Ohio State Football: The Buckeyes' Strengths Heading into Spring
With the dreadful absence of college football, all fans can do for the next few months is look forward to spring ball or watch some basketball.
Last season was unlike most for Ohio State, and without the hiring of Urban Meyer, the 2012 season could have easily been below-par as well. Buckeye Nation is anxious to see what their new head coach can do with their team, and considering Meyer's track record, who could blame them?
However, Coach Meyer is no miracle worker, and there are still some serious question marks surrounding this squad. This being said, the Buckeyes showed some serious promise at some positions this past season and have a solid foundation to build on.
The Quarterback Position
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As a freshman, Braxton Miller exceeded the high expectations set before him last year. The young QB threw for a solid 13 touchdowns, but also managed to only throw four interceptions. His throws were inconsistent, but he showed potential in terms of a passer.
Also, Miller was stuck in an ineffective offense that often didn't put him in the best position to succeed through the air. Meyer's system should only increase the threat of Miller's arm, which will do wonders for the quarterback's production.
Not to mention, Miller is one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the nation, and this was on full display throughout the 2011 season. The product out of Huber Heights ran for an impressive 715 yards and seven touchdowns. Meyer's offensive style is most potent when the QB is at least an effective runner, and Miller is exceptional in that regard.
Most importantly, Meyer needs his field general to be a leader and a gamer. Miller proved his clutch gene several times last year with big, late-game scoring drives against Wisconsin and Purdue, along with a stellar performance against the Buckeyes' arch-rivals.
Backing up the sophomore-to-be will most likely be red-shirt junior Kenny Guiton. Guiton is a more-than-capable backup and has the ability to move the ball with his feet as well as his arm, which should fit well with the new offense.
However, don't be surprised if incoming freshman Cardale Jones makes a push for the second spot in the depth chart, although I don't see this happening.
The Running Back Position
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Although the Buckeyes are heading into the 2012 season without a premiere back per se, they have a load of talent at the position. Carlos Hyde is the Buckeyes' leading returning rusher from the running back position with 566 yards on just 106 carries. Jordan Hall also contributed 405 yards on the ground with 99 attempts. Both backs showed flashes of excellence, but never put it all together.
However, Hyde showed the most promise and had an excellent game against Nebraska last season, but saw his carries disappear with the return of Boom Herron.
Along with these two returning, the Buckeyes also welcome a pair of 4-star running back prospects in Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. Dunn is enrolled early and was rated as the top running back in the state of Ohio this past season by most recruiting services. Both incoming freshmen could make an immediate impact next year, but if I had to bet on one, I'd go with Dunn.
A common misconception among many is that bigger backs don't have a place in Meyer's offensive system. This couldn't be farther from the truth considering that in Meyer's years at Florida, only once did he have a leading rusher that weighed under 230 pounds.
Expect to see several running backs contribute to the running game, as opposed to just one premiere back in 2011, and expect them to be effective.
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Both Urban Meyer and Tom Herman understand the threat of a talented tight end. During his time at Florida, Meyer utilized now-New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez so well his play earned him a Mackey Award in 2009. While Herman was the offensive coordinator at Rice, his tight end, James Casey, grabbed a staggering 111 catches in one season.
Stoneburner is the type of tight end that can excel in Meyer's offense. He may not be the thickest, but he is a superb athlete for his position, and size and Meyer will take full advantage of this.
This past season, Stoneburner only snagged 14 catches, but half of them were for touchdowns. In 2012, the red-shirt senior will be targeted far more than the 25 targets he was given last year. At an athletic 6'5" 245 lbs., Stoneburner has the ability to be a red-zone nightmare and a solid target on third downs.
Honestly, Stoneburner could easily be the most effective receiver next year and could put up big numbers in this new system.
The Defensive Line (Especially John Simon)
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Forget that Ohio State has the deepest defensive line in the Big Ten heading into 2012. They have one of the deepest defensive lines in all of college football.
For starters, the group OSU is returning is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. With mammoths like Jonathan Hankins and Garret Goebel returning to stuff the middle, along with promising DT Michael Bennett, the Buckeyes should dominate the inside.
Also, the Buckeyes look like they might be getting senior defensive end Nathan Williams back, who missed all of last year with a knee injury. Williams was supposed to be OSU's returning sack leader last year, but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 against Akron.
Most importantly, the Buckeyes are blessed to receive the services of senior defensive lineman John Simon one last time. The senior is a tireless workhorse that makes a living on relentlessly chasing whoever has the ball. Simon is the hardest working player on the team and certainly looks the part. He is the absolute leader of this elite defensive line, and without him, this front would not be nearly as impressive.
On top of all this, Meyer managed to add two 5-star defensive ends, another 4-star defensive end and a 4-star defensive tackle to the 2012 recruiting class. Don't be surprised if more than one of these recruits manages to make an impact in 2012, especially Noah Spence.
National championships are won with great defensive lines, and probably the top aspect of this team is their defensive front.
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Most people expected Travis Howard to be the next shutdown corner at Ohio State, but Bradley Roby stormed in and claimed this title. The red-shirt sophomore wasn't even guaranteed a starting position heading into spring last year, but he proved he belonged with his play all season.
Roby finished 2011 with 47 total tackles, six pass deflections and two interceptions. More importantly, Roby held his own against the toughest competition, including the Big Ten's leading receiver in A.J. Jenkins. Although Jenkins put up decent stats, the majority of them came when Roby was not assigned to him.
Roby surprised many in 2011, and considering it was just his first year, this is only the tip of the iceberg. He's a solid competitor who has the ability to make life difficult for top-tier receivers. So far, Roby is doing an excellent job of following in the footsteps of guys like Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements and Malcolm Jenkins.
The Kicking Game
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Often an overlooked aspect of the game, special teams are essential to a successful team. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they have a returning punter and place kicker that are exceptional at what they do.
After a shaky start, place-kicker Drew Basil settled in nicely and managed to hit 16 field goals while only missing three in 2011. Basil missed his first two attempts from 40-49 yards out, but then went on to hit his next five from the same distance to close out the year. The sophomore kicker became a model for consistency as the season progressed and will be an excellent tool for the Buckeyes in 2012.
As for punting, Ben Buchanan had an absolute stellar year in 2011. Buchanan punted 70 times this past season and averaged a solid 41.3 yards per punt. However, Buchanan's effectiveness deals less with the distance of his kicks and more with the placement of them. Each punt seemed to land ever so nicely inside the 10-yard line, giving the Buckeyes amazing field position throughout the season.
Honestly, Buchanan kept the Buckeyes in many of their games last year by simply pinning the opponents' offense deep inside their own territory over and over again.
You may not see these guys on SportsCenter, but there contributions cannot be overlooked.