Urban Meyer, Ohio State's Spring To-Do List
Although the numbers may not look awful on paper, the Buckeyes' defense was inconsistent at best throughout all of last season (and just downright pathetic more often than not it seemed like).
With the departure of defensive stars Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, and CJ Barnett, co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash have their work cut out for them this spring (and then some).
1. Find Somebody to Play Linebacker
Replacing Shazier as the only dependable linebacker on the team was already going to be a difficult task. Then word broke earlier this week that Mike Mitchell, a four-star recruit from the 2013 class and one of the leading candidates to make a run at Shazier’s old job, had decided to transfer. Now the weakest and thinnest position on the team is even weaker and thinner than it was already.
Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry are returning starters from last year, but neither have done much to prove that they are ready to fill the big shoes that Shazier is leaving behind.
All eyes will more than likely be on incoming freshman Raekwon McMillan, who as an early enrollee will be a participant in spring practice this year. McMillan is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker in the entire country’s 2014 class, and getting him familiar with the defense and developing him this early could be huge for the Buckeyes, as he will likely be asked to play quite a bit as a true freshman this fall.
Trey Johnson, Darron Lee, and Camren Williams are others who will certainly have an opportunity to make an impression on the coaches this spring. Darren Booker and Kyle Berger may also be asked to play roles as true freshmen once they arrive in Columbus later this summer.
2. Sure Up the Secondary
Seventy-five percent of the secondary will look completely different from the first game of last season. Roby, Barnett, and Christian Bryant (who suffered a season-ending ankle injury midway through last year) have all departed, which means some newer faces need to make big strides this spring in preparation for the 2014 season.
Luckily for the coaching staff, the question marks in the secondary aren’t nearly as big as they are with the linebackers.
Tyvis Powell got a considerable amount of playing time after Bryant’s injury, and even got the start at safety in the Orange Bowl. A solid spring practice from him and he certainly looks to be the every-down strong safety this season.
Vonn Bell was a highly-touted recruit coming into last year, but didn’t get much of an opportunity to play until the Orange Bowl when he recorded seven tackles and made an incredible one-handed interception. He looks to step into a starting role this fall as well, and his development during spring practice is key to the Buckeyes fairing better defensively this season.
Doran Grant is returning as a starter at cornerback, but the second cornerback spot is wide open this spring. Armani Reeves got a lot of work in nickel and dime packages last season and is probably the favorite to land the job, but sophomores Gareon Conley and Eli Apple could earn themselves a lot of playing time with a good performance this spring.
3. Reload the Offensive Line
With quarterback Braxton Miller coming back for his senior season, the offense should be able to pick up right where it left off last year without too much trouble. The only potential road block is the loss of four out of five starters on the offensive line.
Taylor Decker is the only returning starter, and he will likely move from right tackle to the left side. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin will likely replace Decker at the right tackle spot.
The middle of the line looks to be a much more interesting battle. Pat Elflein filled in for guard Marcus Hall during his suspension, and he will likely get that job all to himself now. But Joel Hale, a senior who has played intermittently along the defensive line the last three seasons, has been moved to the offensive line and is expected to compete for a starting spot this spring.
Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will likely be competing for the starting center position, while sophomores Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson will attempt to earn playing time with a good performance this spring as well.
Miller is continuing to develop as a passer and certainly would have been on the Buckeyes' to-do list, but due to arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder just a few weeks ago, he is expected to be on the sidelines for spring practice.
As long as Miller recovers fully from his surgery, which he is expected to do, most of the work that needs to be done this spring is on the defensive side of the ball. Whether or not the duo of Fickell and Ash can effectively fill the open positions and develop the loads of young talent on that side of the ball will be critical to the Buckeyes' success in 2014.