Five Players to Watch This Spring: Offense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — What can Urban Meyer do for an encore?
That is what everyone wants to know after Ohio State’s new head coach turned in a perfect 12-0 season in his first year in Columbus. The Buckeyes were ineligible for postseason play after their undefeated regular season, but they should be very much in the hunt for a BCS national championship headed into year two.
Meyer and the Buckeyes open spring camp this week, with the first practice being open to the media on Tuesday evening. Here is a closer look at five players to keep an eye on this spring as we move into the second year of Meyer’s offense.
1. Jordan Hall (RB, 5-9, 195, rSr.)
Photo by Dan Harker
It seems like we have said this the last two years, but nobody brings more intrigue into this spring practice than senior Jordan Hall. There are probably Ohio State fans who didn’t realize he was still on the roster after receiving a medical redshirt for last season, but the Buckeyes plan to use him a little differently this spring.
Meyer said they will move Hall out to the hybrid No. 3 position, which is a role they really didn’t have in the offense last season. Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall will both play that position at OSU, but they won’t be on campus until June. That gives Hall, a fifth-year senior out Jeannette, Pa. a chance to put some distance between him and the young pups who are coming in ready to bite.
Hall has had his ups and downs at Ohio State, but Meyer said he was the only guy they had last spring (other than Braxton Miller) who could “make someone miss.” Maybe this new role will be the right one for Hall, who has averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in each of his four previous seasons at Ohio State.
2. Taylor Decker (OT, 6-7, 313, So.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes return four starters on the offensive line from last year’s team, but the one guy they have to replace might have been their most valuable in 2012. Reid Fragel slid over from tight end in the spring and turned in a phenomenal senior season at right tackle. He may have been the team’s best run blocker last year and Fragel really improved his pass protection as the senior progressed.
Fragel was battling with true freshman Taylor Decker during most of spring and fall camp before he pulled away at the end. Even at the beginning of the year, we thought Decker was going to see a lot of action at right tackle, but Fragel really locked things down on the right side of the line.
With Fragel gone, Decker should finally get his chance to be the fifth starter on Ohio State’s offensive line in 2013. He is built like a tackle and is probably the most natural pass blocker on the team outside of senior left tackle Jack Mewhort.
Decker is the most likely candidate to take over for Mewhort at left tackle in 2014, so it makes sense he would get a chance to play on the right side as a sophomore this season, but they could decided to shuffle some guys around up front.
3. Rod Smith (RB, 6-3, 225, Jr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State fans have seen Rod Smith in action before but this will be a huge spring for the junior out of Fort Wayne, Ind. He emerged as a solid No. 2 tailback behind Carlos Hyde last season but Smith has had more than his share of ups and downs during his career at Ohio State.
Smith showed flashes of brilliance last year and there’s no question the Ohio State coaches would like to see more of what he can do. The time is now for Smith if he’s going to hold off young guys like Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball, both of whom have a year in the system now, not to mention incoming freshman Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott won’t be at OSU until the summer, so Smith has some time to distance himself from the rest of the pack, but this will be an important spring.
4. Michael Thomas (WR, 6-2, 200, So.)
The last time we saw Thomas he was turning himself into a spring football legend. Sure, the rookie out of California had three catches for 22 yards as a freshman last season, but he was never more involved than during his 12-catch performance in the 2012 OSU Spring Game.
Thomas has prototypical size and speed for an outside receiver at Ohio State and Meyer’s decision to get Corey Brown more involved as a slot receiver could open the door for Thomas to emerge in his second season in Columbus.
He will have to fight off guys like Evan Spencer, Corey Smith and James Clark on the outside, but only Spencer will be at OSU for spring practice. Thomas caught 86 passes for a state-leading 1,656 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Woodland Hills Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley.
5. Warren Ball (RB, 6-1, 215, rFr.)
There will be three guys ahead of Ball at the tailback position this spring, but keep an eye on No. 28 out of Columbus DeSales. We haven’t gotten to see much of Ball because he missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury, but this is a kid who presents “an intriguing option” for the Buckeyes, according to Urban Meyer.
He is 6-1, 215 pounds with good speed and great hands. He rushed for 1,232 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior at DeSales, but he has also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Ball probably isn’t going to come out and leapfrog guys like Dunn and Smith right away, but he should make the battle for Ohio State’s No. 2 tailback a little more interesting.
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