Spring football is over, but the positive vibe surrounding Ohio State football remains.
Being undefeated, as the Buckeyes were under unique circumstances last season, helps that. Bringing back nine offensive starters and having highly recruited and regarded young players to fill holes helps, too.
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With Urban Meyer as CEO and Braxton Miller at quarterback, expectations are high — and justifiably so. But for now, with Ohio State’s fixed amount of hours to spend on organized football activities, Meyer is more concerned with what is and what he sees than what might be.
He sees talent. He needs leaders.
He saw growth in spring football. He sees area of concern, too.
Ohio State lost its leaders from its defensive front seven. It returns Miller, its top running backs and its top receivers, though that group remains a work in progress. Meyer came into the spring listing wide receiver, right tackle and the defensive line among his top concerns.
“We had a great spring, for a lot of reasons,” Meyer said. “It was much different than a year ago. This time around we (had) a system been in place. We lost some really good players on defense.”
Sophomore defensive linemen Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence emerged in the spring. Junior linebacker Curtis Grant claimed the starting middle linebacker’s spot and impressed with his improvement; a year ago, he wasn’t ready to contribute.
The offense was able to tinker and address certain areas this spring; a year ago, everything was new. Miller is showing improved maturity and leadership, and that’s scary for Buckeye opponents given his tremendous physical gifts.
“He’s taken quantum leaps with his leadership ability,” Meyer said.
Meyer said after the spring game that if the passing game comes along, the Buckeyes can be the best offense in the Big Ten. Four offensive linemen return, but the battle for the right tackle spot remains unsettled, meaning Meyer is unsettled, too.
“The one glaring weakness is that fifth player of the offensive line,” he said. “We have a legitimate concern about who that player is. I feel good about four of the five starters and unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten. One of those young players has got to step up and they havenít this spring.”
Meyer has also been adamant that Miller’s growth will depend on the skill players around him. Jordan Hall is back after missing last year due to injury. Reps at wide receiver and tight end are still up for grabs, though Meyer likes the talent level and potential of Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Talented freshmen are coming and figure to be in the mix at running back, in the slot and in the return game.
Come August, the Buckeyes will have the kind of depth and competition Meyer craves.
Junior Doran Grant has claimed the one open spot in the secondary, and redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell and senior Corey Brown are pushing for time there. Senior Chris Fields and the other Corey Brown, the one who plays receiver, were praised by Meyer for their spring demeanor and production. Junior Devin Smith remains a wild card as probably Ohio State’s most gifted receiver.
Before the spring game, he said the receiving corps “is nowhere near where it needs to be.”
Meyer said he has “concerns” with the punting game as the Buckeyes had two punts blocked last season and are breaking in a new punter, most likely kicker Drew Basil. Meyer said worries abdout the right tackle spot might keep him up at night.
Knowing he has Miller and Carlos Hyde back in the backfield and four experienced offensive linemen should help him sleep better. Meyer demands and expects excellence, and with the entire coaching staff back and the players entering a second season in this staff’s systems and schemes, a natural leap can be expected.
The real trick? Taking a leap from 12-0, even against a soft schedule. Meyer demands accountability and maximum effort. He knows chasing success can be a totally different beast from handling it.
“I think we’re on track,” Meyer said.
Expectations are high for a reason. Come September, we’ll start to see if these Buckeyes are up to the challenge.