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May 17, 2012

Depth chart reveals few surprises

Follow Noon | Rowland | Givler | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Sept. 1 is still three and a half months away. But when the Ohio State Buckeyes take the field, there will be no mystery as to who the starters will be. In two months of winter conditioning and 15 spring practices, head coach Urban Meyer saw all he needed, prompting the depth chart to be released on Wednesday.

"Our focus in August is not developing a depth chart," Meyer said. "It's trying to go win a game."

It was an anticlimactic press conference. There was no quarterback controversy or any other battle at a key position, keeping the surprises at a minimum. Long-snapping battles don't generate too much excitement. Even after the spring, George Makridis and Bryce Haynes are still deadlocked.

The word of the day was "functional." That's what Meyer used to describe both the offensive line and wide receivers. The line was a major concern entering the offseason, as three starters graduated. The situation got dire enough that tight end Reid Fragel went to Meyer asking for a switch to right tackle. It worked. On Wednesday, Fragel was listed as the starter.

But Meyer cautioned that true freshman Taylor Decker is right behind him. Playing immediately on the offensive line is a tall task for a freshman. Decker, however, enrolled early and quickly made an immediate impact in spring practice. Meyer and offensive line coach Ed Warinner raved about Decker's ability to learn and his overall talent. Decker's emergence gives Ohio State depth at a position where extra bodies are hard to come by.

"(It) makes your offensive line functional," Meyer said. "I would put them as non-functional in January and then functional after spring practice."

Another offensive position with boatloads of question marks was, and remains, wide receiver. Meyer didn't shy away from voicing his displeasure with them during the spring, and that was the case again Wednesday.

"They probably were the most unprepared group I'd ever dealt with as far as practice," Meyer said.

"They're not functional. The good things is I think we have enough talent to make some improvements and be very functional by the fall."

The list includes plenty of "name" players, but most of them still lack the production, though potential is sky high. Devin Smith and Corey Brown headline the group. In limited touches last season, Smith managed to put himself in Buckeye lore by snagging Braxton Miller 40-yard desperation heave in the closing seconds against Wisconsin. The touchdown sent Ohio Stadium into a frenzy, as fans breathed a sigh of relief after months of turmoil.

Evan Spencer, who's coming off an injury, Verlon Reed, Chris Fields and spring sensation Michael Thomas round out the receivers.

There was no surprise with the name who will throw them the football - Braxton Miller. That doesn't mean he can sit back and relax all summer. Meyer is looking for more improvement from his starting quarterback, and not just on the field. He wants Miller to develop into a team leader.

"Much rides on the leadership of Braxton and Kenny (Guiton) this summer for our passing game to be functional this fall."

The biggest surprise on the defensive side was Doran Grant earning co-starting duties with Travis Howard at cornerback. Howard is very highly regarded.

The defensive line starred throughout the spring, and looking at them on paper, the potential to be otherworldly in the fall is there. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins are both projected to be first-round NFL draft picks, and Michael Bennett isn't even starting. The depth on the front four could be a valuable asset for the Buckeye comes October and November.

"Michael Bennett was a surprise on defense," Meyer said. "He's listed as a backup to Johnathan Hankins, but that may not necessarily be the case in the fall. It's hard for me to say that he isn't one of the four best."

Two players not listed on the depth chart: Nathan Williams and Noah Spence. That doesn't mean they won't contribute, though.

Williams is recovering from microfracture surgery that kept him out of all but one game in 2011. If he returns fully healthy, and all indications are he will, Williams will slide in at the Leo position.

"He's doing good," Meyer said. "June is a real critical month for him. He's running in the pool. I see him every day. He's very committed. From everything I understand, Luke Fickell thinks extremely highly of him. He made comments that he may be the best (defensive end) we have, so we need to get him back."

Meyer has said freshman will be play if they prove they can contribute. Add Spence to that list. While the two-deep was set with competition in the spring, it can be amended.

"I anticipate Noah Spence would be in an immediate competition for playing time just from what I know as a player and what we need as a pass rusher," Meyer said.

That's a good sign for an already stacked position.

Meyer talked about the emphasis put on competing in the spring for jobs, while also developing the players on a fundamental and skill basis. Consider the mission accomplished.

"I think the urgency was there this spring, especially after the players were really made well aware of their playing time will be determined in spring practice and not so much the fall," Meyer said.

Talent, discipline and leadership are the three ingredients to success. They work individually and collectively. Meyer has coached two national championship winning teams giving him a front-row seat to what it takes to achieve at the highest level. Only time will tell if the 2012 version of Ohio State has all the necessary spices.

"Talent will get you about seven, eight wins," Meyer said. "Discipline pushes it to nine wins - maybe. Then when you get leadership, that's when magic starts happening."



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