Spring Practice Insider: Offense Breaks Out New Formation
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a winner/loser day on the practice field inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That means toughness and intensity are elevated as the offense and defense go at each other full speed ahead.
The hitting was intense, and quarterback Braxton Miller found that out the hard way. He was knocked out of practice Tuesday but returned in time to watch Kenny Guiton lead the offense to a last-second victory during the scrimmage at the of practice.
Senior tailback Jordan Hall was held out of practice again with an orange jersey. Fellow senior Carlos Hyde was also held back, but not as a medical precaution. Urban Meyer and his coaches simply wanted to get a better look at guys like Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
All three tailbacks looked good for most of the day, with Warren Ball emerging as the standout in the group. The Buckeyes even used a new formation to get more of them on the field at the same time.
Here’s an inside look at Ohio State ninth practice of the spring.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Down not Out
One of the scariest moments I have ever seen at Ohio State practice took place Thursday towards the end of a live scrimmage. The offense was winning 6-0 to start the scrimmage on winner-loser day and strength coach Mickey Marotti was calling out the score over and over again.
The pressure was on for the defense, despite the fact they won Saturday’s scrimmage, and Noah Spence (the alleged assailant) came off the edge and blasted quarterback Braxton Miller as he pitched the ball to Rod Smith on an option play.
Smith danced out of the backfield and picked up 15 yards before fumbling the football. It was recovered by the defense, but practice came to a halt when everyone realized Miller was still down in the backfield.
It looked pretty serious as he lay flat on the turf, but eventually he sat up and then walked off under his own power. Before going back to the offense, Miller made a run at the defense on the sideline. He was vividly upset about being hit while wearing a black “no contact” jersey, and was trying to confront his attacker on the sideline.
Wide receiver Corey Brown held him back and defensive coach Mike Vrabel came over and had a little talk with him. Miller sat out a few series but eventually went back out there for one last try. He didn’t look nearly as sharp after that, but Meyer said his quarterback was just fine after practice.
“It’s football,” Meyer said. “We ran option to the left and he got dinged. He’s fine.”
Meyer said his quarterback was still sore from being hit during Saturday’s scrimmage, but they can’t be happy about the team’s star player getting hit like that during a meaningless spring practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Kenny G to the Rescue, Again
With Miller on the sideline, it was Kenny Guiton time again. Ohio State’s senior backup saved the Buckeyes against Purdue last season when Miller was knocked out of the game with an injury, and he did it again on Tuesday.
The “ole right-hander out of the bullpen” led Ohio State’s offense down the field against the defense at the end of the scrimmage. The score was tight and Guiton needed to make a big play. He deliver, finding tight end Nick Vannett in the corner of the end zone for a scrimmage-winning touchdown, and the defense was running sprints after practice.
Bad to the Bone
One of the new tweaks during Tuesday’s practice was the introduction of a new formation to the offense. It’s not something new for anyone who watched what the San Francisco 49ers were doing with Colin Kaepernick last season.
Some of the OSU coaches went out to San Francisco, along with two college programs, to gather some new intel on what offensive strategies were working. This one in particular was a major problem for other NFC teams during San Francisco’s Super Bowl run this past year.
It’s a modification of the old wishbone formation, with the quarterback in a pistol set, forming a diamond backfield. Directly behind Miller was either Warren Bell or Bri’onte Dunn, while Carlos Hyde was flanked to Miller’s right and Rod Smith to his left.
This will give Miller two different options, and two different reads, which could make the Buckeyes even more dangerous on offense.
The biggest play of the day for the offense on Tuesday went to wide receiver Devin Smith. Ohio State’s speedy junior beat cornerback Armani Reeves in a 1-on-1 matchup down the field during an all-out blitz in the early scrimmage session.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Miller did a good job of just throwing the ball up where Smith could go and get it. He got in front of Reeves and made a nice catch before he was shoved out of bounds around the five-yard line.
The biggest catch of the day goes to my guy Michael Thomas. The sophomore receiver was back at practice Tuesday and he went up and made a great grab with Eli Apple draped all over him.
Warren Ball had the best run of the day, a 35-yard scamper over the right tackle. He showed good toughness and ability to push the pile.
Decker Battling at RT
Photo by Jim Davidson
It seems easy to pencil Taylor Decker in as this team’s starting right tackle for next year. He was the guy who challenged Reid Fragel for the starting spot last spring, and Meyer said Decker is actually ahead of where Fragel was a year ago.
That doesn’t mean they are going to hand him the starting right tackle spot. Decker did take more of the snaps with the first team offensive line on Tuesday, but Chase Farris also saw a lot of time as the first-team right tackle.
Decker slid over and played some left tackle while they were giving Jack Mewhort a rest, but he’s going to have to keep working hard. He has natural pass-blocking ability and excellent size. Eventually, I think he’s the most natural choice to replace Fragel, but Meyer is clearly trying to push him not to settle for just being good enough.
Meyer even mentioned the idea of Pat Elflein coming out of nowhere. If he turns out to be the fifth best offensive lineman, they could put him at guard and slide Andrew Norwell or Marcus Hall out to tackle. I still don’t see that happening, but this staff isn’t afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Emptying the Notebook
* Meyer said OL Antonio Underwood will miss the season with an ACL injury. He has not had a red-shirt year, yet, so he will have two seasons of eligibility starting with the 2014 campaign.
* With Jordan Hall out, Chris Fields ran some things out of the slot. Even caught a pitch or two out of the backfield.
* None of the defensive backs could cover Corey "Philly" Brown during 1-on-1 drills, though he didn't face off against Bradley Roby.
* Carlos Hyde, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley were held back so they could get other guys some reps.
* Meyer said one thing he learned during Saturday’s scrimmage was that Cardale Jones could play QB at Ohio State. It was something he didn’t know before.
Depth Charting the Offense
There were a few notable changes on Tuesday. Chris Fields was getting some reps in the slotback role with the first offense. Pat Elflein appears to have moved head of Jacoby Boren for the second-team center. He even saw some reps with the first group. Kyle Dodson was also sharing second-team reps at left tackle with Darryl Baldwin.
Darryl Baldwin OR
Taylor Decker OR
H-BACK (SLOT WR)
Corey Brown/Evan Spencer
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