Coming off an undefeated 12-0 season in 2012, one could perceive Ohio State to have little to worry about or work on during the 2013 spring practice period. Peer in a little closer, and one can speculate as to the areas that Coach Urban Meyer and his assistants will focus upon during the fifteen practices that will culminate with the spring game in Cincinnati on April 13th, 2013.
Below are some of the perceived areas of concentration, ranked from lowest priority to highest, as I am speculating rank in terms of importance for spring football. Part 1 dealt with issues 9 through 6. Here are the top five issues, as I see them, for Ohio State's spring football practices.
5. Starting right offensive tackle: Reid Fragel moved over from the tight end position last spring, and emerged as a dependable, solid starter at right tackle. Fragel is presently working on preparing for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Rising sophomore Taylor Decker pushed Fragel for the starting position, up until the 2012 opener versus Miami University. While Decker is probably the front-runner for the spot, it would not be improbable to see rising senior Andrew Norwell move over the left guard spot to the right tackle position. Converted defensive lineman Chase Farris is also in the discussion as a possible right tackle candidate. As line chemistry is of critical importance, this will be an area that could be resolved by the conclusion of spring football.
4. Starting punter: Ben Buchanan has exhausted his eligibility, opening up an opportunity for someone to claim the starting punter job. With recruit Johnny Townsend signing with Florida, Ohio State was left without a targeted successor to Buchanan.
Placekicker Drew Basil could be a possible choice, currently listed on the roster as "K/P". Another possibility could be redshirt freshman Frank Epitropoulos. Epitropoulos played wide receiver in high school, but also punted. If Epitropoulos has recovered from an injury that wiped out his 2012 season, he could emerge as the punter in 2013, but Basil is probably in the driver's seat on this battle.
3. Starting cornerback opposite Bradley Roby: Travis Howard has exhausted his eligibility, leaving the cornerback position opposite stalwart Bradley Roby vacant. Who will emerge from a crowded group including Doran Grant, Adam Griffin, Armani Reeves, Najee Murray, Eli Apple, and Cameron Burrows? Grant is listed as the starter heading into spring football, but this is a competition to keep an eye on throughout the spring and into the fall.
2. Two linebacker spots: The good news is Ryan Shazier returns for his junior season. The bad news is Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren are leaving.
It is now or never for Curtis Grant to seize the middle linebacker spot. If Grant is unable to win the job, look for Camren Williams or Luke Roberts to attempt to win the job. On the outside, the likely starter is Joshua Perry, but David Perkins will also fight to win the spot. Joshua Perry could also be a factor at the middle linebacker spot. With incoming freshmen Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell arriving in the fall, it will be important for the linebackers to step up their respective games before Johnson and Mitchell arrive for fall camp.
1. Four new starters along the defensive line: Fortunately for Ohio State, Coach Meyer has stressed recruiting talented defensive linemen. This spring will allow Ohio State fans to see if the high school recruiting accolades were accurate.
Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence both earned considerable playing time in 2012, and look to emerge as starters on the defensive line. Michael Bennett battled through injuries in 2012, and could be pencilled in at the strongside defensive end spot. The nose tackle position should be one to watch between Joel Hale and Tommy Schutt.
The depth along the defensive line is considerable. Se'Von Pittman recently declared a transfer, but even so - Ohio State has depth and talent along the defensive line. For example, Jamal Marcus was moved from linebacker to defensive end, and there are other freshmen defensive linemen enrolling this season. Will four new starters emerge by the conclusion of spring football?
Answers to all of these questions may not be found by the end of the Ohio State spring game on April 13th. Coach Urban Meyer, his coaching staff, and the Ohio State faithful, will certainly hope that many will be before the season begins against Buffalo on August 31st.