Five Buckeyes to Watch in the 2014 Spring Game

By Jeff Beck on April 4, 2014 at 11:30a
C. Samuel. See Samuel Run.

Spring games are a time for unproven or unknown players to shine. It’s one thing to look good within the confines of the WHAC, it’s quite another to make plays in front of a huge audience at the ‘Shoe. There are a number of new and/or improved weapons Urban Meyer and co. will be looking to test next Saturday. Here are the five you should keep an eye on.

Curtis Samuel

Samuel’s name has come up again and again in practice notes and it’s easy to see why. The Brooklyn native is a straight burner with a clocked 4.36 40-yard dash. The true freshman is everything Meyer looks for in a playmaker and the hope is he can come in and see meaningful playing time right away.

Last August, Samuel spurned offers from the likes of Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Miami and more to come play for the Buckeyes. Samuel was recruited as an athlete/WR, but during the Buckeye Kickoff Luncheon Coach Meyer mentioned him in the same breath as the running backs. In all fairness, it doesn’t matter where Samuel lines up according to his highlight tape. With Curtis, it might be a get him the ball and get out of his way situation.

According to Tim May, Samuel made a number of plays in one of the Buckeyes’ most recent practices. One of which included taking a ball in the right flat, breaking a few tackles then blasting five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s helmet off at the end of a 20-yard gain. That’s the A-B, 4-6 second effort Meyer’s been preaching and its probably going to get him on the field early and often. Keep an eye out for No.4 on the 12th , he might not be easy to miss.

Gareon Conley

Redshirt freshman Conley is another name that’s surfaced in post-practice notes. The Massillon product is competing with Armani Reeves and Eli Apple for the starting cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant. Conley certainly has the size to compete at the college level. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, he’s one of the tallest defensive backs on the roster (only bested by Apple at 6’1’’).

Conley was a solid wide receiver in high school, tallying 50 catches for 1,096 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. The hope is the instincts learned on offense coupled with two offseasons in the Buckeye’s system  will help Gareon become a solid option in 2014. He’s got the size to high-point the ball, the mind of a wide receiver and the praise of Meyer. New cornerback’s coach, Chris Ash, should be more than willing to release Conley on Saturday, and it’s up to Gareon to deliver.

Darron Lee

Lee is another redshirt freshman who is earning praise during spring practice. The kid is a flat out athlete who played QB, WR, S, and returned punts his junior year of high school before “focusing” his efforts in the secondary and at the quarterback position his senior year.

What’s funny is, none of those positions listed is what he’ll be playing at Ohio State. The 6’2’’ 225 lbs Lee is vying for a starting linebacker spot with the 2014 Buckeyes, and he just might win one.

In week one of spring ball, Lee surprised many when he started with the ones. That’s not an indictment on Lee. It’s simply the nature of the beast when Meyer’s recruiting machine is running full bore. The semi-unheralded Lee  was one of the lone three stars in the bangarang 2013 class, but as we all know, once you lace ‘em up in college what you did in high school goes out the window.

Lee has bought into Meyer’s motor mentality, and that seems to be enough for Urban. Here’s a quote from the head man:

"The guy that has stepped up, the guy that is playing 4-6 seconds, is a kid named Darron Lee. I have no idea what he’s doing and he probably has no idea what he’s doing, but I don’t care. I want to make sure that culture is out there. You’re not being graded on whether the kid knows what he’s doing right now. Where you are being graded on is as a unit leader. And as a coach, it’s whether you think a kid will play as hard as he absolutely can."

We’ve heard time and time again the coaches are less worried about defensive players knowing where they’re supposed to be and more concerned about how fast they’re playing. Lee is a perfect example of what the coaches are looking for.

Josh Perry

Meyer has called Perry one of top five most improved players on the team. The junior linebacker had a solid 2013 campaign notching 64 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, but now the Buckeyes need someone to step in and fill the massive void left by the departure of Ryan Shazier.

Perry could help in that effort. Alongside Curtis Grant, he’ll be one of the most experienced members of the unit, so his leadership will be paramount in moving the group forward. Meyer has been tentative to hand out praise to the linebackers saying this of the unit back in December:

“They don’t look Ohio State-ish. We’re nowhere near where we need to be as far as the expectation level of the linebacker play here,” Meyer said. “We need to get back to that.”

Perry could be a big piece of that puzzle. Just three days ago, Meyer said “Josh Perry is turning into an Ohio State linebacker.” With months before the first snap of the 2014 season, quotes like this should bring some solace to those fearing a massive drop-off post-Shazier. A big game next Saturday would go a long way in cementing Perry in the Buckeye lexicon this fall.

Johnnie Dixon

Last but certainly not least is Johnnie Dixon. Both Meyer and wide-receivers coach Zach Smith have praised Dixon’s work ethic over the spring. The Florida product enrolled early in an effort to familiarize himself with the playbook and assimilate to life up North. It seems the extra face-time is only working in Johnnie’s favor.

Roughly a week ago Meyer laid out a wide receiver pecking order with Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Johnnie Dixon making the four deep. That’s high praise for a true freshman who should be preparing for his prom.

The 5’11’’ 198 four star had 17 receptions for 366 yards and six touchdowns in his high school’s five-game run to the state title. That’s the kind of production which drew the attention of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Tennessee and just about any other southern powerhouse you can name. Meyer plucked Dixon out of SEC country with the hope he could make plays right away. At the  Buckeye Kickoff Luncheon Meyer said Dixon has shown “flashes of tremendous talent.” A quote like that should be enough to convince anyone to keep an eye out for Dixon next Saturday. But, if you’re a stickler for proof, take a look at this moving picture box:


These five players should be exciting to watch next weekend. It wasn’t planned, but four freshmen (redshirt or otherwise) made the list. That says a lot about the 2014 team as a whole. Many of them are young, many of them are inexperienced, but the cupboards appear more promising than they’ve ever been. Spring games exist to give fans a peek at the future. The five players above should do exactly that.

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