Ohio State spring football has been underway for over a month now. The Scarlet and Grey game is just under two weeks away and it looks as if things are progressing nicely for the Buckeyes. Chris Ash and a host of young players are hoping to bring fire back to the defense and field a unit that will match the level of play the offense brought in 2013. Regarding the offense, it seems as if the tables have turned from last year’s spring sessions – the skill players are mostly set, it is the offensive line that is going to require the most work.
Replacing four starters on the offensive line is no easy task. The job becomes that much more difficult when replacing 4/5ths of one of the best units in the nation. That is task facing Tom Herman and Ed Warinner. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for the coaching staff to test out during the spring. Taylor Decker (Junior) is the lone returning starter, but he will be moving over to the left side after holding his own at right tackle last year. Decker struggled early in spring ball and the early parts of 2013, but truly came into his own and was every bit as good as his senior teammates by the end of the year. He will anchor the line. Pat Elfein is also projected to start after filling in for Marcus Hall during his suspension against Michigan and Michigan State. Elfein did an outstanding job in Hall’s place and provides hope that at least the left side of the line should be strong early. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete for the center position. For the guard spot opposite Elfein, look for the battle to come down to Antonio Underwood and converted defensive lineman Joel Hale. At right tackle there are four guys battling for the spot and currently Darryl Baldwin has a slight lead, but any of them could end up being the opening day starter.
Replacing Carlos “El Guapo” Hyde is not going to happen. His bruising power and graceful balance going through the line were a unique skill set. Regardless, Ohio State has an embarrassing amount of talented running backs ready to take over the starting spot. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliot looks like the best back in my opinion. He played in several games last year during garbage time and Hyde’s suspension and looked like he was ready to start then. I also expect Senior Rod Smith to get a chance to finally be the featured back at Ohio State. He has shown moments of being a very good back during his days at Ohio State, but I don’t get the sense that he is a game changer. Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball will also compete for snaps, and will likely get some early in the season against weaker competition.
At wide receiver, Devin Smith will be the #1 option as the speedster looks to improve on his catching ability and route versatility in the spring. Opposite him could be Evan Spencer who was the regular 3rd option last year, but failed to generate any spectacular plays. There are plenty of young players and transfers in the fold that should create intense competition at camp this spring and even over the summer. Look for Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, 2014 recruit Curtis Samuel, and transfers Jeff Greene and Corey Smith to all get serious consideration during camp. Also watch for Dontre Wilson to get most of the reps at the hybrid (H-Back in Meyer’s offense) spot this season as he takes on Philly Brown’s role. Wilson will likely play the role of a wide receiver, but lined up all over the field, including plenty of looks from the backfield as Herman looks to utilize his game changing speed.
It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can work the tight end Jeff Heuerman into the mix a little more this season. When watching the games last year it seemed like every time Heuerman’s number was called (about once a game) he was WIDE OPEN. The Buckeye’s devastating rushing attack created great opportunities for play action. If the rushing attack is good again this year, I’d like to see that play-action quick hitter up the seam for 15-20 yards called once a drive instead of once a game.
Lastly, the quarterback position is set. Braxton is the starter, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, he won’t be seeing any reps during the spring due to his shoulder injury. At the same time it gives the coaches plenty of time to evaluate Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett for the back-up position. If history is any indication, Braxton will not be 100% healthy this year and having the second string QB ready to go is a huge part of having a successful season. Cardale Jones is the more experienced (and much bigger) of the two quarterbacks, but some followers seem to think Barrett is the heir apparent for when Braxton graduates.
Remember to check out the Buckeyes Spring Game on April 12th. It’s always fun to watch these guys go against each and to get to know some of the newcomers to the team.
Tags: Ohio State Football