Ohio State Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball
Ohio State capped its spring practice with an offensively challenged spring game that featured just 447 total yards and 24 combined points—both of which fell short of Ohio State's offensive averages during the 2013 season.
“’I’m not trying to evaluate an offense because who cares?” Meyer said.
That's because offense hasn't been an issue for the Buckeyes under Meyer. The issue has been their defense—particularly the pass defense—which ultimately cost Ohio State a shot at the national title in 2013.
Meyer is hoping to refocus his team for another title run this season.
Some players and units stepped up and had a great spring. Others didn't. Here are the winners and losers from Ohio State's spring ball.
Winner: Cardale Jones
With Braxton Miller sidelined and Kenny Guiton gone, Urban Meyer used spring practice as a proving ground for Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. The backup quarterback is an important role for the Buckeyes—a role that needed filled before summer conditioning started.
Jones was the big winner, which was hard to tell from his erratic spring-game performance.
The redshirt sophomore completed just 14 of 31 passes for 126 yards, throwing no touchdowns or interceptions on the day.
Despite the lackluster outing, Meyer still has Jones as the No. 2 guy behind Miller.
“Cardale was disappointing,” Meyer said, according to James Grega of The Lantern. “I thought he made some misses today, but I’m not going to let that ruin his spring. He’s had a good spring for us.”
Miller will be ready to go in the fall, but with a strong spring showing, Jones is set up as the No. 2 guy.
Loser: The Offensive Line
Ohio State's offensive line must replace four senior starters, but through spring practice, only one of those holes has been filled.
Pat Elflein had a solid spring, securing the right guard position opened up by Marcus Hall's departure. Elflein, of course, filled in admirably for Hall following his meltdown against Michigan last year, and he proved then that he was ready for a starting role.
The same can't be said for the other three vacancies.
Taylor Decker, who started at right tackle last year, made the switch to the left side to protect Braxton Miller's blind side. The left guard, center and right tackle positions remain open, though, so there's still quite a bit to figure out before the season starts.
Winner: Dontre Wilson
A new number. A new position. Everything has changed for Dontre Wilson this spring, and that's a very good thing for him and Ohio State.
The former 4-star burner out of DeSoto, Texas, was used sparingly last year, but he still managed to pile up 460 total yards and three touchdowns during his freshman season.
The Buckeyes will need a lot more from him this year, especially with the departure of the team's leading receiver (Corey Brown) and leading rusher (Carlos Hyde).
Wilson was named the starting H-Back midway through the spring, a role he thrived in as Ohio State continues to piece together a new-look offense. The Buckeyes won't use Wilson as a decoy in 2014, because frankly, they can't afford to with Brown and Hyde gone.
Loser: The Wounded Warriors
Ohio State didn't have much luck on the injury front this spring.
Even before spring drills started, the Buckeyes lost star quarterback Braxton Miller until the summer as he recovers from minor shoulder surgery.
On the first day of spring practice, Vonn Bell, who was expected to lock up one of the starting safety spots, sprained his MCL. Just two weeks later, H-back Jalin Marshall was knocked out after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Before the final week of spring drills, starting tight end Jeff Heuerman sprained his foot, which required surgery that will sideline him until summer conditioning.
All but Marshall are expected to start for the Buckeyes this fall. That trio will have some catching up to do during fall practice.
Winner: The Pass Defense
Ohio State's pass defense was among the worst in the country last season, ranking No. 110 after allowing an average of 268 yards per game.
The numbers grew worse as the season went along, as the Buckeyes gave up an average of 377.7 yards to their final three opponents—Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. The Buckeyes went 1-2 during that stretch, and their only win could have been spoiled had Michigan connected on a two-point conversion late in the game.
Meyer wants different results this year, and that's why he brought in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and his aggressive pass defense.
The Buckeyes have abandoned their zone defense to play press coverage exclusively, and according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, that is something that has improved Ohio State's defense as a whole.
This is not only a major improvement for the Buckeyes defense, but it was something the different units and personnel showed time and again over the course of the spring game. This was representative not of a group ready to play, but of a defensive squad that has made a full mentality change.
If Ohio State can pair a solid defense with its potent offense, it will be a dangerous squad in 2014.
Loser: The Senior Receivers
Devin Smith and Evan Spencer return to Ohio State as longtime starters, but Meyer isn't sure if they'll hold that status during their senior seasons.
After Ohio State's spring game, Meyer was having a hard time identifying one definitive starter at wide receiver.
It's easy to see Meyer saying that as a motivational tool for Smith and Spencer, who have had long bouts of inconsistency occasionally interrupted by flashes of brilliance. It could also be a result of some younger players such as Michael Thomas and Corey Smith pushing the upperclassmen.
Spencer didn't have the opportunity to impress this spring because he's still recovering from a leg injury he suffered during the Orange Bowl.
Both, however, will be feeling some pressure to step up when fall camp starts.
Winner: The Freshmen
Coming in as a freshman and playing immediately is hard to do in college football, and that's especially true at a place such as Ohio State.
It's easier, though, for freshmen who enroll early and take part in spring drills, which was the case for seven members of Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class.
That decision paid off for a number of those early enrollees.
Five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan is already challenging senior Curtis Grant for the middle linebacker position. Four-star all-purpose back Curtis Samuel is making noise in a crowded group of running backs. Four-star receiver Johnnie Dixon has already impressed enough to earn some playing time this fall.
These first-year players covered a lot of ground in their first months with the program.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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