Spring Thoughts on the Offense at the Midway Point
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Saturday's Buckeye football practice was the eighth of Ohio State's 15 spring practices, so what better time to share some thoughts on the team's progress to this point.
Some position groups are ahead of others, as is expected. The point of spring, however, is for Urban Meyer to find his 22 starters, as well as his special teamers. Right now, most of those 22 spots are known, but there are still a few battles going on.
For those providing depth, this is their chance to imprint themselves on their coaches' minds before the freshmen arrive. Players have been told all offseason that the coaches were out recruiting in order to replace them on the depth chart. They were very serious, and now the players on this current roster have to be serious as well.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Quarterback. A year ago at this point in spring practice, Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton were taking every meaningful rep, including 100% of the scrimmage reps. Urban Meyer and Tom Herman were desperately trying to get their quarterbacks ready, and they didn't have time to bring true freshman Cardale Jones along with them.
This year, however, Jones is much more involved. He took a large chunk of Guiton's reps during a two-minute drill on Tuesday. Why? Because the coaches are confident in Guiton's ability to manage that aspect of the game. They are not confident in Jones yet, and they want to get to that point. He won't be ready to play in August, but he will be a lot closer then than he is right now.
Though I do wonder how many scrimmage reps true freshman J.T. Barrett would be getting if they weren't being cautious with his ACL recovery. Would the coaches have made it a competition between Jones and Barrett for the number three spot? I have to believe they would have. We'll have to wait until fall practice for that, I guess.
A number of players have talked about the way that Braxton Miller has stepped up as a leader during the offseason, which is exactly what Herman and Meyer needed to happen. The fact that he has progressed in that area as desired leads me to believe that he will be progressing similarly in other areas.
As far as his passing is concerned, he seems to be throwing the shorter passes with better zip and accuracy, allowing the receivers to run as soon as they catch the ball. He has also done a fair job of scrambling at times, and even though he's wearing a no-contact jersey, he's still moving around a bit. When he does, he keeps his eyes on his receivers, and frequently has been able to find an outlet in the middle of the field. He has to be careful, however, not to throw back across his body in these instances.
Running Back. I think it's pretty obvious that the Buckeyes currently have four tailbacks who are very talented, and any of them could top 1,000 yards if given the necessary 200 carries to do so.
Photo by Jim Davidson
We haven't gotten to see too much from the running backs, as they've been running a lot of nickel and dime defense, as well as goal line packages. In other words, there hasn't been a bunch of base offense and defense to observe.
Even though we haven't seen much base offense, the expectation is that the running game will come much easier this season for a few reasons. The number one reason is because the offense will feature more weapons, which means a defense won't be able to focus as much on the running game.
Running back coach Stan Drayton talked about how there were so many times last season when the opposing safeties were bunched around the line of scrimmage, and how that won't happen this year, especially if Jordan Hall is healthy at H-back.
Even though the Buckeyes ran the ball very well last year, they were doing it fairly predictably, and with a less-than-acceptable passing attack. This year, the passing has improved, the offensive line will be just as strong, and the running backs will have more room to run.
Carlos Hyde didn't have any long runs last year and is focused on making the safeties miss this year. He will find that a lot easier to do when they aren't hitting him as soon as he gets beyond the line of scrimmage.
Rod Smith is continuing to focus on ball security, but on Tuesday he wasn't focused enough and lost the ball inside the five-yard line. He had done well enough to move ahead of Bri'onte Dunn, who began the spring as the number two tailback. But if he can't be trusted, then he can't be Hyde's backup. That being said, he is far too talented to ignore.
Dunn is a brute who moves in straight lines very well. Warren Ball is the same size as Dunn, but has more shake. If you combined them both, you'd essentially get Rod Smith.
While there may not be your prototypical homerun hitter on the roster currently, we know that Carlos Hyde can break long runs because he did it in 2011. There may not be any 80-yard runs from this group, but there should be a number of 40-yard runs.
Receivers and Tight Ends. The first practice that we saw was dominated by Jordan Hall, but since that day, he's been dealing with a hamstring issue, though he was finally back on Saturday. The potential is there, but the production is waiting. Even though he is now considered a receiver, his presence will definitely help the running backs. It will be his duty to keep the safeties worried, which will make them slower to react to the running game.
In Hall's absence, however, Chris Fields has done a very nice job. The H-back position is a key one this season, and they have to get production out of it one way or another. There is also pressure on Fields because there will be at least a pair of freshmen in Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson who will fit right into this offense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Brown and Devin Smith could be the best receiver tandem in the conference this season, as both will be better than they were last year. Smith has been more involved in the shorter passing game this spring, which will make him a better player after the catch.
Sophomore Michael Thomas has been an imposing figure as well this spring. He's the most physical receiver on the roster that I've seen, as well as the tallest. He snatches the ball out of the air, and is able to do it a split second after fighting for his release. It will be hard to keep him off the field, but the same could be said for a few others as well.
Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are just such big targets that it's hard to imagine them not being involved this season. Basically, they're too big to miss, and after seeing Heuerman go up for a pass down the seam last week, and then break free of the safeties on his way to a 90-yard touchdown, they're also too good not to use.
There will be a number of ways for Braxton Miller to succeed in this passing game. His only limitation will be himself.
Offensive Line. If this Buckeye offense is the Billy Goats Gruff, then the offensive line is the oldest and largest of the brothers, and they have absolutely no problem butting somebody head over heels off of any bridge.
Jack Mewhort has been saying and doing the right things this spring. He certainly looks the part of a left tackle. Ed Warinner said that Mewhort finally came into his own during the Michigan State game last season. In fact, the entire team did. Urban Meyer wants Mewhort to be a captain this season, and I don't expect Mewhort to do anything to change Meyer's mind.
The interior of this offensive line is what will make everything go, however. The staff is so confident in Corey Linsley that they're letting Jacoby Boren and Patrick Elflein get increased reps at center. The impressive part is that they are both playing well.
Warinner has said that Marcus Hall is the most improved lineman on the team, and after seeing him this spring, it's easy to see why he would say that. He's stronger and yet quicker. He's doing less reaching and more moving. I watched him completely stone Michael Bennett in four consecutive one-on-one battles last week, and it was just another example of his improvement.
While Warinner and Hall should get the bulk of the credit for Hall's improvement, I also believe that some of the credit should go to Chase Farris, who was his back up last season. Hall knew he would need to improve in order to keep his job. Farris' potential and ability are so evident that he is no longer Hall's backup, and is now battling for the open right tackle spot.
He and Taylor Decker are having a nice battle right now. Both are not to where they need to be yet, but they both have the ability to get there. If Decker wins the job, Farris will still be involved. He will be the first lineman off the bench because he can play inside or outside.
This is a unit where three of the starters, Mewhort, Norwell and Hall, have all played both guard and tackle. They are a versatile and agile bunch. They are also nasty and mean. Not only are they going to clear the way for a ton of yards this season, but they are going to get the Ohio State defensive line prepared for the season like nobody else can.
Overall. Kenny Guiton told me last Thursday that he didn't expect the offense to look much different than it did last season, but he does expect it to be much, much better.
There will be more weapons available on offense, and they will be sharper than they were last year. Every aspect of the offense should be better than it was a year ago, and last year's team led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game.
This spring we have seen an experienced offense begin to finally search for its potential. In the fall, we will see an offense that doesn't believe it can be stopped.
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