Spring's Unanswered Questions for the Buckeye Offense
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has said in the past that he wants to know who his starters are by the end of Spring practice. That's a want in an ideal world, and rarely is the world of a head football coach all that ideal.
The desire to know who his starters are after this spring probably wasn't quenched as definitively as he would have liked, but even though he would never admit it, he already knows what his starting lineup is likely to be.
That doesn't mean he is happy with where that lineup stands at the moment, however. And considering the players he had on offense a season ago, satisfaction from Urban Meyer is certainly going to be asking for a lot.
Even though there were many questions that were answered this spring, not everything was so neatly solved. There are still some question marks facing the offense that will need to be answered before the Buckeyes next take the field in August.
Here are just a few of those questions.
1. Is there a quarterback that can step in for an injured Braxton Miller and lead the team to a victory?
Urban Meyer and Tom Herman were complimentary of Cardale Jones throughout the spring, but whenever we saw him he was a bit erratic with the football, and that includes the short and intermediate passes as well. Could Jones step in for Miller and get a win? Sure, as the Buckeyes will be significantly better than most of their opponents. Can he do it against some of OSU's better opponents? I don't think there's an answer for that. The running game will be there, but eventually there has to be a passing game to complement it. Is that something that maybe J.T. Barrett is better suited for? That's another unanswered question.
Cardale Jones and the rest of the backup QB's.
Photo by Jim Davidson
2. Will Rod Smith finally be a contributor?
We thought this was the turning point for Rod Smith as he began the spring as the Buckeyes' #1 tailback. He was soon splitting #1 reps with Ezekiel Elliott. He finished the spring on the sidelines for Meyer-mandated academic reasons, which shouldn't cloud his future, but it does.
3. Is there a consistent receiver on the outside?
While the Buckeyes' outside receivers each had their moments this spring, there has yet to be a go-to guy emerge. Most expect Devin Smith to be that guy, but had a relatively quiet spring. There were expectations for Michael Thomas, and while he made some plays, it wasn't something that he hadn't already done before. Corey Smith opened the spring looking like the best of the bunch, but an injury seemed to slow him a bit over the second half of practices. Freshman Johnnie Dixon had his moments, but never quite put it together like Urban Meyer was hoping for him. As Meyer said last week, while nobody has necessarily emerged, there are still five or six candidates who certainly could.
4. Did the Buckeyes find a starting five on the offensive line?
In a word, no. In fact, Urban Meyer says they have only solidified two spots -- Taylor Decker at left tackle and Pat Elflein at right guard. The center spot is still up for grabs between Billy Price and Jacoby Boren, though I think they'll be okay with whomever ultimately wins that job. There are also a number of contestants battling for the left guard job, as many as four, in fact. There will be another two or three fighting for the right tackle spot as well. Now, the current starting five of Taylor Decker, Antonio Underwood, Jacoby Boren/Billy Price, Pat Elflein and Darryl Baldwin could very well be the same to open the season against Navy, but that doesn't mean things were settled in April.
5. How much did this spring impede Braxton Miller's progress?
Being out with shoulder surgery is not how a quarterback ideally gets better at being a quarterback, but that doesn't mean he can't strengthen other aspects of his job duties. While Miller and his coaches seem to be saying all of the right things about the amount of progress being made, they really won't know where he's at until he's throwing under their watch again. Will he implement and utilize what he learned this spring? Will he have a slow start in fall camp? Will there be rust? Is this what he needed to keep from fading in November? These are questions that won't be answered fully until the season is over.
Braxton Miller watches from behind the action.
Photo by Jim Davidson
6. Is there a primary workhorse at tailback?
We know that with five talented tailbacks to choose from, not everybody is going to be happy with their touches. But will there be a single tailback who is ecstatic with his amount of carries? That's the real question. I happen to believe that any of Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn or Warren Ball could rush for 1,000 yards in this offense, but they'd need to be the primary option to get that done. Then you add in freshman Curtis Samuel, and Urban Meyer is pretty adamant that he will be seeing the field this season. Is there too much depth to rely on one workhorse? Or is there too much inexperience to rely on one workhorse? How many players have earned carries? I think Elliott could have a huge season in 2014, but if the rest of the tailbacks continue to show that they deserve carries, then will Meyer's streak of running backs rushing for 1,000 yards stop at one?
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