COLUMBUS, Ohio – With Ohio State’s spring practice in the books, here are some things to know about the upcoming season:
Passing is a priority
The downfield passing game will be better. At least it should be.
After the Clemson loss in the College Football Playoff, coach Urban Meyer parted ways with co-offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck. He brought in Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana coach, to run the offense, and hired NFL assistant Ryan Day to coach quarterbacks. Every player involved talked this spring about their influence and a new focus on throwing the deep ball.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, returning for his fifth year, must improve his accuracy. The team also had to address problems with pass protection and receivers getting open. The hope is a reliable deep-ball threat will emerge from a stable of six or seven unproven receivers who have shown promise this spring.
That mighty defensive line
The defensive line is ridiculously deep.
All-American defensive end Tyquan Lewis – the reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year – opted to stay for his final year. Starting DE Sam Hubbard also is coming back, as are ends Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes. Together they accounted for 18 1/2 sacks last season.
Michael Hill, Davon Hamilton, Tracy Sprinkle, Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers will allow frequent rotation among the interior linemen without a drop-off in talent.
“I think (rotation) is the key,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “You take Tyquan Lewis last year, he only played 45 plays a game as a starting defensive end. That kind of tells you we want our guys to be fresh. I think they know that. Everybody is going to play, but we’ve got to play fast.”
Reloading defensive backs
For the second season in a row Ohio State lost three-quarters of its starting defensive backfield to the NFL draft. It worked out OK last year with safety Malik Hooker emerging as a dynamic All-American, and cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore also turning into NFL prospects.
Denzel Ward, who was in the regular rotation at corner last season, will now anchor the group. Sophomore Damon Arnette likely will start on the other side. Celebrated freshmen Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson, along with juco transfer Kendall Sheffield, likely will be in the rotation, too.
Okudah and Wade flashed their potential when they broke up red-zone passes in Saturday’s spring game.
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs says the group is as deep as he’s seen at Ohio State. And that’s saying something.
Hooker’s departure leaves a huge hole at safety. Starters likely will be seniors Damon Webb and Erick Smith.
Weber’s the man
Running back Mike Weber had a solid freshman year as Ohio State’s starting running back, rolling for over 1,000 yards. That’s something only two freshmen in Ohio State history have accomplished.
He’ll be the workhorse in 2017, and running backs coach Tony Alford loves his development.
“He’s growing up,” Alford said. “I’ve said that all along, and every time there’s a little bit more of the growth process going on.”
Sophomore Demario McCall and early enrolled freshman J.K. Dobbins are neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot. McCall provided one of the highlights of the spring game when he caught a 40-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route, while rushing six times for 83 yards.
About that O-Line
Meyer stresses that improving the passing game starts with protecting Barrett.
Last year, defensive ends tended to cave in on tackles Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones. Left guard Michael Jordan, the first freshman to start on the Buckeyes O-line in two decades, also had some rough patches.
Billy Price moves over from right guard to center to anchor the line. Demetrius Knox and Matt Burrell are the candidates to fill that open spot.
Meyer is worried about depth. Unless there is improvement throughout, the unit could again be a weakness.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.