Impact Performers

OSU FootballMuch of the country, along with all of Buckeye Nation, is expecting Ohio State to be in prime position for the BCS National Championship come November. Looking at the schedule that is put in front of us, I would agree with that assumption. However, not every game will be “#easy” as “Philly” Brown put in a tweet earlier today. There will be expected and unexpected challenges as the season progresses. Ultimately we could end up at the national title game facing the first or second best team in the country. In order to conquer the hurdles the regular season will present to this team, and also put ourselves in the best position to lift that crystal ball, certain players must improve and have a major impact on this team. I have comprised a list of five players I have pegged that need to have a larger impact on the field this upcoming season in order for Buckeye Nation to take over Pasadena and the title of being College Football’s Best.

Joel Hale

The defensive line, along with the linebacking core, seems to be the largest area of concern for the Buckeyes this season. This is not completely due to a lack of talent, but due to a lack of experience as well. The largest hole that must be filled is one that can only be filled by a 300 pound plus guy. Johnathan Hankins was the rock of the defensive line last year. He consistently wrecked havoc up the middle in the pass and run game. Joel Hale has to, at minimum, resemble that kind of rock when it comes to the run game. He must learn how to occupy two blockers in order to free up linebackers and he must also be able to shed some of those double teams. In order for the Buckeyes rush defense to remain a force, Hale will have to improve his initial burst off the line and move opposing lineman in to the backfield allowing for our athletic ends and linebackers to gain leverage on the play and wrap up the ball carrier. I would not expect much from Hale in the pass rush nor do I think we need much from him in the pass rush area, but in order to face the likes of an SEC run game and other Big Ten opponents such as that Team Up North, the middle of the Ohio State defensive line will have to be extremely physical and dominant and that will start with Hale this year.

Chris Fields

Jordan Hall is not reliable. There- I said what the rest of Buckeye fans will not. He is good when healthy but that seemed to be a rarity these past two seasons. Throughout his career, Chris Fields has underachieved but this year will have to be his year to step up. He has to become the big play, multi-threat weapon that this Ohio State offense has been begging for. He has the speed and versatility to do everything the coaching staff asks of him and, for the first time, he sounds and looks like he knows what they are asking from him. In order for this offense to be effective that “Percy Harvin” or pivot role player has to be a game breaker and a consistent game breaker. Judging from the spring game, it looked as though Fields is ready to accept that role. However, do be careful with spring game stats (reference Michael Thomas 2012 Spring Game), as they can lead fans to jump the gun a little.

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Devin Smith

Lethal but inconsistent seems to be the story with Devin Smith. He can make you pull your hair out at times but with one play he makes up for it all. This year, however, that will not be good enough. Herman is looking for his wide receivers to develop into becoming real wide receivers this year. For Devin Smith that will require running more crisp routes, getting off of jams quicker, and also consistently busting the top off of coverages. This will keep defenses honest deep, open up the middle of the field, and allow for the intermediate passing game to develop.

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Curtis Grant

Unfortunately, cloning Ryan Shazier is not an option for the Buckeyes. We are stuck with that former 5-star linebacker out of Hermitage High School, Curtis Grant. Grant has also been one to underachieve during his time at Ohio State. Like Chris Fields, I believe much of it has to do with his mental approach to the game. I do not think Curtis Grant has committed himself to becoming the best linebacker he can be, but it sounds like he is turning the page, which is a huge step forward. Teams such as Alabama have had consistent linebacker play in their national championship runs. Grant will need to be smart and disciplined in his play. I’m not worried about his speed or strength: the guy is a freak of nature athlete. However if this defense wants to become elite, Grant must become a more efficient and smarter football player.

Braxton Miller

Are you surprised? The quarterback on every team gets all the glory when winning and all the blame when things go wrong. Accuracy is the magic word for Miller this upcoming season. Last year it was his deep ball that we were concerned about and he made large strides in quelling our doubts. This year the Buckeyes need Braxton to improve on the intermediate passing game. His total passing percentage last year was 58.3% which, in my opinion, is pedestrian. I understand it was his first year in the offense, but that was not the whole reason behind his inaccuracy. On several occasions Braxton reverted to back yard football and would replace mechanics with athleticism, which is great for pretty much any other skill position besides quarterback. Quarterbacks need to be smart and calm during chaos. If Ohio State faces the likes of an Alabama or Florida defense chaos will be continual. Braxton will need to be able to keep his feet tied to his eyes, his weight balanced, and deliver accurate passes during the several big games Ohio State will be playing this year.

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Another key skill Braxton must work on is his situational awareness. Several times last year he held onto the ball too long, scrambled with it loosely, or became forceful with a pass and turned the ball over. Ohio State gave up 39 sacks last year behind a pretty good offensive line which leads me to believe that Braxton held onto the ball too long on several occasions. He has to learn to get rid of the ball intelligently, whether it is throwing it away or finding a route late and getting the ball to his receiver. He must also grow to understand that while fighting for every last yard is admirable, he has to get down or get out of bounds to avoid excessive hits. He is the perfect conductor for this offense and in order for it to run on all cylinders he must be the guy taking the snaps and delivering the ball in order for Ohio State to win a national title.

With a further understanding of the offensive and defensive schemes, along with a new found commitment and opportunity presented to these five guys, the Buckeyes could see themselves lifting a crystal ball in Pasadena.

Photos by HoneyChild Photography (used with permission)

Comments

  1. I think the guy on this list who intrigues me the most is Joel Hale… Coach Meyer speaks very highly of Hale and his skill set is needed the most right now.

  2. I agree that this defense is going to be as good as the front seven are. Hale is just another in a long line of space eaters that don’t get the credit they deserve. I think he’ll be fine but Grant is my biggest worry.

    I was watching the 1997 Rose Bowl the other day (bless you BTN) and I was just in awe of what Katzenmoyer had at his disposal. He was an athletic freak, there’s no doubt about that. But he had instinct and an “attack first” mentality. That’s a combination we really haven’t had at linebacker since maybe A.J. Hawk. If Grant can step up the intensity, he’s definitely got the physical tools.

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