What is the Ohio State spring game?
The LIFE Sports Spring Game presented by Nationwide Insurance is an annual intrasquad scrimmage that ordinarily takes place in Ohio Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University.
Though it's become trendy this year for some coaches to forgo a spring game altogether, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer has defended its utility for his program. Meyer has stated he plans to continue using one of the 15 NCAA allowed practices as a spring game as he loves the opportunity for young players to get reps in front of potentially 70,000 fans.
The game lasts around two hours and will be preceded by the "2014 Showdown in the Shoe", an 11 a.m. ET men's lacrosse game between Ohio State and Michigan. Ohio State has held a lacrosse game directly before its spring game every year since 2008, except for last offseason, due to construction in Ohio Stadium forcing the exhibition to be played in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. A ticket to the spring game will also allow you in for the lacrosse game. A record 31,078 fans were on hand when the Buckeyes' men's lacrosse team defeated Air Force in 2010.
How similar will this be to a real game?
It'll have football game-like elements. Previous spring games under Meyer have seen players switching back and forth between the two teams, and stoppages so the special teams can work on hitting quickly setup field goals of varying lengths.
The game will feature four 10-minute quarters with clock stoppages throughout the first half and a running clock in the second half. There will be no kickoffs but returning punter sophomore Cameron Johnston will be punting under live conditions with no returns.
The two teams' rosters were selected Thursday with special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs serving as the Gray Team's coach and running backs coach Stan Drayton the Scarlet's. You can see who's playing on which team here.
What time is the Ohio State spring game?
The Ohio State spring game is expected to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 12, 2014. As mentioned prior, the game should last around an hour and a half shorter than an ordinary football game.
How can I watch the spring game?
Unlike last season when it was only available online, the Big Ten Network (Channel 1333 HD on Time Warner Columbus) will be broadcasting OSU's spring game. They'll still be airing it on online (and on your tablet and smartphones) on BTN2Go for cable subscribers.
You can find BTN on Time Warner Columbus/Delaware on Channel 1333 HD/58 SD, on WOW! at channels 219 HD/87 SD, nationally on DirecTV on channel 610, and nationally on DISH on channel 439.
If you're within a reasonable commute, you can also attend the exhibition in person. The team would love a huge crowd for the game, and with what should be excellent weather, and now, actually affordable ticket prices, there isn't a reason not to go if you're nearby. Ohio State announced Friday that tickets, previously $20 at the gate, will now be $5. Parking will also be free.
What position battles should I be watching for?
Ohio State's entire offensive line is being rebuilt. Taylor Decker, who started at right tackle last season, moves to left, but the other four starters will all be new. Pat Elflein, who filled in admirably for Marcus Hall after his two-finger salute to the whole state of Michigan, is probably the closest other thing to a lock to start.
Zach and Justin's kid brother Jacoby Boren, the favorite at center (though former high-profile defensive line recruit Billy Price has seen time with the ones), and guard Antonio Underwood are probably the next in line. One-time defensive lineman Joel Hale has reportedly practiced with the top group too at guard. Either fourth-year junior Darryl Baldwin or redshirt freshman Evan Lisle is projected to start opposite of Decker at tackle.
Last year's breakout running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is no lock to hold down the number one spot, but senior Rod Smith, redshirt sophomore Bri'onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Warren Ball, and versatile true freshman Curtis Samuel make for a really interesting competition at running back. Smith hasn't been practicing lately to catch up on academics and may not play Saturday.
Though senior wide receiver Devin Smith hasn't been assured of holding down the top wide receiver spot, the battle to determine who likely starts with him is another intriguing one. Former spring game star Michael Thomas, redshirt junior (and former JUCO transfer) Corey Smith, and former Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Green should all be in the mix. True freshman Johnnie Dixon won't start from day one but could see early playing time.
Redshirt freshman (and New Albany native) Darron Lee has been one of the surprises of the spring and could wind up landing the starting weakside linebacker position. Sophomore Trey Johnson is also in the picture while junior Camren Williams, wunderkind frosh Raekwon McMillan, and redshirt freshman Chris Worley are vying for all vying for linebacker playing time as well.
The battle for the number two cornerback spot could prove tight with Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley both making strong cases to not languish on the sidelines.
The kicking battle between walk-on Kyle Clinton and true freshman early enrollee Sean Nuernberger is still anyone's at the moment.
And that's to say nothing of the battle to be the backup quarterback...
How's Braxton Miller looked? And who will fill Kenny Guiton's shoes?
Miller's looked comfortable practicing making reads and little more as he underwent minor shoulder surgery and has had to sit out the spring. He's expected to resume full workouts this summer.
With no Kenny Guiton to save the day should Miller continue to battle health issues, the battle for the backup quarterback position has never been more important. Cardale Jones first rose to infamy tweeting the following during his first season as a Buckeye:
And while he was probably a subtweet away from having to rehab his career elsewhere, Jones worked hard, got his act together both on and off the field, and is now the clear front-runner to spell Miller as needed. Both Meyer and OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman have spoken to the fact that Jones has done nothing to lose the #2 quarterback spot.
The third string (and starter opposite of Jones) is redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Barrett's leadership's been lauded from day one and though he'll have to continue working if he wants to surpass Jones on the depth chart, all the potential is there.
True freshman Stephen Collier, a sleeper prospect who could be an impact guy when everything's said and done, is an early enrollee and will see action on Saturday as well.
Why was the defense so bad last season?
Well, all of Ohio State's defense wasn't actually so bad last year. Using the 2013 F+ advanced stats rankings, Ohio State had the 42nd-ranked defense last year, which would put it above average nationally. The Buckeyes also were one of the best teams in the country at preventing big plays on the ground, and had a stout defensive line. Their problems were most dramatic in defending the pass. Whether you used standard metrics (they were 110th nationally, and 11th in the Big Ten last year, in giving up pass yardage), or advanced efficiency stats, Ohio State struggled to shut down opposing passing games.
A big reason for that was the injury to senior leader Christian Bryant, who was lost for the season in the waning moments of the Wisconsin game, robbing the Buckeyes of an experienced voice and tackler in the defensive backfield. Another reason might have been more schematic, as the Buckeyes recently admitted that maybe they focused a little too much on stopping the run as opposed to the pass. They had to play some defensive backs who just weren't ready, and by the end of the season, opposing teams knew that if you wanted to hang with the Buckeyes, you needed to pass, pass, and pass some more. Having an offense that scored a lot and created a lot of total possessions didn't help their statistical breakdown either.
Add it all up, and you wind up looking at some rather ugly defensive performances.
Will the secondary actually be better this year?
Well, it's hard to get too much worse. You can be optimistic and say that the hire of Chris Ash (former Wisconsin and Arkansas co-defensive coordinator), as well as Urban himself getting more involved in the defense, can lead to more creative schemes and player improvement. You can hope that highly touted potential new role players, like redshirt freshman CB Eli Apple, or cornerback turned safety Cam Burrows, can jump-start a middling unit. There is also reason to think that the strength along Ohio State's defensive line, particularly their ability to pressure the QB, can help alleviate some pressure on the secondary.
Will all of that turn this maligned unit into a top defense in the country this season? Probably not, but there are lots of athletes on this defense, and there are plenty of reasons to think it won't be as bad as last season.
How will Ohio State replace Ryan Shazier?
Those are big shoes to fill, and it's unlikely that one single player will replicate that kind of production. The most likely player to directly fill in Shazier's shoes is Josh Perry, who should be stepped into the Will spot, after playing the Sam and Mike spots before. Perry had 64 tackles a year ago, and probably won't double that total next season, which is about what he'd need to do to get into Shazier territory.
Trey Johnson was penciled in as a guy ready to take a huge leap next season, but he seems to have been passed on the depth chart by the surprising Darron Lee, who Meyer and company have praised repeatedly throughout the spring. Still, Johnson is likely to play, along with super freshman Raekwon McMillan. The Buckeyes are also going to be tinkering with their formations to help counter some of the screens that hurt them so badly last season.
Who will miss the spring game due to injury?
Well, the most obvious name is QB Braxton Miller, although given his secure place on the depth chart, he probably wouldn't be playing much anyways. Safety Vonn Bell and tight end Jeff Heuerman are the other two starters who won't be playing due to injuries. All three are expected to be ready for fall camp.
Who are changing positions this offseason?
Cam Burrows is moving from cornerback to safety. Dontre Wilson has gone from more of a running back to more of an h-back/wide receiver type role (think somewhere between what Philly Brown did for Ohio State and what Percy Harvin did while at Florida). Joel Hale is moving from defensive tackle to provide depth on the offensive line. Chris Worley has moved from safety to full-time linebacker. And as previously mentioned, Josh Perry is moving to the Will linebacking spot.
Who might be a breakout star in 2014?
In the spring game? There should be plenty of opportunities along the offensive skill positions. Wideout Michael Thomas was the star of the spring game two seasons ago as an early enrollee and reportedly has had another strong spring. Freshman running back Curtis Samuel and wideout Johnnie Dixon have both had excellent springs, and Meyer has said that both will play in the fall. It's possible that fans will get a glimpse as to why Saturday.
If not Samuel, look for somebody to separate themselves in the running back derby, behind Ezekiel Elliott. Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn, or Warren Ball (or perhaps Samuel) should have a big enough day to provide additional clarity to the running back depth chart.
Which freshmen might play? Will any of them have instant impacts?
Meyer has talked about four specifically so far: McMillan, Samuel, Dixon, and kicker Sean Nuernberger. In terms of raw impact, Nuernberger is probably your best bet if he actually grabs ahold of the kicking job full time, just given the importance of the position (walk-on Kyle Clinton is thought to be leading at the moment).
Ohio State may be changing their philosophy and rotating more on the defensive line, which could create some opportunities as well later in the year.
In terms of guys who aren't yet on campus (and thus won't be seen in pads on Saturday), Dante Booker (linebacker) and Erick Smith (defensive back) headline a shortlist of guys who could potentially play their way onto the field this coming fall.
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