Spring Has Sprung!
This week's This and That: Buckeyes put a spring in our step, notes from gym class and the Class of 2019 gets another.
Spring Has Sprung In Meyerland
March 6th is a day which will put a little more spring in the step of Ohio State fans everywhere because the Buckeyes take to the field for spring practice. They'll, also, practice on March 8th before taking time off for spring break. When they resume, they'll have four more weeks of workouts before the spring game on April 14th. The great thing about this time period is we get to see things ACTUALLY happening instead of endless talk of what MIGHT happen.
Spring practice is a time mostly for young players to work on fundamentals, LOTS of fundamentals, while jockeying for position on the depth chart. The goal of coaching staffs, when it comes to well-established starters, is to keep them healthy and injury free. You can debate whether or not you win or lose games because of what a team does during spring ball, but one thing is for certain, an injury to a key starter will indeed have a great impact on wins and losses in the upcoming season. There are many storylines to watch develop over the next six weeks, but here are five I'll be watching most:
-The Quarterback Derby: J.T. Barrett has finally moved on and it is now time for the most highly anticipated battle to be the Buckeye signal caller since, well, 2015. Three years ago the trio of Braxton Miller (yes, I know he missed spring practice because of an injury), Barrett and Cardale Jones were all accomplished and proven; this year we have three virtual unknowns. I'm not talking about knowing their names, we all know Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell. But, they are largely unknowns when it comes to what they can do.
We know more about Haskins than the other two combined because of the way he performed in leading the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind win over Michigan after Barrett was injured. The 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore from Maryland showed off the rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy we'd been hearing about since he arrived in Columbus. The dart he fired, into a very tight window between two defenders, to Austin Mack to convert a key third and long against the Wolverines is already legendary. While his arm was very impressive, his poise and leadership are equally so. Here's a redshirt freshman, whose first meaningful playing time of his career is coming in college football's biggest rivalry with his team trailing, calmly taking charge of the offense and making play after play to lead his team to a win. It makes sense to think Haskins has an edge over Burrow and Martell because of the way he performed that day in Ann Arbor.
Burrow, a redshirt junior, spent 2016 as Barrett's backup. He broke his hand during a practice just before the regular season began in last August and was not fully healthy until midway through the season. Falling to number three on the depth chart, he appeared in just three games in 2017 and threw only nine passes. For his career he's appeared in only seven games and is 29 out of 37 for less than 300 yards. None of those 37 attempts have come in a meaningful situation and this is where Haskins holds the edge. But, keep in mind Burrow threw for over 11,000 yards while at Athens High School. He's accurate with his throws and being the son of a coach, he's a student of the game. He will graduate in May and there is a lot of speculation he will transfer if he feels he is not going to be the starter.
Redshirt freshman Tate Martell is the wild card in all of this. The 2016 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year was VERY impressive as the scout team quarterback last season, according to everyone around the Buckeye program. How impressive you ask? When Barret left the game against Michigan, Meyer considered turning to Martell, although he had not taken a solitary snap in a game all season, instead of Haskins. That says a ton about the impression he made. Martell is a phenomenal athlete, fierce competitor, supremely confident and a leader. If he doesn't win the starting job, there has been talk of Meyer and his staff figuring out a way to get him on the field anyway and take advantage of that athletic ability. If I had to choose between either Burrow or Martell to win the job away from Haskins, I'm going with Martell.
All three are much more accurate passers than Barrett. That should help the offense enormously. Here's my prediction: Meyer doesn't name a starter coming out of spring practice. Why should he? There is no need to rush considering there are still a month of practices in August leading up to the opening game with Oregon State on September 1st. Here is my second prediction: Burrow takes a graduate transfer and becomes an immediate starter wherever he goes (Cincinnati?).
-Offensive line: We know Isaiah Prince will once again be a starter at tackle, but the question is which one? After being a starter on the right side the last two seasons, there is talk of moving him to the left side. So, the question is, who fills the other tackle spot? Regardless of where Prince lines up, I think Brandon Bowen will be the guy. He was having a very good season as the starting right guard on 2017 before an injury ended it. Considering how well Demetrius Knox played filling in for Bowen, there is no need to leave him at right guard and leave the open tackle spot manned by a inexperienced player. Keep an eye on Thayer Munford. The sophomore saw time on special teams last season and quietly improved.
The most intriguing position on the O-line is center. Is this the year Brady Taylor finally gets his chance? The 6-foot-5, 302 pound 5th-year senior has patiently waited behind two first-team all-americans (Pat Elflein and Billy Price) the past few seasons for his chance to be The Guy. He's appeared in plenty of games in his career, but has never made a start. It's for this reason I think Meyer takes a look at Matthew Burrell at this position. Burrell is a reshirt junior, who stepped in to finish the Maryland game at right guard after starter Branden Bowen was injured. I think center may be the most wide-open position battle of the spring.
-Does Shaun Wade make a mark?: After injuries forced him to take a redshirt in 2017, I'm really looking forward to seeing if he can force his way into the conversation at cornerback. Keep in mind Buckeye teammate Jeffrey Okudah was the top-rated cornerback nationally in the 2017 recruiting class, but Wade was number two. I'm not sold on Damon Arnette and will not be surprised if Wade closes the gap on him this spring.
-Early enrollee impact: Of the Buckeyes nine early enrollees, who could make a name for himself in spring practice? I think defensive tackle Antwaun Jackson definitely will make his presence felt. He's used to playing at this level after spending time with Auburn his freshman season and a year in the JUCO ranks. Fellow defensive tackle Tommy Togiai could, also, make an impact. Buckeye defensive line guru Larry Johnson was EXTREMELY excited when the Idaho native committed.
With center being wide open, don't be surprised if you hear the name Matthew Jones a lot over the next six weeks. Jones was the number one center recruit in the country for this 2018 recruiting cycle. Remember, Michael Jordan came out in spring practice two years ago and all but won the the left guard position as an early enrollee. Jones is very athletic and, if he can show the same tenacity as Jordan did in the spring of 2016, he could make things very interesting at this position.
I think Master Teague can make a push to overtake Antonio Williams for the number three running back behind J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. He's very fast, incredibly strong and a hard-worker. Williams has been a bit of a disappointment, so I won't be surprised to see Teague begin to move past him on the depth chart.
Gym Class Update
Here are a few updates from the NFL Scouting Combine or as I like to call it, NFL Gym Class:
-A couple of former Buckeyes dealt with health issues. Billy Price, the top center in the draft, may have suffered a torn pectoral muscle during his first rep on the bench press. Final diagnosis will be made after he undergoes an MRI. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis battled the flu, but still acquitted himself well and certainly didn't do anything to hurt his status.
-Defensive end Sam Hubbard's 6.84 in the 3-cone drill led all players at his position.
-J.T Barrett was very inconsistent throwing the ball. I see this being reported by multiple outlets like it is some sort of revelation.
Number Two And Counting
Offensive lineman Ryan Jacoby became the second player to commit to the Buckeyes for 2019. Doug Nester from West Virginia, another offensive lineman, committed back in August. The 6-foot-5, 270 pound Jacoby, from Mentor High School, can play either tackle or guard.
Next week we'll actually be able to talk about things happening ON the field. I'm looking forward to it!