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Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Ohio State Spring Football - Questions To Be Answered (Part 1)

Spring practice at any Division 1 school is usually met with certain levels of anticipation, anxiety, and curiosity. Trying to determine which players at various positions will emerge for the upcoming season is an exercise college football fans engage in, eagerly waiting for the calendar months to move forward from spring to the fall months. Ohio State fans are certainly no different from any other college football fans in this regard.

The 2012 spring football sessions are different in several respects for Ohio State. For the first time since the 2001 season, revered former head coach Jim Tressel will not patrol the sidelines for the Buckeyes. Forced to resign last May for his role in Ohio State's tattoo scandal, Ohio State turned the reins over to longtime Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell for the 2011 season. While Luke Fickell remains on the staff, Ohio State has turned over the head coaching responsibilities to former Ohio State graduate assistant and former Florida head coach Urban Meyer going forward into 2012.

Ohio State fans everywhere are excited about Meyer at the helm for the Buckeyes. A two-time national champion coach at Florida, Meyer recruited and signed a highly-touted group of incoming freshmen in February 2012. Winter conditioning was tremendously grueling under new strength coach Mickey Marotti.

Questions remain, and some may still exist even after the conclusion of Ohio State's spring game on April 21st ~ have pressing issues been resolved heading into the summer and preseason fall camp? Below are some of the questions on the minds of many Ohio State fans, ranked in area of least importance to highest importance, as I see them:

10. Ohio State's new offense will be very dependent upon a strong running game. Who will emerge at running back for the Buckeyes? ~ While an important question, I rank this question low heading into spring football and this season for a simple reason - Ohio State is loaded with experience and depth at the position. Returning running backs include Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, and Jordan Hall. Freshman Bri'onte Dunn enrolled early for Ohio State's winter conditioning, and will participate fully in spring drills. Freshman RB Warren Ball will enroll this summer for fall camp.

A concern many Ohio State fans have when remembering Coach Meyer's offenses at Florida was the lack of a strong running game from the running back position, relying tremendously on former Gators QB Tim Tebow for rushing yardage. While returning starting QB Braxton Miller will certainly have opportunities in the rushing attack, the depth of talent at running back will potentially allow multiple players opportunities to carry the ball.

The early favorite for the position could be Carlos Hyde. Hyde has performed well in winter conditioning, and at 6 feet, 235 lbs., could be the type of back who could wear down opposing defenses.

Bri'onte Dunn (6'1", 214 lbs.) was highly recruited, and has the Ohio State coaching staff excited about his potential. It would not be surprising to see Dunn in the mix by the end of spring practice for considerable playing time.

One year ago, Rod Smith (6'3", 230 lbs.) was a player Ohio State fans were anxious to see perform for the Buckeyes. While Smith played early in the 2011 season, untimely fumbles led to Smith receiving virtually no playing time as the season concluded. Like Hyde, Smith supposedly has performed well during winter conditioning, and could redeem himself with a strong spring camp.

The wild card in the mix is Jordan Hall. While not as physical a runner as Hyde, Dunn, or Smith, Hall (5'9", 198 lbs.) provides tremendous versatility for the Buckeyes as a receiver out of the backfield and special teams returner. Hall could fit a variety of roles in Ohio State's new offense, similar to former Gators RB/WR Percy Harvin.

With so much depth, the challenge for Ohio State's coaching staff will probably be finding enough work for all of the running backs on the roster. A problem like this is something the majority of coaching staffs around the country would love to have, and that is why it rates low on my list of concerns heading into spring practice.

9. Coach Meyer's offenses have usually involved tight ends extensively. Does Ohio State have the talent on the roster to make this work? ~ Similar to the question above, Ohio State has solid depth returning at the tight end position. Unlike the running back position, the tight ends on the roster are relatively inexperienced.

TE Jake Stoneburner returns for his senior season, and could finally allow the tight end to become a focal point of Ohio State's offense. A former high school wide receiver, Stoneburner moved to tight end under the previous coaching regime. Difficult to cover with a linebacker, and challenging for defensive backs to tackle, Stoneburner may be looking at a potential All-American season, provided he can stay healthy throughout the season.

Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will also be called upon in this new offense. Heuerman saw limited playing time last season, while Vannett was redshirted. Incoming freshman Blake Thomas will enroll in the summer and will participate in the fall camp.

8. Ohio State's secondary has replaced its previous coaches. How much will this impact the returning players in the secondary?~ Former secondary coaches Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson are now working for Arkansas. Co-defensive coordinator Everett Winters will coach safeties, while newly-hired Kerry Coombs will tutor the cornerbacks. Winters is a former defensive coordinator for North Carolina, while Coombs recently coached the secondary for the University of Cincinnati.

Projected returning starters at cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby, while C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant return at the safety positions. Backups within the secondary include Orhian Johnson, Zach Domicone, Jamie Wood, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, Adam Griffin, Doran Grant, Ron Tanner, and incoming freshman Tyvis Powell enrolled early to participate in spring drills.

While there is talent at this crucial area, a period of adjustment will be needed for the players to become accustomed to new coaching styles and methodologies. Perhaps the unit may look completely different by the end of spring, with possible position changes or depth chart adjustments.

Part two of this series will look at concerns ranging from special teams play, the Ohio State pass rush, to Ohio State's linebackers.

**Originally posted on Along The Olentangy on 03/26/2012

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