As the Ohio State football team continues its trudge through spring practice, position battles abound across the team.
With the loss of players like Corey “Philly” Brown from the wide receiver corps and Carlos Hyde from the backfield, inserting a new brand of playmakers and expanding the roles of those already in coach Urban Meyer’s system is likely to prove vital in replacing the team-leading 771 receiving yards from Brown and 1,521 rushing yards Hyde tallied in a season that ended in back-to-back losses.
Meyer said Tuesday that the offense is going to have a “different little taste to it” than it did a year ago as a result.
“It’s going to be a different … we’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that,” Meyer said. “Where, last year when you rushed for 300 yards a game, it’s because that offensive line. We have other weapons.”
But the process of filling those voids left by Brown, Hyde and a powerful offensive line is going to depend on guys like senior wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, as well as younger guys like sophomore running back Dontre Wilson, freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and redshirt- freshman wide receiver Jalin Marshall.
“We got a lot of guys, not just me and Evan with experience. We got guys like Dontre that are really stepping up, that’s talented,” Smith said Thursday after OSU wrapped up its seventh practice of spring. “Johnnie Dixon is another guy that came in that really turned some eyes. We got a lot of guys around us that can help us and so you know we are just hoping that these young guys dive in the playbook and get better each and every day.”
Much like last year with Wilson, a lot of buzz has been generated with the additions of younger players like Dixon and Marshall — who is set to miss time with a knee injury but be back for summer workouts. But expect to see Wilson’s role expand, too, after now having a full year in Meyer’s offense. Wilson said at times last year he felt like a “decoy” within the offense.
“I just didn’t feel like I was that involved. Basically most of the plays I was pretty much just faking and fly sweeping and the defense would bite and we would throw it downfield,” Wilson said. “So yeah, I felt like a decoy. But now, things have changed so now I’m getting my chance and I’m making the best of it.”
Wilson said he is the primary punt and kickoff returner on the team now with Brown gone, but he’s also planning on having more of a role in the offense.
“I wasn’t as comfortable (last year) but now I feel comfortable and I feel like me again,” Wilson said. “Getting a lot more opportunities to make plays.”
While the offense is looking to replace players like Brown and Hyde in search of the same amount of production it had in last year’s 12-2 campaign, the defensive line is looking to buy into what new defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s selling. Doing so will help build off a solid season one year ago.
“Not necessarily a feeling out period, it’s a trust period,” Johnson said Thursday. “To really develop a trust … and right now they’re reaching back. And that’s really great to see.”
A player who Johnson said is making great strides so far in the spring is junior defensive end Noah Spence, who is suspended for the first two games of the 2014 campaign for reportedly testing positive for ecstasy.
“Really pleased with his effort on the field and off the field,” Johnson said of Spence. “He’s doing great in the classroom so I think Noah’s all about business. He wants to be a great player, and great players work hard and work through adversity and that’s what he’s doing. I think it’s been really good to see that.”
Johnson said he plans to have eight or nine players in the rotation at defensive line, looking to keep players as fresh as possible with how the majority of college football teams have moved to a spread, high tempo offense.
But to do that, you’ve got to be in shape and willing to go hard every play, senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said.
“He just wants us to go 100 percent to the ball every play,” Bennett said Thursday. “But with coach Johnson, he wants us running all the way until the ball is on the ground. He wants strip sacks, not just regular sacks, just little stuff like that. He’s really adamant about going until the whistle blows and then getting back on the line and not being tired.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on Navy Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.