Five Things: Camp Beckons

By Chris Lauderback on August 2, 2014 at 11:15a
Ezekiel Elliott will get the first shot to be Ohio State's #1 tailback.

Kirk Irwin Photography

45 Comments

In just two more sunrises, the Ohio State football Buckeyes begin fall camp in prep for what will hopefully be a 15 game season culminating with a national championship victory on Monday, January 12th in Arlington, Texas. 

Entering his third year at the helm, Urban Meyer fields what appears to be his most talented team yet though plenty of that talent is still unproven at the collegiate level. The hope is that the inexperienced players counted on to contribute can make the leap to big time contributors while names like Braxton Miller, Taylor Decker, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett, among others, do the heavy lifting. 

Picked to win the B1G by most pundits and ranked 6th in the first edition of coaches poll, there are still many questions that need answered starting next week and into the season. With that, here's a look at five things that will figure to be huge factors in whether or not Ohio State is able to capture the national title for the first time since 2002. 

defining the rushing attack

While the backfield is loaded with guys that have either shown glimpses of greatness or are highly touted newcomers, the bottom line is that the only current proven rushing commodity on the team is Braxton Miller. With no Kenny Guiton to fall back on this season, keeping Miller's carries to a minimum is paramount to Ohio State staying in the national championship hunt meaning at least two running backs need to emerge as dependable rushing threats. 

All indications are Ezekiel Elliott will get first crack at locking down the #1 tailback spot and while his talent level certainly appears on par with the job requirements, whether or not his body can handle a season load of hits is not yet known. Yes, Elliot had us all drooling as he racked up 8.7 yards per carry last year but he rushed the football just 30 times in total. At 6'0", 225 pounds, there's reason to believe he can take the pounding but we still need to see it. 

Incoming freshman Curtis Samuel was the darling of spring drills and while his hype level is a little below what we saw with Dontre Wilson last year, it appears Meyer is ready to give Samuel at crack at showing he deserves carries. Samuel is also noted as a tough competitor and while his blazing speed and shifty running style should help him avoid big hits, at 5'11", 190 pounds, durability is something he still needs to prove. 

For all the hype and excitement surrounding Elliott and Samuel, Ohio State still has a couple seasoned vets in Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn that are chomping at the bit to play larger roles in the backfield. Smith has been more hype than substance for reasons ranging from self-destructive decision making to being unfortunate to share the same roster with Carlos Hyde while Dunn has also endured his share of criticism from the staff. My personal belief is that these two, particularly Dunn, have what it takes to run between the tackles which could be valuable as the weather becomes a factor late in the season. 

However the pecking order pans out, it seems pretty clear the rushing attack will feature far less Braxton and a running back by committee approach. That represents a huge change considering Ohio State's quarterback has been the 1st or 2nd leading rusher on the team for six straight seasons. Two running backs haven't ranked 1-2 in team rushing yards since Beanie Wells (1,609) and Maurice Wells (367) paced the 2007 squad quarterbacked by a statue named Todd Boeckman. 

Whether or not Meyer and Tom Herman can gain enough confidence in at least two running backs to carry the rushing load will go a long way toward determining if they will be able to keep their word and dial back Braxton's designed runs by a truck load, helping keep him upright and off the sidelines in the process. 

DETERMINING WHICH TRUE FRESHMEN ARE READY FOR PRIME TIME

With 11 total starters gone from last year's squad including six on offense, the staff will be focused on determining which true freshmen have a shot to start or provide meaningful depth on both sides of the ball. Everyone has their personal favorites and the hype will soon start for a handful of these kids but typically, very few true freshmen become immediate impact players. For example, last season Dontre Wilson was considered as the second coming by many and while he went on to have a decent season, he wasn't necessarily a crucial cog on offense, often serving as a decoy. 

Raekwon McMillan has designs on taking Curtis Grant's job.

This year, three names garnering the most traction are the aforementioned Samuel, wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and linebacker Raekwon McMillan. All three were early enrollees and made the most of their chance to get a jump on adjusting to the requirements of being a player at an elite college program. 

Though Curtis Grant returns and has the inside track to start in the middle of the defense, you have to think the staff will give McMillan plenty of chances to show he belongs on the field especially if Grant doesn't show an ability to build off a so-so 2013 campaign. We've already talked about Samuel and Dixon is a burner in the mold that Meyer loves though there's plenty of competition at wide receiver with experienced guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer along with others looking to breakthrough like Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Jeff Green and James Clark. 

With the Buckeyes forced to replace four starters along the offensive line, newcomers Jamarco Jones, Marcelys Jones and Demetrius Knox also have designs on working into the two deep. 

REFINING THE CHRIS ASH PASS DEFENSE

With the arrival of co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash and the subsequent installation of his new pass defense during spring drills, the Buckeyes in the back seven must continue developing an understanding of their individual roles to foster increased comfort in what is asked of them and trust their teammates are doing the same. 

Last year, Ohio State gave up 268 yards per game through the air, good for 110th nationally while ranking 9th in stopping the rush at 109 yards per game. If they can cut those passing yards to around 200, they will once again be a top 10 Total Defense and take some pressure off the offense to score 40 points per game. 

Though Bradley Roby left a big hole at corner, Doran Grant is poised to fill that void while a host of guys will compete for the opposite spot. Armani Reeves will get first crack but I still think Eli Apple can make a run. With corners now expected to be able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and play more aggressively in coverage, I like Apple's measurements (6'1", 195 lbs) but we'll have to see how things shake out. 

Though the Buckeyes lost seniors Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett at the safety spots, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell look to have what it takes to play Ash's brand of defense. Though I'm not as high on Cam Burrows at safety or maybe a nickel/star spot, the Buckeyes aren't expected to use much of that personnel this year with Ash's intent to utilize the walkout linebacker position, currently manned by Darron Lee and backup Chris Worley, in place of an extra defensive back.

Helping the Ash transformation should be one of the best defensive lines in the country. Assuming they do their part to shrink the seconds guys need to pass defend and at least one of the middle linebackers plays slightly above average, the revamped secondary should pay dividends in the form of keeping OSU in the title hunt late into the season. 

solidifying ol starters and depth

Not only did the Buckeyes lose their top rushing threat but they plan to dial back the use of the 2nd leading rusher from a season ago, all while replacing four starters on the offensive line who boasted 135 combined starts. 

The Undertaker moves from right to left tackle.

Decker is the lone returning starter but even he is experiencing change as he moves from right to left tackle, charged with protecting the blindside of the franchise for the first time. Pat Elflein isn't considered a returning starter but he's close as he slides into Marcus Hall's right guard spot after Elflein filled in admirably for Hall after his double-bird in Ann Arbor cost him the bulk of two games. 

While three other spots remain, who wins the center job might be the most crucial not only because he quarterbacks the offensive line but because there could be a domino effect. Jacoby Boren, Chad Lindsay and Billy Price all have designs on the gig though Boren and Lindsay look like the front runners. Should Boren prevail, it will be interesting to see if Lindsay maybe slides to left guard where Antonio Underwood hopes to lock down the starting spot. At Decker's old spot, Darryl Baldwin should hold off the competition while guys like Knox, Jamarco Jones, Evan Lisle, Chase Farris and Kyle Dodson look to earn a spot in the two-deep. 

Offensive line coach Ed Warriner has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving in Columbus and turning this talented but inexperienced group into a high-functioning unit would be his greatest performance to date. 

FURTHERING BRAXTON MILLER'S GROWTH

Entering his fourth year as a starting quarterback and reportedly 100% from off season surgery, Miller must get used to a new set of weapons and an altered expectation in which some pressure should be taken off his rushing load while more is needed from him as a passer. 

Based on some of Miller's comments over the summer in which he raved about the depth and talent of receivers at his disposal, hopefully all that is needed is time for him to develop the proper chemistry and feel for each of his targets. 

What I'm more interested in seeing is whether or not the coaches stick to decreasing his rushing load and if so, what impact does that have on his passing accuracy and consistency. As I touched on back in January, Miller has seen a sharp decline in completion percentage and TD/INT ratio in in the 2nd half of both his sophomore and junior seasons. With less pounding, will his passing remain consistent as the season wears on? It feels like a strong possibility. 

45 Comments

Comments

Hovenaut's picture

Excellent rundown. Getting the vibe that the running back situation has garnered more concern of late over how the o-line and secondary units take shape.

Did I miss anything on Warren Ball - is he in the mix at RB or is he being redshirted?

Not discounting the importance of a new o-line, new linebackers and d-backs (with a new philosophy in pass defense), but there has to be effective, consistent production from a ball carrier not named Braxton.

I am not the Last Dragon, therefore I do not possess the power of the Glow.

+5 HS
unknownmusketeer's picture

Warren Ball redshirted in 2012 because of a foot injury.

+3 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Thank you...thought that he had, couldn't remember.

The stable is full. Hope one horse separates from the pack but if it is RB by committee so be it.

I am not the Last Dragon, therefore I do not possess the power of the Glow.

+2 HS
BroJim's picture

I agree with the sentiment of running back by committee but I think Meyer will want a guy to rush for over 1,000 yards for recruting purposes. I remember this was an added benefit to Hyde's accomplishments last season. In short, I agree-  one running back needs to step-up and take the majority of the touches.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
PasadenaBuckeye626's picture

Very well thought out.  Well done

Go Bucks!

+3 HS
BTBuckeye's picture

Thanks chris. Lots of stuff to pay attention to in camp that's for sure. Worried most about O line.

+1 HS
bakerjon's picture

The OL and the Defensive backfield are the most critical IMO. If the OL is working, Brax and the RBs will be fine. 

My prediction on the 2 deep for the OL with the addition of Lindsay

Decker    Boren                   Lindsay           Elflein   Baldwin
Dodson   Underwood      Boren/Price    Knox    Dodson/J. Jones

Anyone else have thoughts?

"It's all ball bearings these days guys"

+2 HS
QBYBuckeye's picture

My thought is that Ed Warriner might know almost as much about coaching an OL as I do and I'm too old to worry about it.

New York Buckeye

-10 HS
WesPatterson23's picture

I think that is a good two - deep, but there are a couple things I disagree with. First, I think if Boren loses the starting Center battle, I think he will just stay as backup Center. I think it is more likely that Price would move to Guard, especially with his acknowledged strength. Secondly, I think either Evan Lisle or Jamarco Jones will backup Baldwin, and I hope one of them challenges him this Fall.

+3 HS
bakerjon's picture

That's a pretty good call. I do see either Price or Boren making the move out of center and into the LG position.  Maybe it is Price. i said Boren due to the experience he got last year while Linsley was recovering.  

Either way, I think it makes us stronger this year and and next year after Lindsay leaves. The depth will be sick next year, and I think it's getting pretty good now.  They are just unproven and have to develop chemistry. The talent is there now

"It's all ball bearings these days guys"

+2 HS
buckeyestu's picture

What about Marcelys? Where does he fit in?

leezy531's picture

I'm intrigued by the freshman kicker, nuernberger, assuming he locks down the starting spot.  i have a feeling one of the games will come down to a crucial kick and I just hope he has the wherewithal to make those crucial kicks. 

+4 HS
Grirish Buckeye's picture

Hard to replace a good kicker like Drew Basil, but Nuernberger has a strong chance becoming the guy with his big-time leg.  As kicking is as much mental as it is physical, will come down to his mental toughness.

+2 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Is that you, Coach T?

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
Myc24's picture

Great write-up.  Now let's get camp (and the season) started! #28Days

"Because I couldn't go for three!"  - Wayne Woodrow Hayes

BuckeyeSouth's picture

If I could add a 6th thing it would be the kicking game.  Even though UFM didn't go for many field goals last year the ones they did kick we're important so having 2 unproven kickers to replace Basil could be the wildcard to this year's success.  Hopefully we'll score so many points on offense it won't matter.  

Embrace it.

+1 HS
FROMTHE18's picture

Refining Defining The Chris Ash Pass Defense. Im curious to see what it actually is. 

JDunc686's picture

Taylor Decker...

+9 HS
sharks's picture

Yours is better, but I think he looks like Andrew WK

The postgame show is brought to you by... Christ, I can't find it. The hell with it...

+1 HS
GreatLakesBeer's picture

I spent a year of my life listening to nothing but Andrew WK and you know what I dont regret it

If you will it dude, it is no dream

BroJim's picture

Really strong overview, Chris.

I'm pretty excited for the defense this year and I love the opening test against Navy, it's perfect.

I season my simple food with hunger

buckeyeradar's picture

I also agree the defense will be much better, but I don't like opening with Navy.  Not much of a test for the pass protection but tuff for the linebackers and defensive line.  I'm worried about injuries with cheap cut back blocking.

Buckeye in Texas

+2 HS
BroJim's picture

That's true, the cut blocking is brutal. I was thinking in terms of discipline as the test for the defense (we know the talent is there): knowing your assignment, executing, and solidifying knowledge of the new scheme. I think the Navy offense will test these things really well.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
The Rill Dill's picture

There's a huge difference in 'cut' blocking, and 'cut back' blocking.  'Cut' blocking is well within the rules, and very effective.  It seems to be a big TALKING POINT, when it comes to Navy.  Everyone acts like they put a dozen guys out of every game they play.  This is FAR from reality.  Stop the madness.  PENETRATION (providing the backers are disciplined) blows up ANY scheme.

buckeyeradar's picture

I'm not worried about who's at running back.  I think if we use all the offensive weapons we have and don't depend on anyone we could be unstoppable.  Tight ends boom.  Wilson or Marshall in the flat boom.  Wide receivers, pick one boom. Any of the studs at running back boom.  Braxton Miller in control boom.

Buckeye in Texas

+2 HS
osupolo's picture

That is why The Buckeyes don't need a fireworks show after the game,  it'll be on the field during the game. 

+1 HS
QBYBuckeye's picture

Who needs practice.  Can't we just fast-forward to game mode!  27 Days 23 hours 24 minutes.

New York Buckeye

chitown buckeye's picture

23 minutes

"I'm having a heart attack!"

+3 HS
Knarcisi's picture

1.  I'm not concerned at RB. A load of talent and competition. Someone will step up. Maybe a few. 

2.  Re: Miller running:  generally speaking, I'm very much with everyone else on less carries. I also think it can be part of a strategy. There may be games when we need it. It would be nice where it is a bit of a surprise rather than something typical of what we do which teams can scout. We really shouldn't need him to run that much, maybe until we get to, say, Sparty.  By that point, we should have 8 games of film that does not feature Braxton as a primary runner. 

3: Re: Miller passing:  we should have plenty of options for short, easy throws for him to get him going and into a rhythm. Wilson, Samuel, Dixon, and our TEs and RBs. 

4.  I want to see Raekwon get plenty of chances to play early. I think by the end of the season, he's starting at Mike. 

+4 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

Good analysis. Braxton has a kid, though, so he doesn't need to worry about getting a ho. 

+2 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Edited:  fixed that Ho. 

+2 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Really excited about Braxton finally becoming that all season long consistent passer that he looked like he was on his way to achieving mid season last season, but fell off some at the end.  Also excited about EZE, although I think we need to adopt a bit of a wait-and-see attitude as most of his yards came against a very over matched opponent.  Still, his potential is obvious and hard not to be really optimistic.

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

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

In Urban we trust. Get 'em ready for that Aug. 30th date.

allinosu's picture

When Grant wasn't hurt he was actually pretty good last year. It was his backup that was bad. People are still putting McMillan in the starting role without ever watching him play a single college game. I will go that way when he shows it.

+6 HS
bakerjon's picture

Yeah, I agree. Grant didn't play terrible last year. There were a few games where I thought he played decent, especially against the run. He was lost if there was any pass coverage he had to do, but I think other than RDS, they all were last year. That's supposedly fixed. I wanna see Grant have a great final year and get to the NFL. He has the body and physical ability. Now let's put him into a system where he can thrive and see what he can do. 

"It's all ball bearings these days guys"

+4 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Josh Perry, too, I thought he played pretty good the 2nd half of last year, and had games where he was pretty great.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
jaxbuckeye's picture

"~~My personal belief is that these two, particularly Dunn, have what it takes...."

This is not meant as an attack on Dunn, but I keep reading this type of stuff and just don't understand it.  I haven't seen much from Dunn that makes me feel this way.  In fact, I've seen far more glimpses from Smith ( I get it, he's been here longer, some feel he missed his chances, etc).  Rod Smith has had runs that few backs in college football could do.  I have yet to see anything even close to that from Dunn.  Am I missing something? 

Again, not meant as an attack on Dunn.  I hope he turns out to be another great back at tOSU.  But, despite not knowing what goes on behind closed doors, I can't help but feel we're really missing out on a potential star in Rod Smith.

Dougger's picture

Good write-up and good points by everyone on here. I think the most important thing is the offensive line - their development will a) help with the rushing attack, b) keep Braxton upright, and c) keep the defense fresh if the rushing is really good. Warriner has done an excellent job thus far that makes me think he can do it again. I just hope it all comes together!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No one has mentioned Cameron Johnston so far this summer. I think his booming punts are going to be huge! (literally and figuratively).

I like football

+1 HS
Matt M.'s picture

So if you...if you see me hunkered down in your town... I'm just watchin' the clock on the wall, 'til I can go to the place I love most of all.

BuckeyeDevil's picture

I agree with the concept of minimizing Braxton's opportunity to be injured and the consensus seems to be that if he gets hurt we are pretty much screwed for the season. But how much will his running be reduced? To me, a "dual threat QB" still needs to be a viable option in the Buckeye arsenal. If the O-line is a work in progress he might end up doing more running to escape the pass rush than we would like anyway.

swainpm's picture

It would be great to see more of Cardale in games where the score is out of reach. Get that guy some more passing experience.

ibuck's picture

the staff will be focused on determining which true freshmen have a shot to start or provide meaningful depth 

Freshmen, and even sophomore, running backs and receivers need to show they can hang on to the ball against B1G defenders. They need to show this ability in mop-up time first.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+1 HS