2014 OSU Spring Football – Questions To Answer (Part 1)

“It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the spring who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.” ~ B.C. Forbes

I have no idea if Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is an avid reader of Forbes magazine, but I feel comfortable in stating that Coach Meyer agrees with Mr. Forbes’ ideas about the importance of spring as it relates to results in the fall. Ohio State will kick off the first of fifteen spring practices on March 4th, with the last culminating in the spring football game on April 12th in Ohio Stadium.

While Ohio State returns several key players from last year’s squad that went 12-2 in 2013, Coach Meyer and his coaching staff will have to address and work upon position group areas before the 2014 season commences. Over a two part series, I have ranked the various position group areas, from least concerning to most concerning, as I perceive them.

It is entirely possible that this list may look entirely different when April 13th arrives. Feel free to comment below. Let us begin…

Honorable Mention: Senior QB Braxton Miller’s Continued Passing Improvement – Before this series was written, I ranked this as my #10 question heading into spring football practices. With the recent news of Miller’s offseason surgery, it led me to reassess this as a top priority. Miller will/should have limited work in the spring, to avoid further injury, while also allowing the backup quarterbacks (more on them in this series, I promise) more repetitions in game-like conditions. This concern could certainly warrant a higher ranking, heading into fall camp.

10. Special Teams Units – While ranked low, this unit is of extreme importance to the overall success of any team. Eliminating an opponent’s ability to return kickoffs and punts can often be a difference between winning and losing. With that criteria in mind, keep in mind that several of the incoming freshmen who are not yet on campus. The players I anticipate playing on special teams for Ohio State in 2014 are names from the highly-touted 2013 recruiting class – players such as Jayme Thompson, Darron Lee, Christopher Worley, Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, or Gareon Conley. Again, this list is highly subjective, as there are several freshmen who will look to make an impact when they arrive on campus, and could fluctuate greatly by the time the season begins.

9. Tight End – Senior Jeff Heuerman returns, with redshirt junior Nick Vannett also in the mix. Senior J.T. Moore returns, after a conversion from the defensive line. Moore’s role is primarily for blocking. The wild card of this group is redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh. Baugh was highly recruited, yet has received negative scrutiny for repeated off the field incidents. If Baugh stays out of trouble, will he do enough this spring to warrant playing time this coming season?

8. H-Back/Pivot/Hybrid/Slot – Notice how I used various terms, as I have read any and all of these during Coach Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State to describe this important offensive position; H-Back seems to be the nomenclature I have seen more frequently as of this writing. Regardless, players such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, and newly-arrived Curtis Samuel would seem to fit the H-Back position well for Ohio State. Questions to work on this spring for H-Back would seem to be are there other players on the squad who may also be able to contribute in this manner? More importantly, can the H-Back position become more than a decoy, as Dontre Wilson was often relegated to during the 2013 season?

7. Running Back – Carlos Hyde is busy preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft, so returnees Warren Ball, Bri’onte Dunn, Rod Smith, and Ezekiel Elliott will all battle for the starting job. Elliott is the favorite going into spring practice, but all should give him a run for the position. Hybrids Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel will also be involved. Can Ohio State RB coach Stan Drayton keep everyone happy?

6. Wide Receiver – The buzzword for this position group is “competition”. Ohio State WR Coach Zach Smith has stated there are no starters, so I would speculate this is a group to keep an eye open for news this spring. Here are the players at Coach Smith’s disposal ~ James Clark, Evan Spencer, Jalin Marshall, Jeff Greene, Johnnie Dixon, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Devin Smith, and Frank Epitropoulos. Throw in hybrid Curtis Samuel into that mix. Plus incoming freshmen Noah Brown, Parris Campbell, and Terry McLaurin are not on campus yet. Yow. Can Coach Smith keep all these players happy and in the fold?

Part two will examine what I believe are the top five questions to focus upon as they relate to the 2014 Ohio State spring football practices.

B1G Chance For Miller Time In Indy

Congratulations to Ohio State on winning their twenty-fourth straight game, squeaking out a victory 42-41 over That Team Up North. Standing squarely and confidently in Ohio State’s quest for a twenty-fifth victory are the Michigan State Spartans, led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator (2001-2003) Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was recently named the 2013 B1G football coach of the year. Michigan State enters the B1G conference championship game with an 11-1 record, losing only at Notre Dame on September 21st, 17-13.

Coach Mark Dantonio is not the only familiar face that Ohio State will encounter in the 2013 B1G conference championship. Most prominently, former Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman (2001-2011) will be involved as the Spartans’ co-offensive coordinator in Michigan State’s efforts to claim the B1G championship. Other Spartans assistants who formerly assisted Ohio State during the Jim Tressel era include Mark Staten, Mike Tressel, Rob Harley, and Ken Mannie.

What do I expect Saturday night when I turn on my TV (Fox will televise the game) at 8:15pm EST? Perhaps I may be mistaken, but I am expecting pangs of nostalgia, as I expect Michigan State to embrace the “Tresselball” style Ohio State fans became entirely familiar with from 2001-2011.

Here is my logic ~ Michigan State’s strength lies in its dominating defense. In addition, Michigan State has found a winning formula that relies upon steady passing by Ohio native Connor Cook, and dependable running by Jeremy Langford. While Michigan State’s offense is not as explosive as Ohio State’s, the Spartans have established a balanced offensive philosophy that has helped to produce eleven victories this season.

Let us get back to that dominant Spartan defense. A critical match-up that will bear watching will be Spartan DE Shilique Calhoun versus Ohio State’s left offensive tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort, entrusted with protecting Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s blind side, will have his hands full with Calhoun, a lanky and disruptive pass rusher.

Continuing with the Spartan defense, Ohio State will find that running the ball with senior running back Carlos Hyde may not be as easy as it has been for the Ohio State offense in the last few games against teams such as Illinois, Indiana, and That Team Up North. Michigan State traditionally plays a base 4-3 defense, and will bring up its safeties in run support to make it difficult to run. Michigan State has confidence in their cornerbacks, led by standout Darqueze Dennard, to play press coverage on Ohio State’s wideouts.

Faced with such options, here is where Braxton Miller’s performance will be critical. While I look for Michigan State to sell out against the run versus Ohio State, the press coverage Michigan State may employ could leave the Spartans vulnerable to quick screens and slants. Perhaps Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman can be isolated on a Spartan linebacker or safety on intermediate routes that do not take too long to develop. With Michigan State probably eager to shut down the Ohio State running game, play-action passes may be there at some point during the contest.

Back to Braxton Miller. While I am loathe to run Miller too much, exposing him to possible injury, I am certainly hopeful that Miller will not hesitate to scramble for positive yardage on pass plays. If a play is not there, or slow to develop, I would prefer Miller to scramble for a few yards, versus forcing a deep pass that may be incomplete or intercepted.

Twenty-four straight victories, with a possible BCS Championship Game berth on the line. In order to get to twenty-five straight victories, it may truly require Miller time on Saturday evening in Indianapolis for the Buckeyes.