Part one of this series dealt with questions and challenges that I perceive as important, but lower priority, for Ohio State to address this spring. On any college football team, there will always be issues with players unhappy about playing time. Any coach will want to see more production from any position group. Below are the top five pressing issues, as I see them, for Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer to focus upon between March 4th and the date of the April 12th Ohio State Spring Game.
5. Placekicker – While Coach Meyer is always wanting touchdowns from his offense, it is sometimes required to have a placekicker on the roster who can come through with a clutch field goal at the end of the game. Reliable Drew Basil has exhausted his eligibility, opening the door for true freshman Sean Nuernberger to claim the position. Nuernberger enrolled early at Ohio State, allowing him the opportunity to seize the job this spring. Competition for the placekicker position may come from Kyle Clinton, a walk-on who saw game action during the 2012 season. This position could rise in importance by the conclusion of spring games, based upon Nuernberger’s performance this spring.
4. Backup Quarterback – Senior quarterback Braxton Miller made the decision to come back to Ohio State for his fourth and final year of eligibility, pleasing Ohio State coaches and fans alike. With Miller’s recent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, Ohio State will use the spring practices to determine who the primary backup quarterback is to Miller – Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, or newly-signed Stephen Collier.
Based upon Ohio State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Tom Herman’s comments, Jones will begin spring practice as the primary backup…
Tom Herman said that as of right now, Cardale Jones has earned the right to be the 2nd team QB. Whether he'll keep that remains to be seen.
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) February 20, 2014
Jones played sparingly in 2013, appearing in three games. Most of Jones’ game appearances were as a result of both Miller and departing backup Kenny Guiton having Ohio State in front by a considerable margin; Jones usually would hand the ball off, or run himself. Throwing only three passes, it would be fair to say that Jones will certainly be given more opportunities as a passer this spring.
Barrett was the primary quarterback recruit targeted by Coach Herman for the 2013 recruiting class. Barrett redshirted in 2013, using the time to recover from a serious knee injury that wiped out most of Barrett’s senior high school season. Barrett’s leadership qualities have been raved about by the Ohio State coaching staff; will these qualities allow him to leapfrog Jones for the backup spot by the end of spring practice?
Lastly, Stephen Collier. The wild card of this group, Collier enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Described by Coach Meyer as a “development guy”, Collier will battle for the backup position, but it would be highly surprising if Collier could overtake both Jones and Barrett for the primary backup quarterback spot.
Yes, Braxton Miller will/should be under center, when the season begins on the road at Navy on August 30th. As Ohio State fans have witnessed over the past two seasons, having a dependable backup quarterback behind Miller has often made all of the difference between winning and losing. This battle could also have repercussions for the 2015 season, after Miller has left Ohio State.
3. Linebacker – On National Letter Of Intent Day for 2014, Coach Meyer stated, “That’s far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever and it’s just not where we need to be” in reference to the Ohio State linebackers. When that statement was made, this is how I interpreted it, along with many others…
— Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich) February 5, 2014
Compounding the challenges for this position group are the losses of Ryan Shazier (to the NFL) and Mike Mitchell (transfer). With Curtis Grant and Josh Perry returning, Trey Johnson would seem likely to have an opportunity to claim Shazier’s starting spot. Based upon Grant’s concussion history, as well as Perry’s injuries, it is not improbable that Ohio State will have a completely overhauled linebacker corps for the season opener against Navy on August 30th. The biggest name for fans to be focused upon this spring? Incoming freshman Raekwon McMillan, who enrolled early. Others in the mix may be walk-on Joe Burger, Camren Williams, and redshirt freshman Darron Lee.
2. Defensive Back – After being torched through the air by Michigan State in The B1G Championship Game, then by Clemson in The 2014 Orange Bowl, changes were necessary for the Buckeyes across the board, both in coaching and in personnel. Coaching changes bring new Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Chris Ash, to replace Everett Withers, who left for the head coaching position at James Madison. Kerry Coombs remains on staff, but Ohio State fans believe Coach Ash will be in charge of rebuilding the Ohio State secondary. From National Letter Of Intent Day 2014, Coach Meyer stated on Ash, “And then Chris Ash is charged with he’s got a serious responsibility. That’s to improve our pass defense. He’ll be in charge of the entire back end of our defense. He’s going to coach safety. He’s going to continue to coach corners. However we’re going to have one voice back there, it’s his responsibility to improve our pass defense… And obviously it’s more than just a secondary. It’s linebackers and everything. But you’re going to see some significant changes in the way we approach our business back there.”.
Personnel changes are needed not only due to poor performance, but also for players who have exhausted their eligibility, such as Bradley Roby (NFL Draft early departure), C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown. Doran Grant is the only returning starter, and after the 2013 season by the defensive backfield, Grant may not have a lock on a starting position. Armani Reeves, Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Gareon Conley, Christopher Worley, Jayme Thompson, and Ron Tanner will all be battling for starting positions and the prestige of their new position coach this spring.
1. Offensive Line – This was a close call, between the revamped secondary or the offensive line, for the most important area of concern for Ohio State to work upon this spring. While the secondary loses three starters, the offensive line loses four starters, plus flips starting right tackle Taylor Decker to the left side. Ohio State did very well with its recruiting class for offensive linemen, securing five players; two freshmen, Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, have already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.
If Decker can switch over from right tackle to left tackle with minimal issues, that will be very reassuring for the Ohio State coaching staff and fans. Jacoby Boren seems likely to have the inside track to the center position, as Boren filled in admirably for departing senior Corey Linsley. Likewise, Pat Elflein would seem to have a shot at the right guard position, after filling in for departing senior Marcus Hall. “Darryl Baldwin is penciled in at right tackle”, based on Coach Meyer’s comments from National Letter Of Intent Day 2014. Keeping my eyes and ears open for news about the performance of the offensive line will be paramount this spring, as this unit will largely determine the strength or the challenges of Ohio State’s offense for the 2014 season.
As always, looking forward to all of your commentary and critiques. Most of all, I am just happy to have football to focus upon, even if it is just from March 4th through April 12th.
As part of spring football, #OhioState will practice March 4, 6, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, 29, April 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 12 (spring game)
— Jeff Svoboda (@JeffSvoboda) March 2, 2014