As the Wisconsin Badgers finished their spring practice season Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, many look ahead through the long months of May, June and July until fall camp starts up. As spring football ends for many programs this month, it doesn't hurt to take a quick look at other Big Ten programs (and beyond).
Last week, we looked at Alabama's spring with Roll Bama Roll. Today, we look at Ohio State's task of following up a national championship in 2015. For that, we asked Christopher Hawley from our SB Nation cousins at Land-Grant Holy Land to help us break down the Buckeyes' spring.
B5Q: Almost 100,000 people attended Ohio State's spring game. Urban Meyer didn't seem necessarily pleased about the 17-14 game, but who shined for the Buckeyes Saturday, and who didn't?
Christopher Hawley (CH): Urban's preseason displeasure with the team has become pretty commonplace as we enter his fourth year as head coach of the Buckeyes. It's clear he uses it as a motivational tool for the team. No matter what stage of progression or success the team is at, Meyer will likely have something to say about how they "aren't there yet" or "aren't playing like an Ohio State football team."
Anyway, on to who actually shined for the Buckeyes in this one. Despite a couple of turnovers, Cardale Jones looked pretty good for my money on offense. He was able to display his unending arm strength on numerous occasions. Specifically, his touchdown deep ball to Corey Smith helped to remind everyone how he was able to torch defenses last year. On the defensive side of the ball, two younger players were able to step up and be recognized: linebacker Nick Connor and safety Erick Smith. Connor is an early enrollee who seemed to be everywhere on defense for the Buckeyes. Smith is a true sophomore who was able to come down with a few takeaways and displayed solid coverage ability.
B5Q: Cardale Jones was the only one of the big three quarterbacks to suit up for Ohio State Saturday, as Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett are still recovering from injuries. I assume it's still way too early to predict a starter, especially with the injuries. Is that true, or is there a feeling someone has the inside edge?
CH: It is definitely too soon to start accurately predicting a starter even with the injuries. However, it is difficult to overlook the fact that Jones is essentially getting 100 percent of the first-team reps until either Miller or Barrett fully recover and show Meyer they are ready to take snaps at that level again. As I weigh who will actually start, however, I look to a few things:
- Miller's injury is to his throwing shoulder and he injured it just throwing the ball. A no-contact injury to a throwing shoulder of a quarterback has to be seriously concerning when discussing his recover and future impact. Additionally, even if he does recover and is able to throw, Miller hasn't taken full reps and forcefully thrown a football regularly in nearly a year. That has to speak to how ready he could be upon physical recovery.
- Barrett went head to head with Jones last summer and beat him out fair and square for the starting job. Additionally, Barrett looked great throughout the season and was a dark horse Heisman candidate at one point. However, that was all well before Jones took over and eviscerated three of the best 10 teams in the country en route to Ohio State's eighth national title. Which leads me to my last point.
- Jones had an opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft and opted to stick around and compete for the job this year. Not to be forgotten among that mature and fantastic decision is the crew Meyer took with him to talk to Jones before his decision: quarterback coach Tim Beck and offensive coordinator Ed Warriner. Jones made it clear that no promises were made, but the discussion between those four had to have touched on his ability to start a full year for the team. So, while I'm not ready to say who will win the job, I believe, for a number of reasons, Jones as the inside track at the moment and the job is his to lose.
B5Q: What were some of the major storylines heading into spring camp, and how did they play out?
CH: One of the major story lines heading into spring Camp was who would take over for Steve Miller and Michael Bennett on the defensive line. As of right now, it appears as though Tyquan Lewis will start at defensive end and Tommy Schutt will start at defensive tackle. Lewis has shown flashes in limited use over the past couple years and could be ready to make a leap. Also, Schutt came into Columbus as a highly touted five-star lineman but has been hampered by injuries. If he can put it together it will go a long way in replacing Bennett. However, I fully expect a heavy rotation on the line this year. While Joey Bosa and Aldolphus Washington will play most snaps of every game, guys like Jayln Holmes, Sam Hubbard, and others will crack the deep rotation.
Another minor storyline heading into the spring game was that perhaps Ohio State has four quarterbacks. However, despite his hard work and skill set, it became clear that Stephen Collier requires some solid development before he could be counted on as the signal caller for the Buckeyes. Although he hit Terry McLaurin for a solid deep ball touchdown, Collier seemed hurried and frantic at times in the pocket and missed a number of his targets down the field. One day Collier may start for the Buckeyes, but he isn't not ready for that opportunity just yet.
B5Q: Were there any major surprises or breakthroughs for the Buckeyes in spring camp?
CH: There were a couple of interesting moves and surprises in spring camp for the Buckeyes. First, it seems as though the staff is looking for running back Curtis Samuel to have the type of ubiquitous impact otherwise unseen on the team to this point. They have him working out with the running backs and wide receivers. Meyer made it clear they need to get him on the field and the staff seems to be furiously dedicated to that goal. Also, with Samuel possibly lining up at the H with Dontre Wilson and the absence of Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall will begin to line up as more of a true receiver.
One possible breakthrough for the Buckeyes could be coming in the form of Corey Smith. With Devin Smith's deep ball ability markedly absent for the Buckeyes, Smith may be able to fill the void and take the top off of opposing defenses. He showed that ability in the spring game and seems to be adequately developing in the offseason. However, only time and in game performance will truly illustrate whether or not Smith is ready for such a breakthrough.
B5Q: Lastly, are there any position groups or players you're most concerned about heading into summer conditioning and fall camp?
CH: The first player/position group I am most concerned about has to be cornerback Gareon Conley. Conley seems to be the guy to fill the vacant corner spot opposite Eli Apple this year. Last year, Conley seemed to have a bit of an edge on Apple for playing time; however, he just could not put it together on the field and it become clear he could not be trusted one on one pressing opposing wide outs. Conley was burned a few times, Apple took over all of the reps, and Conley struggled to see the field. Now, Conley will be depended on heavily as a starter. I will have my eye on him to see if he has made adequate progression from last year and can hold his own in a defensive scheme that puts a lot of responsibility on its corners.
Another player/position group I am concerned about heading into fall camp is Schutt and the interior defensive line. Schutt could end up being a monster in the middle for the Buckeyes, but he has to stay healthy. If he or Washington, both of who have had their fair share of injury troubles, go down during the year they are going to be quite thin inside. Donovan Munger and Jashon Cornell may be the next guys up in that instance, but beyond that there isn't much and the drop off would be evident.