Youth served this spring

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Last updated: 04/28/2014 12:09 PM
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Youth Was Served This Spring for the Buckeye Offense
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's probably a pretty good sign that as I sat down to write about the impact that a number of first and second-year players have made for the Buckeyes this spring that I forgot to jot down middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who is the most ballyhooed youngster of them all.

In fact, there are so many names that in order to keep this from getting overly long, I decided to do separate pieces for the offense and defense. When there are too many young players to fit into one concise piece, either the future is very bright, or the writer simply talks too much.

While every Ohio State coach will tell you that a team is at its absolute best when it has plenty of seniors, they will also tell you that a team won't reach its potential without contributions from a number of young players.

This spring, what the Buckeyes may have lacked in seniors, they more than made up for in talented and productive youth.

Having been on hand for a few OSU practices this spring, there were always multiple young players making plays, and the number of first and second-year players who will play a major role on this team grew larger by the day.

I wrote about running back Curtis Samuel twice this spring, but Urban Meyer sang his praises enough to warrant a third piece that has yet to be written.

Meyer said that he expected Samuel to be able to help at the hybrid spot this season, but was surprised at how well he was handling the tailback position. As such, Samuel is strictly a running back at this point, and moved up from last on the depth to being in the discussion for second.

At the top of the depth chart, meanwhile, is sophomore Ezekiel Elliott. He was very good this spring, showcasing the vision and explosion that he flashed as a true freshman a year ago. Even after losing Carlos Hyde, nobody on Ohio State's staff is weeping about their future at the tailback position.

If all goes as planned, Elliott could be the first sophomore running back to lead the Buckeyes in rushing since Beanie Wells and his 1,609 yards back in 2007.

The youth and talent at running back is impressive, and I didn't even mention Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, who are both third-year players with sophomore eligibility.

Of course, if we're going to talk about the young players excelling this spring, I shouldn't have gone this far without mentioning Dontre Wilson. Wilson, still just a sophomore, was the most consistent receiver on the team this spring, as well as its most productive.

What he showed last year was just the beginning. His true role should finally begin to blossom this season.

Wilson wasn't the only slot receiver to show promise, as redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall did as well. Despite a knee injury that cut his spring short severely, he still made enough of an impression to get his teammates excited about his future.

Meanwhile, on the outside there was true freshman Johnnie Dixon. He had his moments, but to see and hear Urban Meyer talk about him, we didn't get to see everything that Meyer had seen. There were times that he was almost apologetic that Dixon didn't perform in front of the media as well as he had behind "closed doors" in previous practices.

The expectations for Dixon are high, and with the lack of production from the upperclassmen to this point, there will be opportunities for him to make any number of plays this season.

Tight end Marcus Baugh redshirted a season ago as a true freshman, but was a frequent downfield partner with fellow redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett this spring. Baugh will begin the season as the #3 tight end for the Buckeyes, while Barrett will fight for the #2 quarterback spot. Both showed enough good things this spring to warrant playing time in the fall.

Ohio State had a pair of true freshman offensive linemen in this spring, in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout. Both would be helped with a redshirt this season.

However, redshirt freshmen Billy Price and Evan Lisle will very much be in the mix this season. Price played well this spring battling for the starting center spot. That will be a battle that continues into the fall, and it will also feature another competitor in Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay.

A veteran presence is what allows a team to remain calm when there is nothing to be calm about. And while there is no substitute for experience, talent -- no matter how young -- also has its ways.

The Ohio State offense -- led by a senior quarterback -- has a very nice mix of youth and veteran players. But without the young players stepping up as they did this spring, the expectations would be a little less realistic.

Those expectations are always going to be high for the Ohio State football program, but with the amount of young talent on offense making waves, there's every reason to believe that the expectations for this team are certainly approachable.

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