Spring Practice: 5 Questions
Two months. It’s been two months since the Buckeyes defeated Washington in the Rose Bowl. Those of us in the Great State of Ohio have been snowed on, frozen, rained on, and wind blown. That’s a lot to go through without Buckeye football to talk about. Oh, we speculated on just about everything to do with the program. But, there wasn’t REAL football to discuss. That all changes Monday when Ohio State head coach Ryan Day leads his team into the first of its 15 spring practices. The Buckeyes will have a couple of workouts next week before taking time off while the school is on spring break. When practice resumes the team will point towards getting ready for the Spring Game on April 13th.
Each team in college football has questions every year they enter spring ball. The Buckeyes are no exception. Here are the five questions I’m most interested to see answered in the next six weeks. I’m not so pretentious to believe these are THE most important five questions. I’m just saying these are the ones which interest me most.
How well will Justin Fields learn the offense?
When the much heralded quarterback transfer from Georgia was granted his waiver for immediate eligibility by the NCAA a few weeks ago, a lot of Buckeye fans quickly anointed the team national champions. I cautioned, and said, “Not so fast.” I still feel that way. He appears enormously talented, but talent alone does not guarantee success at the position. Understanding what you’re doing is the first step towards being a good quarterback. By all accounts Day’s offense is not easy to learn, so I don’t expect Fields to have a complete grasp of it by the time the Spring Game gets here. But, I do expect him to be well on his way to mastering it. If he struggles with it I’m going to have an uneasy feeling as we head towards August camp.
What will the offensive line depth chart look like?
Here are the things I think are pretty much set in stone: Thayer Munford will return at left tackle, and Wyatt Davis will be at right guard. Beyond that I’m not sure how it will look. I’m fairly certain Josh Myers will emerge as the starting center. He’s been practicing at the position for the past year, and has drawn positive reviews from the coaching staff. I can see Branden Bowen at left guard, while Josh Alabi and Nicholas Petite-Frere battle it out at right tackle.
I’m not going to worry too much about who lands where because I think it will all change in fall camp. Don’t be surprised if five-star center recruit Harry Miller makes a push for playing time once August rolls around. He recently bench pressed 225 pounds 28 times. Those are NFL-like numbers, and it impressed OSU strength and conditioning guru Micky Marotti so much he told Miller he did not have to test again until he arrives on campus in June. Miller is also having regular Skype sessions with offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to look at video, and go over the playbook. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the coaches think he can play early next season.
The bigger reason I’m not too worried about who lands where this spring is because of the news the team received on Monday. Rutgers graduate transfer offensive lineman Jonah Jackson announced he will be joining the Buckeyes in late May. Ryan Day and his staff outdueled Oklahoma for the player 247 Sports has rated as the top offensive line transfer in the country (and number five overall transfer player). The 6’4”, 305 pound Jackson was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection at guard last season, and is a serious contender for a starting spot for the Buckeyes. He’s versatile, and can play center as well. His addition helps address the depth problem the offensive line was facing. The presence of Jackson creates a lot of “what if” scenarios. I’ll stay away from those now until we see what this unit looks like coming out of spring practice.
Want a wild card in all of this? Keep an eye on Matthew Jones. He was the top center recruit in the country when he signed with the Buckeyes in 2018. By all accounts the redshirt freshman impressed the coaching staff last fall, and could make things interesting with a strong spring. Jones is from the same Brooklyn high school as current Buckeye Jahsen Wint, and former Buckeye Curtis Samuel.
Will there be changes at linebacker?
All three starters return for the most maligned unit on the team in 2018. Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland, and Pete Werner are all back. Let’s hope the experience they gained last year combined with a coaching change for the position will lead to this group becoming the force Buckeye fans are used to seeing. I don’t think there is any question Harrison will remain as the starter at the strongside position. He had his struggles at times just like the other linebackers, but I thought he improved steadily as the season progressed, and was one of the team’s better defensive players during the later part of the season.
Middle linebacker Tuf Borland suffered a torn Achilles last spring, and I’m not convinced he ever fully recovered. He did not look nearly the same player as he did in 2017, and was replaced by Baron Browning on passing downs. Borland is such a smart, tough player I don’t see a change here unless he can’t regain the speed he showed before the injury.
The one place I can see a change possibly coming is at the weakside spot Pete Werner played last season. Werner struggled pretty much all season, and the position was a weak spot on the defense. Regardless if it was Werner, the scheme, or coaching I’m thinking there can still be a change here in an effort to get the team’s three best linebackers on the field. Baron Browning is the one I can see pushing Werner for the top of the depth chart. He spent last season in the middle, but is capable of moving to the outside.
A couple of guys to keep an eye on are Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, and K’Vaughan Pope. All are talented, and all could make the leap in ability this spring to push for playing time.
Which of the early enrollee freshman make a splash?
The easy answer here is defensive end Zach Harrison, and receiver Garrett Wilson because they are the highest rated of the early enrollees. I can see Harrison performing well enough to gain some attention, but I’m interested to see how Wilson does getting open against college defensive backs. The other concern about Wilson this spring is blocking. He’s just 185 pounds right now, and is not used to blocking at this level. If he is to make a move for playing time, I expect it to be in August camp.
The guy I’m going with to open a few eyes is running back Marcus Crowley. I realize learning the pass blocking schemes can be difficult for young running backs, but I think it is easier for them to make the adjustment from high school to college.
What will the tight end rotation be?
We know Luke Farrell, who finished with 20 catches for just over 200 yards last season, will be the starter. He will be one of the conference’s best tight ends this season, and I don’t see him being passed on the depth chart. It is behind Farrell where things get interesting. Rashod Berry (9 catches, 78 yards, 2 touchdowns) was Farrell’s main backup last year, and spent most of his time blocking. But, I think ultra-talented sophomore Jeremy Ruckert just may pass him on the depth chart. Ruckert caught just one pass last season, and saw some playing time with the first-team offense. He was not an early enrollee, so this is the first time he’s gone through winter conditioning. I think you’re going to see a different player than you did in 2018. This is going to be one of the more underrated position battles of the spring. Jake Hausmann has been the fourth tight end, and I don’t see that changing for him.
The AAF has managed to chug through its first three weeks of games. After week one it looked for a minute like there wouldn’t be a week two when the league had issues making payroll. Fortunately a new investor stepped in, and pumped $250 million into league coffers. The overall play has gotten better. The biggest reason for that is the offensive lines have improved, and quarterbacks are not running for their lives constantly. But, one thing that hasn’t changed is former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenburg is still awful. Why on earth did the Jets draft him in the second round?
Former Buckeye receiver Jalen Marshall is off to a good start for the Orlando Apollos with 7 catches for 150 yards (good for fifth in the league), and two touchdowns. I fully expect him to be in an NFL camp this summer. Defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle has five tackles, including a sack for Atlanta. Sprinkle’s Atlanta teammate, defensive back Vonn Bell, is battling an injury, and played in only the opening game. Tight end Marcus Baugh of San Diego has three catches for 15 yards. He’s mostly been used as a blocker.
The big news this week were reports of Colin Kaepernick asking for a $20 million contract to play in the league. I’ve seen many articles saying he’s worth it. Really? Let’s put all politics aside, and look at what he did during his time in the NFL. Yes, he took the 49ers to a Super Bowl, and NFC championship game in his first two seasons as a starter. But, in his last two seasons he won just three starts, lost 16, completed just over 59% of his passes, and was benched for his poor play. His career completion percentage is under 60%. Contemporaries like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is at 65% for his career; Russell Wilson 64%, and Marcus Mariota 63%. I fully acknowledge the Niners were bad during Kaepernick’s last two seasons with them, but the numbers just aren’t there to justify a contract like that. He is not a $20 million quarterback in any league much less one that gives every player, regardless of position, the same 3-year, $250,000 contract.
In some NFL news, former Buckeye safety Kurt Coleman has been released by the Saints. This isn’t really a surprise. He started nine of the team’s sixteen games, but played sparingly in the playoffs.
A total of ten Buckeyes are at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which is going on through Monday.
Long Time Coming
Ohio State’s hockey team clinched its first regular season conference championship since 1972 this past weekend, and did it in style. Locked in a 3-3 tie in the second overtime at Michigan Saturday night, Mason Jobst scored on a breakaway to give the Buckeyes the Big Ten regular season championship. Jobst had been called for a penalty at the end of the first OT. His teammates managed to kill off the Wolverine power play, and when the penalty was about to expire, Michigan goalie Strauss Mann failed to warn his teammates (goalies will slap their stick on the ice to let teammates know the opposing player is about to come out of the penalty box). Jobst came out of the box behind the play without a Wolverine in sight. A nearly perfect pass was sent from deep in the Michigan zone onto the stick of “Captain Clutch,” who was waiting at the Wolverine blue line. Jobst then easily beat Mann to the stick side to touch off a wild celebration. It doesn’t matter the sport, clinching a championship in the Wolverines’ backyard is always sweet.
The Oscars were Sunday night. I have a few problems with them, so I don’t really watch anymore. Amy Adams has been nominated six times without a win. Really??!! In 1999 the Academy chose “Shakespeare in Love” for Best Picture over “Saving Private Ryan.” REALLY??!! I love movies, but now you know why I don’t watch when they hand out the gold statues. Have a great weekend everyone.