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Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

BraxtonSpring2If you polled Buckeye players asking for the word to best describe spring football under Urban Meyer, the winning entry would probably be “intensity”. That’s the tone set by the coaches. That describes the pace of the practices. That’s the driving force behind turning everything they do - right down to their stretching - into a competition under Meyer. As senior fullback Zach Boren predicted at the outset of spring ball, “There is no on-off switch. Everyone will be going full-go, every play”.  And that’s exactly the way it has gone so far.

One thing the first-year Ohio State coach has made abundantly clear is that he will demand the same single-minded will to win in his players that he brings to the job himself. Speaking of identifying team leaders, Meyer had this to say: "We're looking for leadership by doing, by work ethic, by leading. I'm not interested in a bunch of group hugs or team meetings. I really want to see guys lead by not losing. You want to be a great leader, then go win."

It will be five months before he can begin erasing the bad memories from a disastrous season, but for now Meyer can be contrasted with his predecessor by how fast everything moves with him in charge.

Five Wides and Explosive

That will first become evident to OSU fans when the new Meyer-Tom Herman no-huddle offense takes the field at Ohio Stadium a week from Saturday. It's not exaggerating to say this will be culture shock for the OSU faithful, regardless of how prepared or anxious they may be. How well it works at first remains to be seen of course, but it will be new and different.

Meyer himself has expressed some surprise at the pace that offensive coordinator Herman is putting the offense through. Meyer called it “rapid-fire”, and said that it was even faster than what he was used to at Florida. This will be a better conditioned Buckeye team than the 2011 version....both by design and by necessity.  

One casualty of Meyer’s drive to prepare for the 2012 season has been practice reps for the “third team”. There has been no such thing in the early going this spring. Meyer wants to have his two-deep firmly established by the end of spring practice, and he isn’t using practice time on players who will be warming the bench in September. In part, this is to help the staff prioritize their recruiting needs for 2013 and beyond. Maybe there will be time for a third unit to get reps in the fall, but it’s not happening this spring.

Fast is also the way Meyer is implementing his offensive scheme. The goal, he said, was to put in the offense in five days of practice. He admits being impatient. It can’t happen fast enough to suit him. And there have been bumps in the road, as you might expect, but the trigger-man of the offense, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, is excited about what he’s learning.

“It’s five-wides and it’s explosive”, Miller recently told The Ozone. “I feel pretty comfortable in it and how it suits my athletic ability and my ability to make plays. It’s no-huddle, so I just get the signals from the side. I’m telling the O-linemen what to do. I can flip the play call, whatever. It’s exciting and it’s explosive.

In Herman’s spread, Miller says, “everything is fast-paced and he wears down defenses. It’s about getting the ball into our playmakers’ hands. They’re not out there for nothing, so get them the ball.”

Culture shock. April 21st.

MeyerSpring4Saying What He Thinks

One noticeable difference from the Tressel years that jumps out at you with Urban Meyer is the shoot-from-the-hip candor from the new OSU head coach. Tressel measured his words carefully, and he was a master at giving the media lots of verbiage without revealing a whole lot. Platitudes wrapped in euphemisms, dressed up with coachspeak. It was sincere and not meant to be misleading, but it was often all bones and no meat. That’s not Meyer’s style.

The new guy pretty much tells you what he thinks without the dressing. He was very frank about what he saw as the poor conditioning level of the roster he inherited, and he has not been shy about saying he has no idea where he’ll find the speedy playmakers required in the offense he runs. The lack of depth on his offensive line, while not a state secret, is still something the former regime might not have been willing to openly call “a problem”, as Meyer has in referring to his second string unit.

This is viewed by some people as thinly-veiled criticism of the previous regime(s), but he is not overhyping the progress he and his staff have made since taking over either. “We’re doing fairly well,” Meyer said in his conference call with media on Wednesday. “The try hard is there...the will is there...but there are weaknesses”. Call it what you will...managing expectations...or just telling it like it is...there is a distinct difference in the way the head man communicates with the media. For the most part I think, it’s a refreshing and welcome one.


Projecting the 2012 Starters and Key Backups

Based on reports from the practices that are open to media members, plus interviews with coaches, we’re able to make some assumptions about who you’ll be seeing on Saturdays this fall. Counting their two kicking specialists, the 2012 Buckeyes will have 18 starters returning, with nine on defense, and seven on offense. Here’s the way they’re lining up in spring ball.


Fragel2Offensive Line: The starting unit has converted tight end Reid Fragel (pictured) at right tackle and Jack Mewhort at left tackle. Mewhort played mostly at guard last year, but he has always shown the versatility to play anywhere along the line, and he is generally regarded as the Buckeyes best offensive lineman going into 2012. The coaches have given Fragel (6’8”, and a sculpted 298 lbs) high marks for his progress in converting to the tackle spot, citing his length and his quick feet as well-suited for their zone-blocking schemes.

Sophomore Andrew Norwell (LG) and junior Marcus Hall (RG) are pretty well set as the starting guards, and junior Corey Linsley is established as the starter at center. Coach Warinner has called Hall a pleasant surprise this spring, and Linsley has clearly beaten out Brian Bobek as the successor to Mike Brewster. Promising true freshman Taylor Decker enrolled early and is already the backup at both tackle positions, and the coaches say Antonio Underwood is currently the leading candidate to back up either guard. The starting unit has lots of experience, and with the exception of the senior Fragel, could stay together as a unit through 2013. Some help is on the way with the remaining freshmen arriving in August, but OSU fans might as well just start praying now for an injury-free season for the O-Line starters.

Running Backs: There is plenty of talent returning at running back this year, and freshman Brionte Dunn is being given every opportunity to show he can contribute early. Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith (#2 below) have been splitting the duty with Dunn this spring, and each has had his moments, although most practice observers say no one back has really separated himself from the pack. Hall is working in the slot quite a bit in Meyer’s multiple-receiver sets.
Running back should be one of the really interesting spots to watch next Saturday.

Senior Zach Boren is the undisputed starter at fullback, and Meyer has been lavish in his praise of Boren’s leadership on and off the field, tagging him (along with John Simon) as a potential captain for this year’s team. Adam Homan is the likely backup there once again.

RodSmith3Wide Receivers: Early in camp, sophomores Evan Spencer and Devin Smith were working at the wideouts with the first unit, with junior Chris Fields in the slot. Philly Brown and T.Y. Williams were running with the second team along with early arriving freshman Mike Thomas. Sophomore Verlon Reed, who won a starting job last year as a freshman, is limited this spring as he recovers from the knee surgery he underwent last fall. Williams has impressed so far, showing better hands than he demonstrated a year ago, and Meyer has singled out Smith as “a speed guy” who can challenge defenses. This offense should have enough snaps for all these guys given the fact that he’ll be using them four or five at a time. That said, the starting receiver spots are among the ones still very much up in the air, as the coaches wait for one or more of them to make an impression.

Tight Ends: Jake Stoneburner is the returning veteran, coming back for his fifth year in the program, and he figures to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the change in offensive style. He will be backed up by two promising second-year players in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Vannett redshirted a year ago while Heuerman got his feet wet in game action. Meyer has expressed his satisfaction with the talent and depth he sees at one of the key positions in his offense.

Quarterbacks: Braxton Miller is of course the incumbent and the starter, although Meyer and Herman have also been favorably impressed with what they have seen out of Miller’s primary backup Kenny Guiton. Herman says Miller has thrown the ball better than he had anticipated.   Cardale Jones, the freshman from Glenville (via Fork Union Academy), enrolled early and has had a good camp. Jones has great size and a big arm but remains a project, and if he has to play, it means bad things have happened to other people. Still, it should be fun for Buckeye fans to get their first look at the kid next week.



HankinsSpring1Defensive Line: Probably the strongest unit on the 2012 team, the defensive line is anchored by returning All-American John Simon and Jonathan Hankins. In the absence of Nathan Williams, who is being held out of football activities this spring after microfracture knee surgery last year, Simon has assumed the “Leo” defensive end role in practices, while a slimmed down, 317 lb. Hankins (pictured) returns at the 3-technique tackle spot. Garrett Goebel remains the starter at the nose, and junior Adam Bellamy is trying to fight off fast-rising sophomore Michael Bennett to be the starter at the strongside end position.

The depth of this unit is evident in the presence of up-and-comers like the Canton McKinley duo of Steve Miller and Se’Von Pittman backing up Simon at Leo, and Joel Hale and Chase Farris performing well enough to earn praise from the coaches as backups at nose and DT respectively.  Pittman suffered a minor knee sprain at practice this week, but the reports on his spring camp have been glowing. All that is in advance of the arrival of 5-star talents Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington in August. Position coach Luke Fickell says he would like to use an eight-man rotation, and there’s little doubt he’ll have the horses to do just that.

Linebackers: Perhaps the best news for the OSU linebacker situation is that sophomore Curtis Grant, the nation’s top-ranked freshman linebacker coming into last season, is beginning to play up to his press clippings. Grant was limited to special teams duty in 2011, but he has learned to think less and react more this spring, and he is practicing with the first team in the middle, ahead of last year’s starter Storm Klein, who has been slowed by a minor injury. Last year’s freshman sensation Ryan Shazier returns to man the weakside (Will) spot, having gained 16 pounds (to 226) without losing any of his speed. Look out. Senior Etienne Sabino gained confidence and productivity as the 2011 season progressed, playing his best game in the Gator Bowl. He has dropped some weight to 237, and is the projected starter at the strongside (Sam) linebacker.

Two early enrolling freshmen backers are currently working as backups on the outside, with Josh Perry behind Sabino at Sam, and Luke Roberts backing up Shazier on the weak side. Conner Crowell is coming off a season lost to surgery, and is working as a backup in the middle. The two-deep could well be shaken up in the fall when Meyer’s crop of freshman “speed” linebackers shows up in the form of Jamal Marcus, Cam Williams and David Perkins. At the very least, the youngsters should be visible on special teams in the fall. This unit will lose only Sabino and Klein after this year, with everyone else having two or more years of eligibility remaining after 2012.

Defensive Backs: The Buckeyes’ secondary returns intact from last season, with Travis Howard and Bradley Roby at the corners, and C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant at safety. Until the freshmen arrive, this unit is a bit thin at cornerback, where freshman Tyvis Powell and sophomore Doran Grant are the backups, along with Adam Griffin. Grant has reportedly had an impressive spring so far, looking like the top-ranked prospect he was a year ago. Howard has been dinged up with a minor injury, but Roby is reportedly in top form, and looking like a true shutdown corner going into his sophomore season

Corey Brown looks to be fully recovered from the severe knee injury that cost him parts of the last two seasons, and is backing up Barnett at one safety spot, and also practicing behind Bryant at the Star (nickel) position. Senior Orhian Johnson would probably be the third safety on the field when they go to the nickel, with redshirt freshman Ron Tanner, and Jamie Wood, who is limited this spring with an injury, the other safety backups. Howard and Johnson are the only seniors in a very experienced yet youthful group of DB’s. Reserve help arrives in August with hard-hitters Najee Murray and Devan Bogard at safety, and Armani Reeves at cornerback among the freshmen.


Drew Basil and Ben Buchanan return as the Buckeyes’ starting placekicker and punter respectively. Sophomore walk-on Russell Doup backs up Basil, and media reports list a freshman walk-on Kevin Niehoff as the backup punter. Incoming freshman wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos was a punter in high school, and he could be called upon to give that position more depth when he enrolls this summer. Stay healthy Drew and Ben!


We Don’t Have Tackles

Decker1Spring practice is about halfway to the April 21 Spring Game, an event Meyer says he would prefer to play as a full Scarlet vs Gray game, with two full teams, as opposed to an offense vs. defense scrimmage. The decision seems to come down to a question of whether he can put two full offensive lines together without having to play guys the entire game on both sides. Meyer’s roster of O-linemen is pretty thin until the rest of the freshmen arrive...and even then.

The ranks were thinned even further this week when it was reported Tuesday that freshman early enrollee Jacoby Boren underwent surgery for a torn labrum. Boren had shown well this spring, working his way into a battle for the No. 2 center spot behind projected starter Corey Linsley. He had been singled out by Meyer, who called him “a tough nut” early in spring camp. Another of the incoming freshman offensive linemen, Kyle Dodson, the big tackle from Cleveland Heights, also had labrum surgery after his senior season, so his readiness to contribute in 2012 was already in question.

All of this makes the early spring performance of freshman offensive tackle Taylor Decker all the more encouraging and important. The 6’8”, 310 lb kid from Vandalia has impressed line coach Ed Warinner enough that he is already the Buckeyes first backup at both tackle spots before his Butler High School classmates have attended their senior prom.

Decker (#68 at right) has the long arms, athleticism and quickness favored by Warrinner and Meyer for their spread scheme, and he has picked up everything they have thrown at him so far in the mental aspect of the game. It’s a good thing too. With his characteristic candor, Meyer commented the other day, “We don’t have tackles”. That predicament might just dictate a different format for the April 21st outing at the Horseshoe.

The Spring Game on 4/21 will be televised live on Big Ten Network, beginning at 1:30 p.m. If your cable provider carries BTN, you can also watch BTN on your mobile device. Search your app store for BTN2Go, or go to


In his Wednesday conference call with the media, Urban Meyer responded to questions arising from an article by Matt Hayes of the Sporting News that appeared a few days ago. Hayes uses just one named source in a report that revisits well-worn criticisms of Meyer’s tenure at Florida, and breaks little new ground. From my perspective, Matt Hayes is an investigative reporter in much the same way that Semih Erden is an NBA center, but you may find something to be concerned about in his piece. I thought the PD’s Doug Lesmerises had a thoughtful and balanced take on it Tuesday in his OSU blog. Judge for yourself by reading at all three links.


Meyer’s 2013 recruiting class grew to eight this week. On Tuesday he got a commitment from Marcus Baugh, Scout’s 7th-ranked tight end, from Riverside, California. Here are some of Baugh’s junior year highlights. That short glimpse of the young man shows a ton of athleticism and speed for an tight end. Some of his defensive highlights look pretty good too.

Earlier this month the Bucks picked up verbals from St. Louis running back Ezekiel Elliott (Scout #9 RB) and Solon safety Jayme Thompson (Scout #31), who had previously verbaled to West Virginia. Some of Elliott’s highlights are here. The complete list of 2013 commits to date is here.


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(photo credits - Jim Davidson -

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