Ohio State's 2013 season came to a crashing end with an Orange Bowl loss to Clemson two months ago, but a new season officially kicked off this week as the Buckeyes took the field for the start of spring practice.
After saying goodbye to departing players, adding seven new freshmen as early enrollees and going through winter conditioning, this was the first opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate its roster.
Here's a breakdown of the biggest storylines, most heated position battles and early stars from the first week of spring practice.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the biggest storylines from the first week of spring practice are injury/health-related.
Bad news struck for the Buckeyes before they even hit the field. The day before spring practice started, it was announced that Urban Meyer recently underwent minor brain surgery to alleviate recurring headaches caused by a cyst that needed to be drained.
That didn't keep Meyer off the field, though. Ohio State's head man prowled the practice field Tuesday, sporting a white Buckeyes hat as the team went through drills. Meyer won't miss any time as he recovers.
Like his coach, Braxton Miller is also recovering from minor surgery. Unlike Meyer, Ohio State's star quarterback will not be able to take part in spring drills.
Miller's shoulder surgery won't knock him completely out of the picture. The Buckeyes plan to strap a video camera onto his hat and force him to narrate each offensive play as it evolves.
According to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, Meyer expects this to improve Miller's communication skills and enhance his ability to diagnose the defense.
His issues now are verbal communication and keeping his eyes on the secondary. So every play we’re having him say what he sees. It will be a productive spring. He’s into it right now.
While Miller's injury prevents him from getting familiar with his new offensive weapons, he'll certainly benefit from these mental reps.
But the Buckeyes couldn't escape their first practice without suffering another huge loss.
Starting safety Vonn Bell sprained his MCL during practice on Tuesday, which required surgery, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. The sophomore will miss all of spring practice, but he is expected to recover fast enough to participate in summer drills.
The Buckeyes are replacing three starters in the secondary, including both safeties, so losing Bell for the spring is a tough blow.
Ohio State needs to replace four senior starters along its offensive line, but the unit is already starting to take shape.
Taylor Decker, who started all of last season at right tackle, has moved over to left tackle. Darryl Baldwin, a redshirt senior, will be replacing him on the right side. On the interior, Jacoby Boren has taken over at center, Antonio Underwood is manning the left guard position and Pat Elflein—who filled in admirably for the suspended Marcus Hall late last year—has been plugged in at right guard.
That group will be paving the way for a new running back this season. Carlos Hyde's departure has put a number of inexperienced (but talented) players in the spotlight, and sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is leading the way.
But one of the biggest position battles this spring isn't for a starting role. The Buckeyes need to identify a suitable backup quarterback to replace Kenny Guiton, who bailed Ohio State out of a number of tough situations over the years when Miller went down.
Competing for that role are redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Jones showcased some terrific accuracy and arm strength on his deep throws, and Barrett showed leadership and maturity beyond his years on Tuesday, but Meyer wasn't particularly impressed with either.
On defense, the Buckeyes need to find a new linebacker, a new cornerback and two safeties.
In a surprising development, Darron Lee kicked off the spring as the third starting linebacker alongside Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry. Lee—who came out of high school as a safety/quarterback prospect—added weight and began to impress the coaching staff late last season, which led to his early momentum this spring.
According to Todd Porter of The Canton Rep, Armani Reeves took over the vacant cornerback spot. Bell and Tyvis Powell were running as the first-team safeties, but with Bell's injury, Meyer will likely turn to fellow sophomore Cam Burrows.
Needing to replace its leading rusher and receiver, Ohio State needs playmakers to step up this spring. According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer, Dontre Wilson was a guy who really stood out on Tuesday.
Beau Bishop of WBNS-10TV came away with a similar impression.
Decker, who finished last season as Ohio State's best offensive lineman, according to his position coach, has also looked good early.
But one player who earned high praise from Meyer after Tuesday's practice—a player the Buckeyes could desperately use—was Raekwon McMillan.
That maturity apparently extends to the field.
“I was really impressed with Raekwon today, did a really good job. Moved around, very mature,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern. “For a shorts practice, he did enough where I was … very positive of what I saw.”
The Buckeyes' linebacker needs a boost after the loss of All-American Ryan Shazier. If McMillan grasps the playbook and masters the mental aspect of the defense, he could see a lot of playing time this season.
All recruit rankings via 247Sports.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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