It's two weeks down, two to go in Columbus, where Ohio State officially finds itself at the halfway point in its fall camp session. Unlike the first week of camp when they were still getting their feet wet, the Buckeyes' second week on the field has provided a closer look at what we can expect from them when they take the field on Aug. 30.
That could be perceived as both good and bad for Ohio State, which has seen development on one of its most questioned units but has also been without its star player for large portions of practice. Add in a few freshmen making names for themselves, and there's been no shortage of storylines in Columbus as the Buckeyes move toward their season opener against Navy.
More on Miller
After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Braxton Miller was expected to make a full recovery in time for the start of his senior season. And while he may still do just that, the Heisman hopeful isn't there quite yet, with the clock ticking toward Aug. 30.
Miller has been severely limited in the first two weeks of fall camp, with Urban Meyer monitoring his throwing reps and sitting his star player out of Ohio State's team scrimmage last weekend. Perhaps more worrisome, Meyer admitted that if the Buckeyes' season started sooner than it did, their plan for the Midshipmen would need to be altered.
"If the game was tomorrow, because of where he's at, we would be very cautious with Braxton," Meyer said when asked if Ohio State would need to rely on a run-heavy approach. "But we have three weeks."
While the Buckeyes staff has maintained that Miller's progress remains on track, the fact remains that he's simply not fully recovered—at least not yet. Whether Miller will be able to make up for his missed reps in time for the season opener remains to be seen, as the status of his progress remains worth monitoring for the remainder of fall camp.
While Miller has watched from the sideline, his understudies have managed to make the most of the reps that he's left on the table with Ohio State's first team. In particular, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has stood out through the first two weeks of fall camp, as he pushes redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones for the Buckeyes' backup job.
Entering camp, it was assumed that Jones would be Miller's top understudy after he got the best of Barrett in a de facto quarterback competition in the spring. That no longer appears to be the case, however, with Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman stating that Barrett is still in the hunt to be the Buckeyes' No. 2 quarterback.
"They're battling," Herman said of Barrett and Jones. "When Braxton's out, they both get equal numbers of reps with the 1s and the 2s. When Braxton's in, they split the reps with the 2s. They're both growing, they've both had their ups and downs."
Described as a mixture between Miller and former OSU backup Kenny Guiton, Barrett is admittedly less physically talented than both Miller and Jones. But what he lacks in arm strength he makes up for with leadership, which has some pegging him the future of the Buckeyes' quarterback position.
"He gets the ball out quickly, very efficient, smooth release, very accurate, extremely cerebral," Herman said of Barrett. "A very magnetic leader. I think the kids gravitate towards him."
Given Miller's current status and injury history—he missed the better part of three games a season ago—those traits could be benefitting the Buckeyes sooner rather than later.
Another week of fall camp in the books means more development in Ohio State's numerous position battles, where there's been significant movement on the depth chart in the past week.
Deemed the Buckeyes' most important competition prior to camp, there's been a change of pace at left guard, where Joel Hale has superseded Antonio Underwood with Ohio State's starters. Hale has made noticeable strides since the spring when he first moved to the offensive side of the ball, but will now have to fend off another converted defensive lineman in redshirt freshman Billy Price.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore Vonn Bell appears to have jumped classmate Cameron Burrows as Ohio State's top free safety after Burrows seemed to have the better of Bell in the first week of camp. A former 5-star prospect, Bell was the presumed starter heading into fall camp, but he is just now beginning to show the confidence of a future star in college football.
As for other notable position battles, Darryl Baldwin has solidified himself as Ohio State's starting right tackle, Chad Lindsay is beginning to make a push but is still behind Jacoby Boren at center and Ezekiel Elliott is currently the Buckeyes' starting running back but is not currently practicing after undergoing wrist surgery a week ago.
The upcoming week will provide players with their last opportunities to state their cases for starting spots before Ohio State puts out its depth chart for the first week of the season.
|Ohio State Position Battles|
|Running Back||Left Guard||Center||Right Tackle||Free Safety|
|Ezekiel Elliott||Joel Hale||Jacoby Boren||Darryl Baldwin||Vonn Bell|
|Rod Smith||Billy Price||Chad Lindsay||Evan Lisle||Cameron Burrows|
|Curtis Samuel||Antonio Underwood||Billy Price||Jamarco Jones||Erick Smith|
Since taking over the Ohio State program in 2012, Meyer has instituted a tradition that dates back to his days at Bowling Green of making freshmen practice with a black stripe atop their helmets. Only once a first-year player has proved his worth to the team is he allowed to remove his black stripe, signaling that he has "officially" become a Buckeye.
Through the first two weeks of fall camp, four Ohio State freshmen have earned the right to remove their black stripes, with Meyer announcing each on his official Twitter account. Unsurprisingly, the first two Buckeyes to lose their black stripes this preseason were linebacker Raekwon McMillan and running back Curtis Samuel, each of whom Meyer has raved about on a consistent basis since spring.
Joining McMillan and Samuel in losing their respective black stripes have been defensive lineman Darius Slade and cornerback Damon Webb. A 3-star prospect who switched his pledge from Michigan State to Ohio State on national signing day, Slade has been considered by many to be a redshirt candidate for the upcoming season, while Meyer has singled out Webb—a 4-star prospect—as a player he expects to play immediately in his college career.
With Meyer having promised that a significant portion of his freshman class will contribute this season, expect for more black stripes to fall by the wayside in the coming week. Johnnie Dixon, Marshon Lattimore, Sam Hubbard, Erick Smith and Jalyn Holmes are all names to keep an eye on as Ohio State's first game week of the season approaches.
Battling the Bug
It took a week, but the injury bug has finally arrived in Columbus, with two freshmen suffering what will likely be season-ending injuries.
Linebacker Kyle Berger came to Ohio State as a 4-star prospect but also somewhat of a question mark after sitting out his senior season at Cleveland's St. Ignatius with a torn ACL. In his first week of fall camp, he had already been praised by Meyer for his performance, but his freshman season came to an end before it truly started when he re-tore the same ACL that brought a premature end to his high school career.
Berger will now likely redshirt his freshman campaign, as will classmate and defensive lineman Dylan Thompson, who suffered a fractured knee cap in the second week of camp. A former 3-star prospect, Thompson was already a likely redshirt candidate for the upcoming season, although his injury remains a setback in his development nonetheless.
The Buckeyes lost a third player for the 2014 campaign this past week when redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos chose to bring an end to his college career. In a statement released through Ohio State, Epitropoulos explained that he has decided to focus on pursuing his dream of attending medical school instead of playing football.
“I love being an Ohio State Buckeye,” Epitropoulos said. “But I am also competing to get into medical school, and that is very important to me and to my family. I am already in my third year at Ohio State and the process to begin applying to medical schools is not far off. After consulting with my family, I have therefore decided to end my athletic career so I can focus solely on academics."
In one season of action, Epitropoulos caught one ball for six yards. He was not expected to compete for significant playing time outside of special teams entering his sophomore season.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.
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