Down The Stretch They Come
This week’s This and That: Buckeyes getting near the finish line, my favorite “never was” Buckeye, Frozen ups and downs, a nice ring to it.
Ohio State’s spring game will start on Saturday (the 14th) around 1:45 PM (you can watch it on the Big Ten Network). That means there are only a few more opportunities for those fighting for spots on the depth chart to make an impression before taking a three and a half month break until fall camp begins in August. That three and a half month break from Buckeye football is like sports Siberia for me. Barren. I’ll fill my sports watching with Formula 1 racing and Diamond League track. I’m not kidding, I actually enjoy those things. But, for now, there’s still Buckeye football to talk about.
-Nearly all of the discussions during spring practice have centered on who will emerge from the three-way duel at quarterback. For Urban Meyer, center is the position battle causing him the most concern. Lost in all of this talk has been the race to see who will top the depth chart at tight end. The Buckeyes are thin on experience at this position, VERY thin.
Two-year starter Marcus Baugh is about to be drafted into the NFL. The only other Buckeye with significant playing time at the position is Rashod Berry. Berry began his career as a Buckeye at tight end, switched to defense after redshirting and then back to tight end to provide depth before the 2017 season. After A.J. Alexander's career ended because of knee injury in July of last year (if you're wondering who he is, take a look at that fourth down run by J.T. Barrett in the 2016 Michigan game and notice who is blocking for him when he picks up that first down), Berry became the main backup to Baugh. Last season he caught six passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. While those aren't staggering numbers by any stretch, what I love about him is the athletic ability he showed once he got his hands on the ball. Berry's exploits on the basketball floor for Lorain High School are almost legendary (look him up on YouTube). If he makes the leap in ability most do the year after a position switch, the 6-4, 256-pound redshirt junior could be a real weapon for the Buckeyes. Well, as much as a weapon as the tight end can be in Urban Meyer's offense. They tend to get a bit overlooked in the gameplan.
The player pushing Berry most right now is redshirt sophomore Luke Farrell. He had only two catches for 19 yards last season and saw virtually all of his playing time come after the game had been decided. But, Meyer said he graded "a champion" for the Buckeyes' Good Friday scrimmage. I like his size, at 6-6, 250 pounds, he's a little bigger than Berry. If you want to run the ball like the Buckeyes do, I really believe you need a big, athletic body at that position. Farrell is both.
The third option right now is Jake Hausmann, another redshirt sophomore. For me, so far, he's been a bit of a disappointment. More highly thought of than Farrell when he came out of Moeller High School, Hausmann doesn't appear to be much in the conversation at all. That's why I think incoming freshman Jeremy Ruckert (if you remember, he's the player I wrote about, who needs a lesson in The Rivalry) will push for playing time in 2018. Meyer has called him the best tight end he's ever recruited. Considering how thin the team is at this position, they're going to need one of these two to step up and show they can contribute before the Buckeyes get too far into the new season. I'm not comfortable with only two competent tight ends. As every good Buckeye fan knows, injuries happen. I'll be much happier knowing they have, at least, three tight ends who are ready to play.
-It is well known Urban Meyer likes versatile offensive linemen. So, one of the more interesting developments I’ve seen reported is linebackers coach Bill Davis developing versatility in his position group. At the beginning of spring practice, Malik Harrison lined up on the strong side (the SAM position), with Keandre Jones at the weak side (the WILL position). But, it didn’t take Davis long to switch them so they could learn both positions. There are certainly differences to playing each position. The strongside linebacker usually lines up to the tight end side of the formation and has more run support responsibilities, while the weakside plays more in “space” and has a few more pass coverage responsibilities. Pretty standard stuff across the board in football. However, not everywhere has their outside backers learn both sides. This is a way to get your best players on the field if you have to reshuffle your lineup due to injury.
The impending return of Dante Booker, who started the first ten games of 2017 before an injury ended his year, could push Jones or Harrison for a starting spot. Booker is missing the spring as he rehabs after shoulder surgery. Booker is certainly an athlete, but let’s be honest, the group performed better when Tuf Borland moved into the middle and Chris Worley took over Booker’s spot after he was injured.
Don’t sleep on sophomore outside linebacker Pete Werner. He, quite literally, made an impact with his big hits on special teams last season. Meyer likes his intensity and says he has made a big leap in the last few weeks. I think there’s little doubt he’ll make a push for more significant playing time in 2018
Meyer said recently early enrollee Dallas Gant will play this season. The outside linebacker from Toledo is “mature” and “gets it” according to the Buckeye boss. Gant, like just about all true freshman who see the field in Meyer’s program, will work to get ready to play special teams.
-In 2017, the Buckeyes rotated three cornerbacks and want to do so again in 2018. But, new position coach Taver Johnson said that number could expand if more than three are ready to play. It’s well known Shaun Wade is having an excellent spring and, according to an Eleven Warriors report, Marcus Williamson is as well. Johnson said Williamson has "the quickest feet" of any of the cornerbacks. For most of the spring, he's been lining up against the slot receiver. Those quick feet will serve him well against the smaller, quicker receivers team's use at the slot postition. Adding two more players to the Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette, Jeffrey Okudah rotation seems like a lot and I'm not convinced Meyer will agree to it.
-Meyer and the school agreed to a two year contract extension, which will keep him as the Ohio State head coach through the 2022 season. Wonder what lie Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will come up with the next time he goes head-to-head with Meyer over a recruit now that Urbz is going to be around a while longer? Someday karma will catch up to to the Tigers' lead snake oil salesman and his negative recruiting.
He's Great At Trolling Also
We all know LeBron James is a great basketball player. But, how many of you know he is, also, a huge Ohio State fan and is nearly as great at trolling Michigan as he is on the hardwood? King James has never shied away from saying, if he had to play one season of college basketball, it would have been for the Buckeyes. So, it certainly isn't surprising to learn of his reaction to Michigan's loss to Villanova in the NCAA basketball championship game a week ago. "But the best team won and I’m actually happy they won a little bit because we don’t really speak that other team’s name around here," James said the day after the game. After bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland for the first time in 52 years (one which seemed to drive Pittsburgh sports fans insane, for some reason) and trolling the Buckeyes' biggest rival like a hall of famer, I've long since forgiven the guy for the way he smacked northeast Ohio in the head when he took his talents to South Beach. Long live King Troll!
From A Low To A High
It's a pretty safe bet the Ohio State hockey team's first three minutes against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the Frozen Four semi-final was the worst opening three minutes in the history of Frozen Four opening three minutes. It was awful....indescribably awful. The Buckeyes, almost literally, stood around and watched the Bulldogs skate circles around them and take a 2-0 lead after the first 185 seconds. The hockey Bucks were fortunate it was only 2-0; it was THAT bad. They fought back and actually had the better part of play over the second half of the game, but came up on the short end of a 2-1 score. That was the low.
This is the high: Michigan lost their semi-final in a soul crushing way. The Wolverines tied Notre Dame with just over five minutes to play and the game looked to be headed to overtime. After struggling to get the puck out of their own end as the clock wound down, the Irish began a frantic rush up ice that ended in a goal. It gave them a 4-3 lead with only 5.2 seconds on the clock. Yeah, the Buckeyes may have lost, but at least I wasn’t looking for super glue to put my soul back together like Wolverine fans.
Between the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Notre Dame had won five consecutive one-goal games. Two were won in OT, the other three wins came on goals scored in the final minute of play. But, the luck of the Irish ran out in the championship game as Minnesota-Duluth shutdown ND’s offense for a 2-1 win. In baseball, good pitching beats good hitting and vice versa. In hockey, good goaltending beats everything. The Bulldogs had it and claim their second national championship.
Put A Ring On It
The 2017 Buckeyes received their Big Ten championship rings on Monday. That out-going group of seniors, led by consensus All-American center Billy Price and quarterback J.T. Barrett, walk away from the Ohio State program with two Big Ten Championship rings and one for a national championship. Let’s not forget one more important fact about those seniors: they were 4-0 against Michigan.
I’m proud to say I did not watch a solitary second of The Masters. Don’t get me started on what I think of that tournament and the people who run it. See you next week when we get to talk about the spring game.