Ohio State was far from perfect in the 2011 season but things are looking up in Columbus. Urban Meyer has now taken the reins as head coach and after an impressive recruiting class, Buckeye Nation is eager to see what this team can do in 2012. Previously, I did a slideshow on the Buckeyes' strengths heading into spring and expressed the fact that they have a decent foundation to build on. That said, you don't go 6-7 without at least a few weaknesses, and the Buckeyes are no exception.
Arguably the most important unit in football is probably the Buckeyes' biggest weakness. Last year's O-line was decent but nothing too special. Combine this with the graduation of three starters, and you have yourself a glaring weakness on the depth chart.
Replacing the Rimington Trophy finalist in Mike Brewster will most likely be sophomore Brian Bobek. Although Bobek was highly touted out of high school, he is unproven at the next level and still needs to put on some weight in order to be successful.
With the graduation of Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, the Buckeyes must also fill both tackle positions. Look for Andrew Norwell to slide over to the left tackle spot permanently after his short stint there before Adams returned from his suspension. As for right tackle, former tight end Reid Fragel has a real shot at starting there to begin the season. Since winter workouts, Fragel has gained some serious weight and was always an effective blocker from the tight end position.
While these fill-ins could easily have a bright side, the problem is just that, they're fill-ins. As of right now, the offensive line unit is a major question mark and has a lot to prove this spring.
The passing game was dismal last year and while part of that was on Braxton Miller and the play calling, the receivers weren't much help either. The receiving corps was inexperienced, unreliable and just downright pathetic at times. They struggled to get open and seemed completely overmatched by every secondary they faced.
This being said, receivers like Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer showed potential throughout the season. Some of their struggles may have been a result of inexperience, but this could also be attributed to their lack of size and strength. Smith probably has the most promise out of them all, but he often seemed overpowered and out-muscled by his opponents. Of course Smith was only a freshman, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with a whole off-season of weight training under his belt.
Brown is probably the fastest receiver in the group but struggles to accomplish his main objective, which is to catch the ball. Hopefully with more reps, consistency will follow for the junior.
The good news is, the Buckeyes are returning a ton of young receivers who will have the opportunity to grow and develop in Meyer's system. It will be extremely intriguing to see which wide-outs step up during spring. Whoever that is, he must produce at a much higher level than last year in order for the Buckeyes to return to their dominant ways, and that's a fact.
Besides Tim Tebow, nothing is more commonly associated with Meyer's offense at Florida than lightning fast skill players that can strike at any time. Percy Harvin is the prime example of this type of player, and while its unreasonable to expect a player of that caliber right away, the Buckeyes really don't have anything close to that.
As I said in the previous slide, the wide-out position is weak heading into spring, and it really lacks a homerun threat as of right now. At the running back position, with the exception of Jordan Hall, every back is a big bruising type. This is fine of course, and bigger backs can experience loads of success in Meyer's system; but without a major big-play threat, Meyer's playbook may shrink a bit.
One player that I could possibly see filling this role is running back Jordan Hall. The senior can be explosive at times and is an extremely elusive runner when given the opportunity. Due to his solid hands, he can be used as a utility player and line up at multiple positions, and he has proven his effectiveness in space in the return game. The only problem with Hall is that he lacks consistency and hasn't proven himself greatly against solid competition.
Along with Hall, Corey Brown and Chris Fields have the ability to become the Buckeyes' homerun threats due to their exceptional speed, but they still have a lot of developing to do as receivers.
Throughout spring, look to see who, or if anyone, is emerging as a big-play skill player, because right now OSU is lacking in that area.
Ohio State has always prided themselves on great linebacker play. From Chris Spielman to James Laurinaitas, and everyone in between, the Buckeyes have always been exceptional at the linebacker position.
Unfortunately, last year was not the case, and the current linebackers struggled mightily at times. They were not the type of linebackers we have become accustomed to seeing in the scarlet and grey and were absolutely dismal at some points during the season.This position of need was mentioned from the very first day Meyer was hired, and if the Buckeyes want to return to their winning ways, it must be addressed.
Throughout the season, the linebacker corps struggled to fight off blockers and uncharacteristically missed a ton of tackles. Etienne Sabino has shown a glimpse of excellence but has been mostly a disappointment so far. Storm Klein seems to lack lateral speed and doesn't seem to be a viable option if this staff really wants to upgrade at this position.
The only bright spot at this position as of now, is the promise that young Ryan Shazier showed towards the end of the season. Shazier played with excellent speed and explosiveness, and had very solid games against Penn State and Michigan to end the season. Interestingly enough, Shazier planned on playing for Meyer at Florida in high school, but will now be the centerpiece of Meyer's linebacker unit in Columbus.
In order for this unit to return to the usual standard, Sabino must step-up along with someone else. It's extremely possible that the staff may turn to an incoming freshman like David Perkins or highly talented sophomore Curtis Grant to fill this void.
It will be interesting to see who steps up in Columbus and returns this unit to glory.