Never Bet On Blue
Mike Weber had a very good season last year, rushing for 1,096 yards for the Buckeyes as a redshirt freshman. You’d take that every year from a redshirt freshman. The problem for Weber, however, was that he left a lot of yards on the field, not to mention his 1,096 yards were coming on the heels of consecutive 1,800-yard rushing seasons from Ezekiel Elliott.
Weber dealt with a shoulder injury at the close of the season and wasn’t a productive member of the offense against either Michigan or Clemson. He rushed for a combined 50 yards on 16 carries in those two games. That is the sort of thing that will drive a competitor to make sure it never happens again.
Last year was good for Weber, but this season the expectations are for him to be great.
“I think it was good,” Urban Meyer said of Weber’s 2016. “I’d grade him a good solid B. Third freshman ever to rush for 1,000 yards. I’ll grade his offseason — he’s bordering on Gold. You’ve been around our program. Gold means that you go from Blue, to Red, to Gold. And he’s a Gold worker now. Which, he was Blue for a long time. So he’s really made strides in his work ethic.”
Meyer credited maturity on Weber’s part, as well as help from running backs coach Tony Alford and strength coach Mickey Marotti. He then added the ultimate truth for a Buckeye.
“You don’t survive here very long if you’re hanging around the Blue.”
Signing players who are able to play as freshmen and sophomores makes your team deeper. It can also make things very, very crowded.
The Buckeyes may have found their three starting cornerbacks, but there are two former 5-star signees trying to fight their way into the rotation. They have certainly found their middle linebacker in Chris Worley, and yet behind him are two former 5-star prospects as well. Ohio State returns their entire 4-man defensive end rotation from last season, and there are two former 5-star pass rushers waiting in the wings there as well.
There are young players at every position who may end up being good enough to play this season. How should the Buckeyes handle the situation?
“Honestly, it’s going to have to be a rotation,” Worley said. “That’s the only way I can fathom how you’re going to play the best players. Because you have guys whose talent is very similar and they’ve put in the same amount of work, so it’s kind of unfair to just say, ‘Oh, this is the starter.’ You might see honestly 8-10 receivers and 10-12 defensive linemen playing this year in the rotation because of how good the competition is. As a competitor at the top of the game of your field, you shouldn’t want it to be any other way. You should want to go against the best and compete with the best every single day. And that’s what a place like Ohio State gives you.”
Two Before Three
Before a rotation can emerge, however, there must first be enough players to make it happen. Ohio State was ecstatic with their cornerback rotation last season, and they spent the spring trying to bring the same thing about at safety.
They aren’t quite there yet, however. Damon Webb is all set at free safety, but defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is still trying to determine who is going to be his strong safety. Until he has a starter there, he can’t have a rotation he’s comfortable with.
It took Kerry Coombs several years to make it happen at cornerback, so don’t get too upset if it doesn’t happen this year at safety. The journey of three steps always begins with the first two, after all.
“We would like to get to where we could have more than two starting safeties, but right now we only have one,” Schiano said. “So let’s get the second one, and then if we can, get a third guy that can play. We’d like to be able to play more than just a guy at each position because we run a lot back there. If you can have fresh guys going in there, it certainly helps not only in a game, but in a season because of the cumulative repetitions.”