On Second Thought: The Ohio State Spring Game and the H-Back
By Tony Gerdeman
I left Saturday's Ohio State Spring Game thinking about the potential of this Buckeye offense and the immense amount of pressure that it puts on a defense.
For one, the "clown show" at wide receiver isn't so funny anymore. When a player like Michael Thomas, who refused to be brought down by the first tackler all day long, is the team's fourth or fifth outside receiver on the depth chart, things aren't all that bad.
Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Evan Spencer are all better than they were last year, and they'll be better in the fall than they are now. Smith wants to be more consistent, Brown wants to make more plays, and Spencer simply wants more minutes. And they have all taken steps to make their desires reality.
But the key to this offense reaching its potential lies with the H-back. Jordan Hall didn't play, but Chris Fields did a nice job of showing you what Tom Herman and Urban Meyer intend to do with the position.
Photo by Jim Davidson
There was an option pitch, a counter end around, and several short passes that allowed Fields to match up one on one with tacklers. Fields did well in this role over the course of spring practice, and we always saw him making plays. Hall was even better at the position, though we only saw him healthy for one practice this spring.
Neither player can be defended by a linebacker, so either a defense has to bring in an extra defensive back to help out, or they have to match up a safety, which then takes that safety out of the play should it go elsewhere.
If the defense chooses to bring in an extra defensive back, then it's just simple matter of numbers and the Buckeyes will be able to run their power game. At its best, this will be an offense that won't allow a defense to match up with it. At its worst, it still has Braxton Miller.
Photo by Jim Davidson
If there is a concern with Hall and Fields, it's that they aren't necessarily homerun hitters. They can make the first man miss, but they can't necessarily hit that fifth gear and leave the rest of the defense trailing.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they will be bringing in their own version of the Bash Brothers in receivers Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. Both are extremely fast, but just as shifty, and they're both accustomed to running the ball between the tackles. Given the importance of the position, if either Wilson or Marshall shows themselves ready, expect them to see the field in spots this season.
Keep in mind, however, Herman and Meyer are itching to show what Hall can do in this offense, so if he's healthy, expect him to touch that ball a lot, and in every manner possible.
The great thing about the H-back in this offense is that it's not just designed to help the passing game. It's also key in making the running game even more dominating than it was last year.
There's a reason that Carlos Hyde's longest run last season was just 29 yards (other than the fact that he was missing some holes early in the season). There were simply too many defenders in the box. With a viable H-back on the field, that box loses a defender and it allows Hyde and Rod Smith and whoever else to get to the second level.
You know a skill position is valuable when it's contributing to the overall offense without even touching the ball. However, as we saw with Chris Fields' touchdown run, the tangible contributions aren't so bad either.
The H-back makes everybody's life on offense easier, and makes everybody's life on defense much, much more difficult. In that sense, the position has a lot in common with Braxton Miller, literally and figuratively. There is no good way to defend either, and there is certainly no good way to defend both.
This offense isn't yet where Meyer wants it, but you can see the direction he's going to get it there. Saturday was just a glimpse. Come the fall, you'll get a much longer look at Meyer's vision. If all goes as planned, it could be a dream come true.
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