Here are five key areas of concentration and competition as No. 2 Ohio State opens full-squad training camp this week with eyes on big prizes in November, December and January.
1. The offense
It will again be driven by the dynamic Braxton Miller and though it’s hard to argue with last year’s results, the coaching staff wants to see an entirely new level of comfort, efficiency and playmaking, especially in the passing game. The Buckeyes want to be the fastest offense they can be, both in terms of personnel and in number of plays run per game, and Meyer has said all summer it will immediately be evident how much work Miller and the other quarterbacks put in with their potential pass-catchers. Preparing for at least three games without Carlos Hyde will provide opportunity for young backs, and that opportunity is the theme of this camp. The Buckeyes aren’t a finished product, but they certainly aren’t short on talent, either. The best players will play. August will give all involved a chance to prove their worth.
All throughout the offseason, Meyer has said finding leaders is not only a top priority, but that finding enough leaders could determine how realistic the team’s big goals become. That starts with Miller, four returning offensive linemen and a veteran secondary leading the way. Meyer will run a grueling camp that will provide the opportunity for leaders to emerge. It will be a physically taxing camp, too, and the Buckeyes’ depth will be tested. Besides replacing the departed defensive leaders, establishing quality depth at multiple positions might loom as one of this team and this camp’s greatest challenges.
3. Up front
Those four offensive linemen likely won’t be back at full-go for a couple weeks as senior center Corey Linsley recovers from offseason foot surgery. There’s a battle at right tackle between Chase Farris and Taylor Decker, and Meyer has said he needs to see better from both. Having four returnees is a rarity and a strong starting point, but establishing depth in this camp is key. Somewhere along the way, Ohio State is going to need its sixth or seventh linemen to play in a key moment. With seniors in place now and the position a priority in future recruiting, the time is now for the guys in between to prove themselves.
4. Who’s next?
Perhaps no position battle is more open than the one at wide receiver, where there’s an interesting mix of upperclassmen, junior-college transfer Corey Smith, gifted sophomore Michael Thomas and the possibility that multiple freshmen could get themselves into the mix. The guy to watch on defense is middle linebacker Curtis Grant, who Meyer says is way ahead of where he was a year ago — and at that time he had a long way to go. Uncertainty at cornerback lingers, too, with Bradley Roby facing a possible suspension and a talented but largely unproven group behind him. There’s a question mark at punter, too, but Ohio State’s kick coverage and kick return units have a chance to be outstanding with so much athleticism and competition from young players at running back, linebacker and in the secondary.
5. How good – and how ready?
They come in with five-star ratings and blue-chip credentials, but they start on the bottom of the totem pole. That Meyer has already talked about freshmen like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Mike Mitchell says he has high hopes, and a lot of young players should see opportunity as camp opens. August practices will be huge for these freshmen, but won’t likely reveal much about these highly-touted freshmen. There’s no doubt they’re gifted but it might take actual games to judge how ready they are for the big stage. Media access to camp is limited, and the amount of actual practice anyone outside the program will see is small. There are games to win this fall, and if Meyer thinks freshmen and sophomores are ready to win those games, they’ll play. Last year’s camp was about installation, familiarity and setting the tone. This year it’s about competition and turning up the intensity, and the coaching staff will spend August looking for players who embrace what’s ahead.