Ohio State Football: 5 Things We Learned About Buckeyes This Spring

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistApril 25, 2016

Ohio State Football: 5 Things We Learned About Buckeyes This Spring

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Quarterback J.T. Barrett is finally in position to take over as the leader of an Ohio State team that's incredibly young but equally talented.

    That was one of the biggest takeaways from a pivotal spring camp in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes, who are working to replace a number of superstars such as Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, wrapped up 15 practices with its annual spring game last week—and the scrimmage showcased an inexperienced squad that's brimming with potential.

    Urban Meyer is trying to mold that group into a contender this fall. Since his arrival in 2012, the Buckeyes are an incredible 50-4, but they boast just one Big Ten title in the last four years.

    The quest to the conference championship game actually began with spring practice. Here are five things we learned about the Buckeyes. 

J.T. Barrett Is Ready to Take over

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite everything that J.T. Barrett has accomplished in his remarkable Ohio State career to date, he hasn't truly been given the keys as an unquestioned leader of the team.

    That's set to change this fall.

    Barrett looked liked the surefire future of the Buckeyes program when he was suddenly thrust into the spotlight just two weeks before the start of the 2014 season. After a rocky start to the year, he—and by extension Ohio State—hit his stride and put together a historic season for the Buckeyes, setting a Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season.

    But even then as a redshirt freshman, he showcased his leadership ability on a team filled with veterans. Barrett's injury against Michigan in '14 opened the door for Cardale Jones, but his departure to the NFL has given Barrett the spotlight once again.

    He doesn't have Jones' physical tools or Braxton Miller's speed, but Barrett's intangibles and leadership will determine how far Ohio State goes in 2016. 

Joe Burrow Is a Promising Safety Net

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    If recent history is any indication, Ohio State is going to need a dependable backup quarterback in 2016.

    The Buckeyes needed Kenny Guiton to preserve undefeated seasons in 2012—when he triggered the remarkable comeback against Purdue—and 2013—when he filled the gap against San Diego State and Cal early in the season.

    The 2014 season was the year of the backup quarterback as J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones triggered a national title run, and a year later, the offense didn't find a groove or establish an offensive identity until it turned to Barrett after starting the year with Jones.

    The backup quarterback spot in 2016 was a wide open position going into spring, but Joe Burrow locked down the spot with a strong camp.

    He was at his best in the spring game, when he threw for 196 yards and three touchdowns (against just one interception) while also showing nice speed running the ball, gaining 51 yards on seven carries.

    “Joe Burrow has been coming on,” Urban Meyer said, according to Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch. “He was a guy that last year I had my concerns (about), just arm strength to release, twitch, ability to run the ball because you have to do that. He’s gotten better and better. He’s a grinder. He comes from a really good family, that’s tough people, and you can see him start to grow.”

The Offense Will Be Fast, but Young

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    With the departure of Ezekiel Elliott, the team's three leading wide receivers and four other starters on offense, Ohio State is undergoing a massive transition this offseason. 

    It's not just personnel, though, as the Buckeyes spent much of spring practice running a no-huddle, uptempo offense.

    That offense worked well for Ohio State in the last two games of the 2015 season. After looking lost and ineffective through the first 11 contests, Ohio State went no huddle against Michigan, which led to a decisive 42-13 rout of a top-10 team. Four weeks later in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, the Buckeyes maintained that pace and blew past the Irish in a 44-26 win. 

    Ohio State averaged 43 points and 489 total yards in those last two games, and Urban Meyer and the offense want to see similar results in 2016.

    “The last two games, I want to say [the offense was] 80 percent tempo and it worked out really well,” Meyer said, per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “We’re going to do a lot more uptempo offense than we've done.”

The Defense Has Dominant Potential

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Like on offense, the Buckeyes defense is looking for eight new starters before reigning MAC champion Bowling Green comes to Columbus for the season opener this September.

    The young silver bullets defense showcased a lot of potential in the spring game, though, and it started up front on the defensive line.

    The line was missing all four starters from last year's team in the spring game—lone returning starter Tyquan Lewis was out with injury—but a number of young guys showed that they can wreak havoc in the backfield. 

    Davon Hamilton registered three tackles for loss, Jashon Cornell had two, and Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers were a constant disruption as well. But those are just reserves for the expected starters of defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Lewis and tackles Michael Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle.

    The middle of the defense looks good with linebackers Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker and Chris Worley slated as starters. The secondary, which is replacing starting safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell and lead cornerback Eli Apple, looks good with an emerging stud in safety Malik Hooker. 

The Buckeyes Need to Get Healthy

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Ohio State escaped spring practice without suffering any major injuries, but a high number of players who are expected to contribute this fall were working their way back into full action.

    The biggest deficiency is at wide receiver, where a trio of projected starters in Noah Brown, Corey Smith and (H-back) Curtis Samuel were all out as they rehab leg and foot injuries. Those three highlighted 15 players who opened spring camp with some sort of injury, but four of those players were back into the swing of things by the spring game. 

    That still left 11 players out, and with so many vacancies in the starting lineup, it made things very hard for Urban Meyer this fall.

    "This is uncharted waters for me too. You'd like to [establish a depth chart], but I don't think so," Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that. But we're not."

    The wounded Buckeyes have about three months to get ready for the start of fall camp, because if they don't, Meyer will have just as much trouble establishing his depth chart for the season opener. 

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