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Last updated: 03/13/2013 5:17 AM

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Football
It's Never Enough
With More Speed Approaching, Meyer Still Looking for Playmakers This Spring
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The visions of Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Ezekiel Elliott dancing around in Braxton Miller’s head will have to wait. But don’t think for a moment Ohio State’s dynamic junior quarterback isn’t elated by the influx of speed the Buckeyes are bringing on board this summer.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

“Heck yeah,” Miller said emphatically with an ear-to-ear grin when asked if he was one of the guys celebrating on National Signing Day.

“It’s going to help out a lot. I can’t wait. It helps to get explosive guys in here. We want to score a lot of points.”

Wilson scored nearly 50 touchdowns all by himself last season as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Lone State State. Elliott did cross the goal line 50 times as a senior last season for John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, and Marshall found the end zone a total of 52 times on the ground during his career at Middletown High School.

Not bad for a quarterback.

Add in receivers like Corey Smith and James Clark, and it’s no secret what Urban Meyer is trying to build on offense at Ohio State.

“We just didn't have enough ‘make-you-miss’ guys on offense, and I think we addressed that,” Meyer said on National Signing Day.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer

“I think we're starting to get a little bit of that built up where you're having a Jalin to put out there, and that's what (Dontre) will do as well. And you can break the formation a little bit and have guys in space.”

That was something the Buckeyes didn’t do a whole lot of last year, but it’s a foundational element of the offense Meyer wants to run in Columbus. He did it at Bowling Green with Josh Harris, although not with this caliber of athlete. He also did it at Utah with Alex Smith and most notably at Florida, where he had both Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

The quarterback generally gets the glory, but Meyer did an impressive job of surrounding Tebow with NFL-caliber talent on offense. It started up front with guys like Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, but at one point Tebow could look to his left and see playmakers like Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. He could look right and see Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper and David Nelson.

The game plan for Meyer and his new staff in Columbus is to build that kind of offense around Miller, and eventually J.T. Barrett, or whoever is going to take over as the triggerman at Ohio State after the 2014 season.

By then, guys like Wilson, Marshall and Elliott will all be upperclassmen at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes know they can’t expect to rely on a bunch of freshmen who won’t even put on a uniform until August. 

“We wouldn’t have signed them to scholarships to Ohio State if we didn’t think they could help us win a national championship, but to say that we’re going to depend on them is absolutely false,” second-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman said this offseason.

“They haven’t played a snap of college football yet. They don’t get here till June and don’t start playing football until August, and the last time I checked we play August 31.

“So the main focus is development and improvement of the guys that are here.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunity for one or two of those guys to have a role this fall – “We felt like we were pretty deficient last year in terms of getting the ball in space,” Herman added. – but the 2013 Buckeyes will only be as good as the guys they have coming back.

That includes not only Miller, an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy, but also senior tailback Carlos Hyde. The 6-foot, 240-pound bull out of Naples, Fla. fell 30 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark last season, so he will have some motivation heading into his final season.  

The Buckeyes also return both of Hyde’s backups in Rod Smith, a 6-3, 230-pound junior out of Fort Wayne, and Bri’onte Dunn, an explosive sophomore from Canton GlenOak High School.

One of the new elements to Ohio State’s offense this spring will be the return of the hybrid No. 3 position. The role, made famous by Harvin down in Gainesville, was dormant for most of Meyer’s first season in Columbus, but it’s being filled by a familiar face this spring.

Fifth-year senior Jordan Hall.  

“It really adds to the versatility of what we can do, both personnel-wise and formation-wise,” said running backs coach Stan Drayton, who was with Meyer at Florida.

“It’s a very integral part. He’s so versatile. He’s a physical ball-carrier and he’s got great hands. He’s a very smart football player.”

Hall played tailback during his three games on the field last fall, but Meyer and his staff wanted to find a way to get both senior running backs on the field at the same time. They also wanted to find a way to maximize Hall’s skill-set, which has never really suited the I-formation type handoffs.

“Boy, was he great today. I thought he was great today,” Meyer raved after the first day of practice last Tuesday.

“I’ve got to be careful because I start to like players too much, but … we’re starting to get some guys that can make plays.”

That’s not something Meyer would have said a year ago, but wideouts Devin Smith and Michael Thomas also looked pretty good on the first day of spring camp. Smith led the Big Ten with over 20 yards-per-catch last season, but they need him to become a more consistent threat as a junior in 2013.

The same goes for senior Corey Brown, who came on strong at the end of last season.

“Some guys really grew up and did a good job for us,” Meyer added, “Philly Brown did a nice job.”

Add in junior Evan Spencer and senior Chris Fields, along with tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, and the Buckeyes are starting to build something offensively. Those guys had better have a big spring, because we already know how Braxton Miller feels about the guys who are coming June.

“We tell our guys all the time, we’re going to go try to recruit somebody better than you. We’ll tell Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Jalin Marshall the same thing,” Herman added.

“There’s no such thing as seniority. You play the best guys, it doesn’t matter if they’re freshmen or seniors. The best guys are going to play.”

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