The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes open fall camp with more questions then answers on offense. Beyond having Braxton Miller at quarterback, Urban Meyer and Tom Herman face questions at nearly every position.
And this position uncertainty results in schematic uncertainty. Below are five questions that fall camp must begin to address.
What is the Offense's Core?
For the last two years the Buckeyes offense had a simple formula. When in doubt, rely upon inside zone and power runs for Carlos Hyde and lead plays for Miller.
Hyde is now in the NFL. And although the Buckeyes will undoubtedly rely upon Miller's legs in crunch time, all parties want to reduce the experienced senior's exposure to hits running the football.
So the question becomes – what is the basis for the Buckeye offense? Does it remain the inside run game? Or will the offense become more reliant on Miller's arm?
In many ways the tactical questions below will answer this strategic issue.
How Much does Ohio State Use Packaged Plays?
One early prediction is that inside zone and power will remain the bread and butter of Meyer's offense, as it always has. But the Buckeyes will frequently utilize packaged plays off those inside runs.
Packaged plays are one of the hottest concepts in college football. They are an outgrowth of the zone read concept. As with read plays, the quarterback watches a pre-determined defender post-snap. But instead of keeping to run, the quarterback will either give on the run play or throw a quick passing route.
Packaged plays were a growing part of the Buckeyes' arsenal last season. Meyer extolled the concept this spring and indicated Ohio State will utilize more complicated run/pass concepts.
Fall practice will indicate whether the Buckeyes are fully embracing the packaged play. A successful use of this concept will reduce Miller's carries off reads and open the quick passing game.
How does the H Receiver Position Develop?
Meyer and Herman will also likely utilize more variety in who carries the football. But such versatility depends upon the development of the H-position.
When Meyer Arrived at Ohio State, focus was upon the so-called Percy position, named after Percy Harvin. Harvin did a little of everything for Meyer at Florida, including frequently motioning into the backfield for inside-run plays.
But the H position, as it is officially called, has not filled the same role with Meyer's Buckeye offenses. Corey Brown most frequently played the position, but his primary role was as a possession receiver. At other times, Meyer utilized a second tight end or another blocker.
But this may be the year that the H-receiver fills a more versatile role. Led by a bigger Dontre Wilson, Meyer has the players who can potentially function as both a receiving and running threat. Look for Wilson and others to receive carries, particularly outside the tackles. This will further lighten Miller's running load, as he has functioned as the Buckeyes' primary outside run threat.
what of the intermediate Passing Game?
Ultimately, Miller likely holds his own key to reducing his running attempts – through an increased efficiency in the passing game. Although Miller and the Ohio State passing game has gradually progressed in Meyer's first two years, it has remained too inconsistent, particularly in crucial contests.
Miller's biggest challenge this year is increasing his consistency with mid-range throws. CBS Sport's Dane Brugler offered this insight regarding where Miller must improve.
While much improved in areas, Miller needs to continue his development as a passer for some NFL scouts to be sold. His touch and accuracy still run hot/cold with too many fastballs in his arsenal, needing to develop a change-up. Starting with his footwork and base, Miller needs to continue and tweak his mechanics and improve his ball placement, something that continues to be a work-in-progress . . . .
Miller is a gifted athlete and exciting in the open field with dynamic speed, but as a senior, scouts want to see improved touch. He takes a lot of deep shots, but needs to develop a better feel in the intermediary passing game and not rush his process or escape the pocket before necessary.
Of course, as Brugler recognizes, Miller needs help from his receiving corps. This task is made harder with the loss of the Buckeyes' only consistent intermediate target in Brown. Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman must demonstrate they can be consistent targets in the 10-15 yard range.
Despite this, Ohio State is potentially deeper at wide receiver. And with players such as Wilson, Miller now has targets that can turn short passes off constraint plays and gain yards after the catch.
Traditionally, Meyer's preference is to work the football to the inside receivers on option and follow-pivot routes like in snag, providing those receivers the football in space to make plays.
But all too often last year – whether by design or by Miller's decision-making – the Buckeyes became too reliant upon throwing the ball down field. This resulted in an inefficient passing game that too frequently left the Ohio State offense behind schedule.
The burden falls on Miller to lead inexperienced wide receivers and consistently work the intermediate passing game. Taking that step would not only result in a more diversified Buckeye offense, but also take pressure off Miller in the run game.
The Offensive Line's Development
Concededly, this is not a scheme issue. But it is the biggest question mark and will determine how far the Buckeyes' offense goes this fall.
Although the Buckeyes must replace four starters, in reality left guard may be the only remaining open competition. Getting center Chad Lindsay to transfer from Alabama may have been Meyer's biggest off-season recruitment, solidifying the line's interior. Daryl Baldwin is seemingly fairly secure at right tackle. That leaves Antonio Underwood, Chase Farris, Joel Hale, and Billy Price, among others, to battle for the left guard spot.
Nonetheless, all eyes will be on the offensive line this August to determine whether Meyer and Ed Warriner can adequately replace a unit that was the Buckeyes' strongest last fall. Whether a new offensive line can gel may determine whether the Buckeyes can match or exceed last year's offensive output.