Spring Standouts: Offense

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Last updated: 05/03/2013 10:16 AM

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Football
My Spring Standouts: Offense
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spring football is drifting towards the horizon in the rearview mirror, but the start of the 2013 season is still somewhere up around the bend.

The Buckeyes will be one of top-ranked teams in the country heading into Urban Meyer’s second season in Columbus, and they should have one of the most explosive offensive units in the country.

Quarterback Braxton Miller is the current face of Ohio State football, but he’s not the only one who caught my attention during the spring.  

QB Braxton Miller (6-2, 215, Jr.)

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

It seems almost unfair to include Braxton Miller on this list. He’s heading into his third year as Ohio State’s starting quarterback and he finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy a year ago. It feels redundant to put his name on the list, but it was quite clear how much Miller had progressed this spring from the guy we saw struggle down the stretch against Wisconsin and Michigan. He still has a ways to go, but showed better decision-making, greater pocket presence and a higher penchant for finding his checkdowns during the spring. His mechanics look better and he’s starting to look more like a quarterback who can ran than an athlete playing quarterback. The real barometer, of course, will come in the fall.

RB Rod Smith (6-3, 238, rJr.)

Rod Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Rod Smith

He didn’t play in the spring game because of a minor concussion, but Smith was one of the better players in the spring by most accounts. He has always had the potential to be great, but we got to see him run with both authority and confidence as the No. 1 back for most of the spring. He was only No. 1 because Carlos Hyde was being held back so they could see some other guys in action, but Smith showed the coaches what they wanted to see. According to running backs coach Stan Drayton, he established himself as the clear No. 2 back behind Hyde this spring. That’s something he couldn’t say a year ago, even though his only competitor was a true freshman. If he can find a way to hold on to the football, Smith could be a real weapon for the Buckeyes this fall.

RB Warren Ball (6-1, 222, rFr.)

Warren Ball
Photo by Jim Davidson
Warren Ball

He may not see a ton of carries this season, but Ball showed enough this spring to think he will certainly be in the mix down the line. The Columbus DeSales product took a redshirt last year because of a foot injury, so he has four more years of eligibility at Ohio State and it’s possible he could develop into a feature back for Urban Meyer after Hyde and Smith leave Columbus. It was a small sample size, but Ball appears to be a little more explosive than classmate Bri’onte Dunn and he is certainly more elusive in the open field. He doesn’t quite deliver the blow like Dunn, but he has a knack for finding a seam and falling forward. He is good in space and can catch the ball out of the backfield. It’s always good to have depth like this, even in today’s more wide-open Big Ten.

WR Corey Brown (6-0, 187, Sr.)

Corey Brown
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Brown

Brown is similar to Miller in that he’s already an established player for the Buckeye offense, but he too seems to have taken his game to the next level. Meyer was particularly hard on Philly last spring as a junior, but all of a sudden he is touting the senior from Pennsylvania as a first-team All-Big Ten candidate this season. There’s little question Brown has the most complete talent at the receiver position. He runs great routes, has excellent speed, and solid hands. He came on strong at the end of last year, and this spring was confirmation that he can be a tremendous threat for the Buckeyes in 2013.

WR Michael Thomas (6-2, 199, So.)

Michael Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson
Michael Thomas

Every time we ask Meyer or Zach Smith about Michael Thomas, the answer always comes back the same – he needs to work on his consistency. If he can ever master that aspect of the game, and it can be tough for a young player, Thomas has all the tools to become a elite-level receiver at Ohio State. What we saw this spring, albeit in limited opportunities, was a guy who has learned how to use his size and strength to get open. He runs tremendous routes and really understands how to attack the ball at its highest point. He even showed some elusiveness in the spring game, but we’ll see if it can translate to some real success in the fall this time around.

WR Chris Fields (6-0, 200, rSr.)

Chris Fields
Photo by Jim Davidson
Chris Fields

A lot of people were ready to dismiss Fields entirely before that touchdown catch against Purdue last season. Unfortunately for him, that was about the only huge play people remember during his entire four-year career at Ohio State. Fields has a chance to change that as a senior in 2013, and he took the necessary steps during the spring to show that he can be a weapon for the Buckeyes this fall. One of the biggest developments with Fields in the spring was his ability to give them a look at the hybrid slotback position. It’s not really his most natural fit, so it’s hard to see Fields holding off Jordan Hall, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall in the fall, but he should be able to find more playing time as a senior.

TE Jeff Heuerman (6-6, 250, Jr.)

Jeff Heuerman
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jeff Heuerman

We knew a decent amount about Heuerman heading into the spring, but not nearly as much as we do now. He was tabbed as the blocking tight end last year, while Nick Vannett was the guy who could go up and get the ball, but Heuerman showed an ability to do both in the spring. He’s a big target for Braxton Miller and he should be on the field a lot this fall because of his ability to help both the running passing games for Ohio State. With those two guys at tight end, the Buckeyes shouldn’t miss a beat replacing Jake Stoneburner in the fall.

OL Pat Elflein (6-2, 293, rFr.)

By all accounts, it wasn’t a spectacular spring for the offensive line. Corey Linsley didn’t play much because of a foot injury and Jack Mewhort was held out of a lot of drills by Meyer and the coaching staff. Neither Taylor Decker nor Chase Farris established himself as the clear-cut starter to replace Reid Fragel on the right side of the line and key reserve Antonio Underwood was lost for the year with a knee injury. Guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall both performed well, but one of the biggest bright spots up front was the emergence of Pat Elflein. This is a kid who was not even on the radar a year ago when he redshirted as a true freshman, but now he’s suddenly in the mix for playing time on the offensive line. Meyer even suggested he could compete for the fifth spot on the line, but more likely he will provide valuable depth on the interior of the line for a team that doesn’t have much right now.

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