guy everyone is dying to know more about. I wish, for his sake, I could sit here and rave about how good Grant looked on the first day of camp and how the light seems to have really gone on during the offseason. I’m not saying it didn’t, but we didn’t see anything Tuesday from Grant we haven’t seen in the past. He looks the part, and when he’s in the right place, he’s going to make the play. One problem for Grant is the fact the Buckeyes played nickel pretty much the entire practice. That puts him in space, and Grant is not the best guy at playing in space. He might be able to contribute against teams like Penn State and Michigan State, but it still seems like a long shot he will be out there next to Ryan Shazier when they go with two linebackers and five defensive backs.
7. The offense is light years ahead of last year. Thinking back about the first few practices of last spring, it’s rather amazing how far this Ohio State offense has come in one year. It’s been a lot of hard work, and lot of teaching from Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman, but the Buckeyes should only continue to get better offensively. It starts with Braxton Miller, and improving his fundamentals, but these guys couldn’t even snap a football this time last year. I remember watching the first practice and waiting for someone on offense to make a play. It never happened, and Meyer was very critical of the receivers after practice. He said he is used to one or two guys showing up with big plays every day in practice. They are a lot closer to that now, and should only get better with some of the new guys they have coming in June.
8. The defense is incredibly raw. It finally hit me on Tuesday. I guess I always knew it, but it hit me just how young this Ohio State team is going to be on defense. Maybe it was the fact Shazier wasn’t practicing (he’s coming off sports hernia surgery), or maybe it was a redshirt freshman playing the ‘Star’ position, but I looked out there at one point and realized there wasn’t one guy in the front seven from last year. It’s easy to think about some of these guys stepping in and filling the void, but you don’t really get a sense of just how inexperienced this group is until you actually see them out there on the field together.
9. The ‘Star’ position is going to be both critical and intriguing this offseason. There have been some pretty good players at the ‘Star’ position in the past. It was created as a hybrid defensive back position to counter some of the spread stuff teams were doing about 10 years ago. Now the Buckeyes could be using their nickel look as a base formation for most of the 2013 season. They were in nickel almost the entire practice on Tuesday, which means whoever plays ‘Star’ could see a lot more playing time than Ohio State’s third linebacker. Apparently Tyvis Powell is going to get the first crack at it this spring. It makes sense because he is a corner who isn’t really a corner. Kind of like Christian Bryant a few years ago only for different reasons. Powell is a legit 6-3 and simply doesn’t have the hip movement you need to cover outside receivers at this level. He could be an ideal matchup inside, where he will likely face tight ends, running backs and slot receivers, but don’t be surprised to see De’van Bogard or even Vonn Bell in the mix come fall.
Photo by Dan Harker
10. Drew Basil can really punt the football. We heard this from Meyer a few times now, but it was good to see Basil booming the ball out of there as a punter on the first day of camp. As of right now, he’s their starter at both kicker and punter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Kyle Clinton get a chance to handle kickoffs. Basil never really impressed me in that role to begin with, and Clinton actually handled the kickoffs at Ohio University two years ago. Frank Epitropoulos also showed off a big leg, but he’s far, far less consistent at this point. It looks like it’s Basil’s job to lose, at least for now.
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