10 Things We Learned from Urban Meyer’s Second Spring Game
By Brandon Castel
CINCINNATI, Ohio — Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes wrapped up spring practice on Saturday with an exciting day of football at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Ohio State’s 2013 Spring Game was supposed to feature a lot of passing and a lot of young guys battling for spots on the two-deep before the end of spring ball in Columbus. There was a lot of both in this game, as Braxton Miller led Scarlet to a 31-14 victory over Ed Warinner, Luke Fickell and the Gray squad.
Here’s a look 10 Things We Learned during Meyer’s second spring game at Ohio State.
Photo by Jim Davidson
1. Braxton is better under pressure. He still has a ways to go, but Braxton Miller showed much better poise under pressure Saturday than what we would have seen from him as Ohio State’s quarterback last season. He still tended to get a little jumpy when things started to breakdown, but instead of panicking, Miller moved his feet around in the pocket to buy himself some extra time. He did a much better job of checking down to his running back whenever things were not open down the field, which explains why Bri’onte Dunn had as many catches as Devin Smith and Philly Brown. Miller also made a few really nice throws on Saturday where he put the ball right where it needed to be. He also underthrew a couple balls down the field, but his touchdown passes to Smith and Brown were both excellent throws. On the first one, he led Smith to the back corner of the end zone, where only he could go and get it. On the second one, Miller threaded the ball past Doran Grant and right into the back shoulder of Brown for the touchdown.
Photo by Jim Davidson
2. The receivers have come a long way. Remember two years go when no one on the entire roster had more than 14 catches all season? How crazy was that? Those were good times, right? Oh, they weren’t? Well, the good news is that Ohio State’s wide receivers have come a long way from those days. It wasn’t just one guy dominating the spring game like Michael Thomas did last year. Everyone was getting involved. Thomas (7 catches, 79 yards) had another good day with the backup quarterbacks and Chris Fields made a number of plays out there. Evan Spencer had the big 49-yard catch on the first play of the game and finished with 76 yards through the air. Corey Brown and Devin Smith each had five catches totaling over 100 yards and two touchdowns between them.
3. Right tackle is still a cause for concern. Right now, what we’re seeing on the field has to be a little concerning for a team that is going to hang its hat on the offensive line. It’s easy to forget how good Reid Fragel was last year because this team has the other four starters back, but they have to find a fifth guy who can get the job done. The good news is that people probably also don’t remember how average Fragel looked during most of spring ball last year. It wasn’t really until the middle of fall camp where Fragel started to look like an all-conference performer at right tackle, so there is still time for Taylor Decker or Chase Farris.
4. The defensive line is in good hands with Spence and Washington. One reason we don’t have better things to say about Decker and Farris right now is the fact they had so much trouble with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington on Saturday. Those two guys are stepping in to fill some big shoes from last year, and it looks like they may have the skills to do it. John Simon brought more to the table than just his ability to get to the quarterback, but nothing causes more problems for an opposing offense than a guy who makes his home in the backfield. With Spence and Washington, the Buckeyes could potentially have two of those guys on the defensive front this fall.
5. Curtis Grant is starting to look like a player. One of the biggest things to come out of this entire spring camp for the Buckeyes is the fact Grant is starting to look like a real linebacker. That’s not something we probably could have said with any real conviction after last spring ball, but Grant looked pretty good running around out there in a pass-heavy spring game on Saturday. He finished with a game-high 10 tackles and even made a couple nice plays against Philly Brown in the open field. The real test for Grant now is carrying that success over to the fall. He failed to do that a year ago.
6. Devin Smith is learning how to get himself open. This is going to be a key development for the Buckeyes on offense, because Smith is simply far too talented to limit himself to only being a deep threat for the Buckeyes. He did have a few plays where he got behind the defense on a go route, but his longest catch of the day (42 yards) came on a deep crossing route out of play-action. He also did a nice job on the 20-yard touchdown play, dragging across the front of the end zone before Miller threw him open to the back corner. He finished the day with five catches for 76 yards and a score. The 76 yards is normal, but five catches is a good sign for a guy who had 618 yards on just 30 catches all of last season.
7. Chris Fields has some game. I’m not ready to go crazy and jump all over Meyer’s statement that Fields had won a starting job on Saturday. First of all, where? Is he the starting slot receiver? Is he starting ahead of a healthy Jordan Hall at H-back? We will find out in the fall, but what it really said to me is that Meyer was impressed by the way Fields handled his business this spring and wanted to reward him for revamping his game. Fields showed a little bit of what he can do on Saturday during the spring. His six-yard touchdown run was probably the most impressive display of athleticism he has ever shown at Ohio State. He also made a nice grab on the slant route that went for a touchdown, and it was good to see a senior step up his game heading into the final go-around at Ohio State. We’ll see how much of that carries over to the fall, but Zach Smith has said a few times the talent is there.
Photo by Jim Davidson
8. It’s too early to write off Cardale Jones. Ohio State’s third-string quarterback had some ugly moments during this year’s spring game. He fumbled a snap that was recovered by the Scarlet defense. He was stripped from behind on a corner blitz by Eli Apple, and he was intercepted by Kevin Niehoff, a former kicker, trying to force the ball to Michael Thomas in the end zone. It was still a better day for him that last year’s spring game. He didn’t play at all in that one, a healthy scratch, but the coaches have seen something in him this spring. They want to see more. They want to find out if there’s enough there worth really developing. He didn’t throw the ball all that well Saturday, but Jones showed a nice ability to scramble with the football. He doesn’t have Braxton Miller’s moves or Terrelle Pryor’s strength, but he has some nice wiggle to his game when things break down in the pocket. He finished with 45 yards on seven carries (discounting his one sack), and also threw for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Photo by Dan Harker
9. Some young defensive backs looked good. Speaking of Apple, there were a few young defensive backs making nice plays out there on Saturday. Apple probably had the biggest play of the day for the Scarlet defense. He sacked Jones from behind, stripped the ball from his passing arm and recovered his own fumble to set up a Scarlet touchdown. Apple also had a nice breakup on what looked like it was going to be a touchdown pass from Kenny Guiton to Michael Thomas. Armani Reeves had an up and down day, but he made a nice breakup on a deep ball to Smith down the left sideline, and Tyvis Powell looked especially good in the first half. He did a nice job in coverage against tight end Jeff Heuerman, and that’s something he can bring to the table as a 6-3 defensive back with corner skills.
10. The punting game has a long way to go. There wasn’t much punting on Saturday, but everything that could go wrong did for Drew Basil and his punt team. The snaps were low and Basil did not look comfortable punting the ball for the first time in an atmosphere like that. Part of the blame has to fall on the unpredictable winds inside Paul Brown Stadium, but Basil averaged just 34 yards on his three punts Saturday with a long of 39 yards. It’s far too small a sample size to start worrying about anything longterm, but Ohio State’s punt team definitely has a long way to go before the start of the season.
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