Spring Storylines: Five Things Worth Watching as Camp Begins

By Chris Lauderback on March 1, 2014 at 8:15a
Eli Apple and Michael Thomas both hope to make a splash in 2014
51 Comments

Despite winning 24 of their last 26 games including a 12-2 mark last season, the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes are very much a team in transition. 

Gone are the likes of Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, Philly Brown and 80% of an offensive line that was one of the top units in the country. 

Yes, Braxton Miller is back, the cupboard is far from bare in the offensive backfield and the defensive line appears loaded with goodies but replacing 10 starters on top of the need for various position groups to take a giant step forward make this one of the more interesting spring football sessions in recent memory. 

With that reality as a backdrop, here are five storylines we'll be watching as things rev up early next week. 

REBUILDING AN OFFENSIVE LINE

Ed Warriner has his hands full as he's tasked with assembling a unit that can not only keep Braxton Miller upright but also create running lanes for a talented stable of running backs despite the need to replace four starters from a season ago. 

Not only that, Taylor Decker is making the move from right to left tackle, something that many seem to be taking for granted though such a move is not as simple as one might think. 

Assuming Decker successfully transitions, that leaves four spots with one of those seemingly locked up by Pat Elflein after his strong performance after Marcus Hall's touching salute to the fans in Ann Arbor. Slotting Elflein at a guard spot leaves openings at right tackle, center and (likely) left guard. 

Jacoby Boren seems to have the inside track at center after backing up Corey Linsley for two seasons but talk continues to crescendo that Billy Price, a converted d-lineman, could make a serious push for the starting gig. 

The right tackle and remaining guard spot situations are murky with a cast of characters in the mix. Darryl Baldwin is the current choice to start at right tackle but like many others, I think this is far from a done deal as redshirt freshman Evan Lisle could prove to have the goods and, of course, Kyle Dodson is still out there as a redshirt sophomore. 

The remaining guard spot is wide open. Antonio Underwood's name keeps coming up but he's coming off ACL surgery, Dodson could be in the mix, Chase Farris is still looking for a home, Tommy Brown can't be forgotten and Joel Hale as moved over from the defensive side of the ball. And none of this considers early enrollees Kyle Trout and Marceyls Jones with Demetrius Knox coming this fall. 

There's no question Warriner has some guys to plug and play in a search for the best combo and while the starting unit likely won't be carved in stone come the spring game, I'm sure the staff would love the notion of heading into fall camp with the starters at least 80% finalized. 

TURNING THE CORNER

With Doran Grant holding down the #1 cornerback spot and Cam Burrows likely transitioning to either a nickel or safety spot, only Armani Reeves, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley appear to be in the mix to start opposite Grant. 

It will be on Kerry Coombs to get one of those three ready and while Reeves was the only one of the trio to see significant action in 2013, his minutes were often tough on the eyes as he consistently allowed receivers to get behind him and often whiffed when trying to tackle in space. 

As such, despite Reeves' experience, there's no reason to ink him in as the starter. Conley got some run with the starters early in camp last year with Roby on suspension and for my money, Apple is the guy to watch. 

Many, including myself, thought Eli would be in the mix last season but it never materialized despite his strong showing leading up to the season. As such, I have Apple as the favorite to land the starting job. In fact, I envision Apple's career playing out much like Roby's in which he makes the most of a redshirt freshman season, assumes a starting gig the following year and never looks back. 

I remember watching the jersey scrimmage with Johnny during Roby's redshirt year and both of us thinking that kid might be a star and I felt the same thing watching Apple. 

Time will tell and the time is now for all three guys looking to lock up a starting spot. 

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH?

With the linebackers again unlikely to be the strength of the defense and the secondary replacing three starters, the pressure will be on the defensive line to generate a consistent pass rush while not losing sight of stopping the run. 

That shouldn't be too tall of task with guys like Michael Bennett, Noah Spence and Joey Bosa still in the fold but the player I find most intriguing up front is Jamal Marcus. I've been on his bandwagon for awhile so maybe it's rose-colored glasses but I think Marcus has the potential to be the breakout player on the defensive side of the ball. 

Known as a pass rush specialist, Marcus showed ability to stop the run in the Orange Bowl, showing impressive lateral movement as he pursued plays from the backside. 

Spence's three-game suspension will cost him the first two games of 2014 and Marcus should be primed to make a case for heavy rotation time once Spence returns giving Larry Johnson three legit ends without even mentioning an improved Steve Miller and a host of unproven yet highly touted young guys. 

UNDER CENTER STAGE

The most important position battle of them all will take place between redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett as they vie to be Braxton Miller's backup. 

Gone is the security blanket known as Smooth Jazz leaving a guy who has thrown two collegiate passes and is most recognizable for typing "we ain't come to play SCHOOL" on his keyboard to duke it out with a guy two years removed from an ACL tear sporting zero game experience. 

Jones, by default, will start as your #2 on the depth chart and while he's got the physical makeup (6'5", 250 lbs) any coach would love he looked largely stiff and unsure of himself in limited minutes a season ago. Tom Herman has been saying all the right things about Jones though I'm not sure if that's more about trying to convince any combo of himself, Jones and the rest of us that he's ready for the gig than it is dealing in reality. 

Meanwhile, Herman's first quarterback recruit to Columbus, Barrett, sports Guiton-like intangibles and was a top dual-threat QB prospect rated the 11th best player in the state of Texas. 

Bottom line, not a lot is known about the pair but you can bet there will come a time or two this season where how the winner of this position battle plays will determine an OSU win or loss because Braxton hasn't played an injury free season since his 2nd year of high school.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP

The time is now for Michael Thomas. A spring game star in back-to-back seasons, Thomas took 196 game snaps as a freshman but ended up saddled with a redshirt in year two. 

Frustrated with zero playing time and the lack of production by OSU receivers in the B1G championship and Orange Bowl losses, Thomas lit up twitter, kindly reminding everyone that starters Devin Smith and Evan Spencer combined for three catches and 16 yards in the consecutive defeats. 

Now, the team's leading receiver is gone (Brown: 63 rec, 771 yds) and even though Smith (44 rec, 660 yds) and Spencer (22 rec, 216 yds) return, along with Dontre Wilson (22 rec, 210 yds), wide receivers coach Zach Smith recently made it clear all spots are up for grabs

Against that backdrop, Thomas should have every opportunity to prove he belongs. With unquestionable athleticism, how Thomas attacks the less sexy but critical position responsibilities such as downfield blocking, a skill Smith and particularly Spencer have shown, could go a long way in determining what kind of factor he can be in 2014. 

51 Comments

Comments

Furious George 27's picture

Is Grant completely locked in at starter? If Ash is running the secondary and schemes to me it would seem that whoever grasps the new concept better starts. Especially if we go to man coverage. IMO if grant could play man to man, then we would not have seen the 10yd cushions we saw last year. Grant has the experience, but you have to think no spot is locked in at this point right?

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+4 HS
tussey's picture

You make some good points but Grant was not the reason why we didn't play man or when we did, he played 10 yds off the ball.  Corey Brown was why we couldn't play man.  In man he would be matched up with the slot receiver and we saw how that played out (See B1G Championship game)  Also, in man coverage the linebacker are matched up with the RB.  Not sure you want Curtis Grant trying to cover a running back out of the backfield.  There is more to man coverage than just CBs covering WRs.  

+6 HS
bull1214's picture

well said tussey.....well said indeed

+2 HS
Furious George 27's picture

OSU wasn't playing man when they had Bryant either so you cannot say it's just because of Brown and Shazier was covering the RB as highlighted by his penalties. I get what you are saying but you can still play corners up and brown 5-10 off the slot it's done all the time. For the most part OSU was beat on the 1 to 1 match up with no safety help. I do not believe MSU spread the field to suggest that it was impossible to do this. Bottom line was to assume a player is locked in while a scheme is changing maybe too much

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

ab1993's picture

I'm curious (and new to college football as of last season), but when you say "watch", does that mean we get regular updates on spring practice, are there videos from practice, or anything of the sort?

Class of '16

+1 HS
buckeye4life050233's picture

There were a small sample of videos that leaked out last year.  Hopefully there could be more behind the scenes stuff but idk what Meyer's policy is in regards to what the reporters are allowed access and can put out video wise and picture wise

ab1993's picture

Were there articles on how spring practice was going?

Class of '16

Buckeye5000's picture

Yes there are articles on this site and others throughout spring ball, but....only on media days and when the staff allows reporters to watch practice, and interviews and film are scarce. Unfortunately there is not nearly as much access granted as most of us fans would like. I wish all practices were open to the media but again, unfortunately they are not. It does get a little better in fall camp. 

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
buckeye4life050233's picture

Another interesting article from Men of the Scarlet and Grey.

I really hope the guys come out on a mission this year to destroy everyone and not let the bad teams hang in games against us.  This team is loaded with talent and hopefully they took this offseason to really let those 2 losses sink in.  I know undefeated seasons are hard to come by but sadly it might take that to get into the playoff with the eSECpn hype machine hating on the B1G ten.  Injuries are bound to happen just like they do every year but now we have the depth to deal with it rather than having to put walk-on linebackers on the field.  Another thing I really want to see is a nice rotation of guys especially on the defensive line because that can cover a ton of holes in the secondary if they are getting to the opposing QB and batting down quick passes  

+2 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

As any Big Buckeye Fan, I am also hoping for an undefeated and even NC season. I know we have brought in a lot of talent the last couple of years but...it's going to be extremely tough due to the fact we have to replace 80% of the O-line and the entire back 7 on defense. We are Ohio State, so we always have talent (the back 7 should be even more talented than last year) but the lack of experience could be tough to overcome.

Go Bucks!

Crimson's picture

I believe Michael Thomas was pretty decent blocking as a freshman.  I'm less worried about him being able to block than I am about the other two being able to consistently catch anything.  I'm glad that we aren't guaranteeing spots, because I don't know if the old starters will keep that tag.

+3 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

100% agree - we never want that "Sense of Entitlement" before the season begins

TUNBUCK89's picture

Personaly, i'll be looking for assurances on:

  1.  Offense: back-up to Braxton & offensive line (not too worried)
  2.  Defense: Scheme as a whole (Ash's philosophy) & more specifically the linebackers & corners play.
703Buckeye's picture

I'm not really concerned about Decker switching from right to left tackle. I made that exact position switch while in college with very little issue and Decker is far more talented than I ever was... Brax should feel comfortable with his blind side secured for another year.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

+1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

It will be on Kerry Coombs to get one of those three ready

Chris did you forget Ash is now in charge of the secondary?  Other than this very nice write up.  

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

+1 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

My understanding is Coombs is the cornerbacks coach and special teams teams coordinator while Ash is the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. 

http://www.elevenwarriors.com/2014/01/32339/ohio-state-football-chris-as...

http://thelantern.com/2014/02/ohio-state-footballs-kerry-coombs-chris-as...

 

FitzBuck's picture

My mistake I don't know why I had it in my head he was only In charge of special teams with the addition of Ash.  

I'm scum and......not worthy

 

 

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

+3 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

I thought that Coombs was ST, Ash was Secondary, but Coombs would assist with corners.

Dan Isaacs

+9 HS
Furious George 27's picture

I am quite certain that there was a posting that said Ash was the secondary coach and that Coombs would assist. I definitely know Smith made a comment that Ash would handle the Secondary as well. I applaud the team reference when working together, but in the end there is always someone w/ a final say. I am not sure how many videos Coombs has on teaching DBs but my thinking Ash is the guy.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

GoBucksOSU's picture

Urban said in his National Signing Day presser that Ash will have full control of the secondary and Coombs will provide an assistance role.

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

I believe Urban is laying the ground work for the position coaches to have their own identity and strengths but they will be under the coordinators with Urban having the last say on all fronts.

JDunc686's picture

What is the word on Adolphus Washington?  I know he will be behind Joey Bosa, but it seems like there is some excitement about Jamal Marcus coming into the spring and not too much being said about Washington.

+1 HS
HattanBuck85's picture

If Diesel can stay healthy and play to his potential, our D-LIne will be SICK. Spence/Marcus at WDE, Bennett & Diesel inside & Bosa at SDE. Ewww....

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+3 HS
Crimson's picture

I'm still pretty excited about Washington.  However, I would prefer that he stays at SDE with Bosa; just keep rotating them so they're fresh.  Marcus and Lewis at WDE for the first two games until Spence returns.  Rotate a bunch of bodies including Bennett in the middle.  I'm sure that LJSr will have the line humming for the coming year.

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

I'm very interested in seeing who emerges as a the primary ballcarrier out of the backfield (not named Braxton).

Really hope to see Rod Smith between the tackles, with EzE also getting reps. Wouldn't be disappointed with Ball or Dunn either.

 

 

"Success...it's what you do with what you got" - Woody Hayes

+4 HS
johnny11's picture

Me to hove. That interests me very much. I've been a big Rod Smith fan for a while only to watch him disappoint. I am tempering my expectations for him this year. I think EZE is an awesome back and would love to watch him flourish too. Dunn and Ball are also great backs. Ok I'm done I just want to see who is Guapo's predecessor

Crimson's picture

Guapo's predecessor

Boom Herron?

johnny11's picture

@crimson thank you. I was at work when I posted it and when I saw your comment I laughed. Thats what you call a derp moment on my part.

DC-town's picture

I don't know where the thoughts of grant being too slow, or any idea of him no being able to press...but that's your 1- I have no idea why the cushion was there last year, but Roby and grant could've handled it- grant needs to turn his head with the ball in the air, see big ten chip game and orange bowl, but he's solid and one of the best athletes on the team 

'Piss excellence' -RB

+1 HS
southbuc's picture

If you recall the Jim heacock defenses were bend don't break with 10 yd cushions in the heyday of the bullets. 

+3 HS
Crimson's picture

The cushion was due to other positions, not corners.  They weren't very confident in linebackers (and probably safeties) being able to cover, so they played the corners off more hoping to limit big plays.  Aside from Reeves not knowing when to play man versus zone, the corners were not the glaring problem.

DC-town's picture

Whatever hacks keep posting that he's a safety need to relax

'Piss excellence' -RB

DenBuck's picture

I pray that Ash is in full control of the entire secondary and that Reeves got 1,000,000 % better. Hard to believe Spring Ball is here already.

Buckeye For Life

+1 HS
DC-town's picture

Reeves is another one that is solid, just needs to run his head...he made a few really good open field tackles 

'Piss excellence' -RB

+2 HS
TUNBUCK89's picture

If Reeves is going to start, i'm praying for a huge improvement out of him. Seeing how he got beat last season, i know many of us have our doubts about him and i hope he proves us all wrong.

+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Tight coverage tight coverage tight coverage

Statutoryglory's picture

I'm very curious whether Thomas has more chemistry with Brax, his best friend and frequent workout partner, or Cardale, his military school QB.

Crimson's picture

I would bet on Braxton.  They throw in the offseason, they go to Cali together and throw under Whitfield, and Cardale only had one year with Thomas at Fork Union.

Statutoryglory's picture

I also think Reeves, Spencer, and Boren are prime for getting jumped in the depth chart by Apple, Thomas, and Price.

+1 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Most looking forward on the offensive side to see if Brax can be a more consistent passer, he had a couple of great games in the middle of the season where I thought he had that aspect of his game all figured out, also excited about what EZE can do, and finally what a little bigger, stronger, more experienced Dontre Wilson can do.  We have some fantastic freshmen coming in, but assuming only one or two of them will have a real impact their first season (Nuernberger might be the exception, and perhaps Raekwon McMillan and/or Johnnie Dixon).

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

m5987usus's picture

Im very curious to see how Dontre Wilson's role will improve this season.  I'm thinking with extra bulk and more all around performance, he will be one hell of a football player.  Much like Percy Harvin was improving from his freshman season to sophomore season.

O-H!

okiebuck's picture

On defense; which for my money is where most of the focus should be; I'm only penciling in only two names who earned being starters based on last year; Jamal Marcus, who played lights out in the Orange Bowl and JB, Joey Bosa who earned it all season long. The rest of the positions should be wide open and,may the best Buck win!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

saltybuck61's picture

I would say Michael Bennett has to be in there as well. He had a fantastic season last year. Spence was great last year as well, so he can't be dismissed, unless of course, you are taking into account his suspension. If so, then yes, I think Marcus will start as well.

+1 HS
CaliforniaBuckeye's picture

Personally I think this will be one of the best spring camps we will have had in a while, simply because of competition. I think at certain positions we had a feeling of comfortability (the reason why some freshman didn't play when they should have, even coaches can get comfortable). The gap between the 1's and 2's were "thought" to be to big. Now that gap is slowing closing (with more Urban recruits on the team) and that extra push is something that translates to the football field in the fall. And the fact that we have a new coach (Ash) who comes in and has no favorites, and is going to put everyone on an even playing field will work out. Trust me the players know this as well, and will give the extra effort.

"The only way we'd get beaten was if we got a little fat-headed, if we didn't train right, if we had dissension on the squad." - Woody Hayes

ARMYBUCK's picture

Jamal Marcus.  Cant Wait.  Been a huge fan since his recruiting video.  I think he has as much potential as anyone in the defensive rotation.  Bring on "The Motor"

villagebuckeye's picture

Urban will be looking for team leaders to emerge.

edr4225's picture

look forward to watching these guys

lets go bucks!!

+5 HS
darbnurb's picture

I'm curious to see who emerges as starting holder.  

+5 HS
AndyVance's picture

No kidding. That was a critical part of the string of wins over the past two seasons. Huge hole to fill.

DeepSouthBuckeye's picture

Man, there seems to be more storylines in this spring than I can remember in a long , long time.

Besides the 5 listed above, there are other pretty significant issues. Who will emerge as the starting RB? How will the defense look under Ask? The battle at Middle LB is going to be pretty heated, as both Grant and Kwon seem to believe they are the guy.

Loving all things Buckeye from SEC country in Alabama.
"How firm thy friendship....O-HI-O"

buckeye4life050233's picture

this group should be nasty next year.  they should scare opposing qb's into bad throws and easy interceptions.  hopefully we see an increase in batted down balls as well