Ohio State Buckeyes: spring predictions 14

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 1

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeTyvis Powell
Jason Mowry/Icon SMITyvis Powell played well for the Buckeyes in 2013, but he will have a bigger role next season.
No. 1: The secondary earns rave reviews

No unit will be under closer inspection this spring than the secondary with a new coach, three new starters and huge task in front of it after the Buckeyes struggled so mightily to stop the pass last season.

But all those fresh faces and all that room to grow also allows for the defensive backs to make the biggest impression in the spring, and the Buckeyes are in position to turn a few heads and get back to the level the program is accustomed to defensively by the fall.

With Bradley Roby off to the NFL a year early, Christian Bryant's appeals for a medical redshirt denied and C.J. Barnett out of eligibility, there are critical holes to fill. Few teams in the nation, though, can match the talent the Buckeyes have acquired in the secondary in the last couple recruiting cycles, and all that work is poised to pay off as the youngsters move into the starting lineup.

Tyvis Powell already did that as a redshirt freshman last fall, and he proved he can be counted on after spending his first season as a regular playing in nickel and dime packages before starting at safety in the Discover Orange Bowl. He was joined on the back line in that game by heralded recruit Vonn Bell, who flashed the athleticism that made him one of the nation's most sought-after recruits last year with a leaping, one-handed interception that restarted the hype for his sophomore campaign.

At cornerback, Doran Grant played better and more reliably than perhaps he received credit for, and there will be a spirited battle to land the job on the other side of the formation during camp. Armani Reeves might have the inside track when practice opens given his experience, but Gareon Conley and Eli Apple will be legitimate threats after watching from the sideline during their first seasons on campus.

And all of those guys will be getting watched by a fresh set of eyes with new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash taking over and implementing his more aggressive approach to shutting down passing attacks. He might be getting monitored just as closely as the players as Urban Meyer takes a more hands-on approach to getting his defense fixed and ready to contend for at least a Big Ten title.

That job probably won't be done by the time the spring game rolls around in April. But it seems like a safe bet the Buckeyes will be able to see plenty of progress by then, regardless of how much further they might still have to go.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 2

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

No. 2: The diamond formation returns

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe versatile Dontre Wilson could be one of many to get touches in the diamond formation.
The cupboard was already overflowing a season ago, and Ohio State intended to use as many ingredients as possible before it found out it could get by using the same one as often as possible as the main dish.

The kitchen is every bit as well stocked this spring as it was at this time last year, but the Buckeyes no longer have Carlos Hyde at their disposal as a complement to Braxton Miller in the backfield, which may well bring a little more variety to the rushing attack.

Urban Meyer had intentions of spreading around the carries when he unveiled a full-house backfield in a diamond formation during camp last year, using three of his talented tailbacks at the same time along with Miller to give the option attack even more firepower, keep defenses guessing and, perhaps, keep everybody happy with their workload. Ultimately, the combination of Hyde and Miller was enough to again give Ohio State one of the nation's best ground games, and Hyde finished the season with 127 more attempts than any other running back -- despite missing three weeks of action due to suspension.

With the stockpile of both traditional running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn and a growing collection of hybrid weapons led by Dontre Wilson, the diamond formation and a more even distribution of touches figures to be featured during spring practice. Maybe that particular package won't end up becoming a staple of the playbook in the fall, but it's one more wrinkle that can make life miserable for opposing defensive coordinators and a scheme that could potentially take some of the pressure off Miller as a rushing threat.

If nothing else, maybe it will simply provide a chance for the coaching staff to evaluate a handful of options to replace Hyde at once. The competition for playing time is already going to be fierce in the backfield, and it might suit Ohio State's interests best if it can name more than one winner.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 3

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesAdolphus Washington made a splash in 2012 as a freshman, but injuries slowed him a bit as a sophomore.
No. 3: Adolphus Washington gets back in the mix

There wasn't anything wrong with the supplemental role Washington carved out as a sophomore, unless it was judged against the outsized expectations for him.

Physically gifted with natural strength at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds and quickness seldom seen at that size, Washington was supposed to be ready for his star turn last fall, the other half of a deadly defensive bookend on the line with Noah Spence. Instead, slowed at times by injury and then replaced in the starting lineup, freshman Joey Bosa became the breakout star and Washington was forced to chip in on the fringes of the spotlight.

He did just that, and there is certainly no shame in producing 36 tackles, four tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. But clearly there was more expected of Washington heading into the season after running roughshod through spring camp last year against Ohio State's respected veteran blockers, which made those contributions seem underwhelming thanks solely to the high bar he helped set for himself.

That was obviously offset by the emergence of Bosa, and the rising sophomore only figures to get better with another season under his belt. Aside from a two-game suspension to start the season, Spence isn't likely to be leaving his spot in the lineup, either, but that doesn't mean Washington can't expand on his role from 2013 and boost his entry in the box score next fall.

For one thing, Washington has the versatility to play inside or outside, and with his big frame, he has the ability to play at tackle and not give up anything against the run. With his pass-rushing skills, he is undoubtedly an asset in third-down situations while playing alongside both Bosa, Spence and Michael Bennett, a group that combined for 24.5 sacks last season and could cause a few nightmares for offensive coordinators next fall.

Even if Washington isn't able to lock down one spot in the starting lineup to call his own consistently, he's still a safe bet to make a more significant impact as a junior. And that effort starts in March.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 4

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's still a week left until spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for them. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key positional battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should go down in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesOhio State quarterback Braxton Miller must improve his passing this spring.
No. 4: Braxton Miller takes another step forward as a passer

The trend is easy to identify on the stat sheet, and the improvements Miller has made as a passer have been hard to ignore over the last three seasons.

The numbers at the end of his junior campaign, though, made it just as clear that Ohio State's signal-caller isn't yet a finished product, leaving him more room to grow when camp opens in March and continuing well after the spring game. And while the minor shoulder surgery that was performed last week will limit him during workouts, it might also be a benefit for him during a camp that was always going to emphasize improvements on the mental side of the game.

His physical performances in March and April have been useful in monitoring his development as a passer, and it was another breakout performance in the spring game a year ago that provided an early sign he was ready to jump from a 58-percent passer to a guy capable of completing 64 percent of his throws. There were similar signs the year before that during the spring after posting a completion percentage of 54 percent as a freshman, and that upward trend makes it easy for the Buckeyes to get excited about what he might be capable of doing as a senior.

Miller's legs are always going to make life difficult for opposing defenses, and by all accounts the coaching staff doesn’t question the talent in his arm. But it's taking his ability to read defenses, know the offense inside and out and make consistently intelligent decisions up one more level that may truly allow the spread offense to keep even the most elite teams off-balance, which the Buckeyes couldn't do enough in the Big Ten championship against Michigan State as their national-title hopes collapsed in the fourth quarter.

Taking the aerial attack to a higher gear isn't his responsibility alone, of course, and Ohio State will have to plug holes on the offensive line and find a few new weapons at wide receiver as part of the process. But the center of attention will always be Miller, and even while watching he should have a chance to grow and focus on the part of the game that has the most room for improvement.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 5

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's still more than a week left on that wait to hit the practice field again, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for them. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key positional battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, now we'll make a handful of predictions for what should go down in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCan Buckeyes wideout Michael Thomas have a breakout season in 2014?
No. 5: Michael Thomas has another big camp.

His springs have been almost unforgettable.

After a horrendous season for Ohio State's receivers in 2011 with no player recording more than 14 catches, Thomas burst on the scene and provided instant optimism for the future of the spread offense with 12 receptions in one memorable outing in the spring game before his freshman season. He followed that up with another prolific set of workouts a year ago, dominating individual drills, making difficult catches look routine and displaying some jaw-dropping athleticism on the perimeter.

His falls have provided almost nothing worth remembering at all.

There were only 3 receptions during that debut season in 2012. Last season, Thomas didn't even see the field and wound up taking a redshirt, though he actually did step on the turf during the brawl at Michigan for his only action of what at this time a year ago seemed likely to be a big sophomore campaign.

Now Thomas appears like he's already at a critical crossroads in his career with the Buckeyes, and both he and the coaching staff could use another head-turning spring from the talented wideout -- provided, of course, that the third time actually is charmed and becomes a springboard into the season.

Ohio State is losing leading receiver Philly Brown and another veteran in Chris Fields, leaving playing time available on the perimeter for an offense that will emphasize the passing game during camp in an effort to find more balance with the play calling. Thomas has a strong relationship with quarterback Braxton Miller, he has all the tools to be an effective weapon and by now there should be no uncertainty at all with the playbook after two seasons in the program. Last spring, Thomas overpowered defensive backs when challenged physically, he made acrobatic catches on deep throws and with his 6-foot-3, 202-pound frame, he presents an inviting target for intermediate routes to help move the chains.

More of the same should be expected leading into April and another exhibition opportunity to show his stuff. The next step will be finally building off it in August.

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