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Football
The-Ozone Mailbag: Spring Hope Springs Eternal Questions
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — This week's Mailbag runs the gamut of subjects. From Ohio State football to more Ohio State football. (It's a full circle thing.) There is also a bit of basketball mixed in because it is still that time of year. As always, if you have questions of your own that you want included in the next Mailbag, you can email them to me or tweet them to me at the links above. Or you can simply leave them in the comment section below.

If nobody breaks from the pack at running back, would Urban Meyer be okay going with running back by committee? -- oldmanbuck

I think coaches like to talk a good game about being okay with a committee of running backs, and as long as that committee is productive then they won't complain. But I have to believe that once a coach has had a productive workhorse, as Urban Meyer has had with Carlos Hyde, then he would much rather continue that type of style. However, having a workhorse can harm recruiting because it's difficult to bring in a running back every year if they know that they won't see the ball for a couple of years. A committee of tailbacks shows recruits that if they are talented enough, they won't have to wait to get carries. Getting back to the question, however, Meyer would be okay with a committee provided there is no drop off from the top two or three backs. As long as the production is there, the only people who would really care are fantasy football nerds like me, because committees are the worst. And, since everybody has already said it in their minds when reading this, Meyer doesn't care about having a workhorse because on fourth and short in a Big Ten Championship Game, who is to say he'll even be used.


If Jeff Boals or Dave Dickerson were to leave, would Thad Matta look for a veteran assistant or young coach? -- RandyH

Unless Sean and Archie Miller have a younger brother out there, I think Thad Matta would look for a veteran assistant, preferably one with head coaching experience. With Ohio hiring Saul Phillips, however, things are looking good for Matta in terms of returning each of his assistant coaches for another year.


Will the offensive tackles this season be as good as Jack Mewhort and Taylor Decker last season? -- Silverbullets

No they will not be. While Taylor Decker will be better than he was a season ago, he likely won't be as good as Jack Mewhort. And while Darryl Baldwin will be better than he was a year ago, he likely won't be as good as Decker was last year. Prior to this spring I would have never believed Baldwin would hold the job past August, but now that seems like a real possibility, if not a likelihood.


What's the story with every returning defensive coach happier with new style of defense?! Did Mike Vrabel and Everett Withers run the show? -- Tatum

New is always better than old when it comes to defenses, and old is usually better than the present when the present is giving up 20 points per game. None of Ohio State's current defensive coaches have said that they weren't happy with last year's style of defense, but Kerry Coombs has said that he's definitely more tuned to this style. Luke Fickell seems like he doesn't have a preference, so he was breezy. Mike Vrabel is the kind of guy who thinks his defensive line should be good enough to get to a quarterback without any help at all, so why would he care what is going on behind him? That leaves Everett Withers and his safeties. If you were him, would you want to be the last line of defense? We saw how that went, after all. Maybe it was just a matter of Withers being the guy with the largest title and most adamant defensive desire. Now, that defensive desire and preference falls to Chris Ash, and everybody seems inclined to follow suit. Larry Johnson teaches his defensive line to get upfield, Ash wants the corners up at the line of scrimmage, and he wants his safeties to be able to crash down in the running game. This entire defense is designed to run forward rather than backward right now, and as long as the back end of that defense is okay with it, the front end should be just fine with it as well.


Who does Urban Meyer expect to be leader of the offensive line and linebackers respectively? -- Troy_McClure

On the offensive line it's left tackle Taylor Decker, and to a lesser extent right tackle Darryl Baldwin. Decker is the most talented and the anchor of the offensive line, so he has to be the leader. Baldwin is a fifth-year senior, so he has an elder's wisdom that he can pass down to his young teammates. At linebacker, it's Joshua Perry, as well as Curtis Grant and Camren Williams. Considering that Perry is the only of the three not in the middle of a battle, Urban Meyer will be looking towards him to lead this group. Meyer said he is one of the most improved players on the team, and that includes improvements in the areas that make a player a good leader.


Expected running back rotation. Is there a short-yardage specialist in that group? Who is the best first guy off the bus player? -- Buckeye Ho Tep

The running back who should be the first off the bus is Rod Smith. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, the opposing valet will think he is a defensive end. When that valet then finds out that Smith is a running back, he will be so intimidated that he will tell the other valets that even Ohio State's running backs are big. The running back rotation is a touchy subject right now because of Smith's absence on Saturday. Does it mean anything? And what about Curtis Samuel running second behind Ezekiel Elliott? Was that just a matter of getting him a couple more reps due to his missed practice time? What I will say is that there is rarely room for a third running back, unless that third running back can do something that the others can't. That describes Samuel, but doesn't necessarily describe Smith or Bri'onte Dunn or Warren Ball. Those three are all very talented in their own rights, but they all pretty much do the same thing. The rotation? I can't say right now. Prior to Saturday, I would have said Elliott, then Smith, then Dunn, with Samuel getting specific plays. Is there a short-yardage specialist? Not really, though in Saturday's goal line situation, only Ball was kept out of the endzone. I think Elliott is not only strong and fast, but slippery. I could see him being very effective in short-yardage situations this year.


Based on somewhat erratic kicking, at this time is Urban considering being even more aggressive on fourth down? How is Braxton Miller's rehab progressing? How is depth at safety shaping up with Vonn Bell out? Have the top eight offensive linemen been solidified? Has Cameron Johnston improved his placement and depth of punts? Are defensive calls fluid and consistent? What is the overall health of the team? -- Buck Martini

This is a bit abusive of the Mailbag. Like when you've got $3.00 off a gallon of gas at Giant Eagle and you and your wife take both cars for a fill up on one check. I'll answer these quickly and in order. Is Urban Meyer planning on being more aggressive on fourth down? Maybe not right now, but if the kicking doesn't improve, then he absolutely will consider it. With a senior quarterback and a slew of weapons, why not use all four downs? Braxton Miller's rehab is right on schedule. He'll get back to throwing soon enough. The depth at safety is not great right now, as Meyer is only comfortable with Tyvis Powell and Cameron Burrows. He is looking forward to getting freshman Erick Smith on campus, and don't be surprised if he's in the two-deep from day one and never leaves. I've probably said this before, but trying to judge the punting in OSU's practice facility is futile because 90% of the punts end up bouncing off of the rafters. I suppose I could go outside and watch them when they go outside, but this has been a stupidly cold spring and I've had about all I can take of the constant chill. Are defensive calls fluid and consistent? Sure seems like it, considering when they scrimmage the offense is going with a hurry up most of the time. I haven't seen the confusion that we've grown accustomed to seeing over the last three seasons. The overall health of the team is not great, but it's pretty standard for spring football. Everything looks good right now for the fall.


Why is Jamal Marcus buried on depth chart after the Orange Bowl he had? -- @JohnGoBucks
A few weeks ago when Chris Ash was asked this question, his answer was, "There's just a lot of competition up there with those guys. It's probably in my opinion, of the teams I've been on, the most guys up front that can actually play. There's extreme competition. You're going to have to be pretty good to get in that rotation." Marcus was also absent from Saturday's practice, so there's a question mark there as well, though it may be absolutely nothing.


Just reading on Bleacher Report about how "hot" in recruiting PSU's new coach is... all the big recruits he's getting... like how he's going to add Sterling Jenkins... how he's taken recruits away from OSU... My only question is why?... what's he selling that OSU doesn't have?? Doesn't say much for Larry Johnson's so-called connections especially in the Pitt area. -- Joe M.
Almost any time a coach comes into a new situation at a prominent football program, there is a bit of an uptick in recruiting. For the most part, these major programs can recruit on their own, but once a dynamic salesman comes in and really cranks things up, then all bets are off. For a couple of years, anyway. It happened when Urban Meyer came to Ohio State and he flipped recruits seemingly every week. Brady Hoke signed some very highly-rated classes in his first couple of seasons as well. What James Franklin is doing at Penn State shouldn't be a surprise. He is a fantastic recruiter, and he's at a place where kids grew up wanting to play. All you have to do is sell the university. When Rich Rodriguez got to Michigan, he didn't know how to sell the university, he only knew how to sell himself. You saw what happened. Franklin is selling Penn State, but he's added his own twist to it. The results on the field, however, need to match the excitement off of it at some point in his first two seasons.

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