COLUMBUS, Ohio – Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for Ohio State as camp unfolds. The Buckeyes are riding a two-game losing skid, losing the Big Ten title game to Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, this after a 24-0 start under Urban Meyer.
The 2014 Buckeyes teem with talent as they pursue the program’s first Big Ten crown since 2009. Having Braxton Miller back makes Ohio State the league favorite in the minds of most. But questions loom.
That said, let’s get to my thoughts from Wednesday’s practice.
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BEST OF OHIO STATE PRACTICE
Most impressive player: Joey Bosa. Pure energy. Think Jared Allen.
Top specimen: Braxton Miller. The guy is chiseled from granite.
Best drill: Soon after the team hit the field, players circled and “bull in the ring” started. It was spirited, loud, raucous and hard-hitting.
Loudest coach: Kerry Coombs. He has leather lungs. Never has a small man been so loud.
Impressive newcomer: Curtis Samuel. The guy is pure, unadulterated speed at running back.
Top moment: Larry Johnson running his defensive linemen through the drills. He’s fun to watch. And the Buckeyes have a large collection of big men who can move. It’s scary.
On the rise: Darron Lee. The young linebacker flies to the ball.
Nagging question: Is the pass defense better?
MY POSITION-BY-POSITION OBSERVATIONS
Ohio State worked out in full gear for the first time. And the pads were popping. This was spirited three-hour workout with lots of hustle and effort. And the effort and detail of execution were strong, too, as the session culminated with scrimmage work with lots of contact in the trenches.
All eyes were on a defense that bled often last season. Stopping the pass was a big issue. The Buckeyes were 11th in the league in pass defense last year (268.0 ypg). Only Indiana was worse. Ohio State was scorched by MSU and Clemson. Chris Ash was hired from Arkansas to co-coordinate the defense. He is a defensive backs coach by trade, so it’s hoped his expertise will pay off. Ash has his guys playing more aggressively, sometimes using unconventional coverages and leaning toward press coverage. That’s not a normal defensive M.O. in Columbus. But change was needed. Ash is an active coach, always moving, always teaching. I like safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell. And there are four good corners in Doran Grant (the only starter back in the secondary), Armani Reeves and Cam Burrows.
Watch our Chris Ash interview:
I was eager to see the defensive line. And, the unit didn’t disappoint. This group could impact the porous pass defense more than the secondary by generating a fierce rush. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa are specimens off the edge. Inside, Michael Bennett moves well. Adolphus Washington has the size to anchor inside. Great depth. I can’t imagine a better looking front in the Big Ten.
Watch my interview with Michael Bennett:
The offensive line looks like it’s coming together. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the lone starter back. But he’s a good lynchpin. At 6-7, 315 pounds, he passes the eyeball test and should be one of the Big Ten’s best. On this day, the rest of the line had Darryl Baldwin—a former d-lineman–at right tackle; Pat Elflein at right guard; Antonio Underwood at left guard; Jacoby Boren at center. I trust line coach Ed Warinner to get this unit up to speed like he did his first year in 2012. Billy Price is an interior guy to watch; he’s one of the strongest players on the team. The story of Joel Hale is great; the guy goes to coaches and volunteers to move to the d-line to the o-line. I hope he can play.
The linebackers ran well on this day. I really like this group. Fast, athletic, quick. Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry are known commodities. But I’m more excited about youngsters like Raekwon McMillian and Darron Lee. Chris Worley and Kyle Berger also are dynamic. The unit hasn’t been a strength in recent years. That may be changing.
The exploits of backup quarterback Kenny Guiton are well-documented. Well, he’s gone, no longer around to save the day if/when Braxton Miller gets hurt. Cardale Jones is the new No. 2. At 6-5, 250, he looks more like a linebacker. He knows the offense and looked smooth in workouts. And he has a big, powerful arm. But the jury remains out on the junior. He has the physical tools. But how is he under duress? The staff is confident if he has to play.
Watch our Braxton Miller interview:
Running back is another hot spot with Carlos Hyde gone after running for 1,521 yards. Ezekiel Elliott looks like the heir. At 6-0. 225, he has size and speed; he was running with the first team. Bri’onte Dunn is another big vet, along with Rod Smith. There is a buzz around true freshman Curtis Samuel. And, after watching him run, you can see why. The kid is electric.
I love tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Wideout Devin Smith is in midseason form, at one point late in practice making a big, long catch. Then there is Dontre Wilson, a slot guy who draws comparisons to Percy Harvin. The 5-10, 185-pound Wilson is as quick as any Big Ten player. He was used sparingly last season, as he lacked some skills—namely blocking. But it appears to all be coming together for him now. This is gonna be fun to watch.
Watch our Tom Herman interview:
Keep an eye on kicker Sean Nuernberger. He’s a true freshman who has a strong leg. But he has a lot to prove. Meyer doesn’t like to kick field goals (what coach does?). Still, a big kick or two almost always is needed during a championship season. Can Nuernberger deliver? He looked solid today. Still, stay tuned.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|