The trees are in bloom, the smell of freshly gut grass is in the air, the temperature is getting warmer, and Baseball is in full swing. It’s April, historically a month set aside for celebration of rebirth. From the ancient Celtic druidic spring feasts, to the Jewish tradition of passover, and the Christian celebration of Easter. All of the world’s major religions have set aside a time in early spring for somber remembrance of things past and joyful celebration of the glories yet to come.
It is no accident then, that Saturday April 21 is set aside on this year’s calender. In Ohio, and in places across this great land where Ohioans have landed after stretching their buckeye roots, it is widely accepted that football at The Ohio State University IS a Religious event. At no other place (outside of dixie and the $EC) is football set so firmly as King! For Buckeye Nation, our spring celebration of new birth and things to come kicks off in The Horseshoe this Saturday, as a new group of Buckeyes lead by Urban Meyer take the field for the Spring Game.
Now, don’t mistake my excitement for this game as “fall excitement”. Frankly, for most casual observers, this game will stink! The question that begs asking though is, how many Buckeye fans are “casual observers”?
“Tressel Ball”, “Three Yards and a cloud of dust”, “Student body Left”, those days are officially OVER! They’ve been dying a slow death for years now. When Troy Smith won the heisman, that offense didn’t look anything like that with which Woody Hayes blessed The Shoe. Heck, it didn’t resemble what we ran when Eddie George barreled his way through the Big 10 and the country on his way to a heisman trophy. At Ohio State we have slowly been adding aspects of the spread offense for years. Running it bits at a time, combined with everything from traditional Power-O to the Pistol. In my opinion, it has been that combination of multiple offensive styles that has actually been holding back the offense at Ohio State. Needing fast, agile recruits to run the spread, but also needing the big, bulky linemen to handle a Big 10 defense. Combine that with coach Tressel’s desire to surround himself with offensive coaches that frankly didn’t belong at a school like Ohio State, and it is truly amazing that the Buckeye dominated the Big 10 for a decade. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade a thing (alright maybe a string of things over the last 18 months) about Jim Tressel’s teams. Ask anyone that knows me, I am a gigantic Tressel fan. Being a realist though, his teams were great, but flawed offensively.
Like I said though, THOSE DAYS ARE OVER!
This Saturday if you are one of the 90,000+ fans to make the spring pilgrimage to the banks of the Olentangy, or one of the millions more that will tune into the Big 10 Network to watch the Buckeye Spring Game, you’ll undoubtedly be watching to see what the Buckeyes look like offensively under Urban Meyer. Coach Meyer has surrounded himself with quality coaches on both sides of the ball. He has began installing a new offense in Columbus. He is bringing the fire and passion for speed to our football team.
Urban Meyer was openly critical of the offensive line play from last year, just like the rest of us that watched that mess. He attacked the O-line issues with a mandate that the players come to spring practice with a different body type. To a man, every O-lineman responded and every single player reported to spring camp having lost 20 pounds of body fat, and replaced that lost fat with 10 pounds of muscle on average. Meyer is building a new offense, and starting up front. Before we get too excited about the line, and expect Orlando Pace type play across the line, step back and realize that the Buckeyes have serious depth issues on the offensive line. We lost 3 starters, guys that started for 3 and 4 years at their spot. Those guys can’t simply be replaced. Heck, Reid Fragle played tight end for 3 years at OSU, and he is now going to be the starting right tackle. To his credit, he has put on muscle weight, and his learning the position. The scariest thing might be, Reid is possibly going to be one of the best O-linemen. The success of the 2012 Buckeye football team will be a direct representation of the success of the offensive line. Much like Brady Hoke was able to turn around Michigan’s defense in one year and have instant success in Ann Arbor. If Meyer is to have instant success in Columbus, he MUST get much improved play from his horses up front.
Miller has been working with an actual QB coach this year, not a video coordinator!
The easiest answer Meyer has this spring is, “who is my quarterback”? Braxton MIller will begin his sophomore season where many fans believe he should have started his freshman season, as the starter. Miller has been working on his lower body fundamentals as a passer, and his downfield vision when rolling out. He has shown his improved vision this spring already by hitting receivers as they slip into defensive gaps when Braxton is chased from the pocket. One play in particular rewarded Miller’s downfield recognition with a 75 yard touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Kenny Guiton is the backup, and is showing major improvements this year, after admittedly “not having his head in the game” last year.
The role of QB might be the easiest to answer, but the most fun to answer might be the role of starting running back. Ohio State has a stable of running backs in Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, and Warren Ball. Every single one of those players could start at probably 75% of the other NCAA schools. Every single one of those players are competing for carries and catches in Meyer’s new offense.
Jordan Hall is the Lightning
Jordan Hall is custom made for the Meyer offensive attack. A quick runner, with an explosive first step, and a nice set of hands for catching passes out of the back field. He is the odds on starter at running back. He is talented enough though that he may be used at other positions, which makes room in the backfield for Carlos Hyde. That two-headed monster of a running game, with Hall as the fast, shifty, explosive guy, and Hyde as the powerful, yet fast downhill runner, all lead by Braxton Miller and the run first zone read attack. It’s what many fans have been screaming about for years!
While Carlos Hyde will provide the Thunder
All of that great running game hype will simply be empty hype though if the wide receiving corp doesn’t drastically improve. I’m going to be as honest as possible, without trying to be offensive here…passing game in 2011 SUCKED! Yes, the QB was a freshman, yes, the offensive line was bad, but I’m here to tell you, the wide receivers on last year’s Buckeye team were far and away the worst I’ve ever seen at Ohio State in my 32 years of watching. The problem is, they lost their best option, in Devier Posey, and all the guys who stunk it up last year are back. It’s not just my ire that the wide outs have garnered, it’s also their coach’s. Coach Meyer has been very vocal about calling out the receivers, and good news is, they’re responding.
Stoneburner looks to explode this year in Meyer's offense!
Jake Stoneburner is a tight end, but will be lining up at wide receiver, TE, H-Back, all those some positions in which Meyer used Aaron Hernandez while he was at Florida. Stoneburner started off last year as a big target for the Buckeyes, but for some reason they stopped throwing him the ball, and started lining him up with his hand on the ground. That will change, and Stoneburner should emerge as one of the best tight ends/H-Backs in the conference, if not the country.
Michael Thomas is a heralded freshman with NFL bloodlines.
Another bright spot on the horizon for the Buckeyes will be the emergence of true freshman Michael Thomas. Thomas is the nephew of former USC great and NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Michael spent last year at Fork Union Military Academy. He has been practicing with the second team receivers, but has recently been active as a first team guy in the wake of Evan Spencer’s shoulder injury. He has taken his chance and ran with it, drawing praise from his coaches and the beat writers covering the Buckeyes.
So what are we looking for? What is it we’d like to see saturday to reassure the faithful that a new beginning is fast approaching, and another era of Buckeye dominance is on the horizon?
–Offensive Line Play:
-Are the linemen making the right reads?
-Are the linemen getting downfield instead of blocking the line and letting the backs fend for themselves against the linebackers?
-Are the linemen blocking with confidence, or are they timid and still trying to over think the system?
-Can anyone block John Simon? Probably not, but not many other schools will beable to either, and if we can, then it’s a huge step forward.
-How is Braxton’s footwork in the pocket?
-When rolling out, can he find the open man? If not, what kind of decision does he make?
-His zone reads? Is he recognizing a crashing end? Does he recognize a swapand see the crashing linebacker instead and the D end that is now playing contain?
-The backfield is loaded, who wants to step up and claim what’s there?
-Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, and Zach Boren, how do they catch the ball out ofthe backfield?
-Are the backs seeing the field properly, and hitting the right holes?
-How are they using Jake Stoneburner?
-Who is going to step up and make plays downfield?
-Are guys like Tyrone Williams and Mike Thomas prepared to step up and catch balls?
-The receivers will be working in space, do they find the soft spots in the defense, and how do they use the space to their advantage?
These are the questions that I’m looking for answers to. I don’t expect to have them all answered in the spring game. It’s way too early to expect all the answers. I do expect to see a renewed offense, hear the cheers of a reenergized fan base, and see the improvements made to the Buckeye offense during this era of “Urban Renewal”.
Ah look, I’ve managed to ramble on for quite some time. Hopefully making sense enough throughout most of this dribble. In reward for your invested time and the journey through my mind, I’ll leave you with this picture. It’s from this past Saturday’s open practice, where 3,100 Ohio State students were allowed to watch the Buckeyes scrimmage from inside the Woody Hayes Center. Coach Meyer invited all the fans to incircle the field goal team and make as much noise as possible while kicker Drew Basil, from Chillicothe, tried not to blast the football into an onlookers face. Good news, Basil made the kick, and all the fan faces were safe!
Meyer, getting the students excited and involved in the scrimmage