Ohio State begins spring practice on Tuesday following a bitter end to its 2013 campaign.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues facing Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes as they prepare for their spring game on April 12 at Ohio Stadium.
US PRESSWIREBraxton Miller will be focusing mostly on the mental side of the game this spring.
He’s back…sort of: Prolific dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller returns for one final season to lead an offense that broke school records for points scored (637), touchdowns (87) and touchdown passes (38) in 2013. But the senior signal-caller will be very limited this spring (even unlikely to take a snap) after undergoing minor surgery on his throwing shoulder last month. So he will be focusing on the mental side of things with quarterbacks coach Tom Herman more than anything before working on being a more polished pocket passer when he is 100 percent healthy. In the meantime, Herman will be doing his best to prep rising redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and rising redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett as well as early enrollee Stephen Collier. Jones and Barrett will be battling to be the No. 2 behind Miller this fall, with the backup being just one Miller injury away from being the signal-caller in Meyer’s Power Spread.
Re-stocking the O-Line: The Buckeyes have averaged over 275 yards per game on the ground in Meyer’s first two seasons, and the stellar offensive line was a big part of that success. But OSU must replace four upperclassmen, with the lone exception being Taylor Decker, who will move over from the right side to left tackle. Strong play is expected from sophomore guard Pat Elflein, though, while Jacoby Boren and Darryl Baldwin have game experience as well. Meyer will likely get a glimpse at a variety of combinations up front this spring. And keep an eye on Antonio Underwood, who is returning after missing last season.
Re-tooling the defense: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has two new faces to help him on that side of the ball, as former Wisconsin and Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash is now co-DC/secondary coach, while longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson is the team’s defensive line coach. Ash was brought on to help a pass defense that gave up 268 yards per game last year and was exposed during the team’s two-game losing streak to close the season (the Buckeyes gave up a combined 682 passing yards to Michigan State and Clemson). Ash and Johnson help replace Mike Vrabel and Everett Withers. This Buckeyes team returns every key contributor along the line from a unit (featuring Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa) that together recorded 31 sacks and 53 tackles for loss last fall. On the back end, though, the team will rely on linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry as well as cornerback Doran Grant to help bring along some new starters.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott averaged 8.7 yards per attempt on 30 carries last season, but fifth-year senior Rod Smith, third-year sophomores Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball as well as speedback Dontre Wilson will be fighting for touches at running back as OSU looks to replace Carlos Hyde, who had a fantastic 2013 campaign. Smith is the punisher with the big body who averaged 5.4 yards per carry last fall, while Wilson averaged 8.1 yards per rush and had 22 receptions out of the backfield last year.
Wide receiver Evan Spencer (ankle), offensive lineman Chase Farris (knee) and linebacker Devan Bogard (knee) won’t be participating in spring drills because of injuries. And along with Miller, wide receiver James Clark (leg) will be limited.
As was reported in early February, sophomore linebacker Mike Mitchell is no longer with the team. One of the top prospects in the nation when he arrived from Texas, Mitchell reportedly is looking to transfer to a school closer to his hometown to be by his ailing father.
Senior Joel Hale has moved to offensive guard from defensive tackle, while sophomore Cam Burrows is now at safety after playing cornerback last season.
The Buckeyes will have seven early enrollees in camp: Collier, wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, running back Curtis Samuel, offensive linemen Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, kicker Sean Nuernberger and linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.