Remember that record-setting offense from 2013? Forget everything you know about it. Ohio State might average nearly 50 points and 500 yards again, but it won’t come via the power run game or wide-open offense.
Missing from last season’s offense are Carlos Hyde, Philly Brown and four starting offensive lineman. Not that it matters. Philosophies and schemes are ever evolving. Tom Herman chooses not to be tied down to one style.
“I think it’s hard to say or not say, ‘This is our system. This is what we do, so we’re going to do it because that’s what we know how to do,’ when you have to figure what everybody can do and what they do well and try to mask the deficiencies while you’re improving them and you play to the strengths,” Herman said. “Where that’s headed after six spring practices? I have no idea. But it’ll be different.”
Even after an undefeated season in 2012, Herman was busy during the offseason searching for an advantage. What he wouldn’t do, though, is compromise the Buckeyes’ progress by abandoning their principles.
“We’ll never leave our core values, our core tenets, what we believe in offensively, which is to spread the field horizontally and vertically, to be in the shotgun, to add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap tight zone vertical power run team with play action pass off of it,” Herman said. “What does that evolve to? I don’t know.”
Part of the mystery will be broken down throughout the spring, though it’s difficult to complete the transition because Braxton Miller won’t take a single snap in front of the coaches until August. It will take time for Miller and the new offensive pieces to become unified.
Herman and head coach Urban Meyer understand the finished product could appear much different than the main course from recent seasons. Ohio State shattered several school records while tallying a 24-2 record in Meyer’s first two years. But duplicating that success isn’t a guarantee.
“As bad as we want an offensive line like we had last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and our line coach that it’ll happen. But we’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs, where last year when you rush for 300-plus yards a game it’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will have a different taste to it than last year.”
Perhaps the most striking difference will be the run game. It was leaned on considerably when anchored by Hyde and one of the top offensive lines in the country. Without that luxury, wide receivers could become more prevalent.
The unit recently grew by one weapon. In this case, it could well be a nuclear warhead. Dontre Wilson has migrated to the hybrid role previously occupied by Philly Brown. When names like Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Jeff Heuerman are included, Meyer believes the pass-catchers could be – and needs to be – a strength.
One of the biggest unknowns at this point is Smith, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College and redshirted in 2013. He’s near the top of the wide receiver pecking order after six noteworthy practices.
“He’s a super-talented kid,” said Herman, who believes Smith could be the Buckeyes’ best wide receiver.
But until the line performs with reliability similar to the past two seasons, an offensive revitalization could be doomed. Meyer sees a future where the line is productive. It just might take more time than it did with the former group.
“The offensive line, we’re just trying to put that thing together,” Meyer said. “We don’t have enough depth there. That’s where Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox have to come in and help us. That’s not atypical. That’s spring practice.”
There’s a reason Meyer isn’t worried; he’s led inexperienced teams before. For Herman, worry fades because of the people involved in the decision-making process.
“It’d be a bigger concern if I didn’t believe the talent was there, and if I didn’t believe in Ed Warinner,” he said. “This group of O-linemen, whether we like to say it or not, is much farther ahead than the previous group of O-linemen our first spring.”
Two years, 24 wins, unprecedented offensive success. Yet, the tinkering never subsides.
“Every year kind of has its own personality,” Meyer said. “It certainly will be different [this year].”
The first glimpse comes in 157 days.