Finkes Breaks Down the Spring Game Position Groups

By Matt Finkes on April 26, 2012 at 4:00p
Mike Thomas stepped out largeMike Thomas will only get better working against
the Buckeye secondary in practice

I was trying to think of a good format for a review of Spring Practice, and my analytical mind went straight to a position by position breakdown. I think there was lot about the totality of spring, not just the game, that many fans aren't aware of so I'll try to fill in a few of the blanks.

Defensive Line

This is by far the deepest position for the Buckeyes. Even without the return of Nathan Williams, we still have 6-7 viable players all with experience. We're not even talking about the unknown of the freshman class with many highly touted players coming in.

If you think of a line of Goebel, Hankins, Simon and Williams, you are now in the Spartan's class of defensive line play. Having this much talent across the board forces teams to not focus on one or two players and allows everyone to excel. Now you throw in Bellamy, who had some great plays last year and a guy who made a lot of plays in practice this spring, Steve Miller, and you have an exceptional group.

Another player I was really impressed with was converted OL Chris Carter. He has two things going for him already: a Buckeye name and Big Daddy's number. Can't miss, no?

The line will be the emotional heart of the defense with the most emotional coach on the staff leading them. It all starts up front and with this group, it should start fast.


Probably one of the most physically impressive groups in a long time. The lack of depth here is scary though. Shazier, Grant, and Sabino certainly pass the eye test, Storm Klein has the experience and then...

Playing linebacker is the most mentally difficult position on the defensive side of the ball. The amount of information you have to process is enormous and the time you have to react once the ball is snapped is minimal. You have to be two different people within the a few seconds. Pre-snap you are Stephen Hawking, analyzing formation, personnel, down and distance, hash mark, field position, clock, receiver splits, OL hand pressure, the quarterback's eyes, alignment of the defensive line in front of you, checking coverage and then, God forbid there is motion. Once the ball is in play you are Lawrence Taylor, void of thought and able to react in fractions of a second. The thought process only serves to slow you down once the ball is snapped.

This group has to make that leap to LB mental mastery and it will only come with reps and time. The progress through spring leaves me confident their football savvy will catch up to their physical ability. If they can stay healthy this group will be a force.

Defensive Backs

Second only to the defensive line in terms of depth on this team is the secondary: six guys with starting experience return.

At the corner spot, Howard has shown greatness at times but also mental breakdowns last season. When you don't do your job in the secondary, people will score touchdowns. I think he has played with more discipline this spring and should be a solid performer in the fall as will Doran Grant.

You've probably heard by now, but Bradley Roby is going to be great. He will be a play maker that people will avoid this fall. Being able to grow under fire last year was enjoyable to watch and I look for big things from him this year.

The safeties are all big fast and love to hit, perfect fits for the B1G. I would look for Bryant to take over the Star and expand it with his ability to cover. Like the defensive front, this is a veteran group who should be able to help the linebackers.

Offensive Line

Has there been a position that has consistently under performed over the past decade? Hint: no.

After spending some time with coach Warinner, I feel confident things will change. His pedigree is fantastic and after spending a couple days watching individual sessions, the technique and attitude is refreshing. With the defensive line coaching imparting his attitude on his guys, the offensive linemen will have to fight or be embarrassed, I promise you that.

With the limited runs in the spring game it was very encouraging to see the line moving guys off the ball with a little bad attitude. You've got some experience with Mewhort, Norwell, Hall and Underwood. Moving Fragel and Baldwin will help out but the biggest help will come from Warinner and the giant freshman Taylor Decker. Decker has the attitude and the physical tools to be a great one. Any 17 year old kid who is willing to step in the circle drill and call out Simon is my kind of guy.

Another factor which will lead to more success is Mickey Marotti's transformation of some of these guys into more athletic players. Being able to move the pocket and pull to get to the edge will get Braxton into a comfort zone of throwing on the run and allow routes to develop.

Fullbacks & Tight Ends

It will be interesting to see how Boren and Stoneburner will be used this year. A leaner Stoneburner has some of the best hands on the teams and has been the feature receiver in many a practice session. The big question is whether there is enough talent on the outside to alleviate some focus off of him. If that happens he will have a big year. He is as talented as a receiving tight end as we have had since Ricky Dudley in the mid-90s.

Boren is a bit of a conundrum to me still. His blocking ability is unquestioned and he has good hands, but the stress in Urban's offense is what you can do after you catch it. If he can't show he is a play maker his role might be limited. That said, this is the B1G and we will have to run the ball in the bad weather and that's where Zach will shine as a path clearer.

Heuerman was used a lot and given many reps in practices this spring and can develop into another threat. He catches the ball really well and is picking up the offense fast, as is Nick Vannett.

Running Backs

What will Meyer do with Jordan Hall? RB/Slot/KR/PR? He can do all those things but can we afford for him to be all those people?

Lot's of questions there, so I'll give my answers, which don't really count but might be entertaining. He will be more valued in the slot position than in the back field. Without the prototype Percy Harvin player, Hall most likely fits the bill until someone in the receiving corps steps up. Any of the other backs in the stable can fit the bill as Braxton's other running threat, as #5 will get most of the attention on the read option.

While Carlos Hyde had a good spring, Bri'onte Dunn had a great spring. I am excited to see what an offseason of lifting will do to him. He is naturally smooth and exceptional lateral
movement-wise, though he needs to add some strength to get that top-gear speed to become a real threat.

Wide Receivers

There are a ton of names here but not one has jumped off the page. There are a couple things a wide receiver needs to do in this offense: beat 1-on-1 coverage and get deep when needed. These were the two glaring weaknesses of the OSU receivers last year and throughout the spring. As good as freshman Mike Thomas was on Saturday, he was more of a possession receiver.

The one positive I have is working against our secondary will make these young guys better. With the complexity of the passing game compared to years past, there will be openings in the defense. The key for these guys will be to get the ball to them and for them to catch the ball. Drops were a plague this spring but the work ethic has been something that is encouraging.

I am hoping they will continue the strides they made in the spring into the 7-on-7's in the offseason. Without viable receiver threats, the guys who we know can make plays (Stoneburner and Hall) will have trouble finding space (see Jake's mid-season disappearance act, which to be fair, was not his fault).


This was by far the most shocking position to me at the Spring Game.

During the 14 practices leading up to then, the quarterbacks looked lost many times. I have described this to people as taking a kid in a 7th grade math class (Walrusball) and then placing them into calculus II.

Slow reads, late throws and inaccuracy where the growing pains over April. The comfort of both guys throwing on the run and moving in the pocket was good last Saturday. Once you add in the ability to get safeties and linebackers out of position with the threat of the run, I think #5 will thrive. The most encouraging thing about Braxton I thought from last year was the lack of mistakes and turnovers he had. When you have a person thrust into that position of being the main cog in the offensive machine and he is able not to press and force throws, that is showing maturity beyond his years.


Unlike when the spread came to Michigan, OSU is semi-built for it. We have been running a form of it for years and recruiting offensively to that end.

Where we are lacking the personnel is in the offensive skill positions. Even though we are Ohio State and cupboard is never really bare, it is still hard to get some of the top flight talent to come to the snow from Florida, Texas and California.

Can Urban change that? He will have to if he is to survive and prosper. On the defensive end, it will be the rock we will have to build on for a little while, but it's already a strong rock.

After the 1995 season, we lost record setting quarterback, a Heisman-winning running back, the 7th overall pick at tight end and a Biletnikoff-winning WR. We knew as a defense that we needed to keep the ship until the offense came around in '96. Having two guys on the staff that went through that personally will help them to understand.

I know I have already spoken about this but the intensity level has been noticed by everyone that attended a practice this spring. There is a sense of urgency not only to turn things around but to dominate. I get the sense that the attitude now is "we respect you but we do not like you anymore." We are here to beat you up and take your girlfriend (or recruit).

There is a stigma for losing. It is not politically correct to wear lavender jerseys or make community service a punishment, but I would like to believe that deep down in the heart of most people, they know it's right. To be successful you have to win, to win you have to compete, when you compete someone will lose. It's that simple. Where else in football do you get your starting quarterback in a circle drill before the spring game?

Matt Finkes, an All-American defensive end for Ohio State from 1993-1996, is an Eleven Warriors contributor.


Comments Show All Comments

dbit's picture

Wait. Decker called out John Simon in the circle drill? Ballsy...

hodge's picture

My sentiments exactly--like Duke Nukem, he must have balls of steel...

AltaBuck's picture

Kid grew up playing hockey (and a pretty good player from what I've read). Sounds like he has that type of mentality..

DERP - I was thinking of Joey O'Connor.

I am Groot - Groot

gbm's picture

If only we could hear your thoughts a little more often. Very well done sir.

Doc's picture

Matt, yet another great article.  From someone that has been there done that it really resonates.  I too would like to see your name more often.  Your articles are must reads.



CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

Go Buckeyes14's picture

Awesome post. I think that even if our offense is slow to come around, it cant really be anywhere near as bad as it was last year. So even if its bad, it will still look pretty good to the average fan when they compare it to wlarusball. I also second GBM in that Mr. Finkes needs to have more posts! Go Buckeyes!

buckeyeEddie27's picture

Second paragraph on linebackers blew me away.  

Dropped passes were a plague....:(

Decker did whaaaaa?   

Fantastic insight.  Thanks Matt!


I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Irricoir's picture

Thanks for the post partner. Am I the only one high on Bennet. It seemed like he was in on a good number of plays Saturday. Am I giving the kid too much credit?

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

You are definitely not the only one.

Corch Urbz said in one of his pressers, that Fickell told him all winter that Bennett was a playmaker, and Urbz didn't quite believe him, and after this spring, Corch Urbz is now a believer.

How firm they friendship...

gbm's picture

I have also been very high on him for awhile also. He is a very explosive and nasty player. I'm thinking, just being so young and surrouned by such great talent on the line is why his star isn't so bright yet. He will be household name when talking about tOSU games on s/monday soon enough.

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

Good article Matt.  Here is a question for you and anyone else that has insight......

It seems as though we have a plethora of good talent at the strong side DE/interior lineman positions (Simon, Bennett, Bellamy at DE, Goebels, Hankins, Hale at DT), but we don't really have a true speed rush guy, which is so important in the type of defense we traditionally call, where the weakside DE is dropped back in coverage, and lets a LB or DB blitz from another area.

We've been blessed in the recent past with (healthy) Nate Williams, Thad Gibson, or Vern Gholston at this position.

My question is have you seen anything from the younger guys (aka Steve Miller) that makes you feel like we can adequately replace Nathan Williams if he isn't fully healthy?

I've read his type of injury is very hard to come back from. 

How firm they friendship...

William's picture

Steve Miller seems like he has come along since last year, but I wouldn't fret about the lack of speed rushers just yet, we have the best one in the nation in Noah Spence coming in and the year after that we will have Lewis Neal. Also I could see Josh Perry making the jump to that LEO/Viper position too.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

On the bright side, asking a true frosh, athletic freak DE/LEO (Washington, Spence, maybe J. Marcus) to come in on 3D and simply pin back his ears and go after the QB, or occasionally drop back into zone coverage, is probably an easier assignment - from a mental standpoint - than other defensive responsibilities - certainly the mental processing is not as demanding as how Mr. Finkes describes the LB responsibilities.

William's picture

Agreed. Although I don't see Marcus ever developing into a LEO, he'll be a stud SAM in my mind.

Woody4's picture

I'm anxious to see if/how freshman coming in,  like Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington fill that role.  Sure, they're freshman...  AND, strength & conditioning will need to be come up to speed, as well as knowledge of the system,  but MAN they're fast.   Plus, how quick Se'Von Pittman can recover?   *shrug*  just thinking outloud....

BTW,  ditto.... good article!

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

I'm anxious too.  Ideally Simon makes the perfect strongside end, and if I remember correctly we moved him to the weakside last year after Williams went down, which meant he wasn't rushing the passer on every play, which you hate to see.

I'm hoping a combination of healthy Nathan Williams, Steve Miller, one of the Frosh can pick up this role.  But man, our D-line depth looks very good for the next 3-4 years.

How firm they friendship...

Matt Finkes's picture

Obviously hoping Williams will be back, you could really tell the change in scheme without him in last year.  Simon tried to fill the role but I don't kow if that plays to his strengths.  Miller got a ton of reps this spring at this spot and there are a few talented freshmen coming. I hate to count on freshman though.

Buckeyejason's picture

Michael Thomas = Duron Carter...without the drama.


Irricoir's picture

 "we respect you but we do not like you anymore." We are here to beat you up and take your girlfriend (or recruit).

I love this philosophy and might employ it upon all the haters. ( and I am not interested in your recruits) -Denny!

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Awesome Matt!!!  I think all of us in the Nation understand the differences in coaching style between Tressel and Urban.  Personally, I cannot WAIT to see the Buckeyes coming out mean and nasty again!!!  It is great to hear the attitude that we are not only going to win, we are going to dominate, destroy, and whoop your ass badly!!!  The look on baby Bret's face and subsequent handshake after Urban drills the Badgers by 50 is going to be priceless!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Buckeyeneer's picture

Thank you. Great article.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

FortMeyer's picture

Already took Brets recruit......teach him a great lesson to take his gf/wife? too....teeheeheehee.

Nice Matt, look forward to more from you in the future.

Menexenus's picture

Help me out here, guys.  In Matt's article (great job, btw) I read that Chris Carter is an OL who is being converted to DL.  But I also read in the article that we have a wealth of talent at DL and a shortage on OL.  So why are we switching a guy from OL to DL?  Doesn't seem to make sense.  If anyone has insight, please explain.  (Thanks.)

Real fans stay for Carmen.

William's picture

Carter wasn't getting it done on the O-line and Fickell/Vrabel had been asking to try him out on the D-Line, because he's quite the space-eater. He's done well so far in channeling his inner ManBearPig and has done pretty well for just being put on D.

Bucks43201's picture

Great read, Matt! I like your writing style -- it's to-the-point & gritty...tough like the way you played: a Freddy Pagac-coached animal out there...unleashed to destroy everything in its sight.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

pcon258's picture

fantastic article, i really think our LB's and d-line will haunt people's nightmares for the next few years, and as a result, our secondary will seem alot better than they really are. last year i thought they were average, although maybe that was just my idiocy. either way, i expect our defense to keep brady hoke up at night

Jdadams01's picture

A big problem last year was certainly less pass rush. When you give a QB 5 seconds to throw he will find someone.

petebuc52's picture

I was impressed with Roby last year more than Howard whom seemed to have more of the hype. Also looking for CB Grant to get playing time this year. Also like when Urban says if your gonna make mistakes on the field make them going fast.  The Defense should be nasty this year..


ARMYBUCK's picture

@ Irricoir, I dont think your off-base at all with your assertion of Michael Bennett.  I personally saw what I thought were flashes of brilliance last year as a true freshman.  I would say that with a year under his belt and the new S&C program we have every reason to be very optimistic about this kid!

Tom57's picture

Well done Matt

I really think the WRs are loaded but inexperienced like the guys chucking them the rock.

In many ways its unfair .... almost like it's hard to play QB and easy to play WR. Not so in Urban's systems.

I als want to emphasize your point about the running game... the OL was crushing their blocks on a pretty good group of DL. All of the RBs (not countin hybrid man Hall) are BIG and Fast. The offense we see in the fall will be punishing. This isn't Rich Rods spread it's Urbans and he wants to POUND it down your throat. There were almost no stops for no gain and most running plays were netting 4, 5 or more yards.

While UM might not be able to recruit 12 top flight receivers he can recruit 2-3 at a minimum (heck even Tressell and Bollman could do that), and he can recruit DOMINANT RBs and OL who can make the zone running game look like Corny, Archie and Pete.

J.Mo's picture

I would say Ohio State easily has a top 3 defensive line in the nation. I'm looking forward to the new class and the 2011 guys making their presence known. Hale and Bennett played a lot but I think Hayes and Miller will be just as impressive.

Poison nuts's picture

Great read yet again...Thank you.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Matt Finkes's picture

Thanks for all the good words everyone!  I'll keep it up!

Denny's picture

I hope our linebackers remember to snap out of Stephen Hawking mode after the snap. Hawking's lateral range leaves a lot to be desired. :(


bassplayer7770's picture


Matt, another great article.  Always interesting to get insight from a former player.

BuckNut51's picture


I just spit up my coffee reading that! Good stuff lol

bassplayer7770's picture

You spit up?  Like a baby spits up?

Denny's picture

This is a marvelous mental image. EVERYONE START FEEDING YOUR BABBY COFFEE.


Poison nuts's picture


"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Alhan's picture

I really hope you're right and Howard steps it up this year and does more than waving off all of the obvious catches made by the receiver he was covering.

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

cal3713's picture

I know things look good player-wise on the defensive side, but I'm still fairly concerned about the loss of Heacock.  

Frankly, I'm surprise other people aren't voicing similar concerns.  He's been the driving force behind our teams' primary strength for years.  Plus we don't even know whether Fickell is any good as the primary defensive coordinator, or whether Vrabel can successfully coach a d-line.  I guess Withers has a good track record as the co-d-coordinator, but still, there are a lot of questions on the coaching side...