With the bulk of its starters returning on both sides of the ball, expectations in Columbus for the 2015 football season (understandably) couldn’t be higher.
The Buckeyes bring back dynamic defensive playmakers such as Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and Vonn Bell, while on offense Michael Thomas, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall are preparing for another go-round. Oh yeah, in case you hadn’t heard, Ohio State has quite a plethora of talent at the quarterback position.
But as the Buckeyes near the end of spring practice — Ohio State’s spring game is April 18 — they are hoping to re-adjust and re-tool everything to compensate for what they did lose from last year’s national championship team.
“This season, nothing we did last season will win us any games this year,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said recently. What we do this year and how we prepare and how we develop our players will determine how successful we are.”
Both Warinner and head coach Urban Meyer have said that’s what spring practice is all about: developing players. And the Buckeyes have a bunch of good ones.
But there seem to be two big question marks for the 2015 Ohio State team: Who fills the shoes of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer at wide receiver and who steps in and starts at the two vacant spots on the defensive line?
“We just have to start from scratch and rebuild and put it back together again. That's what spring's for.”– Ed Warinner
Spring practice is a time where the coaching staff hopes to answer those questions. Or at least get a good start on finding the answer.
“Well, we just have to evaluate, that’s what spring ball’s for,” Warinner said. “The thing about spring ball is you’re starting over.”
Defensively, Ohio State isn’t going to change its scheme. Filling those open spots may be as simple as plugging in a new guy at the same position.
But offensively, the Buckeyes have some options to replace the departed Smith and Spencer. Marshall could move from his H-back position to wide receiver full-time as he showed flashes of brilliance last season at the position. Noah Brown has dropped over 20 pounds and become faster and could be in the mix after seeing playing time as a true freshman. And Johnnie Dixon, if healthy, could emerge as a top playmaker for the Buckeyes on the outside.
Ohio State can change and adapt its offense based on the guys it has on the field. It's not a unique concept, but it gives us great insight into the mind of a coach.
"Noah Brown's a perfect example. He's lost 24 pounds since we got him here, he's a competitor, he's a tough guy," Meyer said. "You saw that last year as a true freshman blocking, he's a tough guy and he goes hard. So we just have to say 'OK, now he's a little bit too slow. So it's up to us as a staff to change the offense around."
None of these position battles will be decided in the spring, of course, but they’re certainly interesting to look at now. And seeing how the Ohio State offense has adapted and changed this spring could give a nice preview for the 2015 season.
"We expect to be a good offensive team, the pieces are there," Warinner said. "We just have to start from scratch and rebuild and put it back together again. That's what spring's for."