After more than two months without football, the first week of spring practice brought enthusiasm to a fan base eager to forget about consecutive losses to end a once-promising season. Offseason shoulder surgery for Braxton Miller tempered that excitement, but early enrollees, the secondary and offensive line provided intrigue.
On Saturday, Ohio State will conduct its 15th and final practice. The annual Scarlet and Gray game pits Cardale Jones against J.T. Barrett. A mish-mashed group of Buckeyes will try to avoid being the unlucky group gardening in the Buckeye Grove later this spring.
“You’re going to see skill players make plays. We aren’t going to pound the ball between the tackles,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “I want to see Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett throw the ball. But I also want to see Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley. I could not tell you who our starting corners are. We want to throw the ball and make plays.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Sunny skies and warm temperatures, as well as a slash in ticket prices, could lead to a surge in attendance. That’s Meyer’s goal, who wants a pretty picture to sell recruits.
“I’d love to have 100,000 people, 90,000 people,” he said. “It might be asking a lot. But we’re going to give them an entertaining game and show appreciation for coming like we always do. It’s been a cold winter now. Go hang out in the Horseshoe.”
With that, we asked several Eleven Warriors’ staffers what they’re most looking forward to this afternoon.
Michael: Last year’s team success relied heavily on the ability of Kenny Guiton to step in and take reps when Braxton Miller was hurt. I’m interested to see how the backup quarterbacks perform in a post-Guiton world. This will be important both during Braxton’s senior year because of his history of taking knocks and also beyond, to see who will emerge as the starter after Miller graduates. A team with a lousy quarterback (Hi, Joe Bauserman!) doesn’t go very far.
Kyle Jones: With four new offensive linemen and a stable of running backs, does the focus of the running game shift from the inside zone concept that was so successful with Carlos Hyde to any other concepts? OSU has run the “Dave”/power play with success under Meyer, albeit without the same regularity as we’ve seen inside zone. Does the presence of Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, or any other backs mean we’ll see OSU include more runs to the outside, like we’ve seen from Oregon and other “spread-to-run” teams?
Jordan: With Chris Ash playing a big role with the defense, I am looking forward to seeing how the pass coverage does in the spring game. There will be some new starters in the back seven and we have yet to see much of the players that are expected to be big-time contributors, specifically Darron Lee, Gaeron Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows. It’s a spring game, so we probably shouldn’t put much stock into how the defense performs but I’m sure many fans will have a close eye on the unit. Come Saturday, will message boards be supporting Chris Ash or calling for an elite defensive coordinator?
Mike: We’ve heard so much about Darron Lee in spring practice, particularly from the coaching staff. I wonder how his play will translate to a live scrimmage. To put it kindly, he was a limited contributor on the special teams unit and that leaves me with no expectations of what he can do. The linebacker unit, as a whole, is completely revamped, so if he or any other unknown quantity at linebacker makes an impact in the spring game, that will make me more confident in what the back half of the defense is capable of in the fall (based on the past three years, I’m not sure I can be less confident).
John: I’m most looking forward to the offensive line/defensive line battles throughout the game. The offensive line is bringing in four new starters and the defensive line has a bit of a different flavor, as well, with new coach Larry Johnson. What I’m most anxious to see is whether or not the offensive line can hold their own against the vaunted defensive line. How does Taylor Decker adjust to the left tackle position? How do the new interior guys do against Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett? How does the right tackle (presumably Darryl Baldwin) handle Noah Spence and/or Joey Bosa? Meyer said there will be a lot of passing, so it may be hard to gauge how much the offensive line drives the defensive line off the ball, but they should be tested by the pass rushers. I’m not expecting much cohesiveness from the line yet, but looking forward to the individual battles.
Kyle Rowland: Adding to what John talked about, the offensive line is the story of the spring (and going forward), in my opinion. So much of Ohio State’s success the past two seasons is because of the line. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde aren’t nearly as effective and efficient without Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Taylor Decker/Reid Fragel. Their replacements haven’t exactly instilled faith in Meyer and Ed Warinner. On Thursday, Meyer said OSU only has two starters when five are needed. There’s a very real possibility the first month of the season could be played with only two or three adequate starters on the line.
Ross: Scheme-wise I’m looking at the defense to see Chris Ash’s influence. Are they playing primarily cover 4 with a 4-3 over? Do the defensive line and/or linebackers flip to strength, or do they stay to the same side? How does the defense respond schematically to spread formations?