Spring game: Five lessons learned

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
9:00
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The book is closed on Urban Meyer's second spring camp with Ohio State, and the final pages weren't short on entertainment.

The Buckeyes hit the road for their annual exhibition on Saturday, heading down to Cincinnati for a 31-14 game won by the Scarlet that featured some familiar sights for the reigning Big Ten Leaders Division champs -- and a few developments that should be encouraging for Meyer heading into the summer.

1. Braxton Miller is still developing

The coaching staff has openly wondered what it might have been able to do with an extra year molding Miller before he was thrust into action as a true freshman, and the way the junior continues to show improvement offered another reminder why that would have been so valuable.

Miller's mechanics aren't immune to breakdowns, but his footwork, accuracy and decision-making all looked noticeably better on Saturday. Granted, it was an exhibition setting and there wasn't all that much pressure on him to perform. Miller didn't have the benefit of really using his legs to make plays, though, forcing him to rely on his arm in the pass-heavy scrimmage. He passed the test with 16 completions in 25 attempts, throwing for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns without a turnover.

2. Anticipation grows for sophomore defensive ends

The brief glimpses of what Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington could do as freshmen last fall already raised expectations for the guys tasked with replacing John Simon and Nathan Williams as the bookends up front defensively. But the talented sophomores might have sent the bar into another stratosphere as they dominated pretty much everybody who tried to get in their path on the way to the quarterback.

The sack numbers might be a bit misleading since Miller only had to be touched to be ruled down in his non-contact jersey, but putting seven of them on the stats sheet jumps out anyway. The Buckeyes also didn't have their full complement of starting linemen to match up with Spence and Washington, but the two have had more than their share of success against guys like veteran Jack Mewhort in practice throughout spring. The final workout just served as another reminder that the rebuilding of the line appears to be ahead of schedule.

3. Receivers going deep

An infusion of young talent at wide receiver is coming soon, but even without the heralded group of signees on campus yet, the Buckeyes appear to have more options at their disposal on the perimeter thanks to the development of the targets Meyer inherited a year ago.

Ohio State already knows what it has in Philly Brown and Devin Smith, though they both have taken some strides since the end of last season and combined for 10 grabs, 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on Saturday. But the emergence of Chris Fields as a potential starter, the improvements made by Evan Spencer as a valuable reserve and the continuing growth of Michael Thomas all offer more flexibility for the spread offense in its second season at Ohio State. And more help is on the way.

4. Man in the middle

The Buckeyes might have preferred not to need so much patience, but Curtis Grant appears to be finally ready to reward them.

Now preparing for his junior season, the former acclaimed recruit could at last be able to live up to the hype and seems to have his game on track for what might amount to a make-or-break year for the middle linebacker. Grant was active on Saturday with 8 tackles and a sack, moving well and with purpose to wrap up a spring that earned positive reviews from Meyer and the defensive staff. The linebackers as a whole still have a few more doubts swirling around them than the defensive line as part of the overhaul to the front seven, but the ability to plug Grant in as the starter in the middle helps alleviate some of the concern for the Buckeyes.

5. Right tackle battle to be continued

The absence of Mewhort for the entire game gave the Buckeyes a chance to watch both candidates for the right tackle job simultaneously, and the extended audition did little to provide clarity as Taylor Decker and Chase Farris fight to see who will complement the senior on the other end of the line.

Their protection of Miller left a lot to be desired, and while Spence and Washington certainly deserve plenty of credit for the disruptions, the Buckeyes are going to need one of those young guys to become the fifth starter for a group that is returning four from the best offense in the Big Ten. It also didn't help that Corey Linsley was also a spectator instead of the snapper on Saturday, but Decker and Farris had the entire afternoon to make one last impression before the offseason -- and Meyer certainly would have preferred something more memorable.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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