Ohio State Football: Spring Checklist for Urban Meyer, Buckeyes

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IFebruary 27, 2014

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer stands with officials as they wait for a ruling on the field during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Clemson, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Top 10 recruiting classes, 24 wins and a perfect season—life has been great to Urban Meyer and Ohio State over his first two years at the helm of the Buckeyes program. However, life on easy street is over for Meyer and Co. 

Yes, Braxton Miller is still around, and there is a ton of talent on the Buckeyes squad. However, Ohio State is facing life without a proven running back, four offensive line starters, its best defensive player and many components to its defensive backfield. 

Never before has an offseason in Columbus meant so much to Urban Meyer. So, as the Buckeyes stare their biggest challenge under Meyer in the face, what must OSU solve this spring? 

Here's a quick checklist of what needs to happen for spring to lead to fall success. 

Do the Running Back Shuffle

The 2013-14 season produced the first 1,000-yard back in Urban Meyer head coaching history. What Carlos Hyde accomplished in just 10 games of action will be remembered as one of the best feats by a Buckeye back in the last decade at least. 

However, Hyde is graduating to the NFL, and that means finding a replacement. The good news is that Ohio State has seemingly been stockpiling talent forever at this position. It's also the bad news, because it means that there aren't a lot of carries to make your point with in spring. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Last season, freshman Ezekiel Elliott, he of the 6'0", 210-pound variety, showed he's got some skill to possibly take over the position starting this year. He turned just 30 carries in to 262 yards and two touchdowns on the season. 

Impressive numbers for a freshman to say the least, but he isn't the only one with a resume that screams potential starter either. Bri'onte Dunn, Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Dontre Wilson all have attributes to like heading into spring.

Smith has three years of experience, 448 yards on 83 carries and four touchdowns to bring to the table. Dontre Wilson, a fellow freshman last season, saw time in the backfield and in the pass game—racking up 460 yards of total offense, but he was not a huge factor in the offense as the season went along. 

There is clearly a lot of talent to go around in the backfield, but anyone that knows what the depth chart at running back looks like entering the spring has some serious inside information. I'm not sure even Urban Meyer has it down at this point.

It should make for an interesting contest, and Meyer would love to have some resemblance of an idea of who's going to fit what role heading in to the fall. The reality is 2014 may end up being more running back by committee than anything else. 

Protect Your Crown Jewel 

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Taylor Decker #68 of the Ohio State Buckeyes blocks against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Few would question that Ohio State had the Big Ten's best offensive line in 2013. It was the line that helped spark one of the most explosive seasons in not only OSU history but Big Ten history as well.

If it weren't for the pesky 1900's Gophers and "that university up north," the Buckeyes' 2013-14 season would've gone down as the greatest scoring and rushing offense in conference history. 

Having four seniors will help that cause, but that was 2013, and this season, the Buckeyes must replace all four of those seniors. 

Just like the running back position, the good news and bad news is the Buckeyes have been stockpiling talent. 

The question on the offensive line is just how quickly can people separate themselves on the line, and can this unit gel quickly enough for the entire offense to get a fair shake. 

No question, there is a ton of pressure on young players like tackle Kyle Dodson, guard Pat Elflein and guard/center Jacoby Boren. All three were on the two deep when last season ended, and Dodson has future star written all over him. 

Adding true freshman Kyle Trout to the mix and there will be 11 underclassmen fighting for positions this spring. 

No one will be more key than the only returning starter—expected left tackle Taylor Decker. He was a very solid player in 2013, but he will need to add leader to his title this season. It will be on him to guide this group of youngsters. 

There will be a lot of growing up needed from the offensive line, and it's on this group to pull together quickly or it may not matter what kind of talent is around them—just ask that university to the north what it's like to misfire on the line for an entire season. 

Life After Shazier

When you're best player regardless of position takes off early for the NFL, it will leave a hole in your team. In the case of Ryan Shazier, it is more like his void is a crater, because there was a severe lack of playmakers along the linebacking corp. in 2013. 

Hoping to step in and make an immediate impact is 247Sports 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who will make his debut this spring as an early enrollee. 

All eyes will undoubtedly be on him, but paying attention to what is happening on either side of him may be the wiser of two moves this spring. 

On national signing day, Urban Meyer made it very clear he wasn't happy with what he saw out of linebackers like Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant last season. Meyer laid it out pretty clearly, stating: 

That's far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever and it's just not where we need to be. So there’s been recruited Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker. Four guys I'm putting pressure on them Coach Fickell and myself to get ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already. So just so everybody knows, there's no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.

No pressure or anything, right? 

As spring progresses, it will be interesting to see if a guy like Grant, who's likely to step to the outside given McMillan's role as an inside linebacker, can step up to the clear gauntlet thrown down by Meyer. 

Something needs to change, and quickly, at linebacker in Columbus, Ohio, and if Meyer doesn't have answers there by the end of spring, it could be an all freshmen lineup we see come the fall. We all know Meyer isn't above playing freshmen at all. 

Responding to the Unknown

This will be the first spring where the Buckeyes are faced with major challenges heading in to a season under Urban Meyer, so watching how this team develops is going to be key to knowing where this team fits in the East Division pecking order coming in to the 2014-15 season. 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens


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