Today's Word Is...
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, ladies and gentleman….wait…that’s way too dramatic, because when you think of the phrase “today’s word is..”, who do you think of? That’s right, Mister Rogers. He’d come through the door singing that iconic song, put on that iconic sweater, remind us all to be nice to others, and don’t do things like sneeze in the milk of the person sitting next to you at the school lunch table, and say something like, “Today’s word boys and girls is…” Well, Buckeye fans, today’s word is: POTENTIAL. The 2019 Buckeyes have POTENTIAL. Lots and lots and lots and lots of POTENTIAL. That is a great word when it is used to describe your favorite team. But, it is also a very scary word, because potential also means expectations. Buckeye fans always expect a lot from their favorite team, and rightfully so. Buckeye fans don’t care if the offense lost two-thirds of its offensive production from last season. They don’t care if nearly the entire offensive line is being replaced. They don’t care if there is a new head coach, and a new starting quarterback. Buckeye fans only care about winning. You know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, because the reason this team has potential is because it has TALENT. Lots and lots and lots and lots of TALENT. Here’s a look at the 2019 Buckeyes.
There may not be another player in the country fans are expecting more of than quarterback Justin Fields. I really believe Buckeye fans think the Georgia transfer is going to throw for 300 and run for 200 yards in every game. Let’s all relax, folks. He’s going to be good. REALLY good. But, we need to have realistic expectations. Ryan Day said on Monday the sky is the limit for Fields, but he’s also said he expects there will be growing pains in the first six games. There will be missed throws, bad reads, and the usual issues of a young starting quarterback. Keep in mind just how young Fields really is. He’s just a sophomore, and didn’t play much last season. Day has said the offense will not change much with Fields at the helm, “We'll see the same type of plays. We're not all of a sudden going to go drastically different. We'll probably emphasize some different packages with him. For the most part it will still be the Ohio State offense.” Now, this doesn’t mean Fields is gonna sling it all over the place like Dwayne Haskins did last year. It means Day and the offensive staff will reach into those “buckets” he’s talked about, and use some plays we did not see last year (If you’re wondering about Ryan Day and his buckets, you can click here to read a bit of an explanation of it). Fields has the, here’s that word again, potential to be very, very good. Buckeye fans just need to be patient with him. Chris Chugunov will enter the season as the backup rather than transfer Gunnar Hoak. Look for the coaching staff to do whatever they can to limit the amount of hits Fields takes early in the season, because there is a big drop-off to Chugunov and Hoak. Fields must stay healthy.
J.K. Dobbins said 2018 was a failure to him personally. After rushing for 1,400 yards as a true freshman in 2017, he dipped to just 1,053 last year. But, the most telling stat is his yards per carry fell by a full three yards per carry from 7.6 to 4.6. Thanks to an offensive line that struggled in run blocking for much of the season, Dobbins, and backfield mate Mike Weber, got into the habit of dancing and hesitating. Running backs coach Tony Alford finally put a stop to it, and told them to get through the hole. Now that he is the lone feature back, the coaches have challenged Dobbins to improve. Dobbins seems determined to do just that. His workload will definitely increase, but you don’t want to see it increase too much. Because of the meat grinder late-season schedule (Penn State, Michigan, and possibly the Big Ten Championship in consecutive weeks), Dobbins needs to be fresh. In order to do that a viable backup is needed. Demario McCall has finally stepped forward, and won that job. McCall is a definite change of pace from Dobbins. He’s small (only 195 pounds; Dobbins is 217), and very quick. Because he’s worked at receiver, and H-back during his OSU career he can line-up all over the place. Think of Dobbins and McCall as Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson for the Browns last year. Alford said true freshman Marcus Crowley is number three on the depth chart. This is a bit of a surprise because I thought Master Teague would be second or third, but he dealt with an injury for a good bit of camp, and Crowley was very impressive during that time. At some point I really hope to see Teague in the rotation because he’s a very physical runner, and I think the Buckeyes need a battering ram-type to go along with Dobbins.
Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon are gone. That’s a lot of production to replace at receiver. A whole lot. But, K.J. Hill returns, and has a chance to break the school’s all-time career receiving record: he’s just 48 catches away from surpassing David Boston. The senior from Arkansas is one of the most underrated receivers in the country. C.J. Saunders and Jaelen Gill are battling to be Hill’s backup at H-back. Because of his speed, I think the coaches find a way to use Gill regardless of who wins this battle. Binjimin Victor takes over at the X receiver. I think we’re all hoping this is finally the year he reaches the potential (there’s that word again) he’s shown flashes of in his first three years. I really think ultra-talented true freshman Garrett Wilson will be number two at this position. If he shows the same play-making ability that he did in the spring game, his role will expand quickly. Although he may end up third on the depth chart, I think you’ll still see Jaylen Harris get playing time because of his size (6’5”, 215 pounds). Teams can always use a big, physical receiver. Austin Mack returns after missing the final six games of the season with a broken foot. He moves over to the Z receiver this year. Chris Olave stepped in when Mack was injured, and caught 12 passes for nearly 200 yards, and three touchdowns. Day has raved about him this month; don’t be surprised if Olave is the starter here after Mack missed a lot of practice time with an injury. Only a sophomore, I think Olave is a star in the making. Either redshirt sophomore Elijah Gardiner, or true freshman Jameson Williams will be third at this position. Yes, they’ve lost a lot, but this group of receivers is talented, and possess a wide variety of skills. They can easily be one of the strengths of this team again.
The top four tight ends are back. There is no reason to believe last year’s starter, Luke Farrell (20 catches for 205 yards), won’t be the number one guy again. When the Buckeyes go to a two, or even three tight end look, you’ll see Rashod Berry and Jeremy Ruckert on the field, and not necessarily in that order. Ruckert is extremely talented, versatile, and many think this will be a breakout season for him. The talent runs so deep at this position you might see Jake Hausmann, who is fourth on the depth chart, getting some snaps with the first-team offense at times. Tight ends coach Kevin Wilson loves this group. He said they were a bit immature last year, but that’s not the case now. But, simply because they’re talented and deep don’t’ go thinking one of them is going to have 40-50 catches this season. The most catches a Buckeye tight end has had since 2003 is 28 (Marcus Baugh a couple of years ago). Farrell could approach that number, but I don’t think he’ll surpass it.
Left tackle Thayer Munford is the only returning starter from last season along the offensive line. But, left guard Jonah Jackson has plenty of experience, and started his share of games at Rutgers before transferring to the Buckeyes in the spring. Branden Bowen, who has won the right tackle spot after a spirited battle with Nicholas Petit-Frere, started six games at left guard in 2017 before being injured, and missing the rest of that season. Day has said both Bowen and Petit-Frere will play. Right guard Wyatt Davis started two games last year, but they were two of the biggest of the season. After Demitrius Knox was injured against Michigan, Davis stepped in and started the Big Ten Championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Josh Myers has taken over at center, and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is very pleased with his development. But, Ryan Day said true freshman Harry Miller will play as well. Studrawa is also happy with the depth of this unit and feels there are seven or eight guys who can play right now. However, if there is an injury at either guard spot, I think you’ll see Bowen slide over to fill that opening, and Petit-Frere step in at right tackle. The combination of Jackson, Myers, and Davis should give the Buckeyes something they struggled to do last year: blow people off the ball in the middle of the line of scrimmage. All three are road grader types. My biggest concern is Thayer Munford’s back, and if it can hold up throughout the season. The coaching staff really brought him along slowly during practice this month, but it looks like he’s now ready to go for the opener later this week.
The Buckeyes finished 72nd in the country in total defense last year. They gave up an average of 403 yards per game, and 5.77 yards per play. Their performance ranged from bad to just plain awful at times. If there was a bright spot for the defense in 2017 it was the line. Even without Nick Bosa for most of the season this unit was the strength of the defense. Here’s the really great news about this unit: all of the key pieces return. Defensive end Chase Young has already been named to numerous preseason All-American teams. Last season he had 10 ½ sacks to go along with 15 tackles-for-loss, and did it on a pair of injured ankles. Young is an absolute beast who has gotten better and better under the tutelage of the nation’s best defensive line coach, Larry Johnson. The other starter will be senior Jonathan Cooper. I really like him. He’s a very solid player, but I’d love to see him improve his pass rush skills (only 2 ½ sacks last season). He’ll probably get off to a slow start due to a lower leg injury he had a procedure on recently. There is a lot of depth here, so if Cooper is not able to go, you’ll probably see Tyreke Smith or Tyler Friday. Both played a considerable amount of snaps with the first-team defense as true freshman last year. The coaching staff is very high on Smith, but he’s working his way back from what Johnson said was a bad injury. Day said true freshman Zach Harrison, who was considered the top defensive end recruit in the country for this last recruiting cycle, will play. Want a player to keep an eye on? Javontae Jean-Baptiste was a scout team star last season. His teammates raved about him. The redshirt freshman is an outstanding athlete, but is only 245 pounds. However, day spoke highly of him at his press conference today. Amazingly the Buckeyes may be even deeper at the interior defensive line positions. Johnson believes he can rotate as many as six players among the two positions. Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton
return at nose tackle. They’ll split time again as they did a year ago. Landers spent a great deal of last season banged up, but when healthy can create all kinds of problems for an offensive line because he’s so quick off the ball. He’s also one of the team’s biggest characters, and can always be seen in his trademark cowboy hat on game day. Hamilton had kind of floundered around during his OSU career until finally coming into his own last season. He gives this defense a much-needed big body in the middle of the line (he outweighs Landers by 25 pounds). Sophomore Tommy Togiai showed a lot of promise last year when given a chance, and should get plenty of reps this season. Jashon Cornell has bounced around to different line positions in his OSU career, but will be the starter at the 3-technique tackle (3-techinique simply means he lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard). You could also see him move outside to end at times. Considering how much playing time battering ram Taron Vincent got in the Rose Bowl, I don’t doubt he’ll be rotating a lot with Cornell. I expect Haskell Garrett to get his share of reps as well. How deep is this interior line group? Togiai and Garrett will probably be listed third on the depth chart, but could start for most Big Ten teams.
New linebackers coach Al Washington took a clean slate attitude with this group. He came in without preconceived notions as who his starters would be. But, the same top four from last year have emerged once again. Now, before you smash your keyboard at that idea, consider this: the scheme for this group is completely different. No more tight alignment. No more frozen in place making reads as a play begins. Most of all there is no more Billy Davis coaching the position. To say this unit struggled with him leading it is an understatement. Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Malik Harrison, and Pete Werner again have emerged at the top of their respective positions. Borland will be back at the Mike (middle) position, and says he feels a huge difference from a year ago when he was coming back from a torn achilles he suffered in spring practice. If you saw him in 2017, you know he was nowhere near one hundred percent last season. If he’s completely healthy, and plays the way he did two seasons ago, it will go along way in setting the tone for how this defense performs this year. Borland is a tough, smart leader, who can get to the ball in a hurry. It looks like Baron Browning will replace Borland in a lot of passing situations as he did last year. Browning getting playing time will have little to do with any shortcomings by Borland. It will have everything to do with Browning being talented, and deserving to be on the field. Malik Harrison is back at Will (weakside). He easily had the best season of any Buckeye linebacker, and has turned into a star. The senior tied for the team lead in tackles a year ago, and had 8 ½ tackles-for-loss. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2017. I’ll be very surprised if he does not improve on that this year. Pete Werner at the Sam (strongside) linebacker was a lightning rod for criticism last year, and probably deservedly so. Too often he looked out of position, or just plain lost. But, I’m of the belief it was because of the scheme rather than a lack of ability. Werner was put into some very bad matchup situations at times; situations that should have never happened. An outside linebacker should never be asked to lineup across from a receiver near the sideline. I’m going to give Werner the benefit of the doubt, and believe he’s going to perform at a far higher level than he did last season. If he struggles again I think Washington will make a change, because he believes there is a lot of talent in this group. Werner’s playing time will be cut into this year because of the new bullet position where Brendan White will be the starter. The bullet is a linebacker/safety combination, but the coaching staff considers him a strongside linebacker. White took over at strong safety for the tenth game of last season, and solidified the position. His playmaking abilities are illustrated by the fact he was a starter for just five games, but still finished fifth on the team in tackles. He was also the Rose Bowl defensive MVP. I really like what White brings to this position, and am excited to see what he can do with it. This is the same position the over-hyped Jabrill Peppers played for Michigan. Peppers got a lot of undeserved Heisman hype; White will be a far better playmaker.
Jeff Hafley has taken over coaching the secondary, and brought his version of pattern-match coverage with him. I touched on this in my last blog, but as a refresher it is structured like a zone, but receivers are covered using man-to-man technique. Who covers a particular receiver is determined by what route the receiver runs. For example, if cornerback Jeff Okudah lines up on the outside receiver, he will either stay with him, or pass him off to another defensive player depending on what that receiver does. Hafley said you’ll still see the in-your-face man-to-man coverage Buckeye fans are used to, just not all the time. Ok, now that the quick refresher is out of the way, let’s talk personnel. Jeff Okudah returns at one cornerback spot. He got better and better as 2018 progressed. NFL scouts are salivating over him. He was the top rated cornerback in the country when he signed with the Buckeyes, and I’m hoping he turns into the shutdown corner we’ve all been waiting for him to become. Many thought Damon Arnette would declare for the NFL Draft this past spring, but he decided to return for his senior season. To say Arnette has struggled at times in his OSU career is a gross understatement, but I thought he really improved late last season. All indications are his maturity has grown since last season ended. Hopefully that leap in maturity translates into a leap in performance on the field. Versatile Shaun Wade will be the nickelback again this year. He can play outside, in the slot, or safety as well. Because he’s viewed as the number three cornerback by most, don’t think for a second he’s not talented. He led the team with three interceptions last year, and was second in pass
breakups with seven. Jordan Fuller returns at safety. The senior is one of the best in the country, and is as outstanding a person off the field as he is on; he’s twice been an Academic All-American. Fuller tied for the team lead in tackles last season. Because of the bullet position, the Buckeyes may only use one safety in most situations. When they go with a second safety I think it will either be Isaiah Pryor or Josh Proctor. Pryor started seven games last season, and mostly struggled before being replaced by Brendan White. Proctor spent the majority of his time in 2018 on special teams, but his teammates say he’s had an excellent fall camp. This secondary unit needs to cut down on the number of pass interference penalties we saw last year, and generate more interceptions; they picked off just eleven passes last season. That should happen because Hafley wants his defensive backs to turn and face the ball when it is in the air. That’s a big change from the last few years when the defensive coaching staff taught that ridiculous back-to-the-ball technique. That particular technique allows far too many catches, and leads to far too many pass interference penalties. I’ve seen very few defensive backs who can play it effectively (Denzel Ward comes to mind), and the Buckeyes did not really have anyone who could last year. I think this group will be far improved under Hafley.
Urban Meyer took great pride in special teams, and Ryan Day will as well, although he won’t be as hands on as his predecessor. Instead he hired Matt Barnes to be the special teams coordinator; he had spent the last three seasons at Maryland in the same position. Blake Haubeil took over the placekicking duties midway through the season when Sean Nuernberger was injured warming up for the Minnesota game; he had been the team’s kickoff specialist to that point. He has a strong leg, and hit on 10 out of 13 field goals last year with a long of 47 yards. Haubeil was also a perfect 37 for 37 in extra points. With his leg strength I’m hoping he can hit consistently from around 50 yards. College football’s best punter, and one of the world’s great bottle flippers is back. Drue Chrisman doesn’t get nearly the national attention he deserves, but Buckeye fans know just how good he is. He’s an absolute master at placing the ball. Last year he punted 61 times, and put 29 inside the 20-yard line. Even with putting nearly half of his kicks inside the 20, he still averaged over 43 yards per punt. He’s also one of the great characters to ever play for the Buckeyes. Last year’s gunners, Terry McLaurin and Jeff Okudah, were two of the best in the country at getting down the field to either make a tackle or down the ball deep in the opponent’s territory. McLaurin is the best I’ve ever seen at the position. It will be interesting to see if Okudah is used again, but if I have to pick someone to replace McLaurin, I’m going with Chris Olave. He seems to have the physical skills, and mental makeup to be successful at the position. K.J. Hill and C.J. Saunders combined for 22 of the Buckeyes’ 27 punt returns last year, but combined they averaged just 5.8 yards per return. I can see Demario McCall being used, but I’m not convinced he’s the best decision maker. True freshman Garrett Wilson is another name to watch for, but I don’t know if we really want a true freshman handing those duties. McCall is the only kick returner with any appreciable experience. I think you’ll see him back there, but really have no idea who Barnes will pair him with. The return game overall must improve. Besides the paltry punt return numbers, the Buckeyes averaged less than 20 yards per kick return. Way too much speed and athleticism here to have those kind of numbers.
The Buckeyes have been criticized a little for having an easy non-conference schedule. Considering what the later part of the season looks like, that easier beginning to the season will only help them. Florida Atlantic comes to Columbus in just a few days for the opener. Some have picked the Owls to make the Conference USA championship game. That’s fine by me because a win over a team that made a conference title game appearance will look good on OSU’s resume’. Cincinnati is next, and I firmly believe the Bearcats will show up with a chip on their shoulder, and something to prove. I expect the Buckeyes to win handily, but this is still a bit of a trap game. They go to Indiana the next week for their first Big Ten game before coming home to play Miami (Ohio). A difficult, but not impossible, four game stretch begins with a trip to Lincoln to take on Nebraska. This is definitely a trap game, because Husker head coach Scott Frost will have his team believing this is their chance to show the college football world Big Red is back. Fortunately OSU’s game with Michigan State the following week is already slated for primetime, so I doubt if the Buckeyes will have to play Nebraska at night. As I said, Michigan State, and their twenty returning starters invade the Shoe the next week. After that it is another potential trap game when the Buckeyes go to Northwestern for a Friday night matchup. I’ll save my why-the-Big-Ten-shouldn’t-play-on-Friday-night rant for another time. Wisconsin is next at home. The Badgers are the Badgers, and will do the same things they’ve done for seemingly the last 25 years. The final third of the season begins with what should be breathers against Maryland at home, and on the road against Rutgers. While the SEC allows its teams to play the likes of Western Carolina and Samford the week before their biggest rival, the Big Ten, and their ridiculous 20-year scheduling matrix forces the best team in the conference to play their second-biggest rival. That’s right Buckeye fans the week before playing Michigan the Big Ten has scheduled Penn State for our favorite team. There’s one word to describe this: asinine. However, I don’t think the Nittany Lions will be as good overall as they have been. They should be good on defense, but I’m not sold on them offensively. They’re replacing Trace McSorley, one of the best quarterbacks the school has ever had. I just don’t see them being that good offensively. Michigan is the easy, and trendy pick to finally win the conference. They have a lot of people back, and a new offensive coordinator who has installed an offense that will supposedly take advantage of quarterback Shea Patterson’s talents. But, last year Ohio State’s offense proved to be far faster, and more athletic then Michigan’s defense. If the Wolverines have not closed that gap, I don’t see them beating the Buckeyes.
That’s A Wrap
Instead of giving a wins/losses prediction, I’ll say this: the Buckeyes have more talent than any team in the Big Ten. You don’t win games on talent alone, but I think this team has the coaching needed to develop the talent. There can’t be any losses to the likes of an Iowa or Purdue, because the current makeup of the College Football Playoff committee is not sympathetic in the least to the Big Ten in general, and Ohio State in particular. There is no margin for error here. If everything falls into place I think the Buckeyes are going to make it very hard for the committee to come up with an excuse to leave them out of their final four teams. This team has a ton of, what’s that word for today Buckeye fans, POTENTIAL. The 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes have a chance to be very, very good.
For those who have become regular readers you already know this. But, for the ones who have never heard me say it here is something important to keep in mind when reading my blog: this is not a Buckeye fan boy blog. I’m not here to golf clap, and rah-rah everything the Buckeyes do. I’m going to tell you exactly what I think, and sometimes you may not like what I have to say. I’m a huge Buckeye fan. Why else would put the time and effort into doing a blog devoted to them when I don’t make a dime off of it? But, I also feel I have an obligation to tell you my true feelings. Also, I’m not a football expert, and do not try to pass off myself as one. I do love the x’s and o’s part of the game probably far more than the average fan. I simply listen a little harder, pay attention a little more, and do more research than most.
Urban Meyer made his debut on Fox’s college football show the other day. When asked if this is Michigan’s year, he quipped, “Year for what?” I love that answer! Especially after Jim Harbaugh took a swipe at Meyer last month. The former coach of your favorite college football team flaming your biggest rival is a great way to start the season. Just a few more days, gang.