Ohio State 2014 Spring Practice Primer

Ohio State 2014 Spring Practice Primer

It's only been two months since Ohio State's 2013 season came to an end with a loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. But fear not, because football is back -- at least temporarily -- as the Buckeyes will take the field on Tuesday for their first spring practice of the 2014 offseason.

It's been two months since the Orange Bowl, but it seems like an eternity since the Buckeyes' 2013 season came its anti-climatic end.

Or maybe not.

Depending on your outlook, Ohio State's back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson to end the 2013 campaign are either suppressed memories or very much still at the forefront of your football-viewing mind. But regardless of how fresh last season's wounds seem to you, the 2014 season is closer than you may believe it to be as the Buckeyes will take the field for their first spring practice of the year on Tuesday.

As is the case with any spring football season, there won't be any shortage of storylines, position battles or points of intrigue in Columbus. With that in mind, here's a comprehensive look at what you can expect in the coming weeks as the Buckeyes look to bounce back from the sting of last season's end.

Top Storylines

Getting Defensive
For one reason or maybe more, Ohio State will be introducing two new defensive coaches this spring in co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson. And the upcoming overhaul of the unit couldn't have come at a better time for the Buckeyes.

Surrendering averages of 539 yards and 38.3 points in its final three games of the season, the Ohio State defense was far from the stellar in the latter half of last year. And when Everett Withers (James Madison) and Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans) accepted coaching jobs elsewhere in the offseason, the opportunity arose for Ash and Johnson to add a couple of much needed fresh voices to the OSU defensive staff.

Under Ash, the Buckeyes are expected to implement a quarters coverage scheme that emphasizes press coverage. A longtime assistant at Penn State, Johnson's resume speaks for itself, as he helped transform six Nittany Lion defensive linemen into NFL first round picks.

How each coach will impact OSU's defensive unit will be the top storyline in Columbus this offseason. And how the players respond to their new coaches in these next 15 practices could set the tone for any success that will be found for the Buckeyes this fall.

Replacing Four Out The Door
Braxton Miller may be back at quarterback, but Ohio State is losing a significant portion of its offense from each of the past two seasons, specifically on the offensive line. Four former starters in Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall have seen their eligibility expire and the Buckeyes' lone returning starter on the unit -- Taylor Decker -- is moving from right to left tackle.

There will be plenty of fresh faces in Ohio State's front five next season, although both Pat Elflein and Jacoby Boren gained valuable experience in 2013. Outside of Decker, all four starting spots on the unit are up for grabs, which will make for an even more competitive than usual spring.

As Urban Meyer has stated before, spring football is where spots are won and lost, so the offensive line will undoubtedly earn extra attention in the coming weeks. For a unit that helped pave the way for the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack in 2013, there's plenty of work to be done and much needed experience to be gained this spring.

Fresh Faces, Fast Impact?
Early enrollees are nothing new at Ohio State, but as we learned last year, a head start doesn't always translate to immediate playing time. Of last season's freshmen who enrolled in time for spring practice, only Cameron Burrows saw significant snaps, most of which came on special teams.

Meyer and his staff are hopeful that this year will be different, as they're eager to get their 2014 class on the field as quickly as possible. That could bode well for the seven freshmen who opted to enroll early this season, including linebacker Raekwon McMillan, wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and wide receiver/running back Curtis Samuel.

With plenty of snaps to be had on both sides of the ball, don't discount the three aforementioned freshmen as players who can make an immediate impact for the Buckeyes this fall. Their journey to significant playing time starts this spring, where they'll look to make more of their time on campus than their predecessors did a year ago.

Position Battles

Backup Quarterback
Miller is expected to be limited this spring after undergoing minor shoulder surgery, which will only amplify the attention placed on the search for his understudy.

Kenny Guiton proved to be more than serviceable in each of the past two seasons in backing up Miller, but his graduation has opened the door for Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett to battle for the Buckeyes' No. 2 quarterback spot. Jones, a redshirt sophomore, has a leg up thanks to his age, but don't count out the redshirt freshman Barrett, a former four-star prospect from Wichita Falls, Texas.

Early enrollee Stephen Collier will also see snaps this spring, but the three-star prospect is expected to redshirt this fall. Whomever winds up as Miller's backup will be faced with a significant task, given the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year's history with injuries.

No. 2 Cornerback
Bradley Roby may not have lived up to expectations in 2013, but it's hard to deny the talent of the two-time All-Big Ten selection. Doran Grant is expected to slide into his vacated spot as Ohio State's No. 1 corner, but who will lineup opposite the senior is anybody's guess.

The candidates for the open starting spot are junior Armani Reeves and a pair of redshirt freshmen in Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. Reeves has the edge thanks to his experience, but don't count out Conley, who OSU insiders have raved about this offseason.

Middle Linebacker
Senior Curtis Grant has exited each of the past two spring sessions as the Buckeyes' middle linebacker, but the former five-star prospect has underwhelmed at the position for a number of reasons. He'll again enter this spring as the favorite to start, although he'll have to fend off McMillan to keep his job.

Whether or not the freshman will be able to take the starting spot from the senior remains to be seen. But the ineffectiveness that the Ohio State linebackers displayed for the better part of each of the past two seasons will give Meyer reason to explore all of his options, regardless of their age and experience.

Right Tackle
With Decker sliding to left tackle, his spot on the right side of the line opens up, with fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin currently pencilled in as his successor. There's a reason that Baldwin's name hasn't been written in ink just yet though, as redshirt freshman Evan Lisle is expected to push him for the starting spot.

Baldwin may be viewed as the safer bet given his age and experience, but Lisle has more upside and is a more natural tackle than the former defensive lineman. Both could be biding time at the position, however, as OSU's expected right tackle of the future will arrive this fall in the form of freshman Jamarco Jones.

Wide Receiver
One would expect that seniors-to-be Devin Smith and Evan Spencer will reclaim their starting spots, but wide receivers coach Zach Smith insists that's not the case. Speaking on the future of his position group, the third-year OSU assistant declared an open competition, one that will include Smith and Spencer.

"You don't want to take away from what guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer did for us this past year or the year before, but at the end of the day we got better and were a better unit, but we're still not where we need to be," Coach Smith said. "There's not a, ‘Behind Devin' or ‘In front of Devin.' I've got a group of guys that are fighting for spots -- Devin included. There's not a starter in my room."

So while Smith and Spencer may have a leg up, they'll have to fend off the likes of redshirt junior Corey Smith, redshirt sophomore Mike Thomas, redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and the aforementioned Dixon. With Corey "Philly" Brown no longer on the Buckeyes' roster, there will be plenty of passes to go around and no shortage of suitors to become OSU's leading receiver.

Quick Hitters

Elliott Has Edge
In addition to losing four offensive linemen and their leading receiver in Brown, the Buckeyes will also be replacing their leading rusher from a season ago, although sophomore Ezekiel Elliott appears to have the inside track to replace Carlos Hyde. Other running backs on the Ohio State roster include Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, but the Buckeye coaches appear to favor the 6-0, 218-pound Elliott thanks to his unique blend of size and speed.

Hawkins Lends Helping Hand
While Ohio State's official offensive staff remained intact this offseason, the Buckeyes will be breaking in a new offensive graduate assistant this spring. Former Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins has as a G.A., replacing Drew Mehringer, who joined Withers staff at James Madison.

During his four seasons with the Buffalos, Hawkins passed for a combined 7,731 yards, 63 touchdowns and 43 interceptions.

Hale Headed To OL
With his offensive line in transition, Meyer is certainly exploring all of his options, which is why Joel Hale has been moved from the defensive line to the other side of the ball. The Buckeyes' starting nose guard a season ago, Hale tallied 10 tackles in 2013, but is now playing offensive guard as Meyer believes that the 6-4, 310-pounder can provide toughness and leadership to a unit in need of each.

No Shortage Of Experience
While some key contributors may be missing, the Buckeyes return plenty of experience this spring, including five starters on offense, seven starters on defense and punter Cameron Johnston.

Aside from Miller, Smith, Spencer and both Grants, big names for the Buckeyes will be back in the form of tight end Jeff Heuerman, defensive tackle Michael Bennett and defensive ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa. Add in the versatility that junior Adolphus Washington can provide on the defensive line and you could argue that the upcoming season will feature Meyer's best mix of experience and talent since taking over the OSU program in 2012.

Spring Game Returns To Columbus
After playing the annual exhibition at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati a season ago, the Ohio State spring game will return to Ohio Stadium on April 12. Serving as the 15th and final spring practice session, fans will be given an opportunity to witness the Buckeyes in action one last time before they return to action this fall.

This season's spring game kicks off at 1:30 PM and will be preceded by an Ohio State-Michigan lacrosse matchup at 11 AM. Ticket prices and other information pertaining to this season's spring game can be found here.

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