It's Time for Full Pads: Here's What We're Looking For

By Chad Peltier on March 19, 2013 at 5:00p

Ladies and gentleman, today marks the true beginning of spring practice. 

Braxton was with an elite group of QBs that trained with Whitfield Braxton worked with QB guru Whitfield Jr. 

After two two-hour practices in just shorts and helmets before spring break, the Buckeyes return today with full pads. While those first two practices allowed us to give everyone the eyeball test, now we can get a much better picture of who has been hitting the weights and the film room this offseason. 

To celebrate the return of spring ball, I took a look at the four most important areas for improvement from 2012 and what progress we can expect to see during the rest of spring practice. Let's get to it. 

Braxton GOES TO Study Hall 

The Buckeye offense looked much improved this season after the 2011 Bauserfest, but the team still ended up with the 105th-ranked passing offense and 49th-best offense on passing downs (we could often count on Braxton's legs even on passing downs). 

There's no doubt that Coach Herman and Meyer want to see these numbers improve for 2013 as they "Chase" down Alabama. Thankfully, Braxton is committed to becoming a better passer as well. 

That commitment came in the form of working with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. over both winter and spring break. Braxton reportedly worked with Whitfield on what he calls "chaos mechanics" – how to reset your feet and maintain poise after escaping from pressure. 

Beyond passing mechanics and footwork, Braxton seemed to struggle more with the intermediate to deep passing game, only throwing 10% of passes from 10-14 yards, 5.7% from 15-19 yards, and 4.3% from 20-24 yards. Further, he only completed 14.3% of passes 10-14 yards, which is actually the worst out of all charted quarterbacks in Football Study Hall's sample

The takeaway here is that Braxton really is not close to his ceiling. His adjusted completion percentage was 62.9%, which is among the very top for returning quarterbacks. In spring ball I hope to see more evidence of Braxton's intermediate-range passing ability and composure after pressure. 

Will the Real Receivers Please Stand Up? 

Receivers are the other half of the passing equation, and they're another group that desperately needs to step up during spring practice. We're extremely excited for Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, and Jalin Marshall to come in over the summer, but they will need both senior leadership and intense competition at practice if they are to reach their full potential. 

I did a quick look through the target-and-catch data from 2005-2012 and it's pretty grim from a Buckeye standpoint. The highest-ranked performance in that period was Santonio Holmes' 2005 season, which came in at 66th overall. Corey Brown's 2012 campaign was ranked 464th, with a 71% catch rate and 7.9 yards per target. 

Brown's move to slot and Jordan Hall's move to H-back will certainly help the receiving corps by allowing Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and Michael Thomas to compete for time at the outside X and Y receiver positions. 

Bryant looks to lead a veteran secondary in 2013Bryant's play improved significantly over the season

Senior Defensive Backs Lead on the Field 

The current group of upperclassmen defensive backs is well known for being vocal leaders. Curtis Grant said as much in a recent interview: "We definitely have a few leaders on defense already. Guys like Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby, along with the other seniors have stepped up." Now is the time for these vocal leaders to play as an elite squad. 

The 78th-ranked unit in 2012, the passing defense was eaten up by teams like Miami (OH), Indiana, and even Michigan State. 

However, the 2013 unit will be full of veteran players after only losing Orhian Johnson and Travis Howard to graduation. With one All-American contender in Bradley Roby, the extremely talented Doran Grant on the opposite side, and Tyvis Powell or Corey Brown at Star (not to mention Armani Reeves, Eli Apple, and Cam Burrows for depth), cornerback looks to be as solid as we've seen in years. 

Christian Bryant has made big strides since the first half of 2012, with Fickell recently praising Bryant's leadership and playmaking ability in the secondary.

The starters seem as locked in as we've seen in quite a while, so the pressure will be on for this group to transition to "best of America" level.

Even without much depth chart movement, it will be interesting to watch whether Withers calls for more zone coverage in spring practice after transitioning to primarily man coverage during the latter half of the season. Zone defenses seemed to lead to coverage confusion, slower reaction time, and poor pursuit angles (I shudder when thinking about the first play of the Purdue game). 

A Middle Linebacker Please? 

Finally, we can't write about spring ball without mentioning just how important it will be to find a middle linebacker.

With a search by committee approach, Fickell and Vrabel hope to find a leader or two out of David Perkins, Cam Williams, Curtis Grant, and Josh Perry in spring ball before Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson come in during the summer. 

Former five-star recruit Curtis Grant certainly hopes to put it all together this spring and have his play equal his gargantuan size. The focus of a recent Q&A with the athletic department website, Grant said:

"I've always been told my greatest strengths are my passion and energy. When I don't have those two things it's like the whole team is kind of down. But when I do it really helps us out."

This should be encouraging to Buckeye fans, as passion and "Juice" are what Urban Meyer is all about. 

Beyond Grant and incumbent starter Ryan Shazier, the other potential starters will all work on coverage and playing instinctively in the spring. Principally, the linebacking corps will need to quickly recognize coverages and react without hesitation or with poor pursuit angles.

Their job is easier with a potentially top-five defensive line returning, but the defense as a whole will not be elite without at least two guys stepping up beyond Shazier. 


Comments Show All Comments

btalbert25's picture

I'm really looking forward to seeing these guys on the field during the spring game!  I'm really excited to see what this team can achieve.

CanadianBuckeye's picture

Not sure if reading about Buckeye football helps quench my thirst for the new season or if it just makes me more impatient... either way I will read about it every time.  Thanks for the update!

FitzBuck's picture

Agreed its like ordering a Sam Adams and getting a Samuel Jackson.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

Denny's picture

Feel like if Braxton wanted to learn Chaos Mechanics he should have gone to noted quarterback coach Jeff Goldblum.


Heartofohio's picture

Ha! Chaos theory, good one.

Basso Profondo's picture

Yes! A thousand upvotes to you my friend! I loved Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. 

sharks's picture

Well, basketball season is officially over.

A man got to have a code...

NYC Buckeye's picture

"Their job is easier with a potentially top-five defensive line returning"
I'm sorry, top 5 defensive line in what, the division?  Love the super sophmores, but in what world are 4 new DL starters considered top 5?

Chad Peltier's picture

Meyer has said that this group has the potential to be top five in the country during the season 

NYC Buckeye's picture

I agree the potential/talent is there, Washington looked like a future star in limited playing time last season, but were in trouble if the LBs need to rely on 4 brand new DL starters to carry the load right off the bat...

BSTP DeCon's picture

Braxton's numbers would've been much better had our receivers not have dropped so many catchable balls last season.

tragictones's picture

Hi Chad, I know many on this site mentioned that the O Line was the most improved and most reliable unit last year and praise for Warriner is very high.  But, the O Line was near the bottom of the B1G and NCAA in terms of sacks allowed.  (84th in overall sacks allowed, and because OSU only played 12 games, they were even lower in sacks/game at 90th.)
I assumed that as they improved in run blocking, their pass protection would improve later in the season, but in November they were 114th in the country and allowed even more sacks (3.67/game).  Do you think pass protection will improve this year?  Was Fragel's strength pass pro or run blocking? 
While I would assume Miller could become a better passer by working with a guru, I am a trenches guy and think the O Line needs a lot of improvement if Miller is going to take off.  Or, is it Braxton's fault for being indecisive and holding the ball too long?  In which case, seeking out Whitfield's help was necessary.  There's a problem in the OSU passing game and I would like to know your thoughts.

Chad Peltier's picture

Those are some great points. I don't think it's an easy thing to pinpoint, but I think a lot of it actually comes down to Braxton holding the ball for too long. Warriner and Meyer coach 4-6 seconds of relentless effort, but if they pass isn't off in six seconds then you can't really blame the pass pro. 

That said, defenses often found - especially towards the latter half of the season - that they could confuse Braxton's reads and slow down the play by overloading the OL with pass rushers and leaving a spy. This also led to some of the sack numbers. 

Finally, the OL did seem to be much more aggressive in run blocking than pass protection.  

JakeBuckeye's picture

Hate having an earlier Spring from here on out. Simply can't focus on football or get as excited as I want to with it being March Madness and all!

sirclovis's picture

That commitment came in the form of working with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. over both winter and spring break.

Was it ever verified that Braxton worked with ole Mr. Whitfield over Spring break? I have only found quotes from Aaron Murray saying that he was going to work with Braxton but this information was posted before Spring break.

osu07asu10's picture

Did you bother to click the link you block quoted? It is picture evidence (among other things, like an article in the Toledo Blade l that Braxton indeed worked with Whitfield.
Who would have thought those hyperlinks served a purpose...

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

That wasn't what he asked. He's asking if it was confirmed about Miller working with Whitfield during Spring Break. I do believe what was linked has to do with the Dec workouts with Whitfield.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

sirclovis's picture

Wow... I have already seen that article. Clearly,  it was last updated 3 weeks ago. OSU's Spring break was last week.  So tell me, how does that linked article verify anything? Also, that picture of Braxton and Mr. Whitfield was taken during their workout in December (22 Dec is the exact date). Again my question was:

Was it ever verified that Braxton worked with ole Mr. Whitfield over Spring break?

I obviously never questioned the December workout because there were pictures and George Whitfield was tweeting all about it.
How about you do a little research before making snide remarks about something you apparently don't know much about... 

Chad Peltier's picture

To answer your question, no, no one has talked about it since before spring break to my knowledge. Possible he didn't make it for spring break. 

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great insight Chad.  Love to hear the latest news and developments in spring practice.  Can't wait for the freshman to come in and see out of them who will contribute! 

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

while i don't believe that Braxton has reached his ceiling as a passer, he"s pretty close. he won't ever be a great pocket passer and i hope the staff won"t try to force it.... stick with what the kid does well.  touch and accuracy are not "learned," in my experience, but usually is a skill you have or don't.  Can he get better? sure, but I doubt much better at this point.... he's been throwing a football for many years already.  
i think we should run the full tebow offense, no need to throw ... certainly no need to force it.
as for defense, we will be much better, no doubt in my mind.
if the D really steps up, this team could compete for a title.  

sirclovis's picture

I think this staff will use Braxton to his fullest potential and won't try to force anything. 

i think we should run the full tebow offense, no need to throw ... 

You may want to look up what a Tebow offense can be. For example, look at Tebow's Sophomore year stats. He threw for 3286 yards and 32 TDs at a 66.9% completion rate. To put that into perspective, Troy Smith threw for 2542 yards and 30 TDs at a 65.3% completion rate during his Senior year. Now we all know that Tebow is not a pocket/polished passer but that doesn't mean that Braxton can't put up gaudy passing numbers like Tebow. Heck, there is a good chance he exceeds Tebow's numbers because he already has a better throwing motion and better mechanics. Urban has done it before and he can most certainly do it again.

cinserious's picture

It looks to me like the Whitfield workouts are for teaching Braxton to be a helluva lot better at what Brax already does well, not force him into something he's not. I also like how Braxton intitated the Whitfield sessions to become the best QB he can be. Not a whole lot of highly touted players are humble enough to do that.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

sirclovis's picture

Is that Adolphus Washington as the first defender in the second video?? I know he wore 92. If so, he has gotten huge! He looks like a legit DT. I would be scared if I played on offense against him haha.