CHICAGO – Top returning running back Carlos Hyde’s status remains uncertain, and a still mostly unproven receiving corps came out of spring practice improved — but still mostly unproven.
Ohio State opens camp in less than two weeks trying to maximize the talent around quarterback Braxton Miller, and the mix of candidates for playing time will include several familiar names and at least a couple who aren’t familiar yet.
The freshmen are coming.
Another highly-rated Urban Meyer recruiting class is regarded as being especially strong at the offensive skill positions, and Meyer hasn’t hidden his excitement to see how quickly those new faces can become new weapons. From National Signing Day in February through the spring and now into the summer, Meyer has said he believes incoming freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall — and maybe not just those two — can crack the lineup sooner rather than later.
“The overall speed level, we’ve improved it,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days. “These guys haven’t played yet, and I haven’t seen them on the field, but the reports I get from the strength coaches and the guys who have seen them are good.
“We’ll be faster on offense.”
No formal coaching or practices have taken place since April, but player-organized workouts have been taking place throughout the summer. Most of the freshmen reported in early June.
“I don’t even know their names,” senior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. “But I see some guys out there who can fly. Whoever they are, they can really run.”
At various points during interview sessions at Big Ten Media Days, Miller mentioned Wilson and Jalin Marshall as players who have made positive early impressions in 7-on-7 and drill settings.
“I’m excited,” Miller said. “Those guys are good.”
Said senior safety Christian Bryant: “They are really, really good.”
Marshall was a quarterback at Middletown High School in Southwest Ohio and was recruited as an athlete. Wilson, who’s from the Dallas area, switched him commitment from Oregon to Ohio State after Chip Kelly left Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles.
How they all fit — returnees and the new additions — remains to be seen. Meyer has praised tight ends Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman for their work and improvement and said the offense was exploring ways to get both on the field at the same time.Ohio State also spent time in the spring working on a formation with Miller and three running backs in the backfield out of a shotgun set.
Hyde got the bulk of the carries Miller didn’t get last season, but Jordan Hall is set to return from a medical redshirt year and Rod Smith got valuable experience last season, too. Incoming freshman Ezekiel Elliott joins other returnees Warren Ball and Brionte’ Dunn at running back, while Hall, Marshall and Wilson probably fit best in the slot/pivot position — something Ohio State didn’t really have last year. Freshman wide receiver James Clark could also push for playing time; it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Marshall and/or Wilson at receiver, too.
Miller said he under threw Clark the first time he threw to him in summer workouts.
“I had no idea how fast he was,” Miller said.
Meyer has said players who earn their way will play and the offense will be tailored towards getting the best players on the field; hence the two-tight end sets and the tinkering with the inverted full-house backfield, with or without Hyde. More will be expected of Miller in his second year operating the offense — and those who can catch on and keep up will get the most opportunities.
“Fast,” Meyer said of how the Buckeyes offense will operate. “It’s going to be warp speed.”