Meyer Identifies Top Spring Performers
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio - With Urban Meyer, it can often be a little tricky figuring out exactly which players are making progress during the offseason at Ohio State.
Meyer is as direct and candid as any coach in the country, but he's also not afraid to use whatever means necessary to motivate a certain player or position group. Nobody learned that faster than the wide receiver group at Ohio State, Meyer still likes to use the media to push players like Devin Smith towards their potential.
Sometimes he tends to offer a little too much praise for a kid who really impressed him during a handful of practices, but in the long run, Meyer usually has a hard time hiding how he really feels about a player, at least at that particular moment.
Photo by Jim Davidson
There were a number of players who grabbed Meyer's attention this spring, as the Buckeyes hit the practice field for the first time since last November.
Of all the players who made strides this spring, nobody seemed to come further than junior linebacker Curtis Grant.
"Curtis Grant is the starting middle linebacker at Ohio State," Meyer said Saturday after the spring game.
"I think I announced that a week ago, he solidified that today. He is a fully-engaged player right now, which, I take my hat off to him. He was not that a year ago for whatever reason."
The former five-star prospect had a game-high 10 tackles during Ohio State's spring game and looked like a much different player than the guy who was just trying to keep his head above water last season.
He could help solidify the OSU defense in 2013 if he can hold on to that starting spot in the fall, but it looks like the strength of the defense could be on the front line once again in 2013.
"That front seven is much improved," Meyer said recently.
"We're much more aggressive up front than we were at this time last year. I kind of like the direction we're heading. Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence are making some strides."
The two sophomores combined for seven sacks in four 10-minute quarters on Saturday, with Spence racing out to three and Washington finishing strong with four.
Both players have shown a lot of potential this spring, especially in pass-rushing situations, but Spence in particular has already garnered high expectations from Meyer and his coaching staff.
"All-Big Ten candidate," Meyer said of the former five-star defensive end out of Pennsylvania.
"I'd be disappointed if he didn't have a very good year."
Photo by Jim Davidson
The same could be said for Washington, who brings a unique blend of size (290 pounds) and speed to Ohio State's strongside defensive end position. He is similar to a young Cam Heyward, but maybe a tad more explosive than Heyward was at this point in his career.
"Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play. He's legitimate as far as a starter at Ohio State,"
Meyer added after the spring game.
"You saw him today just have his way with our offensive line at times. He could be a very good player."
Grant will be charged with replacing Zach Boren in the middle of the OSU defense, while Washington and Spence have to fill some big shoes left behind by John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and the other defensive linemen.
Those aren't the only spots on defense where the Buckeyes will be relying on a first-year starters to replace a key member of the undefeated 2012 team from a year ago.
"The last guy as we are replacing one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, Travis Howard," Meyer said Saturday, "and Doran Grant has been challenged and he accepted the challenge. He had a very good spring."
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer has also praised the play of second-year defensive back Tyvis Powell, who came out of nowhere this spring after redshirting last season as a rookie. He all but wrapped up the starting "Star" position in the nickel this spring, but there's still a long way to go before the start of the season.
"Tyvis has done a good job," safeties coach Everett Withers said this spring.
"He's got a long way to go, but he's done a good job."
Assuming he holds on to the job, Powell will be replacing senior Orhian Johnson from last year's defense.
The Buckeyes return three of their four starters in the secondary, including All-American candidate Bradley Roby and senior safety C.J. Barnett, who emerged as a leader on the defense this spring.
"C. J. Barnett is a guy that had an up and down season last year," Meyer said candidly.
"He's a very good leader, he's on our leadership group. He's a guy I 'm counting on to have a tremendous year. He could be a tremendous leader and he did have a tremendous spring."
Meyer also had good things to say about backfield mate Christian Bryant this spring, but it was senior wideout Chris Fields who drew the most high praise from Ohio State's head coach following the conclusion of the 15th and final practice of the spring.
"I'm going to name him a starter today," Meyer said Saturday in Cincinnati.
"I told him I would if he finished the spring. Chris Fields has earned a starting spot on the offense, which is amazing. He's a wonderful guy that last year was very inconsistent."
Another player who has been equally inconsistent during his career at Ohio State is tailback Rod Smith. The junior out of Fort Wayne, Ind. missed the spring game with a minor concussion, but Meyer did say was having an excellent spring before the injury.
Another guy who caught Meyer's attention this spring were offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who is suddenly in the mix for the fifth and final starting spot on the offensive line.
Freshman quarterback Cardale Jones also did enough to show Meyer he might actually have a future at Ohio State.
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