Ohio State’s Punting Situation Still Not Settled
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lost in all the talk of Braxton Miller, the offensive line, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, Curtis Grant’s emergence and the play of Chris Fields was something that could prove just as critical as any one of those other things.
Ohio State’s spring game, the team’s final organized practice until August, was also a major first for senior Drew Basil. It was the first time the Chillicothe native had ever punted in front of 35,000 people when it actually mattered.
gets off a punt in the Spring Game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The team’s placekicker in each of the past two seasons, Basil took on the additional responsibility of being Ohio State’s starting punter this spring. Basil was a bowler, soccer player and ping pong club member in high school, so versatility is in his blood, but this is an entirely different type of challenge.
“The reality is we don't kick very many field goals, so it's going to be something that Drew's going to be able to do,” said assistant coach Kerry Coombs, who was recently promoted special teams coordinator at Ohio State.
“We're going to score touchdowns in the red zone, so lets go punt a little bit Drew. Increase your act.”
Basil connected on eight of his 11 field goal attempts last season, after hitting 16-of-19 for the Buckeyes as a sophomore in 2011. That OSU team scored only 25 touchdowns in the red zone, a conversion rate of just over 64 percent, compared to 39 red zone touchdowns a year ago.
That number was tied with Nebraska for most in the Big Ten, and Urban Meyer’s offense found the end zone on over 88 percent of its trips to the red zone last season. The Buckeyes believe they can be even better in 2013 with a healthy Carlos Hyde and a number of other weapons for Braxton Miller to work with, but that doesn’t mean Basil’s role will be limited to kickoff specialist.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“We will punt, by the way,” Meyer clarified back in February after joking with a crowd on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer that they wouldn’t need a punter.
Ohio State actually punted the ball 62 times last season, which was tied with Nebraska for third-lowest in the Big Ten, but Basil’s spring was a little bit of a rocky start for the guy being asked to replace a three-year starter in Ben Buchanan.
“Good not great,” Coombs said of the punting efforts over the first 15 practices.
“I think that's a tremendous transition. He was our backup punter last year, so it's not like Drew didn't punt every day, but there is a difference in being the guy and being the guy in two critical areas.”
Along with his 30 field goal attempts over the past two years, Basil has also booted 94 extra points and 226 kickoffs in his three-year career at Ohio State. He has only misfired on two of those extras, but the one he had blocked against Purdue in 2011 ultimately cost the Buckeyes a game in overtime.
Meyer called Basil a workhorse when they asked him to make the switch before spring ball. It was facilitated by a late decision from Orlando Boone’s Johnny Townsend, a punter who switched his commitment from the Buckeyes to his hometown Florida Gators in the final hours before his signature was due to arrive in Columbus.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State threw out a few feelers to see if there were any backup options available, but Coombs has seen a player make this transition before.
“I had it happen to me in Cincinnati,” he said.
“I had a punter get hurt in the third week of the season and the rest of the year our place kicker became our kicker and punter. It does change the way they have to do their business. We tried to work our way through that this spring.”
It was blistery day with swirling winds down in Cincinnati earlier this month when the Buckeyes closed out their spring at Paul Brown Stadium. Basil averaged just 34 yards on his three punts in that game with a long of 39 yards.
It was far too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions, but Coombs has high hopes for what Basil can become as a dual-threat for the Buckeyes this fall.
“I think Drew Basil has a great work ethic, I think he has all the physical tools to get the job done, and I think that he will because it's important to him,” Coombs added.
“I think he wants to go down in history as one of the great combo punter/kickers in the history of Ohio State football.”
That shouldn’t be too hard, at least in the modern era.
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