"If he's not just good but eye-popping in the last week of January, why was he an afterthought in Ohio State's offense in November and on New Year's Day?"
- Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com
One of this week's biggest pleasant surprises has been watching Braxton Miller absolutely roast fools at practices leading up to the Reese's Senior Bowl. We've always known that he was ridiculously athletic, but Miller is showing such a level of polish with his hands and his footwork these days that he hardly seems like a QB-turned wide receiver. He just looks like a wide receiver.
Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises wonders why, given Miller's apparently sky-high ceiling, he was so absent down the stretch for Ohio State. That certainly didn't seem like it would be the case after the Buckeyes' season-opening win against Virginia Tech, in which Miller showed off his best video game moves on several huge plays. So...what happened?
Lesmerises posits four different theories. One is that the Buckeyes were primarily a running team, going to the ground on 64% of offensive snaps. Even Michael Thomas, who grades out as a better NFL prospect than Miller at WR, only finished at No. 94 in the nation in catches. Another is that the Buckeyes simply didn't know what to do with a player like Brax. The offense struggled to fire on all cylinders all season, and there didn't seem to be a good way to get the ball to every explosive playmaker on the roster.
Or could it be that Miller is the same player he was all season long, which is to say, not an all-world talent? After all, the Senior Bowl is for seniors, so many of the country's best wide receivers (Lesmerises points to Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman, and Thomas) aren't playing -- they're juniors who've declared themselves draft-eligible. Of course, the opposite is also plausible: Miller's been busting his tail to improve since season's end, and we're seeing the payoff now.
"With so much production gone from the offense...Barrett could be asked to shoulder a heavier load in '16, especially early on."
- Brian Bennett, ESPN.com
Speaking of talented Ohio State quarterbacks, you may have heard of a guy named J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes will return the best quarterback in the Big Ten in 2016, and that's great news, given the massive turnover that Urban Meyer's team is facing. The kind of continuity that Barrett can provide, given that there won't be any kind of QB battle to speak of, will likely make or break a young and inexperienced Buckeye offense. As the emergency starter in 2014, Barrett shocked the world with 45 total touchdowns and an 11-1 regular season record, so he can clearly get the job done in tight spots.
After Barrett, though? The picture gets a lot less clear. There's Joe Burrow, 2014's Mr. Football in Ohio, who has undeniable talent but hasn't taken a snap for the Buckeyes. There's Stephen Collier, by all accounts a great teammate, who has been on the field but never attempted a pass. Torrance Gibson, who came into Columbus with Burrow, seems to be following Braxton Miller's trajectory as a WR/H-back instead of a QB. The addition of Dwayne Haskins to the 2016 class this past week -- a flip from Maryland, injecting a little more juice into that matchup for 2016 -- makes the picture even more interesting, as he might leap the other three and claim the spot as Barrett's backup. Time will tell. For now, the Buckeyes have to feel good about the man they have in the No. 1 spot.
"I already knew it was gonna be real hectic towards the end, but shoot, I'm ready for it. I've got nothing to lie about. It's all out there."
- Former Ohio State DE Noah Spence, via The Washington Post
By now, Ohio State fans know the story: Noah Spence, defensive pillar for the Buckeyes, was dismissed from the team after multiple drug-related suspensions and a ban from the Big Ten. It's what happened afterwards that's really interesting, though -- the story of a young man who learned from his mistakes and is about to be rewarded with NFL millions.
Spence found himself at Eastern Kentucky after leaving Ohio State, and while his location was different, his game stayed the same. Spence finished his only year of FCS football with 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. He's strong, he's fluid, and he has a nose for the football -- all of which combine to make him a likely first or second rounder in April's NFL Draft.
It's intriguing to think about what Ohio State's defense would have looked like had Spence never left the program. Spence, not Tyquan Lewis, would have lined up across from Joey Bosa last season. Lewis was the defensive standout of the Minnesota game, and will help anchor the Ohio State defense in 2016, but he would have spent a lot of time on the pine in 2015 otherwise. Sam Hubbard, a breakout force in his freshman year (and one of the enabling factors for a package like Rushmen), might not have seen much of the field, either. Spence will get drafted on opening night, and appears to have put his drug problem behind him. Ohio State built for the future of the defense. Maybe the move to Eastern Kentucky worked out for everyone.
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