10 Questions Facing the OSU Offense Heading Into Spring Practice
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spring football is finally here. Well, just about, anyway. Ohio State's spring practice starts tomorrow, and concludes on April 13th in Cincinnati with the Spring Game.
This will be the second rendition of Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes, and as such it will look a little bit more like the team that he desires to have, especially on offense.
While the Ohio State offense returns nine starters, and much is expected of them, there are still plenty of questions looking for answers. For now, however, we'll just worry about 10 of them.
Photo by Dan Harker
1. Is the offensive line set?
It would be a bit of a surprise if the offensive line looks like anything other than (LT) Jack Mewhort, (LG) Andrew Norwell, (C) Corey Linsley, (RG) Marcus Hall and (RT) Taylor Decker. Last season, Decker and Reid Fragel battled for the final spot, which was eventually won by Fragel. This year, it would seem that Decker would get the first crack. Though if Decker isn't ready, Norwell could certainly get a look as he has played tackle before. That would also free up a spot for Chase Farris, who will see the field this season. I don't think the staff would like to see too much movement, as this unit really played well last season. However, the mantra will always be "get the five best linemen on the field".
2. Will the receivers show more big-play potential?
The Buckeyes return just two players with receptions of over 50 yards last season, and one of them is backup running back Rod Smith. Devin Smith is undoubtedly a deep threat that will worry defenses, but he needs to make more plays that don't involve running straight down the sideline. Similarly, Corey "Philly" Brown has to show that he can turn a seven-yard reception into a 20-yard gain. Averaging 11.2 yards per catch like he did last year isn't good enough for Urban Meyer. Questions obviously remain about Evan Spencer, Mike Thomas and Chris Fields as well.
Photo by Jim Davidson
3. Has Braxton Miller greatly improved his fundamentals?
For as well as Braxton Miller played last season, his passing was well below Urban Meyer's standards. Scoff if you want at Tim Tebow the passer, but he was in the top four in passing efficiency all three seasons as a starter, including #1 as a senior in 2009. If Miller's fundamentals haven't improved, then this offense won't be able to reach its enormous potential. (But it will still be very, very good.)
4. Will Bri'onte Dunn or Warren Ball earn more carries?
There aren't a lot of carries to go around, especially with Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller holding onto them like hoarders. However, Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have both stated that their job is to designate playmakers who need to get the ball. Both Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball will have the opportunity to do that this spring. How they do with that opportunity will give us an idea of what this running back depth really looks like behind Hyde and Rod Smith.
Photo by Jim Davidson
5. How much east-west action will the offense use?
Meyer and Herman have talked about attacking a defense north and south, and east and west. However, they've stated that the only way to do it effectively east and west is with elite speed. Devin Smith is fast, as is Corey Brown, but they want that speed everywhere. They won't be as fast in April as they will be in August when the freshmen arrive, but they're still going to have to run plays out wide in order to get the rest of the offense accustomed to it. If it works well in April, it should be even better when it actually counts in the fall.
6. Will Ed Warinner find a sixth, seventh and eighth offensive lineman?
Last season, the Buckeyes had eight or nine offensive linemen that they were okay with. Essentially, they had a backup center in Jacoby Boren, backup guard in Chase Farris or Antonio Underwood, and a backup center in Taylor Decker. While the offensive line wasn't as deep as Warinner would normally like, the fact that he had a top eight that he was confident in was as much as he could ask in his first year. He will eventually have a top eight again this season, but will he find them in the spring? And what happens if one of last season's backups is pushing a returning starter?
Photo by Jim Davidson
7. Is Carlos Hyde ready to take the next step?
Last season Urban Meyer and Tom Herman weren't entirely sure what they had with Carlos Hyde early on. I'm not sure Hyde knew either. He started the first two games while Jordan Hall was injured, but then he too was lost to injury in the second week. He only carried the ball 35 times in Ohio State's first five games, but then went on to rush for at least 137 yards in four of the Buckeyes' final seven games. He averaged 107.6 yards rushing per game in Big Ten play. Will he be able to top that? He averaged 20 carries per game in conference play. Will he have the same number of opportunities in 2013? This offense was very difficult to defend when it had the threat of Hyde's power combined with the slick skills of Braxton Miller. If Hyde shows in the spring that he is a capable of hitting the homeruns that he didn't hit last season then he will deserve more touches, though if he is hitting more homeruns he won't need as many carries in order to inflict the same amount of damage. By the way, Hyde's long carry was just 29 yards last season. Miller had 10 carries that were longer.
8. Will Braxton Miller be the scrambler his coaches want?
Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor are the two most dynamic runners to ever play at Ohio State, yet they are very different. Pryor was tremendous when scrambling. He could keep a play alive, especially on third down, and would generally find a receiver or simply reach the chains on his own. Where he struggled was the called runs. That may have been because of the plays that were being used at the time. Miller, on the other hand, is a much better runner on the called plays than he is when things break down. If he can become a scrambler on par with his athleticism he will shatter even more Ohio State records when he is done.
9. How much pace can this offense handle right now?
In order to involve all of the playmakers that Urban Meyer is planning on having this coming season, he is going to have to increase the tempo from last season. Granted, they did try to up the tempo last season, but that went away at times in order to make sure the offense did its job correctly. Now a year older, the offense should be able to move at a much greater pace. However, it is still just spring, so how much implementation of tempo is really necessary right now?
10. How much of a role will Jordan Hall have?
Last spring, the talk of Jordan Hall in OSU's offense nearly rivaled that of Jake Stoneburner's. Both seasons went similarly, however, as neither materialized to the extent that their coaches wanted. Hall's season was cut short due to injury, and it's not really known what he will look like in this offense. What is known, however, is that he has never been a big-play threat, and only has four plays of over 20 yards in 248 career touches. His career-long play from scrimmage is a 39-yard run against New Mexico State as a freshman. The H-back position that Hall will play is eventually going to be a large portion of this offense. How soon that happens could be answered this spring.
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