Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Defensive Tackle Looms As The Biggest 2015 OSU Concern

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 past few weeks, I have ranked 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 have been 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.

Thirteen practices in, with two practices remaining, including the April 18th spring game. Opportunities to make positive impressions upon the coaching staff regarding the depth chart are becoming scarce.

Earlier in the series, my questions and focus was upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. The final articles 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.

1. Defensive Tackle

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Michael Bennett (eligibility)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Adolphus Washington (Senior), Donovan Munger (Redshirt Sophomore), Joel Hale (Redshirt Senior), Tommy Schutt (Senior), Michael Hill (Redshirt Sophomore), Dylan Thompson (Redshirt Freshman), Tracy Sprinkle (Redshirt Sophomore)

Before proceeding too far into this article, some words of thanks and best wishes to Michael Bennett. Bennett was a key contributor to Ohio State’s national championship run in 2014, and will be missed along the defensive line this coming season. Best wishes to Mr. Bennett as he prepares for a hopefully lengthy NFL career.

Now that we have thanked Mr. Bennett, the next person to thank? Adolphus Washington. Why? Because if Mr. Washington had declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, the Ohio State interior defensive line would be completely bereft of any notable experience.

Do you think I am being overly critical? Why not ask Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer his thoughts on the topic – Coach Meyer has used the phrase “very disappointed” when talking about the backup defensive linemen within the program, thanks to the linked article from the April 1st edition of The Columbus Dispatch.

Who has emerged, or can emerge as a starter to take over for Michael Bennett?

Tommy Schutt is the first name listed by Coach Meyer, but Schutt does not have a lock on the starting job for the fall. According to Coach Meyer, Schutt would start, “As of right now, he and Adolphus would be starting inside — as of now. I’m not ready to say he’s the guy yet.”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, in my estimation.

Joel Hale, in a manner comparable to Chase Faris, has switched back from offensive line to defensive line, for his final season of eligibility in 2015. Unfortunately, Hale suffered a torn calf muscle this spring, and will be out four to five weeks.

Others in the mix could include Donovan Munger, Tracy Sprinkle, Michael Hill, and Dylan Thompson. Thompson was redshirted last season, due to a broken kneecap. Munger, Sprinkle, and Hill could all fall under that “very disappointed” category, as stated by Coach Meyer.
Help is on the way, with recruits arriving this summer. The issue with that is two-fold in 1)are these players physically prepared and capable of contributing as true freshmen, and 2)what does that say about the aforementioned “very disappointed” category if true freshmen are emerging over returning upperclassmen?

Are my concerns about defensive tackle overly alarming for Buckeye fans? Perhaps. After all, the 2015 season opener at Virginia Tech is not until the evening of September 7th, and the crucial summer conditioning months and fall camp will take place between then. Until then, I will hold onto the defensive tackle position as the biggest concern for the Buckeyes until toe meets leather the night of September 7th in Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Friday, April 10, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Pressure Is On, & Wanted, At Open Defensive End Spot

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.

Ten practices in, with five practices remaining, including the April 18th spring game. Opportunities to make positive impressions upon the coaching staff regarding the depth chart are becoming scarce.
Earlier in the series, my questions and focus was upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. The remaining articles 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.

2. Defensive End

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Noah Spence (transfer); Steve Miller (eligibility); Rashad Frazier (eligibility)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Joey Bosa (Junior), Sam Hubbard (Redshirt Freshman), Jalyn Holmes (Sophomore), Tyquan Lewis (Redshirt Sophomore), Darius Slade (Redshirt Freshman), Jashon Cornell (Freshman)

Defensive End was a challenge for Ohio State throughout the 2014 season. Noah Spence was originally suspended for the 2014 Orange Bowl and the first two games of the 2014 season, but Spence’s suspension became permanent after an additional failed drug test. Spence transferred to FCS Eastern Kentucky after the 2014 season.

Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier both manned the vacant defensive end position throughout the 2014 season. While neither were the type of pass rusher that Noah Spence had been for the Buckeyes, both were needed in Ohio State’s march to the 2014 national championship. Steve Miller established himself forever in Buckeye lore with this key play in the 2015 Sugar Bowl versus Alabama…



While Steve Miller was instrumental in the 2015 Sugar Bowl victory, something needs to be stated that will reflect why I have ranked defensive end as a concern heading into the 2015 season. Watch this play earlier in the same 2015 Sugar Bowl game, and you will see why defensive end should be a focal point of interest…

Now keep in mind that not many teams on Ohio State’s 2015 schedule have an offensive line as stout as Alabama’s, and that Steve Miller did make a crucial play later in the 2015 Sugar Bowl that helped to prove the difference against the Crimson Tide. On the other hand, Joey Bosa has established himself at the one defensive end spot, and will be the target of double-team blocks, or possibly triple-team blocks, this season. Ohio State needs someone to consistently apply pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, as well as be a consistent force versus the run. Who will emerge at the open defensive end spot opposite Joey Bosa?

Tyquan Lewis seems to have the inside track, based upon comments made by other Ohio State beat writers, such as @davebiddle...

Tyquan Lewis pretty much has starting spot locked down, but they like the depth behind him with Holmes, Hubbard, Slade.



Besides Tyquan Lewis, other players in the mix...

On the other hand, Meyer pointed out the defensive end spot with Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis as one he's excited to watch.

Interesting that Darius Slade a kid that's under the radar was getting 1st team reps at SDE in place of Bosa who was resting.


Will the open defensive end spot be claimed by the conclusion of the 2015 spring practices?  Possibly, but for certain, Ohio State's coaches and fans will be hoping for consistent pressure from any and all of the players who will be occupying that position throughout the 2015 season.




Friday, April 3, 2015

2015 Ohio State Spring Football Questions: Is The Open Cornerback Spot An Open Target?

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.

Seven practices in, with eight practices remaining, including the April 18th spring game. Opportunities to make positive impressions upon the coaching staff regarding the depth chart are becoming scarce.

Earlier in the series, my questions and focus was upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. The remaining articles 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.

3. Cornerback/Defensive Back

Key Players/Contributors Lost: Doran Grant (eligibility); Armani Reeves (injury); Ron Tanner (injury)

Key Players/Contributors Returning: Marshon Lattimore (Redshirt Freshman), Eli Apple (Redshirt Sophomore), Damon Webb (Sophomore), Gareon Conley (Redshirt Sophomore), Cam Burrows (Junior), Vonn Bell (Junior), Malik Hooker (Redshirt Freshman), Tyvis Powell (Redshirt Junior), Erick Smith (Sophomore), Jamel Dean (Freshman)

Cornerback is a relatively strong position for the Ohio State defense, with so much talent on the roster returning or arriving. Eli Apple emerged as a quality starter during the 2014 season, and should be considered one of the leaders of the secondary. Both Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell return at the safety positions.

Doran Grant leaves after a solid career, as he prepares for a selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Regrettably, Armani Reeves and Ron Tanner both concluded their careers due to concussion-related issues. Both Reeves and Tanner were dependable special team contributors throughout the 2014 season.

Why the concern over cornerback, you ask?

Think back to last season’s Ohio State/Michigan State game in East Lansing. Apple was battling a hamstring injury, and the coaching staff was resting Apple at the onset of the game. Gareon Conley started in Apple’s place, yet the coaching staff felt compelled to get Apple back into the game after Michigan State repeatedly targeted Conley at the beginning of the game.

With the departure of Doran Grant, there is an open spot at the opposite cornerback position. So far during the spring practices, it appears that Gareon Conley is the leader for the open cornerback position.




Even if Conley is listed as a starter after April 18th, I will not be surprised if this battle continues well throughout the summer and into preseason fall camp. Damon Webb earned playing time as a true freshman last season, and could press Conley for the spot. Marshon Lattimore was redshirted last season due to a recurring hamstring injury. If Lattimore can rebound from his hamstring issues, perhaps he could also press for time; Lattimore was a prize recruit from the 2014 recruiting class.

No matter who wins the spot, Ohio State fans need to be prepared for the likelihood that opposing quarterbacks will likely target that individual when the season begins. After all, Apple has established himself in pass coverage, while Conley, Webb, Lattimore, etc, have not as of yet. Growing pains are customary whenever there are inexperienced players within the defensive secondary.

Will this open cornerback position wind up being an open target for the opposition? Ohio State fans will have to wait and see until the 2015 season commences.

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.

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