Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State spring forward

Spring forward: KR/PR breakdown

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
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Corey Brown AP Photo/Tony DejakCorey "Philly" Brown returned punts for touchdowns against Nebraska (above) and Wisconsin in 2012.

With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

KICKOFF RETURN/PUNT RETURN

  • Who's back: The jokes about Philly Brown not being able to make anybody miss at wide receiver had already started subsiding, but he put them to bed for good on special teams. The rising senior put two exclamation points on a breakout individual season with a pair of punt returns for touchdowns, including a pivotal one in the overtime thriller on the road against Wisconsin that helped save the undefeated campaign. The kickoff return gig wasn't quite as stable and the unit overall was never able to really provide the type of spark coach Urban Meyer wants in that phase of the game. But before a freshman class loaded with speed arrives in the fall, he's got a handful of guys with experience to look at this spring -- starting with running backs Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn, wide receiver Devin Smith and perhaps cornerback Bradley Roby.
  • New faces: The Buckeyes have two new additions already on campus at a skill position, though Eli Apple and Cam Burrows will likely be focusing more on learning the schemes and techniques at cornerback than trying to provide competition at the return slots. But when training camp rolls around, though, Meyer might be looking closely at burners such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, James Clark, Corey Smith or touted tailback Ezekiel Elliott to help carry the load.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Brown should head into camp with the edge on the punt-return unit, with fellow wideout Devin Smith in the second slot. Kickoff return could easily be staging a wide-open competition, though Rod Smith and Dunn ended last season as the top two options and figure to start camp there as well.
  • Numbers game: The Buckeyes finished the season ranked just No. 84 in the country in average kickoff return yardage, managing less than 20 yards per attempt and never posting one longer than Rod Smith's 36-yarder. The junior running back was also the most consistent threat among the handful of returners the Buckeyes tried, leading the team with an average of 23.3 yards on his 13 attempts.
  • One to watch: The influx of speed at the skill positions in the fall should give Meyer even more options to play with, but he could be faced with the same decision then that he does now. Is it worth exposing Roby to a few more hits to take advantage of his speed? The junior cornerback has a gear that few other athletes can match and it's not hard to imagine him putting that speed to good use with the ball in his hands on special teams. But he's also integral on defense with his lockdown coverage and disruptive ability in the secondary, which will give the Buckeyes something to ponder as they try to find some explosiveness in the return game.
  • He said it: "We maybe didn't have the home-run hitter, explosive, open-space player on offense, but you know what? Some guys really grew up and did a good job for us. Philly Brown did a nice job." -- Meyer on signing day

Spring forward: Kicking game breakdown

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

[+] EnlargeDrew Basil
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil is the incumbent kicker and is likely to take on punting duties in 2013 as well.
KICKER/PUNTER

  • Who's back: With all the firepower the Buckeyes have returning and an aggressive coach who would clearly prefer never to need anybody to boot the football, the loss of punter Ben Buchanan may not be that big of a deal. But no offense is going to be perfect on every possession no matter how much Ohio State might score this fall, which makes filling the void the senior left a high priority this spring -- and could give kicker Drew Basil plenty to do. The Buckeyes recruited and received a commitment from a punter before Johnny Townsend ultimately elected to stay closer to home and sign with Florida, which has created something of a dilemma for Meyer and newly promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs. But Basil does have one more year left to contribute with the program, and he will be the leading candidate at both positions heading into camp next week.
  • New face: Frank Epitropoulos isn't new to the program, but he could wind up being a fresh option to fill the hole at punter. The graduate of nearby Upper Arlington was recruited as a wide receiver and was listed at the position last fall during his first year with the Buckeyes, but the big leg he showed off as a three-way player in high school when averaged more than 42 yards per punt will make him a candidate as a specialist and could help take some of the burden off Basil.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Basil should enter spring practice as the starter at both positions, with Kyle Clinton backing him up at kicker and Epitropoulos potentially pushing for work at punter.
  • Numbers game: Meyer's fearless approach paid off in pressure situations as the Buckeyes led the country in fourth-down conversion percentage last fall, but it doesn't leave much of a sample size to judge Basil's accuracy as a kicker. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the rising senior had attempted just six field goals, making four of them. The Buckeyes needed him to deliver against rival Michigan to close out the undefeated campaign, though, and he doubled his total by making four of his five tries in the victory.
  • One to watch: There aren't many candidates, leaving Epitropoulos as the most intriguing option for the Buckeyes among the specialists. His numbers in high school suggest he has the strength and ability to potentially be productive at the next level, and with Ohio State loading up with dangerous weapons at wide receiver and creating stiff competition for playing time at the skill positions, handling the punting duties could provide a clearer path for Epitropoulos to contribute.
  • He said it: "Kerry Coombs is an excellent coach who has a great deal of experience and expertise with special teams. He is an outstanding teacher, an excellent motivator and he has a true passion for special teams." -- Meyer earlier this month

Spring forward: Safety breakdown

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

[+] EnlargeChristian Bryant
Greg Bartram/US PresswireChristian Bryant will return as a starting safety in 2013.
SAFETIES

  • Who's back: The Buckeyes will lead from the back, with both experience and leadership expected to provide a trickle-down effect for the defense with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett returning for one more season together as the starting tandem at safety. Ohio State even has a veteran waiting in line to come off the bench and potentially help in the nickel package with senior Corey Brown providing yet another old hand as the program reloads in front of the secondary. There will be six new starters in the front seven and one more at cornerback, but the Buckeyes are as stable as they possibly could be at the back of the defense with Bryant and Barnett poised to close their careers on a high note.
  • New face: The huge target the Buckeyes officially landed on national signing day won't be around to add depth or potentially crack into the rotation until fall practice, though there's already plenty of buzz building about what Vonn Bell could provide in the secondary when he arrives. The athletic, 6-foot-1, 190-pounder should be walking into a situation without the pressure that can come from having to contribute a whole lot right away thanks to the presence of those talented seniors -- though coach Urban Meyer will likely be counting on them to get Bell up to speed as well.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Bryant and Barnett will be back in their familiar spots, with Brown currently the favorite to be the first man up in the nickel package and a valuable option in reserve. The Buckeyes were bitterly disappointed to watch rising sophomore Devan Bogard's first season with the program end with a knee injury last fall, but he figures to be in the mix for work at some point, and classmates Tyvis Powell and Najee Murray could offer something as well.
  • Numbers game: Barnett was slowed by a nagging ankle injury for part of the season, but when he and Bryant were on the field together, the production was hard to miss. The two combined for 127 tackles, three takedowns for a loss, three interceptions, 21 passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Barnett missed three games and took some time to shake the rust off after that as well, but there's plenty of evidence of how effective those two safeties can be in the back end.
  • One to watch: The clock is ticking for Brown, and there will be more competition for his job heading into fall camp,with Bell leading the charge. The Buckeyes already have some sophomores on campus capable of pushing the veteran for playing time, and Brown will certainly need to make an impression with his existing knowledge of the defense and a higher level of consistency than he's shown in his few opportunities to contribute over the last couple years. Departed senior Orhian Johnson proved how important it was to have a reliable upperclassman ready to complement Bryant and Barnett, and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers will be watching closely to see if he's got another one he can count on when the season rolls around.
  • He said it: "I've been doing this a long time, but this group with the young men that are [already] here in [cornerbacks] Eli Apple and Cam Burrows and the guys we just added to that group -- if the development goes as we think it will go, we feel like this is a very talented group which should be able to help Ohio State do special things." -- Withers on signing day

Spring forward: Cornerback breakdown

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

CORNERBACKS
      [+] EnlargeBradley Roby
      Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesBradley Roby will return as one of the top corners in the nation.

    • Who's back: Bradley Roby took his time weighing his options, so Ohio State had no choice but to wait and see if it was replacing both members of a talented twosome or just half of it. Eventually it got the good news it had been hoping for and largely expecting, with Roby ultimately deciding to stick around and build on a banner season as a redshirt sophomore. With or without him heading into 2013, the Buckeyes had been loading up on the recruiting trail and signed what appears to be the best crop of defensive backs in the country, and with Travis Howard moving on to the next level, they could see some action opposite Roby pretty quickly. But there is one other returner who could block the path to the starting lineup after Doran Grant impressed when called upon last fall and could be even better heading into his junior campaign.
    • New faces: The Buckeyes will no shortage of talented cover guys to sort through in the freshman class, and two of them are already on campus to give the coaching staff an advance look at what they can do. Eli Apple was the crown jewel in RecruitingNation's third-rated classl, and he could make himself a factor for playing time right away thanks to the extra reps and head start he'll be afforded in spring practice. The same is true for Cam Burrows, the ninth-ranked cornerback in the nation coming out of high school and another option who could potentially fill a short-term and long-term void for the Buckeyes.
    • Projected spring depth chart: Roby is locked in at one cornerback spot, and Grant should have the edge when the Buckeyes report to work next week thanks to his experience and knowledge of the defense. But Apple and Burrows have the physical tools to push for first-team reps, and rising sophomore Armani Reeves also caught the eye of the coaching staff last fall with his contributions on special teams.
    • Numbers game: No secondary in the Big Ten was more opportunistic than Ohio State's, which tied for the conference lead with 14 interceptions and made quarterbacks think twice about testing its defensive backs all year long. But half of those picks belonged to players who won't be back this spring, led by Howard and his conference-leading four interceptions and two more from safety Orhian Johnson. If Roby is able to turn a handful of his head-turning 17 passes broken up into interceptions, though, the Buckeyes could offset those losses somewhat easily.

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Spring forward: MLBs breakdown

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
9:00
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

MIDDLE LINEBACKERS
      [+] EnlargeCurtis Grant
      Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMiddle linebacker Curtis Grant is looking to finally break through in 2014.

    • Who's back: Almost as suddenly as he arrived, Zach Boren's run at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes was over. Now they're left once again to find somebody capable of quarterbacking the defense, and as remarkable as Boren's story was at the position, it also underscored just how little depth the program had there at the halfway point of last season. Curtis Grant was supposed to be the answer after winning the starting job in spring practice and keeping it throughout training camp, but the rising junior ultimately wasn't a factor for the second year in a row and was passed on the depth chart twice before finishing as a third-team afterthought. The former elite recruit still has upside, though, and the Buckeyes will be monitoring him closely in a likely battle with sophomore Camren Williams to take over that critical spot in the heart of the defense.
    • New face: Trey Johnson drew praise on signing day from the Ohio State coaching staff for his advanced football intelligence, and Mike Mitchell's eye-popping athleticism is hard to ignore. Both of those traits would certainly go a long way in helping them handle a wide range of responsibilities while balancing the often challenging transition to the next level and potentially becoming an answer in the middle. But they won't be around to compete on the practice field with the rest of the linebackers until August, which certainly favors the returners.

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Spring forward: OLBs breakdown

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
9:00
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier improved markedly over the 2012 season.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

  • Who's back: Only one first-teamer is returning at the second level for the Buckeyes, but Ryan Shazier is certainly a fine place to start. The junior emerged as one of the most prolific defenders in the Big Ten a year ago, and if he's not a household name around the country yet, he should be soon as the hype builds leading into next season. Shazier does need a sidekick on the other side of the formation after Etienne Sabino exhausted his eligibility, and Ohio State has a handful of rising sophomores to sort through in March and April as it reloads the front seven. Joshua Perry, David Perkins, Camren Williams and Jamal Marcus all got their feet wet in some form or fashion as freshmen, and mixing and matching to find the right spots and best combination at linebacker will be at the top of the priority list this spring.
  • New face: The Buckeyes already have high hopes for the two highly touted linebackers they landed on national signing day, but they won't get to see what Mike Mitchell or Trey Johnson can do on the practice field until August. The coaching staff cast a wide net at the position a year ago, though, and the development of the second-year guys who weren't exactly regulars last fall will be critical.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Shazier will be back in his familiar role at weakside linebacker, with the athletic Perkins likely filling in behind him. Perry appears to be at the head of the line to replace Sabino on the opposite side, with Perkins battling for the gig as well.
  • Numbers game: The newcomers did get a taste of what college football is all about right away, but chances to contribute in meaningful situations on defense were hard to come by. Shazier and his senior counterparts rarely came off the field a year ago, and in limited work defensively and more regular appearances on special teams, the quartet of Perkins, Marcus, Perry and Williams combined for 22 tackles. That total, obviously, will have to improve dramatically -- and there will be no shortage of chances to do it.
  • One to watch: The way the coaches raved about the natural ability and the tireless way Marcus competed during training camp last August, it seemed like he was poised to make a substantial impact right away. Ultimately the rigors of one of the more difficult positions to play as a true freshman seemed to slow him down, but with a full season now behind him and the benefits of spring practice now ahead of him, Marcus should be in much better position to put his skills on display and potentially work his way into more playing time as a sophomore.
  • He said it: "Really, if you think about it, Shazier is the only experience we've got in the front seven coming back next year -- [only one] with a lot of experience. I think with that whole group, it's going to be an exciting time. I know I'm excited. We've got some young guys, maybe at linebacker we're a lot thinner with just depth and numbers, but it's going to be an exciting time. It's a big winter, and it's going to be a big spring." -- defensive coordinator Luke Fickell on signing day

Spring forward: DTs breakdown

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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Johnathan HankinsEric Francis/Getty ImagesOhio State will have to find a way to replace Johnathan Hankins.
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

    • Who's back: The void in the middle of the defensive line is substantial, but that doesn't mean it's likely to become a black hole for Ohio State as it transitions to life without Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. Losing a talent like Hankins early to the NFL draft was a major blow to the defense even if it was expected, and Goebel's senior season was quietly productive and steady even if it wasn't flashy as the combination of the two big guys plugged gaps and often made rushing up the middle a fruitless proposition for opponents. But there are talented guys in reserve up front, even if there doesn't appear to be all that much depth heading into spring practice. Michael Bennett and his versatile set of skills will be put to use on the interior, and junior Joel Hale and sophomore Tommy Schutt both have the ability to handle the first-team load after filling in off the bench a year ago. Those three guys will be the focal point, charged with picking up where Hankins and Goebel left off.
    • New face: The Buckeyes have two recent signees already on campus and ready to go to work in the spring, though both are listed as defensive ends and don't appear to have the size needed to battle at the interior spots. But either way, Tracy Sprinkle (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) and Tyquan Lewis (6-foot-3, 223) could potentially allow line coach Mike Vrabel to tinker with his rotation a bit, particularly with somebody like inside-outside guy Adolphus Washington who is capable of playing multiple positions. Natural tackles Michael Hill, Joey Bosa, Billy Price and Donovan Munger will bulk up the group in August.

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Spring forward: DEs breakdown

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
9:00
AM ET
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore in 2013 of an undefeated season is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
    • Who's back: The Buckeyes don't exactly have a shortage of talented defenders returning to the fold up front, but it's what they're missing that will dominate the discussion heading into spring and the summer workouts. The storied career of John Simon is over after one more dynamic season on and off the field, and after battling back from injuries to contribute on the other end of the line, Nathan Williams is out of eligibility also. There's never been much doubt about how bright the futures are for Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, and in limited action as true freshmen last fall, they showed flashes what they can do. But the Buckeyes won't need potential when September rolls around -- they'll need production, and those two and rising junior Steve Miller are at the head of the line and waiting for redshirt freshman Se'Von Pittman to join them.

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Spring forward: Guards, center analysis

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
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Corey LinsleyJim Owens/Icon SMICorey Linsley is expected to continue to add stability on the offensive line.
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

    • Who's back: The central nervous system of the offense returns completely intact, starting with the anchor who will be looking to build off a banner year in the middle of everything. Corey Linsley's transition to center went perhaps more smoothly than anybody at Ohio State could have expected, and in addition to limiting himself to a handful of errant snaps, his ability to handle the mental load was critical for an attack that wants to push the tempo. With both guards returning on either side of him with Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell also trying to take their games to a higher level, the Buckeyes are loaded in important spots up front and capable of putting up even more points than they did in Urban Meyer's first year with the program.

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Spring forward: OTs breakdown

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
9:00
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesLeft tackle Jack Mewhort is part of a unit Urban Meyer says is much improved.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES

  • Who's back: The line as a whole returns almost entirely in one piece, but there is one huge cog missing heading into the second season of the spread offense at Ohio State. Jack Mewhort blossomed into one of the nastiest, stoutest blockers in the Big Ten last year, and the Buckeyes are expecting even more from him both on the field and off as a senior. They'll need that production and stability from him on the left side with Reid Fragel out of eligibility and heading to the NFL after his banner campaign at right tackle, transforming himself from a reserve tight end into one of the most reliable members of the offensive front. After dueling with Fragel nearly all the way through training camp in August, Taylor Decker is primed to take over the starting duties opposite Mewhort as the Buckeyes try to take the offense to an even higher level.
  • New face: Despite finishing with the No.3 recruiting class in the country, the Buckeyes didn't land as many signatures from linemen as they wanted, which clearly seemed to bother Urban Meyer as he looks toward the future and sees four seniors who will be gone after next season. That experience is obviously a huge blessing for Ohio State at the moment, but neither Evan Lisle nor Tim Gardner have enrolled yet and won't be able to get a jump on their development in the trenches until the fall.
  • Projected depth chart: Mewhort will anchor the line at left tackle again, with Daryl Baldwin likely hanging on to the backup job he held last season. Decker is poised to take over the starting gig at right tackle, with competition for the second-team spot open for guys like Kyle Dodson, Chase Farris or Antonio Underwood as they try to crack the rotation.
  • Numbers game: There might not have been enough depth to ever let the coaching staff exhale, but the Buckeyes never had to find out what would happen if one of the starters went down with a significant injury. The first-team line was the most stable group on the team during the perfect season, combining to make every start and provide invaluable continuity for a dominant rushing attack and the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten.
  • One to watch: The flipping of Dodson from Wisconsin was cause for a huge celebration for the Buckeyes on signing day a year ago, but a shoulder injury kept him on the shelf during his first year with the team and ended up forcing him to redshirt. Given time to fully recover and dig into the conditioning program, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound athlete should be able to start showing what all the fuss was about. Decker has the edge going into camp after battling Fragel for playing time a year ago, but now it's Dodson's turn to dial up the pressure and fight for work.
  • He said it: "Jack Mewhort is already there, he's already a leader. We're asking him to take over a position that maybe a [John] Simon took, the overall heart. I love him, he's a tough guy." -- Meyer in January

Spring forward: Tight ends breakdown

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
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Marcus BaughErik McKinney/ESPN.comESPN 150 tight end Marcus Baugh hopes to battle for playing time in 2013.

With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

TIGHT ENDS

    • Who's back: The Buckeyes had enough confidence in two young guys to make one slight adjustment in moving Jake Stoneburner from tight end to wide receiver. That move paid off so well, the coaching staff made an even bigger change thanks to the development and contributions of sophomore Jeff Heuerman and freshman Nick Vannett, handing them additional responsibilities formerly held by fullback Zach Boren when the senior was shifted over to linebacker in the middle of the year. The young tight ends proved to be stout blockers and were reliable targets in the passing game in complementary roles, and with two years of eligibility left for Heuerman and three for Vannett, that position is in great shape moving forward with the spread offense.
    • New face: After a year on the sideline, former three-star recruit Blake Thomas doesn't qualify as new to the program, but he's looking at perhaps his first real shot to try to crack the rotation this spring. The Buckeyes landed a signature from ESPN 150 tight end Marcus Baugh on signing day, but he won't be on the field with the team until fall.

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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

Smith
Tony Tribble/US PresswireDevin Smith returns for his junior year as Ohio State's big-play wide receiver.
WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Who's back: A valuable, versatile piece of the offense is gone, and Jake Stoneburner's size and ability to line up all over the formation will be missed. But the hybrid receiver-tight end didn't exactly produce as often as the Buckeyes were anticipating in his lone season in Urban Meyer's offense, and the two guys who truly carried the load in the passing game are both coming back and poised to take another step forward after upping their production last fall. Corey "Philly" Brown showed marked improvement from the beginning of the year to the end, and Devin Smith put his chemistry with Braxton Miller and knack for clutch receptions on display much more often as a sophomore. Behind those starters, Evan Spencer and rising sophomore Michael Thomas started gaining more trust from the coaches at the end of the perfect season and could start pushing for more work in the spring.
  • New face: The cavalry is coming, but it hasn't arrived yet. The Buckeyes made speedy weapons at the skill positions a top priority on the recruiting trail, and the haul they landed could easily impact the spread offense right away with hype building already for Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. But none of those guys will be on the field during spring workouts, leaving critical practice reps for the returning veterans.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Brown's role could shift a bit to feature more work in the slot, a role that running back Jordan Hall or reserve Chris Fields could potentially play as well, as the Buckeyes tinker with matchups and formations. Spencer could then move into a starting role at the 'Z' spot where Brown was listed a year ago, with Smith backed up again by Thomas at the other spot.
  • Numbers game: The approach was about as different as could be, but in terms of yardage, Smith and Brown wound up essentially in the same place. Brown vastly improved his number of receptions as a junior, going from 14 to 60 and claiming the team lead by doubling Smith's total. But Smith's ability to streak behind defensive backs and track down the ball produced almost as twice as much yardage per catch as Brown averaged -- with the two combining in the end for 90 catches, 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns.
  • One to watch: Early enrollment gave Thomas a jump on learning the system and a stage to showcase his skills in the spring game a year ago, with the latter in particular taking the buzz about his potential to another level after wowing the crowd at Ohio Stadium with 12 receptions for 131 yards. That performance perhaps put some unfair expectations on a true freshman, and he wasn't ready to meet them in his first campaign while finishing with 3 catches for 22 yards. But those extra workouts a year ago and another full slate of offseason conditioning could start paying some dividends heading into his sophomore season, and setting the table with productive workouts in March and April will be critical with more competition for playing time on the way.
  • He said it: "I think we were built a little differently. But to say we never had talent, I never said that. We maybe didn't have the home-run hitter [with] explosiveness, open-space players on offense, but you know what, some guys really grew up and did a good job for us. 'Philly' Brown did a nice job, but we don't have enough. When you're running an offense where you want three or four split guys all the time and you only have one or two, that's not enough. I think we're starting to get a little bit of that built up." -- Meyer on signing day

Spring forward: Running backs breakdown

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
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Jordan Hall, Bri'onte Dunn, Rod SmithGetty ImagesCarlos Hyde is the returning starter at running back, but Ohio State will be looking for ways to get Jordan Hall, Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith touches as well.

With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

(Read full post)

Spring forward: Quarterback breakdown

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
9:00
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

QUARTERBACKS
[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
Greg Bartram/US PresswireAfter his heroics in an overtime victory over Purdue, Kenny Guiton is the solid No. 2 quarterback behind Braxton Miller.

  • Who's back: The Buckeyes didn't lose either of the guys on the two-deep from the end of last season, and while Braxton Miller's job is carved in stone and Kenny Guiton's veteran experience makes him a handy backup, the situation behind center could be even more stable if Cardale Jones is able to keep making progress after one brief, extremely public bout of immaturity last fall.
  • New face: Early enrollee J.T. Barrett will be limited physically during camp after undergoing surgery to repair a knee ligament torn last October, but he's quickly impressed with his knowledge of the game and leadership skills and should only provide a boost in the meeting room. The best-case scenario for Barrett is a redshirt season that would help separate him from Miller in terms of eligibility. The Buckeyes have the bodies and talent on hand to likely keep him on the sideline for a valuable year of development.
  • Projected depth chart: Miller starting ahead of Guiton with Jones getting third-team work ahead of the recovering Barrett
  • Numbers game: There was hardly any doubt that coach Urban Meyer's spread offense and Miller's multipurpose ability were going to be a perfect match, and the two quickly produced huge numbers on the scoreboard and have yet to lose a game together. But there is still room to grow as a passer for the rising junior, and Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman will be working hard to boost two numbers in particular -- 181.5 yards per game through the air and a completion percentage of 58.3 percent.
  • One to watch: The Buckeyes know what kind of rare athlete they're working with as Miller readies for his third season as the starter, and Guiton's value off the bench was well documented a year ago as a junior. But this spring could wind up revealing plenty about Jones and how he fits in the picture down the road. It depends on how he develops physically, competes on the practice field and absorbs the playbook in meetings. Ohio State's situation at quarterback already would make most programs envious, but if it can get a third guy ready to potentially produced, or at least primed to be a backup when Miller is a senior, there might be more reason for jealousy.
  • He said it: "I think we’ve got the best backup quarterback in college football, and potentially the best starting quarterback in college football. So, yeah, I guess that is kind of a luxury. ... Having Kenny and having Cardale now coming off a redshirt year and really understanding and buying into the program and what we expect out of him and out of that position certainly puts us in a position that probably a lot of schools would like to be in." -- Herman on signing day

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New ESPN 300 Top 10 Revealed
National recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert count down the top 10 recruits in the latest ESPN 300 player rankings update. The complete ESPN 300 will be released April 16.Tags: Tim Settle, CeCe Jefferson, Torrance Gibson, Mitch Hyatt, Terry Beckner Jr., Byron Cowart, Josh Sweat, Kevin Toliver II, Martez Ivey, Trevon Thompson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert
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