Next Man Up
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Injuries are a part of sports. The old cliché probably applies most to football, where the violent nature of the game means that an injury of some nature is more than likely.
When injuries happen to one player, it creates an opportunity for someone else. Coaches in these situations often use the phrase “next man up”, and that means somebody is getting an opportunity. A door is open.
This spring, the Buckeyes have dealt with their fair share of injuries. Key players like Ryan Shazier and Jordan Hall have been forced out of practice and even the annual Spring Game. They were not the only ones, but with these guys missing time it has created that opening for other players to step into.
The most notable players are Curtis Grant and Chris Fields.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Grant has finally had the breakout spring that the coaches have been waiting for. The once five-star recruit began last season as a starter, but lost his spot due to inconsistent play. This offseason, he has turned things around it seems and has received praises from the coaching staff.
While Grant would likely still have been given this chance if Shazier had been healthy, he may have been overshadowed some by the only returning starting linebacker. Without Shazier, Grant has had to step up both with his performances and as a leader.
During Ohio State’s spring game, fans saw both of these on full display. There was rarely a play when the Grey defense was on the field where Grant was not in the right place at the right time. He covered well and was able to wrap up the Scarlet receivers and bring them to the ground, which was an issue a year ago. Maybe the biggest surprise was seeing him instruct the younger players and embrace that leadership role.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Similarly, Fields has taken advantage of Hall missing time so far. He is a natural receiver who is also looking to prove himself in his final season at Ohio State. It seems he has impressed his head coach this spring, and to a large degree, it was Hall's injury that allowed him to do so.
After the game, Urban Meyer declared that Fields had done enough to be considered a starter on this Buckeye roster. This decision may have become in the second half, as Fields – who caught a touchdown for the predominately second-string Grey offense – swapped teams and scored on a reverse pitch play.
While the return of Hall in the fall could very well change the role of Fields to that of a more traditional receiver, he has taken advantage of another player’s absence to be noticed and move up the depth chart.
Less talked about has been the play of the young Ohio State running backs. Rod Smith has missed time during spring practice with concussion issues and starter Carlos Hyde was held out of the game on Saturday. This opened the doors for Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
While neither player was utilized much, as the offense focused mainly on the passing game in Cincinnati, they both gained valuable game minutes – albeit in a glorified scrimmage – that may not have been as available if the top two on the depth chart were healthy.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The two similarly-sized backs each got some carries and had the ball thrown their way a few times in the spring game. There was not enough work in the game to make much of an evaluation, but just being on the field and going through plays is important for their development.
With Hyde and Smith penciled in a head of them it is unlikely that either player will be expected to play significant minutes in 2013, but chances like these are when they need to learn and show the coaches what they bring to the table down the line.
Another player for the future, though he may see more time than Dunn or Ball this season, is freshman tight end Blake Thomas. With Nick Vannett out, the 6-5, 250-pounder from Cleveland had a couple catches in the spring game, including one deep reception early down the sideline from Kenny Guiton.
While the reports on Thomas this spring have been that he is a raw talent, he is another player that found an opportunity and showed some ability. The tight end position will continue to have a bigger role this season under Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman and it is good to see some talent from the third option emerge at the end of camp.
No coach wishes for injuries, but they are bound to occur. One man’s downfall can be another man’s rise to glory. While the younger players may not benefit as quickly, they must use the time these injuries provide to improve for the long haul.
A few injuries in the spring for Ohio State may end up being a blessing in disguise if these guys take the next step. The health of all of these players will be important for the Buckeyes, but the coaching staff may look back on these spring injuries as strangely favorable if things pan out in 2013.