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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State football team will take the field for its first spring practice session of the year on Tuesday, and as is the case with any Buckeyes squad or Urban Meyer-led team, there will be no shortage of storylines inside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. With that in mind, here's a look at the top five questions that we'll try to find answers to about the 2013 Buckeyes in the coming months.
Did the passing game improve?
OSU may have been the only undefeated team in Division-I A college football in 2012, but the Buckeyes were a flawed team. "We might have been the most flawed undefeated team in the history of college football," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman claimed.
The Buckeyes' problems could be attributed to a number of areas on their roster, but perhaps the most glaring weakness that Ohio State possessed was in its passing game, where it ranked 105th in the country in passing yards per game. Quarterback Braxton Miller may have been a Heisman Trophy candidate for the better part of the year, but that had more to do with his legs than anything that he and his teammates did in the air.
That will have to change in 2013, for Ohio State to sustain similar success. With more film out there on Miller than there was a year ago, the Buckeyes' signal-caller will have to figure out new ways to beat opponents, and doing that will start in spring practice. The good news for OSU is that according to Herman, progress in Miller's passing game has already been made.
Where will the leadership come from?
The Buckeyes will return 13 combined starters on offense and defense from a season ago, but plenty of leadership was lost, especially in the form of defensive end John Simon and linebacker/fullback Zach Boren. Meyer has admitted that he's concerned about losing those two particular players, but he's also already identified some of the players who he would like to fill their shoes.
The primary name that Meyer mentioned was left tackle Jack Mewhort, who Meyer feels could replace Simon as the "heart and soul" of the Buckeyes. A fifth-year senior and a three-year starter, Mewhort certainly has the credentials to be a leader for Ohio State, and spring practice will give him the opportunity to prove that.
Other players Meyer will lean on for leadership include seniors Carlos Hyde, Corey Brown, Christian Bryant, and C.J. Barnett, and junior Ryan Shazier.
Which on-campus freshmen will be ready to contribute?
Enrolling early in school gives true freshmen the added benefit of participating in spring practice, which is an opportunity that only six players from this year's class chose to take advantage of.
Those players- J.T. Barrett, Eli Apple, Cameron Burrows, William Houston, Tyquan Lewis, and Tracy Sprinkle- will all be allowed to participate in drills and are considered members of Ohio State's active roster, although Barrett will be limited as he recovers from a torn ACL. With the other 19 members of the Buckeyes' 2013 class not arriving until the summer, these six players will get a head start on seeing early playing time as true freshmen.
With Meyer looking to replace cornerback Travis Howard in the Ohio State lineup, Apple and Burrows may be the duo to keep an eye on when it comes to which true freshmen will emerge as key contributors early in their respective careers. Sophomore Doran Grant will likely get the first shot at starting opposite Bradley Roby, but behind him, depth and experience is thin at the position for the Buckeyes.
Who will rush the passer?
Ohio State lost seven starters from its defense in 2012- including all four of its defensive linemen. We might be six months from the start of the season, but spring practice will give the Ohio State coaches the opportunity the first opportunity to look at the players who will attempt to replace Simon, Garrett Goebel, Johnathan Hankins, and Nathan Williams.
Sophomore-to-be Noah Spence will likely land in one of those spots- likely Simon's LEO position- while the same could be said for classmate Adolphus Washington when it comes to replacing Williams as strong side defensive end. From there, Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, Tommy Schutt, and Chris Carter will vie for the remaining openings, as the Buckeyes' certainly possess the flexibility to showcase a multitude of looks and lineups.
Regardless of who's doing it, Ohio State will need to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback in 2013, and the coming month will give it a chance to figure out who those players doing it might be.
How will Year One differ from Year Two?
A year ago, you wouldn't have blamed Meyer if he was still just trying to learn the names of the players on his roster. This year? It's a whole other story.
The two-time national champion head coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team, as well as who fits where. Meyer is no longer trying to install and a system and mindset in the OSU program, but rather build on what was an undefeated debut season in Columbus.
Whether or not that changes how Meyer runs spring practice will remain to be seen. The 2013 OSU campaign certainly can't be made in the next month, but some serious groundwork can be laid for what could be an even more impressive encore in Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes.
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