Ahhhhh, April. The month of taxes, showers (leading to May flowers), and spring football. Just 12 months ago, Ohio State had just finished what would be Jim Tressel's last Spring Game as Head Football Coach. In just a little more than two weeks he would resign from the University in disgrace, but not before legions of students, players, alumni and fans marched to his house to express their undying thanks for the previous ten years of excellence.
Then the world came crashing down around our ears. At least, that was the feeling that each and every Buckeye on the planet had. While we thank Luke Fickell for taking the helm with nary a complaint, we knew that his job was going to be a short one, despite any success he might have on the big stage. Thankfully, the new King of Ohio kept him on staff doing what he does best: coaching undeniably great defensive units.
Now begins a new era in Ohio State football. We have effectively replaced one of the all-time winningest coaches with another. Urban Meyer brings his special brand of the spread offense to the Horseshoe and I think I can speak for most of the Buckeye Faithful when I say I cannot wait to see what Braxton Miller can do in Urban's Power Spread. This is the offense that Miller was built for, the one that he ran in high school with massive success, and one he never thought he'd have to run in college. Braxton had to think that when he committed to The Ohio State University, that he'd be getting training in a Pro-Style offense from one of the masters of the game.
Alas, it was not to be. Perhaps that's actually for the best. If you look at the major college programs nowadays, a good 60-percent to 85-percent of them run some sort of spread, whether it be an Air Raid in the mold of the Wazzu Pirate Mike Leach or West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, the Pistol of Nevada, or the Power Spread of Ohio State. Look at the two most hyped Quarterbacks from the last NFL season. Cam Newton and Tim Tebow both learned the Spread from Meyer, and now each of them is enjoying success at the next level. Alex Smith, an Urban product from Utah, was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005. While he might not have had much success in the NFL in his early years (due to a number of factors), he is now embracing not only the Power I underJim Harbaugh, but the 49ers also flirt with several spread option formations.
There is a sea change happening on the professional level. Some may question the move to more option offenses, saying that it ruins the game of football, but there is no denying the philosophy behind the spread. Make the opposing defense cover the ENTIRE field, spread them thin, and burn them in space. The Power Spread Offense of Meyer requires four major things: A mobile QB with tremendous field vision, an athletic offensive line that can pull and make holes while creating misdirection, a pass catching Tight End that can also run-block, and playmakers on the outsides of the formations. Having a variety of ball carriers in the backfield doesn't hurt either.
When you look at Ohio State, perhaps two out of four isn't bad at this point. The Scarlet and Gray have a very mobile capable signal caller in Braxton Miller, and his backup Kenny Guiton, isn't too shabby himself. There is no denying that Jake Stoneburner may be the best pass catching TE in the country right now, as evidenced by him being Joe Bauserman's primary target early on in the 2011 campaign. The issues are on the line and on the outsides. At least one of those is being addressed early in spring practice.
The receivers last year left a lot to be desired. Of course, Corey Brown, Devin Smith, and Evan Spencer never expected to be the first man up. That was reserved for DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor's favorite target for three years. But with Posey serving an extended suspension thanks to the NCAA and Bobby DiGeronimo, those three had to step up and carry the load. Brown and Spencer led the team in receptions, with 14 each on the season. If you told someone like Mike Leach that his top receivers would only have 14 receptions, he'd ask you which specific game you were talking about.
Posey is now off to the NFL (with the Draft rapidly approaching), after showing his stuff in just three games in the 2011 season. What we did see from DeVier reminds me of a cross between Ted Ginn, Jr. and Santonio Holmes. He's a burner with amazing hands. He'll make some NFL General Manager a very happy man, the way Dane Sanzenbacher did in Chicago last year. But we must now focus our attentions on the current crop of wideouts. That includes the aforementioned Brown, Smith, and Spencer; but also adds the capable receivers Michael Thomas of California (via FUMA) and Frank Epitropoulos of Upper Arlington (Ohio).
While the word is that no one is really showing separation at this point, he should be noted that Thomas has shown flashes of brilliance and soft hands. During the April 13th practice the corners, namely Doran Grant and Bradley Roby, called Thomas the receiver who has impressed the most. With Meyer's reluctance of the Redshirt, it is likely that one or both of the Freshman wideouts will see significant playing time this year. It is almost as if, when you look at the current roster and the incoming players that Tressel/Fickell recruited, this team was being pre-built for Meyer to come in and install his offense with little learning curve.
Yet there is still much for these student-athletes to soak up and apply. Braxton has to unlearn everything from year one that he was taught about an option offense and instead learn from the pre-eminent scholar of the field. Stoney has to go from being a blocker first to a Vernon Davis/Aaron Hernandez type tight end. The offensive line, the unit that Meyer says needs the most work, is replacing two All-Americans and bringing a former Tight End in to play tackle. To his credit, Reid Fragel appears to be picking it up at a frenetic pace. Being opposite one of the best defensive ends in the country in John Simon has had to smooth that learning curve out. If Reid can block Simon and keep the ManChild from getting into the backfield, there is little to nothing that anyone in the country can throw at him that he won't have seen.
One of the underrated positions in Meyer's offense is the fullback. During his time in Florida, Tebow acted as his own fullback, especially in goal line situations. One has to think that Urban won't put that responsibility on Braxton. Miller is smaller and more of a finesse runner than the bruising Tebow. Enter Zach Boren, one of the few guys that Meyer identified early on as a leader and Captain. Boren, the middle child of three Borens to don the Silver Helmet, will provide that 4th or 5th option, especially in short yardage situations.
When you look at the upcoming Ohio State roster and the weapons that Meyer will have to work with, from Jordan Hall to Jake Stoneburner, and you compare them to the weapons he had during his two National Championship seasons at Florida, you almost have to think that this season's team, had there not been a postseason ban, would have contended for a title. Alas, while that goal may be unreachable this season, Meyer has the system and talent for challenge the nation in 2013.