March 4, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio - And just like that: spring football is upon us. The earliest documented start for spring football in Ohio State history - prompted by the university's academic calendar change this year from the quarter system to semesters - will be Tuesday, March 5 when second year coach Urban Meyer will lead his squad onto the field for the first of 14 practices leading up to the spring game April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The start is also one of the earliest for a Meyer-coached team, but it can't come quickly enough. It will have been 103 days since the Buckeyes last practiced - Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27 to be exact - when the team opens its spring drills on Tuesday. The Buckeyes will practice two days later on March 7 before taking a spring break week with practices resuming March 19.
51 Lettermen Return
Meyer and his coaching staff, entirely intact after a 12-0 season in 2012 and a final Associated Press ranking of No. 3, will like the fact that 51 lettermen return - 23 on offense; 25 on defense and three specialists. Included are nine offensive starters from a unit that averaged 37.2 points per game and led the Big Ten Conference, plus ranked second in rushing and third in total offense with 242.2 and 423.8 yards per game, respectively.
Of concern entering spring is the fact that seven defensive starters must be replaced, including the entire starting front four - John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel - and only one linebacker returns who has significant game reps: junior Ryan Shazier.
Add in the fact a punter must be found, 47 of the 82 scholarship players this fall will be either freshmen or sophomores, the team didn't have the typical bowl-game practice/learning opportunities after the season and the defense is young (just four seniors total), and it's easy to surmise the coaches have their work cut out for them during these 15 days on the practice field:
- Practice #1 - Tuesday, March 5; shorts
- Practice #2 - Thursday, March 7; shorts
- Practice #3 - Tuesday, March 19; pads
- Practice #4 - Thursday, March 21; pads
- Practice #5 - Saturday, March 23; pads
- Practice #6 - Tuesday, March 26; pads
- Practice #7 - Thursday, March 28; Buckeye gear
- Practice #8 - Saturday, March 30; pads
- Practice #9 - Tuesday, April 2; pads
- Practice #10 - Thursday, April 4; Buckeye gear
- Practice #11 - Saturday, April 6; pads
- Practice #12 - Monday, April 8; pads
- Practice #13 - Wednesday, April 10; Buckeye gear
- Practice #14 - Friday, April 12; shorts
- LiFESports Spring Game, presented by Nationwide - Saturday, April 13
Plenty of Offensive Optimism
There is plenty to be optimistic about heading into spring ball. Namely, reigning Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and all-around dynamic player Braxton Miller returns at quarterback for his junior season. Fifth in the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting and a finalist for the Davey O'Brien national quarterback award, Miller set a school record with 3,310 yards of total offense last year. He led the team to only the sixth undefeated/untied season in school history with a lethal combination of 1,271 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, and 2,039 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton is now a schooled, experienced veteran and a coaches' delight. He played in nine games last year and directed or finished off a touchdown drive in eight of his 15 series, including the now-legendary seven-play, 66-yard drive in the final 47 seconds of the Purdue game.
Four senior starters return on the offensive line. Averaging 6-5 and 308 pounds, this unit helped pave the way for the Buckeyes to rank 10th in the nation with 242.2 rushing yards per game while scoring a 34-year Ohio State high 37 rushing touchdowns. Boasting a combined 80 cumulative starts on the line, the group features LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley and RG Marcus Hall.
Speaking of power, running back Carlos Hyde is a big, fast and physical performer who rushed for 970 yards and scored 16 touchdowns in less than 10 games last year. His five career 100-yard games are highlighted by a 140-yard, four touchdown effort in the win over Nebraska last year. He will be backed by fourth-year player Rod Smith and sophomore Bri'onte Dunn.
Senior receiver Corey Brown and fifth-year senior running back/receiver (H-back) Jordan Hall headline a skilled group of throw-to performers that also includes juniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, senior Chris Fields and sophomore Michael Thomas.
Brown emerged not only as a reliable target last year with 60 catches and 5.0 receptions per game (fourth in the Big Ten), but a big-play maker as well. He scored five touchdowns, including on a 76-yard punt return vs. Nebraska, a second- and third-effort 37-yard reception vs. Illinois, and a 68-yard punt return vs. Wisconsin. His 12 receptions vs. Michigan State: merely the fourth-most in a game in school history and just two off the school record.
Misfortune - a cut foot in the summer and an injured knee in his third game - thwarted Hall's initial senior season, one that had him serving as one of five team captains. A red-shirt season ensued and Hall is expected to shine in the dual purpose H-back role. He has 1,032 career rushing yards (and six touchdowns) and 24 receptions for 233 yards and four more touchdowns entering 2013. His 2,765 career all-purpose yards lead all current Buckeyes and rank 20th at Ohio State.
Smith, one of the fastest guys on the team, has scored 10 receiving touchdowns so far, including three over 60 yards in 2012 - 72 vs. Cal; 63 vs. Michigan State; 60 vs. Indiana) - and he averages a 39.3 yards per touchdown catch.
Spencer was fourth on the team with 12 catches for 136 yards last year, and Fields didn't let four idle games affect his play: he expertly cradled and caught the touchdown pass from Kenny Guiton with three seconds to play to put the Buckeyes in a position to tie Purdue (and later win). Thomas played in 11 games as a true freshman.
Two fine third-year players - Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett - have 11 combined starts at the tight end position and both are dependable, high-performing players on the line and on the receiving end (18 combined catches).
Just 4 Seniors on Defense
Here's some good news about a defense depleted of 63 percent of its starters: 17 of 26 players who were on the defensive depth chart heading into the Michigan game return. The four returning starters include 75 percent of the starting secondary as junior cornerback Bradley Roby and senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant will join junior linebacker Ryan Shazier as the leaders of this pack.
Roby earned first-team All-America honors last year by ESPN.com after leading the nation in passes defensed (1.73 per game) with a school record-tying 17 pass break-ups. This big play maker also scored touchdowns three different ways: an interception return vs. Nebraska; off a fumbled punt vs. Miami; and off a blocked punt return vs. Indiana.
Barnett and Bryant each return for a third season as a starter at safety. Barnett has made 26 starts and was honorable mention all-Big Ten in 2012 after recording eight passes defended in nine games. Bryant, second-team all-Big Ten in 2012, was second on the team in both tackles (70) and solo tackles (36), and he ranked sixth in the conference with 13 passes defended and 1.08 per game.
Shazier, arguably, was the top linebacker in the Big Ten at season's end. The junior was among the conference's Top 10 in five categories, including leading the league with 17 tackles-for-loss, ranking second with 115 tackles and eighth with 12 passes defended. He was named first-team all-Big Ten.
That's it for the returning starters on defense.
The Four on the Floor...and More
Six 2012 lettermen up front will have the first crack at winning starting positions in the spring. Sophomore Noah Spence played in 237 plays from the line of scrimmage last year to lead all returnees on the d-line with sophomore Adolphus Washington (156 plays) next. Juniors Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Steve Miller, and sophomore Tommy Schutt also saw considerable amounts of game action. Spence was tops among this group with 12 tackles while Washington ranked third on the team with three sacks.
Linebacker depth was a concern last year and three of the six linebackers on the two-deep for the Michigan game are gone, including starters Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. Junior Curtis Grant will, for a second consecutive spring, seek to occupy and hold the middle linebacker position while a starter outside and opposite Shazier has to emerge with sophomore Josh Perry the only player among a handful of sophomores with any real game action along the line of scrimmage. He was in on 48 defensive snaps last year while three others - Camren Williams, David Perkins and Jamal Marcus - were season-long special teamers.
The secondary, secure in the fact that Roby, Barnett and Bryant have 68 combined starts among them along with 57 pass break-ups and 10 interceptions, also returns a key, two-year reserve at cornerback in junior Doran Grant, the leading contender to move into departed all-conference performer Travis Howard's cornerback position. Grant has played in all 25 games the past seasons and started last year vs. UAB when Roby was injured.
A plethora of underclassmen who contributed on special teams last year - junior Adam Griffin and sophomores Najee Murray and Armani Reeves at cornerback, and junior Ron Tanner and sophomore Devan Bogard at safety - return and will make the competition in the secondary quite spirited.
Senior safety Corey Brown, a veteran of 33 games, saw extensive action as a nickel back last season and should be a key contributor again in the secondary. Senior safety Jamie Wood has played in 30 games and will attempt a comeback after a shoulder issue ended his 2012 season after four games.
Coombs to Forge Special Forces
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs will have a greater role in all special teams this year as he has been named special teams coordinator. He'll work on units that ranked nationally 31st (punt return defense), 34th (punt returns), 50th (kickoff return defense), 70th (net punting) and 84th (kickoff returns).
Key specialists include punt returner Corey Brown, who ranked 16th nationally with a 12.2 average last year, including two big touchdown returns. Kicker Drew Basil didn't have many opportunities last season - he was 8 of 11 in field goals - as the team scored the sixth-most touchdowns in school history (57). He is entering his fourth year as a starting kicker, though, and he is 24 of 32 in field goals for his career with a long of 52 yards.
Notes & More Notes
How Early is Early?
Ohio State's March 5 start to its spring drills means the team will be nearly halfway through its spring season on March 28...the day spring drills started last year. The April 13 date for the spring game: it tops by six days - April 19, 2008 - the earliest date for a spring game in documented (and readily available) history.
2013 LiFESports Spring Game
The 2013 Ohio State LiFE Sports Spring Game, presented by Nationwide, will be played April 13 in Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. Ticket prices are $18 for club seats, $12 for general reserved seats and $5 for ages 2 through 6. Ohio Stadium is under renovation this spring (seating area resurfacing project).
Tickets can be purchased online at OhioStateBuckeyes.com, charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000, in person at the Athletics Ticket Office in the Schottenstein Center, at any Ticketmaster location or at this link: http://go.osu.edu/13FBSpringGameTix
The Senior Class
The 2013 senior class includes 16 players in their final season of eligibility. The total includes 11 fifth-year seniors and five who have yet to red-shirt (noted below with an asterisk).
Senior Special Teamers (2):
K *Drew Basil, LS George Makridis
The following eight true freshmen from the 2012 recruiting class red-shirted last season: RB Warren Ball, OL Kyle Dodson, OL Pat Elflein, WR Frank Epitropoulos, QB Cardale Jones, DL SeVon Pittman, CB Tyvis Powell and TE Blake Thomas.
Five Recruits Among the Newcomers
Five freshmen in their first semester at The Ohio State University - CB Eli Apple, QB J.T. Barrett, CB Cam Burrows, DL Tyquan Lewis and DL Tracy Sprinkle - will be among the dozen or so new faces practicing this spring. Walk-ons new to the roster include RB Devin Hill, FB William Houston, WR Kato Mitchell, P Jake Russell and WR Devonte Butler. Current Buckeyes who graduated from high school early to take part in spring drills include:
High Five for the Coaches
Buckeyes in the NFL - Divisional Round