Evaluating the offense the same way as the defense is hardly fair considering all of the injuries that beset the Ohio State scoring unit, but there were some lessons to take away from the spring nonetheless.
For one thing, the depth the Buckeyes were thought to have at running back is real. Ezekiel Elliott showed he brings a very enticing package of size and skill to the position. A smooth runner, he seems like the perfect back for this offense. I like the way Warren Ball keeps his feet moving and slides through holes, and Bri’onte Dunn leaves no doubt the physical ability is there if he can bring consistency to the table. Ditto Rod Smith, who could be the best of all of them but can’t seem to keep himself on track.
Then of course there is Curtis Samuel. Even with the unprecedented success of Carlos Hyde last season as a power back, Urban Meyer does get enamored with little guys who can go, doesn’t he? Samuel runs strong for his size, but speed and agility are the name of the game for him. It will be interesting to see if they carve out a role for him this fall.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman mentioned at one point the staff has come to like having a power back, which was new for Meyer’s offense since it was developed at his previous coaching stops, so you can bet they want to maintain that facet, but it’s alway nice to have options.
Meyer and Herman also talked about having to do more damage on the edge this year because the offensive line took a step backwards. That was inevitable with the graduation of four starters, but it sounded to me like Meyer was still expecting to see more than he did this spring. News that the Buckeyes are going to entertain a potential transfer from Alabama would seem to go along with that as well.
While Patrick Elflein and Taylor Decker emerged as strong starters, I was also surprised with the play of Darryl Baldwin. He looks more natural in his drops, less like the converted defensive lineman he was and more like someone who can help the team this fall at right tackle. I did not expect that coming into spring and figured he would be beaten out by someone else, perhaps redshirt freshman Evan Lisle. Unfortunately, Kyle Dodson is yet to show he can handle a starting tackle role, and Antonio Underwood had some struggles in the spring game.
Ohio State is already set with a pair of veteran tight ends, but redshirt freshman Marcus Baugh showed why he was rated as a four-star recruit by making all kinds of plays during open practices. He could be a nightmare matchup because of his speed and ability to run routes. He was a tough cover early in practice as the defense was trying to implement a new style of play in the secondary.
Wide receivers still seem like more potential than finished product. After three years, we know what Devin Smith can do with his speed and ability to get open deep, but can they add a physical presence to complement him? Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Jeff Greene bring something different to the table. I was impressed with the way they battled with the cornerbacks early in the spring, but I thought they were a little underwhelming in the spring game.
It is a shame we didn’t get to see Jalin Marshall do anything because of his knee injury, but one has to think the competition from Marshall and Samuel will spur on Dontre Wilson to continue to hone his skills now that he is a full-time receiver. If Wilson can be as reliable as Philly Brown while adding more playmaking ability, that could be a spot where some of the production is make up from the running game’s potential decline.
Finally, there are the quarterbacks. While Herman and Meyer praised Cardale Jones for the progress he has displayed, I haven’t seem him look like a guy who could win games for them yet. He remains an inconsistent thrower despite his arm strength. He and J.T. Barrett both had their moments to shine during the spring, but neither of them are going to make anyone forget about Kenny Guiton yet.
How good can this unit be? Well, without Braxton Miller at the controls this spring, that’s hard to say.
The running game should be fine. There is no shortage of backs, the tight ends are great blockers, and of course Miller provides yet another threat.
While mental reps are great, I still think Miller still could stand to build up some more muscle memory simply making all of the different throws. Seeing the backups play through their mistakes while he wore a headset behind the player in practices probably help him a lot, though. Last year, it seemed like he was pretty good at knowing where to go based on the pre-snap read. The next step would seem to be adjusting when the picture changes and then executing the throw. The latter is the most important part of playing the position and the most difficult to master, so that’s where he could have used another 15 days of working with his receivers on what type of touch each throw needs, where it should be and when.
The staff has admitted to leaning on the crutch of Miller, Hyde and the offensive line the past couple of seasons and admitted that won’t be possible again this year. Will all those new toys be brought out early, or do they have to stay back and mature?
We didn’t see enough to know this spring.