In any program with a new coach and new assistants, there is going to be change. Much of it may be something fans never see or notice. Different terminology in calling plays. The way an audible is called at the line of scrimmage. How a linebacker reads his keys at the start of a play. But, some changes are quite noticeable. Ryan Day and his staff are looking at implementing a few things Buckeye fans will find noticeable.
After seven years of seeing Buckeye quarterbacks in the shotgun for Urban Meyer, Day is taking a look this spring at moving them under center for certain plays. The offensive staff feels this can add more variety to the playbook, and help in both the run and passing game, especially with play action passes. New quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich explained it allows receivers to get further downfield because the fake takes more time. That allows you to suck in the defense for a longer period of time. Right now they don’t have a lot of plays in this package, but that’s to be expected when you’re just taking a look to see if it is a good fit for your team. How often the Buckeyes use this during the season will depend on how well the players adapt to it. Well, that certainly makes sense because you don’t want to see them using it if the ball is constantly on the ground because of a bad center/quarterback exchange. And yes, if Ryan Day decides to keep this package into the regular season, it will mean the potential of a quarterback sneak in short yardage situations. I really like the sound of that because I’m not a big fan of running from the shotgun in short yardage.
The new defensive coaches have brought their share of new ideas. One of those is the use of a hybrid linebacker/safety. You see a lot of teams doing this in college football. Washington, the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl opponent, is one that jumps to mind. Former Buckeye cornerback Wayne Davis, who transferred to James Madison after spring practice last year, played the position for the Dukes in 2018. Jabrill Peppers (more on him later) spent some time being quite ineffective in the role for Michigan (keep in mind new co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was at Michigan when Peppers was there). I’m very confident the Buckeye who looks to be first in line to win the position will make much more of an impact than Peppers.
Rose Bowl defensive MVP Brendan White looks to be the guy the OSU staff is looking at to be their Bullet (the name the coaches have given the position). At 6’2”, 220 pounds he appears to be the right size. You need a player who can line up at safety, linebacker, be an edge rusher, and cover receivers in the slot. Players at this position are obviously asked to do a lot, and must possess just the right combination of size and speed. Linebackers coach Al Washington said he wants a playmaker at the position. White seems to be the perfect fit. Obviously there is a domino effect with the other linebackers because the team will still use two safeties in addition to the Bullet position. That means only two linebackers in most situations, so someone isn’t going to get as much playing time as last season. My guess is it is going to be Pete Werner. Who would you rather see matching up with fast receivers lining up in the slot? Werner or White? This is why I really like the concept, and who will probably be the starter at this position. I simply did not like seeing Werner out in space matched up with small, speedy receivers. It happened way too often last year.
New secondary coach Jeff Hafley is making another change to help the defense combat spread offenses by implementing a pattern-match scheme. Nick Saban has used this at Alabama, and the Buckeyes faced it in the Rose Bowl against Washington. What is it? Well, it is along the same lines as the quarters coverage OSU used on their way to a national championship in 2014. Pattern-match is designed to confuse quarterbacks because it works like a zone, but receivers are covered using man-to-man techniques. Defensive backs will either stay with a receiver or drop into zone coverage depending on what that receiver does. An example is cornerbacks will start a play covering the outside receiver. If that receiver breaks to the inside early in his route, the cornerback drops into a deep zone. If the receiver runs an out or a deep vertical route, the cornerback stays with him. It can get very complicated, but Hafley is trying to simplify it. Greg Schiano’s reliance on man-to-man coverage was great when the Buckeyes had All-American cornerbacks, but as we saw last season it struggled when they did not. The more I learn about the pattern-match scheme, the more I like it. If you want to learn more about it I highly suggest you read Eleven Warriors’ Film Study piece they did on it recently. You can read that by clicking here.
When I think about the two defensive changes I’ve touched on here combined with linebacker Teradja Mitchell’s assertion the defense is simpler, and will allow the linebackers to play faster, I start to get a bit excited about what this unit could be this season. I’m not getting TOO excited because there does need to be considerable improvement in some areas. But, it is reassuring to know changes are being made to correct last season’s issues.
Justin Fields officially became a Buckeye the other day when he had the black stripe removed from his helmet. The better news is Ryan Day saying Fields is a quick learner. An athletic quarterback will not do a team any good if he doesn’t understand the offense. Hearing Fields is picking up on the OSU offense is very good news to me. Fields has been seen taking all of the reps with the first team offense during the portion of practice the media is allowed to observe. But, Day is quick to point out Matthew Baldwin is taking first team reps as well in other parts of practice. Folks, I think it’s safe to say Fields has separated himself a bit from Baldwin, and is the leader right now to be the starter on opening day.
Linebacker Justin Hilliard has injured his Achilles and may miss the entire season. The fifth-year senior from Cincinnati has battled injuries throughout his OSU career. Although he was never able to crack the starting lineup, Hilliard has been invaluable on special teams. Redshirt freshman receiver Kamryn Babb could miss the season with a knee injury. This could be the second consecutive season Babb misses with an injury. Also, nose tackle Robert Landers has been battling a myriad of injuries this spring. I normally wouldn’t worry about what appear to be minor injuries, but he was beaten up a lot last year. He’s not the biggest guy around, and is playing a very physical position.
True freshman receiver Garrett Wilson, one of the early enrollees, has added fifteen pounds to his frame, and is opening some eyes with his play. I’ve felt he has a real chance to get significant playing time this season, but questioned if is big enough to handle the blocking assignments. The news of his weight gain has me thinking you’ll see him on the field early and often in 2019. Speaking of receivers, L’Christian “Blue” Smith has left the program, and will transfer. He played in three games as a true freshman last season.
Former Buckeye receiver Corey Smith was arrested in Akron recently for aggravated robbery among other things. He is probably best remembered for catching a key third down pass from Cardale Jones in the first quarter of the national championship game against Oregon when the Buckeyes were deep in their own territory. The Buckeyes would eventually score on the drive. Smith had just 31 catches in his OSU career that spanned from 2014 through 2016.
The parents of former Ohio State All-American lineman Michael Jordan provided a laugh recently. The Jordan’s, who are natives of Canton, Michigan, have often been asked by Wolverine fans why Michael chose the Buckeyes over the Wolverines. His parents’ reply is priceless, “What makes you think they were second choice?” I love that! The arrogance of Michigan fans never ceases to amaze me.
I’ve often mentioned how much Ohio State’s bottle flipping punter Drue Chrisman makes me laugh on social media. A few weeks ago he posted a video of himself trying to use heelys (remember those stupid shoes with the wheels from about 15 years ago?) while wearing a unicorn onesie in his kitchen. I’m not making this up. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. He just might be my favorite Buckeye. The great thing is he’ll be around for another two seasons.
One Las Vegas oddsmaker has made Michigan a 6 ½ point favorite over the Buckeyes. It’s March. I really don’t care. Neither should you because November is a long way off. But, wouldn’t you love to know if anyone has actually put money down on the game yet? If you’re making bets on a college football game that is still eight months away, you’ve got a problem.
The Dumb Argument
Ohio State held its Pro Day last week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. As expected, Dwayne Haskins, and the receivers put on a show. Regardless of how well Haskins throws the ball in these workouts, there will always be the Kyler Murray worshipers trying to downplay what Haskins does. They make all kinds of arguments about why Murray is clearly the better quarterback. The dumbest of which is the, “Murray is a better runner than Haskins.” Would you like to know why this is a dumb argument? Just take a look at the list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, and you’ll see why. Since the 2000 season I’d consider one Super Bowl winning quarterback as someone who runs really well, and that’s Seattle’s Russell Wilson. You win in the NFL by standing in the pocket, and delivering the football. Yes, a quarterback needs to be able to keep a play alive, but he certainly doesn’t need to be a great runner to do that. The proof is in the list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.
When I see Murray throw the 12-15 yard out from the far hash mark on a rope to the sideline like Haskins can (a throw he made in the third quarter against Northwestern), then I’ll consider them equals. Until then I’ll consider Haskins the better draft prospect. Oh, by the way, all of those reports from the NFL insider types who have said the Giants aren’t interested in Haskins because he’s not a good fit for them? Take a look at the picture below, and tell me if they look disinterested.
Good News, Bad News
Don’t look now, but the AAF is building a stronghold. The television ratings are holding steady, and I’m seeing good crowds at the games. But, the most encouraging thing I see is the reaction of the fans in attendance. They’re really into it, and having FUN. They’re dressing up in costumes and masks, making signs, and generally making a lot of noise. You’re seeing a lot more team hats, and clothing being worn than in the early part of the season. Sure, quarterback play in the league could be better overall, and offenses too often bog down inside the red zone, but the league has built a fan base. The league even created some buzz when Johnny Manziel joined the Memphis Express, and made his debut this past weekend. That’s the good news about the fledgling league.
Now here is the bad news: league majority owner Tom Dundon said the AAF could fold because the NFL players union will not allow its young players to participate in the league. Dundon told USA Today, “If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a developmental league. We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.” Oh goody!! Just when you get a good thing going it looks like it will end up in the dumper. I think the NFLPA’s stance is ridiculous, but what about the league’s claim they can’t survive without young NFL players? They say they’re a developmental league. Well, isn’t that what they’re doing with the players who have been a part of the league all season? Not sure I understand the league’s position on this.
No ex-Buckeye has gotten more attention than Orlando receiver Jalin Marshall. So far he has 23 catches for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns for the Apollos. But, one ex-Ohio State player quietly having a very good season is Atlanta defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle. He has just 10 tackles through the team’s first seven games, but he has 4 sacks, and has been a constant disruption to opposing offenses. Defensive back Doran Grant joins Sprinkle on the Atlanta defense. He missed some time early in the season, but has been the team’s best cover cornerback. Chase Farris has been a fixture at right guard all season for Atlanta. Tight end Marcus Baugh has 10 catches for 172 yards and a couple of touchdowns for San Diego, and earned the praise of tight ends coach Anthony Becht. Yeah, the same Anthony Becht who played for WVU, and was taken in the first round by the Jets way back when.
Some former Buckeyes became NFL free agents during this off-season. Cornerback Bradley Roby left the Broncos to sign with the Texans. The former first round pick earned a Super Bowl ring in 2015, and had seven career interceptions during his time in Denver. While one former Buckeye has decided to leave Denver, another is staying. Jeff Heuerman had the best season so far of his three-year career in 2018. The tight end caught 31 passes for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns. Heuerman is one of the few Buckeyes to have a national championship (starter on the Buckeyes’ 2014 championship team) and Super Bowl ring (he was a member of the Broncos, but injured during the 2015 season). Another Super Bowl winning Buckeye decided to stay put. Defensive end John Simon, who was picked up by the Patriots in late September after being released by the Colts last season, decided to re-sign with the Super Bowl champions. Running back Carlos Hyde signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs. Defensive lineman Johathan Hankins has re-signed with the Raiders.
Browns fans and media alike nearly lost their minds when the team traded for receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Predictions of a division title, and Super Bowl win began popping up everywhere. Hey, I’m a Browns fan, and would love for them to win a championship. But, I’m also a realist. I think this team is a VERY serious contender for a wild card berth, and can make a run at the division title. The appear to have a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and now he has an elite receiver to throw to in Beckham. However, they have a new head coach, still need to get better on defense, and it remains to be seen how Beckham will fit in. GM John Dorsey has certainly improved their personnel over last season through free agency and trades, and the draft is yet to come. Cleveland fans have every right to be excited, but let’s not get TOO far ahead of ourselves. But, it certainly is fun to be a Browns fan these days. One other thing to be happy about: it looks like they’ll be going back to their more traditional uniforms for the 2020 season.
The Browns got Beckham by giving the Giants first and third round picks in this year’s draft, and Jabrill Peppers. When I first read about the trade the only thing I saw was “Browns get rid of Peppers.” That’s exactly how I look at it; they got rid of him. He was a complete bust in his two seasons in Cleveland. I don’t say this because he played at Michigan. I say this because he played at Michigan, and wasn’t very productive for them. I say this because former Browns’ GM Sashi Brown traded away a chance to draft Malik Hooker, and then turned around and took Peppers. I say this because it was nearly headline news when Peppers actually made a play for the Browns. He was terrible, and I’m ecstatic to see him gone.
Blame The New Kid
I didn’t intend for this blog to be as long this. I was planning on putting one out late last week. But, then this little guy decided to show up two weeks early, so my wife and I spent last week visiting him in Canada. My grandson, Cameron, was born March 10th , and weighed in at 6 pounds, 5 ounces. So, yeah, blame the newest Buckeye fan for the length of this lol!
I know everyone is all wound up about the NCAA basketball tournament, but college basketball is a poorly officiated three-point shooting contest to me. I’d far rather watch the NCAA hockey tournament. The Buckeyes are the third seed in the West Regional, and will play Denver today at 4 PM on ESPNU. Enjoy the weekend everyone.