Ohio State began spring practice on March 28th, and will conclude with the Scarlet and Gray game on April 21st. In the first two articles, areas of concern such as Ohio State's running game, increased usage of the tight end position in the offense, and improved linebacker play were among the concerns addressed. Below are the top four questions Ohio State will want to focus upon for the remainder of spring practice, and possibly throughout the summer until Ohio State begins fall camp.
4. Who Will Emerge As Ohio State's Wide Receivers? ~ Even Coach Urban Meyer has been asking and concerned about who will be catching passes for the Buckeyes this season. Returnees include Corey "Philly" Brown, Chris Fields, Verlon Reed, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and Tyrone Williams. Recruit Michael Thomas enrolled early for spring drills, with Frank Epitropoulos and Ricquan Southward joining the team for fall camp drills.
A possible wild card in the receiver equation is using running back Jordan Hall as a slot receiver. Former Florida Gator Percy Harvin lined up in various positions for Coach Meyer, and Hall could possibly fulfill that role for the Buckeyes this season. "Philly" Brown was a high school running back, so Brown could also be a possibility in this role.
The biggest concern Coach Meyer has, and for good reason, is the overall lack of experience the entire receiving corps possesses. Of the returning wide receivers, both Devin Smith and "Philly" Brown led the Buckeyes with fourteen receptions in 2011.
Early word out of spring practice has had players such as "Philly" Brown, Devin Smith, and Evan Spencer among the starting wide receivers. Will it remain like this for the season opener against Miami University on September 1st? Only time will tell.
3. Will Ohio State's Backup Quarterbacks Develop For 2012? ~ Braxton Miller had moments of brilliance as a true freshman in 2011, encouraging Ohio State fans and exciting the incoming offensive coaching staff about future possibilities. In the new offense, Miller will be the catalyst, as former Urban Meyer quarterbacks Josh Harris, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow were.
Here is where the concern lies - will backup quarterbacks Kenny Guiton, Jr. and Cardale Jones be ready to play if Miller is injured? After all, the spread option offense requires or usually involves the quarterback as a runner, thus increasing the possibility of the quarterback getting hurt. Something else to keep in mind - Braxton Miller was injured periodically in his high school career.
Coach Meyer publicly stated that he was not a fan of Kenny Guiton, Jr. at the onset of winter condtioning, but that he is now behind Guiton as a quarterback. Cardale Jones is a true freshman who enrolled early, after spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy.
While Guiton has game experience, and is the likely backup quarterback, it still should make Ohio State fans uneasy to contemplate how Ohio State's season will go if Braxton Miller is unable to play. It will be imperative for Coach Meyer to play Kenny Guiton, Jr. as much as possible this spring, as well as throughout the early season games, to lower the concern about the backup quarterback position.
2. Can Ohio State Survive Its Lack Of Offensive Line Depth? ~ A valid concern and complaint Ohio State fans held against former Buckeyes offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman for several seasons was the lack of numbers on the offensive line. Bollman often plugged in walk-on players, mixing and matching players to fill out the unit. It was common for players who were natural guards to play at tackle, due to a lack of numbers. This season, the lack of numbers are an issue that Coach Meyer and the new coaching staff must confront.
Returnees with experience include Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall, and Antonio Underwood. Coach Meyer made offensive line recruiting a priority, signing tackles Kyle Dodson and Taylor Decker, with guards Jacoby Boren, Pat Elflein, and Joey O'Connor. Tommy Brown, Brian Bobek, and Chris Carter are redshirt freshmen who will also compete for playing time, with Bobek the likeliest of this group to emerge as a viable option. Senior tight end Reid Fragel, as well as redshirt freshman defensive end Darryl Baldwin, have moved to the offensive line to help with the depth issue.
The offensive line will probably remain in flux throughout the spring, and possibly throughout the season. The early starters have been Jack Mewhort at left tackle, Andrew Norwell at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, Marcus Hall at right guard, and Reid Fragel at right tackle.
New offensive line coach Ed Warinner has been cited by Coach Meyer as Meyer's second most important hire, behind strength coach Mickey Marotti. If Warinner is able to develop a strong offensive line, and cultivate the depth behind the starters, Coach Meyer's faith in Warriner will probably be validated by Ohio State fans.
1. How Will Ohio State Transition To Coach Meyer's New Offense? ~ Ohio State fans are excited about the hiring of Coach Meyer, a proven winner with a track record of explosive offenses, after a decade of Coach Jim Tressel's conservative and predictable approaches to offense. While fans are certainly entitled to approach Ohio State's new offensive style with eager anticipation, will the move to the spread option offense be an easy transition?
A case history could be Coach Meyer's first season at Florida in 2005. Chris Leak was not the ideal quarterback for Coach Meyer's spread option offense, and Florida had to wait until 2006 for Coach Meyer to assemble more players better suited for the offensive attack.
As stated in earlier portions of this series, Ohio State has a strong stable of running backs, a talented tight end in Jake Stoneburner, and a promising quarterback in Braxton Miller. Will Coach Meyer be able to put all of these pieces together to have the dynamic offense Ohio State fans are envisioning for 2012? The answer to this question may not be answered until the conclusion of the 2012 season.