Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Wide Receiver May Offer Wide Options

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice, and had fifteen spring football practices available before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

Three practices in, with Ohio State resuming practice after spring break. After March 24th, Ohio State has twelve remaining practices, including the April 18th spring game, to evaluate where the football program stands before fall camp begins.

Up until this point in the series, my questions and focus has been upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. From here on out, these questions will focus upon position areas where Ohio State has lost a player(s) to graduation or eligibility, which is why I have ranked these position groups higher in terms of importance.

4. Wide Receiver

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Devin Smith (eligibility); Evan Spencer (eligibility)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Noah Brown (Sophomore), Parris Campbell (Redshirt Freshman), James Clark (Redshirt Sophomore), Johnnie Dixon (Redshirt Freshman), Jeff Greene (Redshirt Senior), Jalin Marshall (Redshirt Sophomore), Terry McLaurin (Redshirt Freshman), Corey Smith (Redshirt Senior), Michael Thomas (Redshirt Junior), Dontre Wilson (Junior).

No more “clown show” at wide receiver. Once derided by Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, the wide receiver position group established itself as a legitimate team strength during the 2014 national championship run.

Unfortunately for Coach Meyer, two of the best players from the wide receiver group, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, have exhausted their eligibility. Besides leaving Ohio State with many dazzling highlight plays and the eternal gratitude of the Buckeye fan base, both Devin Smith and Evan Spencer had considerable playing experience over a four year period.

So you might be asking yourself, “Why is Minnich only ranking this fourth?!? Why isn’t this higher in terms of concerns?”.

Here is why…

Ohio State is losing Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, and both will be missed, but…Ohio State is loaded with talent at the wide receiver position. I am not even mentioning the players who will be arriving this summer from the 2015 recruiting class below.

Starter and leading receiver Michael Thomas returns. While I am including a link to a long touchdown play by Thomas at Michigan State in 2014, it bears repeating that Thomas has a history with possible quarterback starter Cardale Jones, dating back to their days at Fork Union Military Academy; Jones certainly looked for Thomas in the games versus Alabama and Oregon during the national championship run. Thomas is a dependable possession receiver, capable of breaking short passes into substantial gains after the catch.

The second leading receiver in 2014 was Jalin Marshall, who also returns. While listed as an H-B on Ohio State’s official roster, Marshall also emerged as a receiving threat, especially during the national championship run.

Want more? How about fellow H-B Dontre Wilson? Corey Smith, who was a superstar on special teams kick coverage, like Devin Smith? Even Jeff Greene, a walk-on, has previous experience from his days at Georgia Tech.

What about losing Devin Smith as a deep threat? Yes, that is a loss, but…Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin are all reputed to have tremendous speed. One, or all, could conceivably fill that deep threat role this coming season.

What about losing Evan Spencer as a blocker? I am more concerned about this, but have tremendous confidence in players such as Noah Brown or Jeff Greene as blockers, and believe one, or both, will emerge in the eyes of the coaching staff this spring in this necessary role for the Ohio State rushing offense.

Losing Devin Smith and Evan Spencer will hurt, but the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes may determine that the wide receiver position group is truly offering multiple players wide options to emerge this spring, and throughout the upcoming season.


Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Who Will Emerge At Right Offensive Tackle?

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice, and had fifteen spring football practices available before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

Two practices in, with the week of March 15th-March 22nd off as the players can enjoy the Ohio State spring break period. After March 22nd, Ohio State has thirteen remaining practices, including the April 18th spring game, to evaluate where the football program stands before fall camp begins.

Up until this point in the series, my questions and focus has been upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. From here on out, these questions will focus upon position areas where Ohio State has lost a player(s) to graduation or eligibility, which is why I have ranked these position groups higher in terms of importance.

5. Right Offensive Tackle

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Darryl Baldwin (eligibility); Kyle Dodson (injury); Antonio Underwood (eligibility)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Chase Farris (Redshirt Senior), Jamarco Jones (Sophomore), Marcelys Jones (Sophomore), Evan Lisle (Redshirt Sophomore), Brady Taylor (Redshirt Freshman), Kyle Trout (Redshirt Freshman), Grant Schmidt (Freshman).

What a difference a year makes. At the conclusion of spring practice in 2014, I had major concerns about the Ohio State offensive line, having replaced four starters. Unfortunately, my concerns were legitimized when Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in the second game of the 2014 season, casting major questions about Ohio State being able to rally from the loss and still qualify for the College Football Playoff. (I won’t bore you with the rest, because I know you are still basking in the glow of the events of January 12, 2015).

From left to right, Ohio State returns starters in Taylor Decker, Billy Price, Jacoby Boren, and Pat Elflein. The lone starting position that is up for grabs is at right offensive tackle, which has been vacated with the departure of Darryl Baldwin.

Baldwin was a converted defensive lineman who earned the starting right offensive tackle position last fall. It would not be surprising to see Baldwin selected in the later rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft, especially after Ohio State’s offensive line was the primary reason for the dominant offensive performances by the Buckeyes down the stretch run of the season.

With one spot open, and so many players waiting in the wings, how will this all shake out?

After the first two practices, Chase Farris was getting the starting nod at the right offensive tackle spot. Like Baldwin, Farris has been converted from defensive line, and has battled for a starting position along the offensive line over the last three seasons.

The position will not be won without a fight. Jamarco Jones, a heavily recruited offensive lineman from the 2014 recruiting class, has been mentioned as a possible contender. It is entirely possible that this battle will go on beyond spring practice, and into fall camp.

While Ohio State has an abundance of talent in the wings, and even more reinforcements arriving this summer with recruits from the 2015 class, a word of caution to Ohio State fans. While there are players on the depth chart, and reinforcements on the way with the 2015 recruiting class set to arrive this summer, keep in mind that Ohio State’s offensive line will undergo a metamorphosis next spring in 2016 similar to the beginning of the 2014 season, with multiple starters departing. It will be in the coaching staff’s best interests to play as many offensive linemen as possible during the 2015 season to avoid starting out 2016 like Ohio State did versus Virginia Tech in 2014.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Who Else Besides Nick Vannett At Tight End?

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice, and had fifteen spring football practices available before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

Two practices in, with the week of March 15th-March 22nd off as the players can enjoy the Ohio State spring break period. After March 22nd, Ohio State has thirteen remaining practices, including the April 18th spring game, to evaluate where the football program stands before fall camp begins.

6. Tight End

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Jeff Heuerman

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Nick Vannett (Redshirt Senior), Marcus Baugh (Redshirt Sophomore)

At first glance, it may seem puzzling that I have listed the tight end position group as a concern heading into spring practice. After all, Nick Vannett returns as the starter, and was instrumental in the 2014 season with nineteen catches and five touchdowns.

Where I am concerned is the lack of depth and experience at the position. Jeff Heuerman, a 2014 captain who battled through injuries during the season, leaves behind more than just his seventeen receptions and two touchdowns. Heuerman was a capable and dependable blocker in the Ohio State running game. Losing an experienced and reliable blocker at a key position on offense has to be somewhat disconcerting.

Yes, Marcus Baugh returns at tight end. Let us be honest – do you have any concerns about Baugh staying out of trouble after his first two seasons in the program? I am all for second chances, but it may not be far-fetched to suggest that the next offense could be the one that will result in Baugh being removed from the program.

Baugh did play sparingly in 2014, with his lone reception resulting in a touchdown versus Kent State. Even if Baugh stays out of trouble, is Baugh the type of blocker who can assist with the Ohio State running game as Heuerman or Vannett did in 2014?




Here is an idea that I have read and heard from other Ohio State writers/bloggers/analysts regarding the tight end position ~ Noah Brown.

Brown is listed on the official Ohio State athletic department website as a wide receiver. At 6’1″, Brown would not be in the traditional tight end mold like Vannett or Baugh height-wise, but Brown is a tremendous blocker. Perhaps Brown will be given some repetitions at both positions this spring, and the coaches will make a determination as to which will best help the team.

In the 2015 recruiting class, A.J. Alexander and Rashod Berry were both listed at the tight end position. Both will arrive on campus this summer, and could make an impact upon the depth chart this season.

Is the tight end postion a concerning one for Ohio State in 2015? In the grand scheme of things, no…as long as Nick Vannett stays healthy. Finding players who will be able to spell Vannett, or contribute with Vannett on two tight end set formations, is something Coach Meyer and Ohio State Tight Ends Coach Tim Hinton may want to determine before April 18th.

Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Linebackers Have Improved, But Depth Is Young

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice and will have fifteen spring football practices before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

7. Linebacker

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Curtis Grant (final year of eligibility), Trey Johnson (injury), Devan Bogard (injury)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Darron Lee (Redshirt Sophomore), Raekwon McMillan (Sophomore), Joshua Perry (Senior), Camren Williams (Senior), Dante Booker (Sophomore), Christopher Worley (Redshirt Sophomore), Kyle Berger (Redshirt Freshman), Nick Conner (Freshman)

Similar to what I wrote about with regards to the running backs and H-Back positions for Ohio State, it seems challenging to call this area of the football team a concern. Darron Lee emerged as one of the most dynamic linebackers in the country, with timely plays against Navy, Maryland, Alabama, and Oregon, among others. Lee has established himself as “exhibit A” of not overemphasizing recruiting rankings, as Lee was a three-star recruit who earned his scholarship with tenacity and determination at Ohio State’s summer recruiting camp. Raekwon McMillan played well and often at the middle linebacker spot, alongside former Buckeye teammate Curtis Grant. McMillan was considered one of the crown jewels of the 2014 recruiting class, and played up to his billing. Lastly, rising senior Joshua Perry has quietly and consistently developed into a steadying presence on the Ohio State defense over his previous three seasons; Perry should emerge as an Ohio State captain for the 2015 season.

Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer stated on National Signing Day 2015 that he is “really excited about” the linebacker position, adding, ” I think that Luke Fickell has really done a very, very good job the last three years of building back up to the Ohio State standards…you’re starting seeing these athletes coming up on all special teams. There was a time a couple of years ago the linebackers weren’t involved in the kicking game. It was because for whatever reason they’re not. Now they’re all over the place…”.

In addition, there will be two more linebackers joining the position group in June, with Justin Hilliard and Jerome Baker both signing with Ohio State. As Coach Meyer said, Coach Fickell has replenished the linebacker position very well, and the results were evident during the 2014 national championship season.

If I had to summarize my concerns over this position group, it would be in the simple fact that the linebackers are very talented, but also very young. With the exceptions of Perry and Camren Williams, there are no upperclassmen. Injuries ended the careers of Trey Johnson and Devan Bogard, and the backup positions have seen minimal game experience outside of special teams duty.

Of course, former Ohio State Head Coach John Cooper used to say, “If a dog is going to bite, he’s going to bite as a pup.”. I would prefer Ohio State’s coaches let the young linebackers take their bites out on the opposition, especially early in the season, to help provide that necessary maturity and experience emerge.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Options Abound At RB And H-Back For Buckeyes

On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice and will have fifteen spring football practices before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.

These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.

8. Running Back/Hybrid

Key Players/Contributors Lost: None

Key Players/Contributors Returning For 2015: All. Jalin Marshall (Redshirt Sophomore H-B), Dontre Wilson (Junior H-B); Warren Ball (Redshirt Junior RB), Bri’onte Dunn (Redshirt Junior RB), Ezekiel Elliott (Junior RB), Curtis Samuel (Sophomore RB).

A few things to point out before writing too much further…

Ezekiel Elliott had surgery on his left wrist on February 20th, which will preclude Elliott from participating in any contact drills during spring practice. On March 10th, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer stated that Dontre Wilson was also going to be limited for spring practice, as Wilson is still rehabilitating from his injury that ended Wilson’s 2014 season.

It is truly difficult to list this position group as a concern. After Elliott’s performances versus Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon last season, Elliott has been tagged as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the 2015 season.

My concerns are more of the variety of what would Ohio State do in the event that Elliott is injured and unable to play?

Rising sophomore Curtis Samuel may get the first opportunity to emerge as the primary running back. With Elliott limited this spring, Samuel may be running with the first team offense during contact drills.

Rising redshirt juniors Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball should look at this spring with the theme of an old Elvis Presley song ~ “It’s Now Or Never“. While both Dunn and Ball were heavily recruited players coming out of high school, both players have been supplanted by first Elliott, then Samuel, on the depth chart. If either want to become more involved in the offense, beyond playing on special teams, both need to make their moves this spring to catch the eye of Coach Meyer and new Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford. With highly-touted recruit Mike Weber arriving this summer, neither can squander these spring practices, or they both run the risk of Weber leapfrogging them on the depth chart. It will not be surprising to see both earn considerable time in the spring game scheduled for April 18th.

At the H-Back position, rising redshirt sophomore Jalin Marshall would be the likely candidate to start. While Marshall had challenging moments during the 2014 season, Marshall also had moments in 2014 that showed why the 2015 season is so eagerly anticipated by Buckeye fans.

Dontre Wilson also had challenging moments at the H-Back position in 2014. In the season opener at Navy, Wilson struggled with blocking assignments. At Michigan State, Wilson had some fumbles and drops, but came up with a big touchdown reception to help seal the victory against the Spartans. The H-Back position allows Wilson an opportunity to get to the perimeter and use his speed and quickness, yet Wilson’s lack of size almost eliminates him from being able to run the ball in the middle of the field effectively. Look for Ohio State’s coaches to take their time with getting Wilson back onto the field this spring, as they will certainly want to have Wilson back at full strength and speed for the fall campaign.

While not listed at either running back or H-Back, I have a suspicion that redshirt freshman Parris Campbell may get some opportunities this spring at the H-Back position. Campbell was a high school running back who was moved to wide receiver. Blessed with blazing speed, and running back experience, Campbell is certainly worth looking into as an H-Back this spring.

The question that others have asked - could Braxton Miller be moved from quarterback to H-Back if Miller does not win the starting quarterback position?

Ohio State is blessed to have so much talent on hand at both the running back and H-Back position groups. The challenge for Coach Meyer, and his offensive coaching staff, will be figuring out how to get as many of these talented players on the field and involved enough to keep everyone satisfied.

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