2016 Ohio State Spring Football Conclusions

“Almost everything that is great has been done by youth…” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

For the past couple months, beginning in February, every Friday at 8am EST has begun with this quote on this site. I have written about what I perceived concerns about various position groups, and it culminated in a glorious 2016 Ohio State Spring Game on April 16th in Ohio Stadium.

Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer must be pleased with one crucial area as it relates to spring football – the Buckeyes left the spring game with no injuries that could impact the 2016 season. Fifth-year senior running back Bri’onte Dunn did not play in the spring game with a sprained ankle, but will be back in the mix for the starting running back spot for fall camp.

Showing my age, I can vividly recall Ohio State spring game performances that were tremendous, yet did not translate into fall game production. It is important to keep things in proper perspective. With those caveats in mind, below are three distinct impressions that were made upon me as I sat in D Deck of Ohio Stadium…

1. The 2016 Ohio State Defensive Line Will Rotate Frequently ~ Yes, Ohio State was playing as many offensive and defensive linemen as possible in the spring game. It was challenging for either the Gray’s or Scarlet’s offensive lines to protect Joe Burrow or Stephen Collier whenever either was playing quarterback. With all of that on the table, the defensive linemen who have been waiting in the wings used the spring game as an opportunity to show what they could do if given the opportunity. For example, I don’t want to call him a sleeper, but Jashon Cornell, a moved defensive end to defensive tackle, seemed to emerge during the spring game.

On a somber note, Donovan Munger’s Ohio State career has come to an end, due to health concerns. Best of luck to Munger in all of his future endeavors, and many thanks for all of his contributions to Ohio State football…

For the first time since Coach Meyer came to Columbus in 2012, Ohio State has so many defensive linemen that will allow Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson to continually refresh players who will be able to harass the opposition’s quarterback. Think about this – Nick Bosa is not yet on campus, and Coach Meyer has stated Bosa will play in 2016.

2. Do Not Sweat J.T. Barrett’s 2016 Spring Game Performance ~ J.T. Barrett had an uneven day during the spring game, but there were several extenuating circumstances that impacted his performance. First of all, Barrett wore a black jersey that did not allow him to scramble or face contact. As stated up above, the offensive line was more of a ragtag collection, with projected starters Pat Elflein and Billy Price being withheld from competition. And projected starters Noah Brown and Corey Smith did not play this spring as both are still recuperating from their respective 2015 injuries.

Did Barrett make some throws in the 2016 spring game that were puzzling? Absolutely. Do I believe Barrett would have made those same throws in actual game competition? Absolutely not. Look at Barrett’s spring game as someone who was dealt some specific restrictions, and was testing the boundaries of what was possible, with a mandate to avoid injury at all costs. Look for Barrett to come out impressively against BGSU on September 3rd looking more like his typical self.

3. The 2016 Team Will Continue To Improve Every Week ~ It bears repeating, but with so many young players, the competition for playing time will be fierce and continuous all year long. Will inexperience sometimes be frustrating, especially in the secondary? Without question. The game at Oklahoma in week three will be must-watch TV for not just Ohio State and Oklahoma fans, but the nation –

Don’t take my word for it; go back and listen to the podcast link that included Clair Crawford. Read my man Tony Gerdeman’s thoughts on Ohio State following the spring game. Remember that I wrote this in April – this is going to be a team that will be feared by the end of the 2016 season.

Three Storylines: The Coaching Staff

Surprisingly, after 24 wins in two years, Urban Meyer’s coaching staff remains largely the same. Tom Herman, Kerry Coombs and Luke Fickell–all three heavily rumored to be entertaining head coaching offers–return to the sidelines under Meyer, looking to snag the first College Football Playoff Championship. To fill the holes left by Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans – LB coach) and Everett Withers (James Madison University – head coach,) Meyer brought in a heavy hitter and an up-and-comer. What their impact will be remains to be seen, but we’re feeling optimistic.

Can Chris Ash become the defensive Tom Herman?

When Urban Meyer and Tom Herman showed in 2012, they took a team that had averaged 24.5 points and 318 yards per game the year before and turned it into an offensive machine, churning out an average of 37.2 points and 424 yards. Last year they kicked it up a notch, finishing with 45.5 points and 512 yards per game.

The sacrifice for all that output seems to have been on the other side of the ball, particularly in the passing game. The traditionally stout Silver Bullet defense turned into a predictably exploitable sieve, culminating in 268 passing yards given up per game in 2013. You remember.

Enter Chris Ash, managing to escape the hot-sauce-soaked clutches of Bret Bielema the way no chicken wing or Busch Light ever could. Ash had some success as DB coach and defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, but is still largely unproven.

Not unproven however is Urban Meyer’s eye for coaching talent, so if he thinks Ash can help right this ship, I believe him. Critics may point to last year’s dismal showing at Arkansas, when Ash and the Hogs turned in the #73 pass defense. I’m not going to make excuses for that; I’ll just point out that it’s still 39 spots higher than Ohio State finished. Yeah.

What does Larry Johnson Sr. bring to the table?

Johnson was a mind-blowing hire, and to this day I’m not sure how Meyer convinced him to leave Penn State–literally the only other college he has ever worked for, and where his two sons played football. As well as taking over the D-Line from Vrabel, he also snagged Withers’ Assistant Head Coach title.

I’ll admit that I initially thought this was a primarily recruiting-oriented hire, but after taking a look at Johnson’s accomplishments, that may have been naive of me. His D-Lines at Penn State were top-notch and he produced more conference defensive Players of the Year (5) than any other position coach since 1996.

He seems to be in sync with Meyer when it comes to overall philosophy, focusing on personal relationships with players and placing a high value on fast, relentless play. I have no doubt he’ll be able to pick up where Vrabel left off and then some.

Can Urban Meyer bounce back from the disappointing end of last season?

Meyer hasn’t had many disappointments in his coaching career, from his successful spread experiments at Bowling Green to his world-shocking run at Utah to those jaw-dropping Florida teams. His worst season ever was the 8-5 stumble in his last year with the Gators–a year he was begged to coach by Florida’s AD. That season still ended with a bowl win over… somebody… who can remember these things?

And to call 12-2 a disappointment is kind of absurd, but the back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson in the biggest games of the year were, frankly, disappointing. So, how does Meyer respond?

If history is any indication, pretty well. Meyer’s teams have never trended downward two consecutive seasons. Of course, Ohio State is only the second team he’s gone to Year Three with, but still, BGSU and Utah both improved greatly while he was there.

At Florida he went from 9 wins in 2005 to 13 and a national title in 2006. After another 9-win campaign in 2007, he tore off two consecutive 13-win years and won another championship, before finishing with that 8-win snoozer.

Meyer is a master motivator, and I have no doubt that he is using those two final games as fodder for Buckeye fire this season. Armed with that, a sideline full of play-makers, and one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled, watch out for the Urban Meyer Redemption Tour in 2014.