Ohio State concludes their first spring practices under new head coach Urban Meyer Saturday in the Horseshoe with 65,000+ expected in attendance for the Buckeyes' annual spring game. Despite the cloud of being eligible for neither the Big Ten crown nor a postseason appearance, the Bucks have much groundwork to lay for Urban Meyer's traditional second season ascension.
We start with the game's rosters, drafted by the coaching staff at a 6 a.m. meeting Thursday, April 19th and released by the university in a press release later that same day:
Head Coach - Tom Herman
Assistant Coaches - Everett Withers, Mike Vrabel, Tim Hinton
FB - Zach Boren
K/P - Drew Basil, Kyle Clinton, Kevin Niehoff
LS - Bryce Haynes
Head Coach - Luke Fickell
Assistant Coaches - Kerry Coombs, Ed Warinner, Stan Drayton, Zach Smith
QBs - Kenny Guiton, Cardale Jones
RBs - Bri'onte Dunn, Jordan Hall
FB - Adam Homan
LS - George Makridis
Zach Boren and Jack Mewhort will serve as the Scarlet captains with the Gray being represented by Etienne Sabino and John Simon.
Grounded By Default
Ohio State did a lot okay offensively in 2011 but very little very well. Arguably the lone redeeming quality in the Buckeyes' offensive arsenal was their rushing prowess. More or less by default, the Bucks garnered 191.15 yards per contest, good enough for 27th nationally.
The Buckeyes return their leading rusher in the form of Braxton Miller, who accounted for 715 rushing yards and 7 TDs on the ground. Further adding to Buckeye faithful's fantasizing over Miller, one year older and better, is the implementation of an offense more conducive to his personal skill set. Despite the departure of Ohio State's best tailback, Daniel "Boom" Herron, the returning group of Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, and the arrival of early enrollee Bri'onte Dunn should give the Bucks all the weapons they need to frustrate front 7's throughout the midwest.
OSU's ground game will have to be particularly stout, with reports from spring practice indicating last year's inconsistent, high risk/low reward, and frankly, maddening to watch wide receivers are still up to their old tricks. While it's easy to fall in love with the physical talents of returning sophomores Devin Smith (he of the Wisconsin late game heroics) and Evan Spencer or become enamored with the raw speed and potential of Corey Brown, the entire receiving corps' reported lack of day in-day out reliability allows pessimism to return quite naturally.
Keeping in mind that Urban Meyer and new offensive coordinator Tom Herman have indicated we're likely to see a very basic, stripped down version of the offense, the fireworks and splendor Buckeyes fans naturally expected upon Meyer being named OSU's head coach will have to wait.
Regression To The Mean
Ohio State's defense finished 2011 ranked as 19th in the nation in total defense, though particularly in the secondary, felt like a shell of past elite Buckeye units. With superstar-in-the-making linebacker Ryan Shazier (sick), Curtis Grant (stinger), and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett both sidelined with leg injuries, Luke Fickell's returned full concentration on the defense may not seem as apparent as otherwise expected.
Defensive lineman John Simon has garnered virtually all of the praise from coaches this spring and defensive line mate Johnathan Hankins should feature to show off his reconstructed physique under the expert conditioning of strength guru Mickey Marotti. Potential break out talents like Steve Miller and Michael Bennett could also catch eyes during Saturday afternoon's scrimmage. Last year's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel's transition into coaching his college position of defensive line could also provide this immensely talented, incredibly deep group to play with an edge both in the spring game and next fall.
While Spring Games as a whole tend to offer little more in the way of essential viewing than your average TV show supplementary webisode, the sheer comfort of seeing something resembling football in the 'Shoe should be worth its weight in gold when you're standing in the desert of June waiting anxiously for September to get here.