Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State football team capped off its spring practice session with its annual Spring Game Saturday in Cincinnati, but the coaches and players believe there is still substantial work to be done.
OSU’s assistant coaches met with the media Wednesday to discuss the improvements that need to be made, which players have stuck out during the spring and how they hope the leadership of last year’s seniors will be replaced.
Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith: separating themselves from the rest
Senior running back Carlos Hyde ran for 970 yards in his first season as a full-time starter in Meyer’s spread offense. His 16 rushing touchdowns led the team, and according to running backs coach Stan Drayton, Hyde and junior Rod Smith are going to be the main contributors for the position this fall.
“I do believe that Carlos and Rod have separated themselves from both (sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball),” Drayton said. “I feel like we have depth that can bring productivity to our offense which is something that is an unbelievable luxury to have. Carlos is clearly the starter, and I think Rod has separated himself from those guys right now.”
Drayton went on to say Hyde has grown into a “phenomenal leader.”
“It was critical that he establish himself with a young group of guys,” Drayton said. “He was like a coach out there. It was really good to see.”
For the front seven, leadership is the key
With former starters John Simon and Johnathan Hankins gone, linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said the biggest thing that the defense has lost is leadership.
“I think you’re always concerned about the leadership and the mentality and the way those guys are handling everything,” Fickell said. “You worry about how they gel together, how the leadership guys step up, how they make the other guys around them better.”
Fickell said he was happy to see a number of guys “really maturing” this spring though, including junior middle linebacker Curtis Grant, who Fickell sees in the starting lineup with junior Ryan Shazier and sophomore Joshua Perry.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said the line made “good progress” during the 14 spring practices. The coaching staff and the players, though, are “not putting a lot of stock” in the 11 sacks the defense had during the Spring Game.
Vrabel said the defensive line was more productive during scrimmages earlier in the spring than during the game because “you saw more consistent plays in the run game, runs that we’re going to see. Some of those guys in that first group didn’t see a whole bunch of runs (during the Spring Game).”
Vrabel said that juniors Joel Hale and Michael Bennett in particular have made significant progress.
“I think Joel Hale improved. I think we saw some things from him that we hadn’t seen from him last year,” Vrabel said. “Michael Bennett had a good spring. He was consistent, he was there every day. He was a leader for us and gave us a physical presence inside.”
Confidence in the right tackle position
With four returning starters on the offensive line, the only position OSU has to fill is right tackle. Converted tight end Reid Fragel started all 12 games at the position in 2012, helping anchor a unit that helped OSU go undefeated.
With Fragel gone, redshirt sophomore Chase Farris and sophomore Taylor Decker are looking to be next in line.
Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said the coaching staff is confident someone will step up.
“We’ll be just fine (at right tackle) when it’s all said and done,” Warinner said. “You’re comparing whoever the right tackle is to the four other guys who have started before.”
Warinner said he expects the player who earns the starting job to be able to play at a high level.
“The bar’s high for the other positions (on the offensive line) so that guy has to work to catch up to those other positions,” Warinner said. “Not just earn a starting job, but they got to play at a high level like those other guys have.”
Hinton: The tight ends’ work ethic is what sets them apart
Meyer told ESPN Wednesday that junior Jeff Heuerman and redshirt sophomore Nick Vannett are the best tight ends he’s ever coached.
Tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said hard work is what’s setting the two apart.
“The one thing is that they have great work ethic,” Hinton said. “The other thing that really makes a difference in our case is they’re very complete tight ends. They really have the ability to come back and line up and block you off the ball on a point of attack play. They got the ability to block you in space, they have the ability to catch a short ball in traffic and as the spring went on, they showed the ability to get down the field and catch some long balls.” Hinton said that being able to do all of those things will help the team because they will not have to come off the field regardless of the offensive set.
“Being very versatile guys and never having to take them off the field for certain X’s and O’s is a viable part of being a tight end for us,” Hinton said.
Kerry Coombs: Drew Basil’s development at punter “good but not great”
Senior kicker Drew Basil made eight of 11 field goals last season, and with the loss of punter Ben Buchanan, he will be called upon again in 2013.
Cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said he thinks Basil’s progress as a punter is “good but not great,” but said Basil’s dedication will help him improve.
“I think that’s a tremendous transition to throw on a kid,” Coombs said. “I think Drew Basil has a great work ethic. I think he has all of the physical tools to get the job done, and I think he will because I think it’s important to him.”
Coombs also said redshirt junior cornerback Bradley Roby could have played Saturday in Cincinnati, but that he was kept out to take away any chance that he would injure his shoulder further. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort was kept out of the Spring Game for similar reasons.
“He could play right now, but it’s just like coach (Meyer) said about Jack Mewhort, why take a chance? What is the gain there?” Coombs said. “Bradley’s demonstrated he’s a physical football player, he’s a very physical football player. I think Bradley’s going to be 100 percent.”
OSU is first game is scheduled for Aug. 31 against Buffalo at Ohio Stadium.