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How the Buckeye offense improved through spring practice

McCall, Brady Taylor, and Luke Farrell highlight a solid spring for the Ohio State offense

NCAA Football: UNLV at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Now that spring practice is over and we really dip into the offseason, we can take a look at how the team progressed on both sides of the ball. This post will only concentrate on the positive developments — we can tackle the “needs improvement” areas next.

The Buckeyes have a good center (and maybe two!)

Early on in the spring we learned that Josh Myers forced his way into a real fight with Brady Taylor for the starting center job. My assumption was that the former top-60 overall recruit (and second-ranked guard) would take the job from Taylor, who hadn’t seen a lot of playing time in his four years on campus. But Meyer announced that Taylor would be in the starting spot heading in to fall camp — and that’s huge.

But, it’s also not the end for Myers. Starting for the Scarlet team, Myers also had an impressive spring game and could still win the job in fall camp.

Center was head coach Urban Meyer’s biggest concern at the beginning of spring practice, but these two have at least shifted concerns elsewhere.

Ohio State also has two solid tight ends

The expectation was that Rashod Berry would be the no-brainer starting tight end after Marcus Baugh’s graduation. Slowed by some injuries this spring, Berry didn’t play in the spring game, which left the door open for Luke Farrell to make a move for the starting job. And like Taylor, Meyer announced that Farrell earned a starting role, at least heading in to the fall.

Farrell came to Ohio State with a few other tight ends, and wasn’t ranked as highly as Jake Hausmann, but the 6’6 tight end appears to have the edge for now.

And we already know that Berry has solid athleticism — he averaged nearly 17 yards per catch and had two touchdowns from just six total catches last season. I mean, take a look at this garbage time play vs. UNLV last season:

Demario McCall could be the offense’s X-factor

It seems like at least one receiver breaks out every year in Ohio State’s spring game. Last year it was Johnnie Dixon. 2016 was probably Torrance Gibson. 2015 had Corey Smith and his 6 catches for 174 yards. Ohio State fans should know by now to not over-hype spring game performances from receivers — it just doesn’t always translate to on-field production.

But Demario McCall was electric this year, finishing with 11 receptions for 165 yards. He looked like a model slot receiver in the former-running back mold; i.e., just like Curtis Samuel.

Ohio State’s passing game still needs to prove that it can be effective in the intermediate-to-long range, challenging the defense vertically as well as horizontally. That’s been true really since the 2014 season. But McCall (along with Parris Campbell) brings a related capability — the ability to turn routine, high-percentage short passes into explosive plays.

So yeah, we can’t go overboard on the McCall hype train this offseason, but it seems clear that he’s carved out a big chunk of playing time with Parris Campbell.

By the way, that last play of the game? Burrow and McCall actually did something similar in last year’s spring game too:

This is a two-running back offense

J.K. Dobbins was incredible as a freshman and we have every reason to believe he’s going to be even better in 2018.

But Mike Weber wants to remind you that he’s not just a between-the-tackles option, and can add explosive plays as well. In the spring game, Weber exploded through a solid hole for a 63-yard run, then made an excellent cut to shake off Brendon White at safety.

Weber showed that same type of breakaway speed last season too with big runs against Michigan State, Illinois, and Michigan. Dobbins proved to be more explosive — gaining 10+ yard runs on 19.6% of his carries and 20+ yard runs on 8.2% of his carries — but Weber was explosive too, getting 10+ yard runs on 11.9% of his carries and 20+ yard runs on 5.9% of his carries.

The QB will be more accurate in intermediate and deep routes

Haskins has demonstrated impressive timing, anticipation, and willingness to throw in tight spaces on intermediate and long passes. It seemed like the general fan expectation was that a Haskins win in the quarterback battle would mean an offensive evolution with a more vertical passing game.

And while that may be true, don’t assume that the 2018 offense will just resemble the Barrett-led 2017 (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing anyway!) if Joe Burrow wins the job instead.

Burrow actually had a better performance in the deep passing game than Haskins. According to Tim Bielik who ran the numbers, “Burrow was more accurate on deep throws (3-for-5, 122 yards, two TDs) compared to Haskins (2-for-8, 68 yards, TD).”

Obviously that’s very limited data and it’s less revealing about Haskins than it is about Burrow — essentially, that he’s a better passer than you might have thought. Haskins entered the spring as the favorite to win the job (even if it wasn’t outwardly acknowledged), but the passing offense will likely improve even if Burrow wins the job in an upset.