April 21, 2013

Buckeyes answer questions in spring ball

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When spring practice started nearly two months ago, we asked five questions that Ohio State would be looking to answer in its 15 practice sessions before the start of August's fall camp.

With spring practice now in the books, we'll do our best to answer those questions, as the Buckeyes head into their second season under head coach Urban Meyer.

Did the passing game improve?
It certainly looks that way.

After spending a portion of the offseason working out with noted quarterbacks specialist George Whitfield, Jr., Miller shined in OSU's annual spring game last weekend, completing 16-of-25 pass attempts for 217 yards and two touchdowns. More than that, the Buckeyes signal-caller looked particularly impressive throwing the deep ball, successfully completing pass attempts of 49 and 42 yards.

Miller's mechanics were the biggest area of his game that he worked on this offseason, and they appear to be much better they were a season ago, when he won the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year award, despite completing just 58.3 percent of his passes.

The junior-to-be's legs will always play an integral in the OSU offense so long as he's wearing scarlet and gray, but an improved passing game will do wonders for an offense that ranked 10th in the nation in rushing in 2010.

Where will the leadership come from?

By the time the Buckeyes' offseason had even began, Meyer pinpointed Jack Mewhort as a player who could step up to replace John Simon as the "heart and soul" of the Buckeyes. And while the senior left tackle certainly stepped up with his lead by example attitude, other players began to emerge this spring as leaders for the upcoming season.

Such players include senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, who will each return for their third season as starters at Ohio State. The secondary will be a strength for the Buckeyes, both on and off the field, as Bradley Roby also made his vocal presence felt this offseason.

Offensively, center Corey Linsley has also been recognized for his leadership this spring, as has Miller, who has been described as lightyears ahead of where he was in that category a season ago.

Which on-campus freshmen will be ready to contribute?

Of the freshmen that enrolled early to participate in spring practice this offseason, it was cornerbacks Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows who saw the most significant playing time.

At this point, Burrows seems to be further ahead than Apple, although both players could become a part of a cornerback rotation that figures to be used more regularly by position coach Kerry Coombs. Last season, Coombs often only relied on his two starters, but this year has stated a desire to get more players on the field on a regular basis so that they don't tire out.

While defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle both got some looks throughout the spring, they appeared to be buried on what has been a pretty deep Ohio State defensive line.

Who will rush the passer?

Speaking of the Buckeyes defensive line, that unit emerged as one of the team's strong suits over the past two months. Defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence combined for seven sacks in OSU's spring game, and perhaps scarier than that, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said that they both looked even more impressive in the Buckeyes' closed scrimmages.

Inside, Michael Bennett and Joel Hale emerged as the team's top replacements for Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, although Tommy Schutt missed a good portion of spring practice with an injury. Vrabel also stated that 340-pounder Chris Carter is beginning to look like a potential player on the OSU defense.

Replacing all of the starters on any unit is no easy task for any team, but the Buckeyes' defensive line appears to be in as good of shape as any heading into 2013.

How will Year One differ from Year Two?

Even while waiting for most of the star-studded recruiting class that Meyer hauled in this year to arrive, the Buckeyes appear to be much further ahead in all aspects, than they were a year ago.

No longer are players just trying to adapt to a new system, but rather they appear to be adding different dimensions to their attack. At one point this spring, Ohio State experimented with a "diamond" offensive look, with three running backs lining up in the backfield with Miller.

The effects of the Buckeyes' 12-0 debut under Meyer appear to be positive, and with this year's team eligible for postseason play, the hunger is still there too.


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