Ohio State began spring practice on March 28th. In part 1, areas of concern Ohio State will want to address such as the running game, the role of the tight ends in Coach Meyer's new offense, and the secondary were raised. Part 2 continues with questions that Coach Urban Meyer, his staff, and assistants will want to focus upon this spring, with questions 7 through 5.
7. Can Ohio State fix its pass rush issues this spring?~ In 2011, Ohio State struggled to adequately apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While John Simon and Johnathan Hankins played well along the defensive line in 2011, hope remains that 2012 will allow for even better play with the return of DE Nathan Williams.
Nathan Williams played sparingly in the 2011 season opener versus Akron, then was forced to take a medical redshirt year. A hybrid linebacker/defensive end, Williams could potentially line up all over the defensive line, if his health permits. Williams is sitting out during spring drills, and hopefully will be ready to go for fall camp.
John Simon returns for his senior season and has emerged as both a fan favorite, as well as a favorite of Coach Meyer. Simon's intensity and tenacity will potentially land him a role as a captain for this upcoming season. Simon has played both end and tackle, and could fluctuate between positions, depending on the situation.
Coach Urban Meyer singled out Johnathan Hankins for his physical transformation during winter conditioning. Hankins is best-suited for an interior position, as he is listed at 6'4", 317 lbs. Coach Meyer would prefer Hankins to continue to trim down even more.
While Ohio State fans are excited about the incoming true freshmen who will arrive this season, such as Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and Noah Spence, it will be interesting to see which of the sophomores and redshirt freshmen who may emerge this spring. Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, Joel Hale, Kenny Hayes, and Chase Faris were all heavily recruited players from the 2011 class, and all return with Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy, and J.T. Moore. Darryl Baldwin has moved from the defensive line over to the offensive line this season. Se'Von Pittman is an early enrollee true freshman whom Coach Meyer was excited to discuss when Pittman signed with Ohio State in February. Depth is not the issue. It is if Ohio State's talent on hand can emerge to effectively and consistently rush the opposing quarterbacks.
Former Ohio State standout Mike Vrabel, who debuted last season as a linebacker coach on the staff, was retained by Coach Meyer as the defensive line coach. It will be interesting to see what Coach Vrabel is able to impart to his talented crop of players.
6. Can Ohio State fix its long-standing special teams issues?~ Ever since the 2010 Rose Bowl, Ohio State fans have viewed the special teams with anxiety. Long kickoff returns by opposing teams, punt blocks (a punt block was sustained in the 2012 Gator Bowl loss to Florida), and missed field goals over the last two seasons are examples of the bad special teams play Ohio State has experienced.
Punter Ben Buchanan returns for his senior season, while place kicker Drew Basil overcame a shaky beginning in 2011 to establish himself as a consistent field goal kicker for the Buckeyes. Jordan Hall, Devin Smith, Chris Fields, and Corey "Philly" Brown have all contributed as kickoff and punt returners for Ohio State.
In his previous coaching stops, Coach Meyer handled this key area himself. For players looking to make a name for themselves with the new coaching staff, special teams could be their ticket to playing time. This could be an interesting area to keep an eye on this spring and throughout the upcoming season.
5. Will Ohio State's linebackers emerge in 2012?~ A staple of Coach Jim Tressel's Ohio State's teams from 2001 through 2010 was strong linebacker play. Think about linebackers such as Cie Grant, Matt Wilhelm, Robert Reynolds, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegel, Larry Grant, James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Austin Spitler, Brian Rolle, and Ross Homan. All were linebackers who excelled at Ohio State and were eventual NFL draft choices.
The 2011 linebackers, led by Andrew Sweat, Etienne Sabino, and Storm Klein, were largely inconsistent. Sweat battled injuries during the latter portion of the season, opening the door for Ryan Shazier to emerge as arguably the best linebacker on the roster as a true freshman. Shazier will man one of the outside linebacker spots, lining up at weakside outside linebacker this spring. Sabino has been lining up at strongside outside linebacker during spring drills.
Depth was an issue for the linebacker position, as Sweat's eligibility expired, and Chad Hagan's and Scott McVey's Ohio State's careers concluded due to injury issues. Connor Crowell was redshirted in 2011, due to a rehabilitation from a high school injury. Curtis Grant was arguably the highest-rated player in the 2011 recruiting class, but struggled to pick up the defensive scheme, playing primarily on special teams. Grant has been lining up at as the starting middle linebacker during the initial spring practices.
Addressing the linebacker depth issues with recruiting, Ohio State signed five players in its recruiting class such as Camren Williams, David Perkins, and Jamal Marcus. Early enrollees from this group for the spring include Joshua Perry and Luke Roberts. Perry was the first player to commit to Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class, and will probably line up at one of the outside linebacker spots. Roberts looks to be practicing with the middle linebackers this spring.
Luke Fickell, retained by Coach Meyer, will resume coaching linebackers this season. It remains to be seen if the linebackers return to their customary dominant role that they traditionally held while Coach Fickell tutored the position.
In part three, we will conclude looking at the top issues Ohio State must confront this spring, ranging from wide receiver play, the backup quarterback position, offensive line depth, and the new offense being installed by new offensive coordinator Tom Herman.