Spring Practice: Room For Improvement
This week's This and That: Buckeyes go back to work, hoping to impress for a paycheck, a commit to tote the rock, a long time not being Frozen, he’s deadly with a pen.
Some Good, Lots Of Not So Good
After six of his team's allotted 15 spring practices, Urban Meyer is not happy. When you coach a team with this much talent, there are very high expectations. Right now Meyer feels his team is not living up to those expectations and should be further along than they are. Let's keep in mind there are a lot of young players getting their first real chance to prove themselves. The 2018 Buckeyes are a work in progress and, because of all of that young talent, there is a possibility they still will not be a finished product until they're a few games into the season. But, the opener against Oregon State is still over four months away, so let's all relax and take a look at what's been going on.
-Perhaps the biggest development of the spring, so far, is the news starting middle linebacker Tuf Borland has injured his Achilles and will miss the remainder of the spring. However, he has not been ruled out for the regular season. Borland is a redshirt sophomore, who started nine games and recorded 58 tackles and one sack, after Dante Booker was injured. After Booker's injury, Chris Worley, who had been starting in the middle, moved back to the the outside where he started in 2016. Borland stepped into the middle and improved what had been a struggling group of linebackers.
Whenever the Buckeyes have to deal with an injury, their attitude is always "next man up." In this case, Justin Hilliard is that "next man." The junior from Cincinnati arrived in Columbus as a highly thought of five-star recruit, but suffered bicep injuries that ended each of his first two seasons as a Buckeye. Hilliard spent last season excelling on special teams. But, the player to keep an eye on just may be Baron Browning. Like Hilliard, he spent last season on special teams, but Meyer thinks he's as talented as any linebacker he's had at Ohio State. While Borland is expected to return, Browning, a sophomore, may be someone who is too talented to keep off the field this season.
-It's not surprising none of the three quarterbacks-Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell-have separated themselves from the others and are sharing practice reps equally. All reports indicate Haskins and Burrow are showing pinpoint accuracy. While Martell may be just a shade behind in that department, he more than makes up for it with his ability to make plays with his athleticism. He recently confirmed there will be a special package of plays designed for him in order to take advantage of that athletic ability. I've become convinced no matter who emerges as the starter, the Buckeyes are going to have a very good quarterback running their offense in 2018.
-As I've said in previous blogs, the position battle which most concerns Urban Meyer is center. I really have to agree with him on this one. At least five players are being looked at to take over this position. Fifth-year senior Brady Taylor is the leader right now and, while Meyer has said he's playing well, he's not ready to name Taylor the starter. Matthew Burrell, Josh Meyers, Matthew Jones and Josh Alabi, a backup tackle, are also being considered. I'm of the belief this will still be a wide open competition when fall camp opens in August.
-One of the most impressive players of the spring, so far, is redshirt freshman cornerback Shaun Wade. With Jeffrey Okudah sitting out the spring after shoulder surgery, Wade is making the most of his opportunity. I'm not sold on Damon Arnette, who struggled to cover receivers too much last season for my liking. So, I'd love to see another option emerge at the position. Okudah, Arnette and Kendall Sheffield are expected to see significant playing time. But, if Wade continues to perform this well, he could make it impossible to keep him off the field.
Time To Shine
A total of seventeen Buckeyes took part in the program's pro day last week. Everyone from J.T. Barrett to former walk on and special teams ace Elijah Goins performed drills in front of a total of 142 scouts and coaches representing all 32 NFL teams. While a pro day is somewhat similar to the NFL Scouting Combine, a big difference is how involved coaches can get with individual or groups of players. It isn't uncommon to see players being taken off to a corner of the field by one of the NFL coaches and put through drills on a more personal level. New England's Bill Belichick and new Detroit head coach Matt Patricia (most recently an assistant with the Patriots) were very involved in running these side drills.
I won’t get into who did what other than to say Tyquan Lewis had a good day, as did Goins. Belichick spent time looking at Zach Turnure and talked with defensive end Sam Hubbard. Turnure came to Ohio State for lacrosse before walking onto the football team, where he became a special teams star. He wouldn’t be the first player like this Belichick took a chance on from OSU. Nate Ebner switched from rugby to football before being drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots in 2012; he’s been with them ever since.
The oddest thing about Ohio State’s pro day? The presence of former Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who is now the defensive line coach for Carolina.
Three And Counting
Avon, Indiana running back Sampson James has become the third player to commit to the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class. The 6-1, 211 pound James is considered the second best recruit in the Hoosier State and is among the top 10 running backs in the country. Urban Meyer and his staff will look to bring in one more running back for the 2019 class.
For the first time since 1998, Ohio State’s men’s hockey team is returning to the Frozen Four. The Buckeyes were runners-up to Notre Dame in the Big Ten, but were given the top seed in the Midwest Regional, which was played in Allentown, PA. On Saturday, the Buckeyes led Princeton 4-0 before giving up two very late goals for a 4-2 win in their first-round game. That set-up a showdown on Sunday with defending NCAA champion Denver. Ohio State cruised to a 5-1 win over the Pioneers, sending themselves to St.Paul, MN and the Frozen Four, where they will play the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs at 6 p.m. on April 5th. A win them into their first-ever national championship game against the winner of Notre Dame and Michigan on April 7th.
Considering how I’ve made it clear over the past few years how I far prefer my Final Four’s frozen, I’ll most certainly have my “Buckeye Hockey” shirt ready to go when they take on the Bulldogs.
Not long ago, J.T. Barrett signed a Buckeye helmet with “It was a 1st down Harbaugh” in reference to Jimmy Wolverine’s incessant whining over that very close first down awarded to the Buckeyes in their 2016 meeting. For the record, Curtis Samuel scored on the next play to give the Buckeyes a win. Well, J.T. was throwing zingers, once again, at the Wolverines. When handed a Michigan Wolverine football during an autograph session in Toledo, he didn’t miss a beat. After crossing out the block “M”, Barrett signed his name and then added a “4-0 vs TTUN”. I love stories like this.
Enjoy the Easter holiday!