Breaking Down Camp Meyer Position Battles

By Kyle Rowland on August 2, 2012 at 10:00a
28 Comments
Right tackle offers the most intrigue this fall.

Urban Meyer released his initial depth chart in May, saying the spring was the time for deciding position battles. Fall, Meyer said, is for preparation and winning football games. You won’t find too many dissenting opinions on that topic. But as Ohio State’s fall practice approaches, Eleven Warriors takes a look at the positions to keep an eye on in the lead up to the Buckeyes’ Sept. 1 season opener against Miami (Ohio). 

Despite returning 17 starters, there are numerous position storylines, including running back, where Jordan Hall is sidelined and Bri’onte Dunn’s status remains murky. Twenty-three positions – 12 offensive, 11 defensive, not including specialists – are listed on the official OSU depth chart.  

Success has followed Meyer at every job he’s had – Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He’s never won less than eight games in 10 seasons as a head coach. But that is just a minor detail compared to his two national championships and one undefeated season. Meyer’s goal in Columbus is to make 2011’s down season a one-year blip. Returning his childhood rooting interest to prominence is at the forefront, and Meyer is aware that there is no grace period. NCAA sanctions mean diddly to a fanbase eager to take their place among college football’s elite.

“There's no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players,” Meyer said in Chicago.

Offensive Line

On the offensive line, the right tackle position offers the most intrigue. Reid Fragel is listed as the starter with true freshman Taylor Decker as his backup. That could change, though. Fragel, a converted tight end, was still working on his technique when spring practice ended, while Decker excelled throughout the spring, eliciting compliments from Meyer and line coach Ed Warinner.

Decker was a Notre Dame commit, but Meyer’s arrival and the subsequent hiring of Notre Dame’s offensive line coach, Warinner, prompted the Ohio native to flip to the Buckeyes. What a break it was for Ohio State. Decker enrolled early and quickly grasped the nuances of Meyer’s spread blocking scheme.

The rest of the line—from left to right, Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall—is firmly entrenched. Though, there is some intrigue surrounding Mewhort because of his June arrest. The junior grew into a leader after Meyer was hired, however, and was consistently on the receiving end of praise from his head coach throughout the spring.

Mewhort and Norwell are the only two returning starters on the line, but the unit does have a combined 32 starts apiece.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the line has been the resurgence of rover Corey Linsley. Since he arrived in Columbus he’s played every position along the line of scrimmage. Finally, he settled at center this spring and earned the starting nod over the presumptive starter-in-waiting Brian Bobek. Not only that, but Bobek was beat out by freshman Jacoby Boren, prompting a transfer to Minnesota. Boren is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t be 100 percent for two or three weeks.

“Corey Linsley was a surprise on offense, but not really a surprise,” Meyer said. “I just hadn’t seen him play. But he is a journeyman to starter player. He has the potential to be a very good player. He is a very committed player.”

Jordan Hall's injury puts the Buckeyes behind the eight-ball.

Running Back

Due to his offensive style, Meyer has never had a true feature back, someone that could carry the ball 15-20 times a game. That could be coming to an end, though. Meyer knows that you have to run the football effectively if you want to win in the Big Ten. It’s been exhibited by Ohio State for decades, most recently with Boom Herron.

Meyer is in the right place, because the Buckeyes have a stable of running backs, and it starts with Carlos Hyde.

“It’s time for Carlos Hyde to step up and take the baton and go as hard as he can,” Meyer said. “He’s got the tools. He’s a big, strong, fast player.

“He’s got to stay healthy and go get it. It’s not the previous coaching staff’s fault, it’s not the offensive line's fault, it’s not the dog ate his homework – it’s time. This is the defining moment of Carlos Hyde’s career. It’s either yes or no. There can’t be anymore gray area.”

I’d say that pretty much sums it up from the guy in charge.

Behind Hall sits Rod Smith, who suffered from fumble-itis in 2011, causing a brief change to linebacker before moving back to running back in the spring. Next in line is Bri’onte Dunn, a freshman who enrolled early to take part in spring drills. Dunn showcased his skills and was lauded for his performance and offseason work ethic. But this past weekend’s mishap has rendered his situation murky. Dunn was cleared of the most serious charges, but it remains to be seen whether he is punished by Meyer.

The backfield also serves as the home for the shifty Jordan Hall. He had morphed into Meyer’s versatile, hybrid back. But Hall won’t be catching balls out of the backfield or making guys miss anytime soon. In June, he suffered a tendon injury to his foot after stepping on a piece of glass. He’ll miss anywhere from two to six games.

Now Meyer is left to scramble for a replacement.

“That was a shot across the mouth,” he said. “As we start, we don’t have that hybrid No. 3. I call him the No. 3. He’s the guy on the left side of the hash that can do it all. We don’t have that guy right now.

“Philly Brown, Evan Spencer ran an extremely fast 40. You have to be really fast because we run a jet sweep off of that. If you hand a jet sweep to a slow jet it’s like a Citation compared to a King Air. We got a little issue there, but there are some candidates. Najee Murray‘s a guy I’m going to look at. He’s had a really good summer. We’re always going to look at body types that don’t have to run east-west all the time, that’s where (Hall) was a perfect guy. Percy Harvin, Brandon James, Jeff Demps; those were perfect body types: great acceleration and great speed, but also toughness and strength to hit it inside.”

Not only does Hall’s injury shorthand the Buckeyes, it hampers a guy who was poised to have a breakout season. The do-everything offensive threat put his explosiveness on display in the spring and was the benefactor of the change in offensive philosophy.

Devin Smith has flashed big-play ability.

Wide Receiver

To say last season’s passing game lacked effectiveness would be putting it lightly. Fourteen receptions led the team. No receiver even surpassed 300 yards – for the season. Miller and Joe Bauserman deserve part of the blame, but the receiving corps was underwhelming from the get-go.

For Ohio State to make 6-7 a one-year wonder, the likes of Brown and Smith must rise to the occasion.  Similar to the running back position, the Buckeyes have depth at wideout. However, it remains to be seen whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. One may have been inclined to say the latter in November, but the spring brought forth a renewal of talent.

Brown, Smith, Spencer, Michael Thomas, Verlon Reed and Chris Fields form a nucleus that could shoot up the ranks of the Big Ten. Brown (speed), Smith (home run ability) and Spencer (mix of sure hands and speed) have separated themselves as the top three for now, but Thomas’ 12 catches in the spring game and strong work ethic lends one to believe he could be a factor during the season. Thomas has latched on to John Simon and developed a hard-working mentality.

“I think we have enough talent (at wide receiver) to be functional in the fall,” Meyer said at the conclusion of spring practice. He has since changed his tune, offering anecdotes about the murmurs of improvements he’s heard from players and coaches.

Defensive Line

The defensive line is far and away the most solid position on the roster. But it still offers up a flair of mystery. Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy have 62 starts among them, yet the second group, most notably Michael Bennett, Steve Miller and Joel Hale, will see significant minutes.

“Michael Bennett was a surprise on defense,” Meyer said. “He’s listed as a backup to Johnathan Hankins, but that may not necessarily be the case in the fall. It’s hard for me to say that he isn’t one of the four best.”

That’s lofty stuff, considering Hankins was projected as the fourth overall pick in a recent mock draft and he appears on numerous watch lists. Not to mention, Bennett hasn’t even started a game.

Don’t forget, Nathan Williams is also lying in the weeds, awaiting the perfect opportunity to reappear. Williams, coming off microfracture surgery, is said to be progressing adequately, expected to play and make an impact.

“Nate’s doing well,” Meyer said. “He’s slightly ahead of schedule, so we’re anticipating he’s going to play. He’s worked his tail off. I’m proud of him. Our training staff has done a good job, and Nate has done a very good job. That’s a hard injury. “

Meyer is still taking a wait-and-see approach with Williams. While he may be showing signs of a fast healing process, rushing Williams along would not be the right way to go. 

Curtis Grant is finally playing like the top linebacker recruit. 

“We’re certainly going to be cautious with him,” Meyer said. “He’s got a career in football, so we have to do him right. We have to be very careful. We have a plan we’ve already talked about.

“The best skill he has is he goes like a wild man. So we just want to make sure when it’s time to cut him loose, we can’t put a limit on him. He just does what he does. It’s our job as coaches and a training staff to be smart. If you put him out there before he’s ready, that’s a problem.”

Linebacker

The weak link on already lackluster defense a season ago was the uncharacteristic play of the linebackers. Penn State may use the term Linebacker U., but Ohio State could also stake claim to it.

The three starters – one senior and two underclassmen – provide a solid unit on paper with questions about their on-field caliber lingering. Sophomore Ryan Shazier proved he has a superb career ahead of him by tallying 57 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks last season. He played in all 13 games, starting three.

Curtis Grant, also a sophomore, had a rocky first season. He entered Ohio State as the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit. Many figured he’d have the type of freshman year that Shazier flashed. Instead, Grant saw limited time on defense and spent most of the season on special teams. He had two tackles on the season.

In the spring, however, Grant looked like the player he was hyped to be. He seized the starting middle linebacker spot from day one. Meyer said Grant “has to be a player for us. If he’s not, we’ve got problems.” The problems should be averted. But if Grant’s productivity slips or he’s injured, a freshman with no playing experience will be inserted into the action. Connor Crowell missed all of last season with a leg injury. Storm Klein was listed as the backup until he was dismissed from the team in July.

The senior in the group is Etienne Sabino. He’s never fully realized his potential, but a regime change appears to have sparked Sabino. He’s lost weight and has been one of the bright spots in “the best offseason in school history.” Sabino was among the top five leading tacklers on the team last year and ended the season on a high note, earning team MVP honors for Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.

Defensive Back

Scanning over the two-deep for the defensive backfield, six names immediately jump off the page, and two of them aren’t even starters. Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Travis Howard are first-teamers, but Orhian Johnson and Doran Grant are too good to keep on the sidelines.

Howard and Grant duked it out the entire spring. The senior held off the underclassmen, though. Howard and Roby are shutdown corners that can hold their own with any others in the conference. Opposing receivers will also quickly learn that Grant possesses a great ability to keep the ball out of their hands.

Bryant and Barnett, inexperienced sophomores a year ago, are now more seasoned and mature, while Johnson’s inconsistent career had plenty of ups in 2011: he had a career-high three interceptions. That total led the team. Johnson is second on the team in career tackles (92), trailing John Simon’s 110. 

28 Comments

Comments

johnny11's picture

I think hyde gets the lions share of the carries and dunn and smith spilt the scraps barring anymore injuries in the backfield. I would really like smith to live up to the lofty expectations he had coming out of high school and his freshman year, but it seems urban is really exciited about hyde and so is the rest of the team. We shall see though. Urban will definately go with whoever performs best on game days and in the classroom.
I think Fragel eventually gets beat out by decker if no other reason then Urban's own comments at the end of spring when he said " Decker makes our line functional." This may take a little while maybe closer to the middle of the season, but don't be surprised when it does.
As far as the Dline they will rotate like crazy because of depth, but i can really see at some points especially third down aituations when you may see this as our front for. Spence at leo simon at DT Hank as DT and washington/bennett at strongside end. I only say that because those four/five can bring the most heat on third and long/medium tyoe situations. IMHO i think these scenarios can definately happen.
 

Chad Peltier's picture

Thought it was really interesting when Urban mentioned Evan Spencer and Najee Murray as guys who might get looks at No. 3 position. Nice to hear those two are impressing over the summer. 

Northbrook's picture

Yeah, I was thinking DB all the way for Najee.

gobucks1226's picture

A lot of praise for Travis Howard in the article. He underachieved last season and we need him to hold down his side of the field. I fully expect our secondary to be better this season and am excited to see how our DBs react to the new coaches.

Buckeyejason's picture

Howard was good as a 3rd corner in 2010 and just plain BAD last year as a starter. Let's hope he improves greatly or just let Doran grant get the reps to help build for the future.

BUCKEYES BABY!

UrbzRenewal's picture

Every time I watched for him specifically, he was 3-5 yards off of the wide receiver before the snap. Hopefully the press him up a little. Hopefully.

Alhan's picture

I agree, I never once saw him exhibit any play that would cause me to call him a "shutdown corner" last season.  He seemed better at running up after the play trying to wave off whatever catch he allowed the receiver to make than stopping anything.  Other than a few INTs last year, he was my biggest frustration to watch on defense.  If he's got the starting job I'll bee rooting hard for him to have a banger of a year this year, though!

You can kill a fly with your slipper or a cannon. Either way, the fly dies. -Ramzy

Alex's picture

Najee Murray on the jet sweep is intriguing to me

OldColumbusTown's picture

Interesting to hear that Marcus Hall is firmly entrenched at RG.  I know he has had some struggles at times in the past, though those were mostly at the tackle position.
Question - is Decker stuck on the right side, or is he the LT of the future?  I realize Kyle Dodson is on the roster and may end up at LT in future years as well, but it seems like Urban is so high on Decker it would make one assume he is a LT candidate at some point.

Buckeyejason's picture

Id have to say he ends up at Left Tackle in the near future. Very athletic for his size.

BUCKEYES BABY!

UrbzRenewal's picture

I'm most excited to hear about the Rod Smith/Bri'onte Dunn battle.

Buckeyejason's picture

We also need ALOT more production out of Bellamy. For a guy that started 10 games he had 1 sack I believe. He was great in the Wisconsin game..just needs to be more consistent throughout the season.

BUCKEYES BABY!

Alex's picture

Bellamy isn't a sack guy though IMO....to me he's the type who can cause some impact by pushing the play to the other side or keeping/containing on the inside....he should have a couple more sacks, but at the same time, not sure that's his role as much as it is some of the other players we have

NYC Buckeye's picture

RBs not really a concern, I feel that Hyde showed enough last season to prove he is capable of starting... he may not be the perfect fit in Urban's spread but he can get the job done...
Am I the only one worried about the depth in the secondary??  The starters are great, but we only have two backups (of note) for 4 positions, what if someone goes down for the season???

bassplayer7770's picture

As for the secondary, we do have incoming frosh who could make their way onto the 2 deep.  I think Armani Reeves and Devan Bogard are two of those guys, and I'd mention Najee Murray too if he isn't playing primarily on Offense.  Then there are guys like Ron Tanner, Jamie Wood, Tyvis Powell, etc.

NYC Buckeye's picture

I forgot about Wood, but I believe he is more a safety...  I mean what if we have to go into a dime formation?  Is Adam Griffin the 4th corner to come in?  Otherwise yeah its all freshman, just thinking its a little bit of a concern if a major injury occurs...

Ahh Saturday's picture

CB, OL, and LB are all scary thin.  Any injury there immediately throws a true freshman into the starting line up.  Good news is that we seem to have some freshman talent coming in. 

moopdawg's picture

Glad to hear that Najee is making some waves on offense, but I'm still hoping to see him play defense.  When you watch his highlights from high school, you can tell that Murray loves to hit!!!  Go Bucks, and go Steubenville!!!

bassplayer7770's picture

Who knows, he could play both!  Coach Meyer said he was evaluating him on Offense largely due to his performance in the Big 33 game.

moopdawg's picture

Yup...maybe he'll be used liked Chris Gamble :)   Ultimately, it's whatever's best for the team.

Buckeyejason's picture

So who will be the big disappointment freshman wise..one of the big fish specifically? There's always one or two..or almost a whole class ala 2009 lol. I'll say Spence is either boom or bust. Offensively, even though he wasn't "highly regarded" I'll say Southward.

BUCKEYES BABY!

oregonianbuckeye's picture

What did Murray play on offense in high school? What were his stats?

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Murray as a returner and a possible wide receiver is VERY intriguing. May have to do some adjustments to my depth chart on NCAA Football 13 now....

Adolphus Washington is half grizzly bear and half dragon | Noah Spence kills quarterbacks, just to watch them die.

Buckeyejason's picture

I think Murray was better on offense than defense in high school.

BUCKEYES BABY!

smith5568's picture

I am excited to see how Verlon Reed comes along. I believe he was our leading receiver until he was injured against MSU. I thought he looked very solid before the injury and he seemed to get open more often then some of our other recievers. 

Alex Root's picture

I was not impressed with Garret Goebel and Adam Bellamy last year at all, I would much rather Have a starting line of Hankins, Bennet, Simon, and who ever wins out the other DE spot, Spence, Steve Miller maybe. Someone else mentioned neither are really a sack guy but we NEED DT that can get after the QB like Bennet and Hankins, Hale is pretty solid two he had a couple sacks and didn't play as much as Goebel and Bellamy. I think we are pretty good at the other positions, I think the OL will be fine this year, but next year we will have some new guys playing, I think LB is ok if people don't get injured or freshmen will play. I think if we get passed this year with no injuries we will have very good depth at every position.

SilverBullet's picture

With the way he lights people up in the secondary, I definately thought Murray would play on defense. Glad to see M. Bennet getting some recognition, he deserves it.

Colin's picture

Speed means nothing if you can't catch. I swear to God if I see another ball bounce off of Philly Brown's helmet instead of a catch I may have a brain aneurysm.