After a 24 game winning streak including 2 victories over That Team Up North, the Buckeyes faltered in the big stage. Losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl left a sour taste in Buckeye Nation’s mouth headed into the long offseason. But looking forward to the 2014 team, there is a lot to be excited about. Key losses on offense include 4 offensive lineman and star running back Carlos Hyde but it brings back 2-time Big Ten MVP, Braxton Miller. The defensive side of the ball loses Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby but boasts an extremely talented returning defensive line corps. Make no mistake; Head Coach Urban Meyer will have this team ready to go come August 30 when it travels to Baltimore, Maryland to take on Navy in the season opener. Ohio State will likely be a top 10 preseason team and the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten. Headed into spring practice, this is the most likely depth chart. But it could all change once the pads are put on. Players to watch at each position in Bold.
Braxton Miller (SR), Cardale Jones (SO), J.T. Barrett (FR), Stephen Collier (FR)
There is not a lot that could be said about Braxton Miller that has not already been said. He is a flat out insane athlete who will go down in the history books when his time in Columbus is over. But there are some things he could improve on. His inability to consistently read defenses limited the offense from time to time the last couple seasons. Miller also needs to stay in the pocket more as well as avoiding the big hits that took him out of a few games in 2013. But as long as he improves on those things and continues to progress as a quarterback and leader, it will be extremely difficult for opposing defenses to stop him and the offense. With Hyde gone, Miller will be relied on much more in crunch time and he has to be ready to handle it. He recently had arthroscopic shoulder surgery and will be limited in spring practice. This poses a tremendous opportunity for Cardale Jones, JT Barrett, and Stephen Collier to show their stuff for the backup role.
Ezekiel Elliot (SO), Rod Smith (SR), Dontre Wilson (SO), Jalin Marshall (FR)
The departure of the offensive workhorse, Carlos Hyde, leaves a huge hole in the Ohio State offense in the upcoming season. Luckily, Urban Meyer has a stable of running backs ready to fill that void. Right now, sophomore Ezekiel Elliot leads the candidates after rushing for 262 yards (8.7 avg. carry) and 2 touchdowns in his freshman campaign. But not far behind Elliot is senior, Rod Smith, who will also get a chance come spring and summer practices. Smith has filled in well the past few seasons but has not been consistent enough to get more playing time. This is definitely the battle to watch on the offensive side of the ball. A bright spot at the Flex position is sophomore speedster, Dontre Wilson, who got a lot of hype coming out of summer practices last season. Expect him to be much more involved in 2014 especially in the bubble screen game and between the tackles. Freshman Jalin Marshall will be Wilson’s backup and will see action early.
LT Taylor Decker (JR), LG Antonio Underwood (SR), C Jacoby Boren (JR), RG Pat Elflein (SO), RT Darryl Baldwin (SR), LT Kyle Dodson (SO), LG Joel Hale (SR)
Ohio State enters the 2014 season with only 1 returning starter on the offensive line in Taylor Decker. He will be relied on to anchor the front 5 and become a vocal team leader much like his predecessor, Jack Mewhort. Despite not being a starter last season, Pat Elflein filled in magnificently for suspended offensive lineman, Marcus Hall (after flipping the bird to 110,000 plus at the Big House) in the remainder of that game and the Big Ten Championship. For the final three starting spots, expect Jacoby Boren, Antonio Underwood, and Darryl Baldwin to get the nod. Although inexperienced, these 3 players will have offensive line coach, Ed Warriner, to work with and he has not yet disappointed when it comes to developing players while at Ohio State.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
Devin Smith (SR), Evan Spencer (SR), Michael Thomas (JR), Jeff Heureman (SR), Johnnie Dixon (FR), Corey Smith (SR)
Another position that needs to be filled is at wide receiver after the loss of Philly Brown to graduation. Deep threat, Devin Smith and possession receiver, Evan Spencer will be relied on to handle much of the passing game. But also look for Michael Thomas, Johnnie Dixon and Corey Smith to come in and handle a lot of the duties as well. This is the X factor for the Buckeyes this season. With Hyde gone, the running game could prove to be inconsistent at times meaning these senior receivers are going to have to step up big to help Miller. If this is not successful, Miller will be forced to run more than he wants to which could result in further injury, devastating their chances for a Big Ten Title run. At the tight end spot is returning letter winner, Jeff Heureman. With depth at receiver being an issue, he will be leaned on to be more active in the passing game. The stick route was consistently open for him last year so get ready to see that some more. His backup Nick Vannett will also likely see some playing time.
VIPER Noah Spence (JR), NG Chris Carter (JR), DT Michael Bennett (SR), DE Joey Bosa (SO), Jamal Marcus (JR), Adolphus Washington (JR)
Freaks of nature. That is how I am describing arguably the best defensive line in the country. With monster seasons by sophomore Noah Spence (14 TFL, 7.5 sacks) and freshman Joey Bosa (13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks) this unit looks to wreak more havoc than ever in the upcoming season. The loss of D-Line coach, Mike Vrabel, to the Houston Texans stung until Meyer got Larry Johnson from Penn State as Vrabel’s replacement. Johnson has been a legendary recruiter and coach throughout the Midwest and Northeast for the past twenty years. It will be scary to see what he can do with the talent the Buckeyes possess up front. With the departure of Joel Hale to offense, expect Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter to battle for the noseguard position. Senior Michael Bennett (another animal) will cap off the starting four. But look for Adolphus Washington and Jamal Marcus (who will start for suspended Spence in first 2 games after great Orange Bowl performance) to see plenty of playing time. Big Ten quarterbacks beware.
SR Curtis Grant (MLB), JR Joshua Perry (OLB), FR Darron Lee (OLB), FR Raekwon McMillan (MLB), SO Trey Johnson (OLB)
Linebacker is the position that is of most concern heading into the season especially after the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL Draft. It is a wide open race and will be determined based on how offseason workouts and practices go. But come August, expect Curtis Grant to start at MLB with 5 star freshman Raekwon Mcmillan not far behind. A great battle to watch is between Trey Johnson and Darron Lee (who has gotten lots of hype so far in spring practice) for Shazier’s old spot. At strong side linebacker, returning starter, Joshua Perry will start as he played very well down the stretch last season. This unit has a lot of work to do and is one of the areas Meyer called out after National Signing Day. But with the amount of talent in the freshman and sophomore classes, I anticipate competition making everyone better.
JR Armani Reeves (CB), SO Tyvis Powell (SAF), SO Vonn Bell (SAF), SR Doran Grant (CB), SO Cam Burrows (SAF), SO Eli Apple (CB)
It has to get better, right? After a forgettable 2013 campaign, the secondary will be out to redeem themselves but with almost a completely different cast. Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant are being replaced as well as Secondary Coach Everett Withers. After Withers signed to become the next head coach at James Madison, Meyer went out and nabbed Chris Ash from Arkansas, (he coached at Wisconsin with Bret Bielema) which has been applauded thus far, as the co-defensive coordinator with Luke Fickell. Things are looking up with this group and it is the area which you should be most excited to watch this fall. Taking over for Roby is Armani Reeves who saw a good deal of playing time last season. He struggled at times and was grossly inconsistent but a great offseason will change all of that. The savior from the two point conversion play against that team up north, Tyvis Powell, will be a starter at safety along with THE player to watch in the secondary, Vonn Bell. Bell got little playing time all season until his great performance in the Orange Bowl where he recorded a key interception at the goal line. It makes you wonder why he was not in their beforehand. He will miss all of spring practice after an MCL injury led to surgery but should be ready for summer workouts. Although Doran Grant will have Eli Apple on his back most of the offseason, I see him starting at the other corner spot purely because of the amount of experience he has gained. A number of things could happen with the Nickel package but right now it is safe to say that Cam Burrows will be playing here. His size and athleticism is a perfect fit for it. A young unit, that is for sure, but Coach Kerry Coombs has been grooming these guys since they arrived in Columbus. Expect a much improved secondary in 2014.
SO Cameron Johnston (P), SR Kyle Clinton (K)
After an impressive freshman year, Australian-born, Cameron Johnston will once again be called upon to take care of the punting game. After the loss of Drew Basil, look for Kyle Clinton to handle kicking duties. Kick/Punt returning could go many ways but for entertainment’s sake, let’s hope to see Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith back deep. If you combine the two, you get Ted Ginn Jr. Wouldn’t we all want to go back to those days?
Urban Meyer (Head Coach)
Larry Johnson (Assistant HC, D-Line)
Tom Herman (OC, QB’s)
Chris Ash (Co-DC, Safeties)
Luke Fickell (DC, LB’s)
Ed Warriner (Co-OC, OL)
Kerry Coombs (Corners, Special Teams)
Stan Drayton (RB’s)
Tim Hinton (TE’s, FB’s)
Zach Smith (WR’s)
Vince Oghobaase (GA)
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