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March 5, 2013

The chase begins for Meyer and the Bucks

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Even if Mother Nature didn't want to cooperate, Tuesday was the start of spring practice for the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer's team had a chance to workout for the first time of the 2013 season at the indoor facility of the Woody Hayes complex. Meyer and the Buckeyes did not have a chance to work out in preparation for a bowl game after the NCAA punishments so there is a sense of urgency for the team to get better and build upon a 12-0 season in 2012 and compete for a Big Ten title and much more when it is all said and done.

Five scholarship true freshmen (Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, J.T. Barrett, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle) got their first taste of college football, at least in a practice sense and were under the watchful eye (and constant prodding) of the coaches as they learned how to practice. For the veterans, there was no let-up as the coaches expected much from them especially after year one saw a steep learning curve as a new staff and new team got acclimated at a quick pace.

"I knew we would have good attitudes, what I am concerned with is just the development of some players and after day one I can't give you a whole lot because I don't know other than we went out in shorts," Meyer said after practice.

Several players worked out but were slowed down with orange injury bibs including Ryan Shazier, Corey Brown, Najee Murray, Devan Bogard and Jamie Wood to name a few. Injuries allowed some players who have been buried on the depth chart a chance to step up and catch the eye of the coaches.

"Some guys like Tyvis Powell and (Pittsburgh) Corey Brown had good days," Meyer added. "I thought we threw and caught pretty well but once again I know everyone had to write some stuff but it is the first day in shorts and we did have a good attitude."

The Buckeyes practice one more time this week on Thursday before "Spring Break" and then return to the practice fields on March 19th when they get to put on the pads for the first time.

Looking for stability

It is no secret that expectations are high around Columbus for the Buckeyes and many people are already penciling them into no worse than the Big Ten Championship Game but the Ohio State coaching staff is focused on one practice at a time and finding the replacements for most of the defense with four off the defensive line, two linebackers and a pair of defensive backs all departed from the program.

It would be easier to just list who is returning with starting experience for the Ohio State defense with Shazier, Christian Bryant, Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett returning for another season. It will be open season at most positions for playing time and to get into the two-deep and the Ohio State coaches will be charged with trying to see who is ready to make the leap form back-up to starter and try and set a depth chart by the end of spring.

"I am glad that Roby came back, you feel stable in the back end, you feel like there is a sense of stability," Meyer said. "Once Shazier gets over his (sports hernia) you will feel a sense of stability once he is in there. The area where you don't is the front guys, but there is some talent there."

Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were a pair of guys who were singled out after practice for maybe having inside tracks but the Buckeyes have been strong in defensive line recruiting for the past two seasons and it could be open competition as the Buckeyes try and find eight or more guys to roll in and out as the team tries to maintain a pass rush that checked in at No. 2 in the Big Ten for sacks in the 2012 season.

Coaching up Braxton

The Ohio State coaches had their first chance since November to work with Braxton Miller on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean the junior-to-be signal caller got 'fat and happy' during the off-season. Miller made the trip to Southern California during the off-season to work with QB guru George Whitfield and continue his progression as a college quarterback.

In 2012, Miller was awarded the Chicago Tribune Silver Football, the award that goes to the offensive MVP of the Big Ten. A more complete Miller would be good news for the Buckeyes and bad news for the rest of the conference. Meyer touched upon his thoughts of Miller working with the famous QB coach.

"I think he just went out there once over Christmas break and I liked because the last time we were allowed to coach Braxton was the Friday before our rival game and that is a lot of days without us being able to coach him," Meyer said.

Whitfield worked with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the past but his alumni roster includes players like Andrew Luck, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger from the NFL ranks. Meyer admitted that he didn't know a lot about Whitfield but got glowing reviews from Miller about what he learned.

"I don't know him but I have heard great things about him and Braxton enjoyed his time with him," Meyer added.

Meyer was quick to point out that Miller does have a QB guru in Columbus that he is working with as well.

"The QB guru working Braxton is named Tom Herman, that is the guy getting paid to coach him," Meyer added. "I am glad Braxton did it because instead of playing video games or whatever he is working fundamentals of QB play, so I loved it."

Who will punt?

Most Ohio State fans would like to believe that the Buckeyes will not have to punt in the 2013 season but that obviously is just wishful thinking and the Buckeyes got put into a tricky spot when Johnny Townsend opted to sign with Florida instead of the Buckeyes and Ohio State is now without a designated punter after the graduation of Ben Buchanan.

It seems that Drew Basil may be the guy who gets the first crack at the punting duties, something he will do on top of his placekicking duties that he already holds.

"I thought Drew did a good job, I think Drew fundamentally… I saw that last year, Drew could have punted last year," Meyer said "The only thing he is lacking is because of experience but fundamentally I felt he was maybe our best punter, Ben had so much experience and was such a great guy that you counted on, but Drew has a strong leg and I feel good with Drew. Obviously we are still keeping our eyes and ears open."

Another player to keep an eye on is wide receiver/punter Frank Epitropoulos. The redshirt freshman held the punting duties at Upper Arlington (Ohio) high school and was booming the ball during practice on Tuesday. But Meyer was quick to caution that Frank has a lot of work between now and the start of the season if he wants to get into the mix.

"He has a long way to go in everything but he has talent," Meyer said.

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