2012 Ohio State Preview – Offense
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Give it a little bit of time. Any improvement after finishing 107th in the nation will be a positive. The pieces are there and the coaching staff is tweaking to get the spread attack in place, but it’s going to take some adjusting. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman knows how to get big things out of a mobile quarterback, and Braxton Miller appears to be the perfect fit to grow into the offense. Not only is he quick, he’s improving as a passer after not being allowed to do too much as a true freshman. The running backs are fine, but top option Jordan Hall will be out for a chunk of the season with a foot injury. The line has to be far more productive and consistent after struggling way too much in pass protection and with plenty of shuffling after losing three starters. The receiving corps has to be far more explosive when it’s time to start making big plays, but speed and size aren’t a problem. Overall, it will take a little while, but almost all the key parts are going to be around for at least next season.
Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Braxton Miller
Passing: Braxton Miller
85-157, 1,159 yds, 13 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Braxton Miller
159 carries, 715 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Devin Smith
14 catches, 294 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior RB Carlos Hyde
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Corey Linsley
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Jake Stoneburner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Miller, 2) Stoneburner, 3) OT Jack Mewhort
Strength of the offense: Braxton Miller, Speed
Weakness of the offense: Pass Protection, Proven Big Play Playmakers
Everyone knew Braxton Miller was the best quarterback option as a true freshman, but the big question was when he’d get his chance. It didn’t take long for the 6-2, 210-pound playmaker to shine leading the team with 715 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while completing 54% of his passes for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns with four picks. He gave Wisconsin fits with his quickness and mobility before coming up with a brilliant game-winning touchdown pass, and he was able to rip up Michigan for 235 passing yards and two scores. But now he has to change his style and philosophy as he becomes the next Alex Smith or Tim Tebow in the Urban Meyer offense. The speed and quickness are without question, and he showed he could throw a little bit with a few terrific performances this offseason, but it’s going to take a little bit of adjusting. Call this a year to learn on the fly before dominating in 2013. Being a more consistent passer is a must, and he needs to work on his accuracy and decision making, but all the skills are there to be very, very special.
Before Miller signed on last season, junior Kenny Guiton was supposed to be the star of the future. The 6-3, 206-pounder from Houston has everything the new coaching staff could want with silky-smooth athleticism – he could move to receiver or defensive back without a problem – and the smarts and toughness to grow into a nice passer. After a rocky start after the coaching change, he appears to be ready to become a good No. 2 option with the potential to take over for Miller in an emergency.
Watch Out For … Miller’s progression. It’ll be important to not get hung up on the mistakes and the misfires early on. All that matters is how he starts to look in the offense as the season goes on. The rushing numbers will be there, and if he can be a more dangerous passer the sky will be the limit.
Strength: Athleticism. Guiton isn’t Miller, but he can move. Miller is a better, more creative runner than Alex Smith or Tim Tebow, and in this attack he could be a 1,000-yard rushing threat. The OSU quarterback will give opposing defenses plenty of fits.
Weakness: Passing and depth. Ohio State finished last in the Big Ten and 115th in the nation in passing. It wasn’t necessarily because Miller couldn’t throw; it’s that the coaching staff didn’t really turn him loose. Guiton has to get more meaningful time to be ready, while freshman Cardale Jones is the emergency option and has miles to go before he can handle the workload.
Outlook: Miller will be a front-runner for the Heisman – next year. Tebow was the perfect fit at the perfect time for the Meyer spread offense, but Miller isn’t far off with more speed and quickness to add a more dynamic element to the attack. Miller will put up monster rushing numbers this season, but the real key will be to see how his passing consistency progresses. The depth is very, very thin, so as much as Miller is going to run, he has to be careful.
Unit Rating: 8
Everything will be focusing on when senior Jordan Hall gets healthy after suffering an injured foot. The early prognosis is that he’ll be back and ready to roll sometime in October, but even then it might take a little while to get him back into the swing of things. This is a huge blow to an offense that wants to use him as a runner, receiver, kick returner and everything in between. The 5-9, 198-pound athlete is a darting, quick-cutting runner who gets lost in the wash and then bolts out when he gets into the clear. He ran for 408 yards and two touchdowns – with most of the work coming in the middle of the season – but the new coaching staff has much, much bigger plans for him when he gets back healthy.
With Hall out, all of a sudden the focus is on Carlos Hyde, a tough combination of good power and enough speed to get by. The 6-0, 235-pounder out of Naples, Florida finished third on the team with 566 yards and six touchdowns with a 5.3-yard average, and he caught ten passes for 73 yards. He cranked out 104 yards and two scores against Nebraska and 105 yards and a touchdown against Indiana. Now he might be the workhorse among the running backs.
More work will be there for 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Rod Smith, the prototype Ohio State back with tremendous speed to go along with his power. Part of the Indiana state champion-level 4x100 relay team, he could be deadly when he gets into clear and can turn on the jets. However, that didn’t happen too often last year rushing for just 116 yards and a touchdown. He’ll combine for backup time with redshirt freshman Bri’onte Dunn, a 6-1, 214-pound promising athlete who was very, very close to going to a school that runs a more pro-style attack after he found out that Meyer was taking over, but now he appears ready to be a big part of the fun.
6-0, 245-pound senior Zach Boren is a big-time blocker who has done a little of everything well for the last three seasons. The prototype, even after slimming down a bit he has the size for the ground game and he has nice enough hands to get the ball a bit more. He hasn’t been used as a power runner, but he caught six passes for 60 yards last season. He’ll work in a rotation with 6-3, 245-pound senior Adam Homan, a pure blocker who needs to start catching the ball do be used like a tight end.
Watch Out For … Hyde. The offense needs a running back or three to take the pressure off of QB Braxton Miller, and Hyde has the experience and toughness to carry the load over the first half of the season. At least that’s the hope.
Strength: Talent. On almost any other team, even with Hall out, a rotation of backs like the Buckeyes have would be cause for celebration. Even with the loss of half-season starter and second-leading rusher Dan Herron, the potential is through the roof with so many big, strong, fast backs to choose from.
Weakness: Urban Meyer. His running backs struggle to get production. At Florida, it always seemed like there was a storyline hovering about how the O needed a steady back to take the heat off the quarterbacks. It will take a village of running backs to produce, but Miller will be the most dynamic runner until Hall gets back.
Outlook: It might take three players to properly replace what Miller provided. He’s expected to be back for the stretch run, but until that time the backs have to be more than just along for the ride and they have to prove they can handle the pressure of working in the spread attack.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Sophomore Devin Smith started out his true freshman season looking like he was destined for a huge campaign with eight catches and three scores in the first four games, but that was about it. The 6-1 196-pounder made just five grabs the rest of the way, but he still finished tied for the team lead with 14 catches for 294 yards and four scores averaging 21 yards per catch including one very, very big 40-yard touchdown against Wisconsin. The deep speed is there and he has nice size, but not he has to be a bigger part of the new offense after being ignored far too often.
6-0, 186-pound junior Corey Brown tied with Smith for the team-lead with 14 catches for 205 yards and a score, but he was banged up for most of the season and couldn’t quite get right. Way overdue to start living up to his tremendous prep hype, he was the team’s top recruit a few years ago with explosive potential setting high school records with a 21.4 time in the 200 meter dash. Now “Philly” has to start being more of a field stretcher.
Combining with Brown at one spot will be junior Chris Fields, one of the team’s most experienced receivers and a regular starter last season. At 6-0 and 197 pounds he has decent size, but he’s coming off a mediocre season with just eight catches for 114 yards and no scores. He has decent hands and is shifty, but he’ll have to battle hard for playing time at the H.
Working at the inside Z position will be 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Evan Spencer, a potential breakout performer in the bunch coming off a great offseason. He suffered a shoulder injury that cut his spring ball short, but he’s expected to be just fine to start the year after getting his feet wet making three catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be backed up by 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Verlon Reed, a former high school quarterback with tremendous athleticism and upside, but he’s coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of last year after making nine catches for 132 yards. If he’s 100%, he could quickly take over a starting job.
The X factor at the outside X position behind Smith is freshman Michael Thomas, a 6-2, 193-pound flash who stepped up with the opportunity to shine with others out hurt this spring making 12 catches for 131 yards in the spring game. All the tools are there with excellent speed, nice route running ability, and the size to hold his own against the more physical defensive backs.
Star tight end Jake Stoneburner got into a little bit of hot water this offseason when he was caught urinating on a public building and then trying to flee from police. Released from his scholarship for the summer and was suspended indefinitely. He still has to work his way back into everyone’s good graces again. That might take ten minutes. The 6-5, 245-pound senior is one of the nation’s best pass-catching tight ends scoring seven times on his 14 catches last season as the key go-to receiver. Three of the touchdown catches came in the opener against Akron, and he went stretches without getting any passes his way, but when he’s targeted he makes plays.
6-6, 247-pound sophomore Jeff Heuerman and 6-6, 248-pound freshman Nick Vannett will combine to back up Stoneburner at tight end. Heuerman is a big target with good blocking skills and tremendous athleticism, while Vannett is a receiver who can stretch the field.
Watch Out For … Thomas. Meyer and the coaches complained that the receiving corps lacks devastating playmaker, and Thomas showed that he might be ready to grow into one. The Buckeyes don’t lack for speed, but Thomas might quickly grow into the type of target who changes games around.
Strength: Speed. Brown, Fields and Smith are just a few of the very fast, good-sized targets who can potentially come up with big plays. The tools are all there among the targets, but the production has to start coming on more …
Weakness: Home runs. The Buckeyes averaged 13.2 yards per catch and came up with 18 scores, but there wasn’t enough steady production and the passing game was non-existent for stretches. It was partly due to the offense, but the receivers didn’t exactly step up and shine game-in-and-game-out.
Outlook: The receiving corps looks the part, but will it matter? Braxton Miller needs to start throwing a bit more and the veteran corps has to start doing more with the ball when the chances come. Like the rest of the team, the receiving corps should be in for a huge 2013 with so much talent returning, but it would be nice if all the speed and athleticism could lead to bigger numbers.
Unit Rating: 7
Along with tight end Jake Stoneburner, starting left tackle Jack Mewhort was suspended indefinitely over the summer and was released from his scholarship. Even so, he’s expected to be back soon as one of the key parts to a line that has to be far more productive. The 6-6, 310-pound junior is versatile enough to see time at either guard spot after seeing time on both sides and earning all-star honors.
The big move comes at right tackle where 6-6, 298-pound senior Reid Fragel will move over from tight end. Tall, athletic and productive in the rotation, he made five catches for 74 yards last season and was a solid blocker. He moves well and should be great in pass protection, but he has to show he can blast away for the ground game on a consistent basis. He’ll potentially be pushed by Taylor Decker, a 6-7, 310-pound freshman who was strong enough to get a longer look throughout the season. He has the frame, moves well and appears able to handle the workload in pass protection.
With Mewhort getting the left tackle job, that meant junior Andrew Norwell could get the call at left guard after seeing a little work on the outside. The 6-6, 304-pound veteran can play just about anywhere, and while he’s built to be a tackle, he should be more productive on the inside. He earned honorable mention all-star honors last season and now needs to be one of the key veterans to run behind.
The center situation was up in the air throughout the offseason, but it was 6-3, 292-pound junior Corey Linsley who’ll take over for Michael Brewster. He has seen a little bit of backup time over the last two seasons and was just good enough that Brian Bobek, who was considered to be one of the favorites for the gig, transferred. Deep in the fight is freshman Jacoby Boren, an extremely promising 6-2, 283-pound prospect who looked just good enough to see playing time right away but has to get past a shoulder problem.
6-6, 317-pound junior Marcus Hall appears ready to do more at right guard after seeing a little bit of starting time before things shifted around after Mike Adams came back from his suspension. At 6-6 and 317 pounds he’s the biggest blocker up front, but that’s not necessarily a plus. The coaching staff wants mobility and athleticism, and while Hall has all the talent and all the tools, the one-time star recruit needs to be stronger on the move.
Watch Out For … the right tackle job. Fragel bulked up in a big way to be ready to handle the workload, but Decker also looks the part and could turn out to be a better fit. If nothing else, there’s depth.
Strength: Versatilty. Assuming all turns out fine, Mewhort can play anywhere and almost all the top linemen can shuffle around and move where needed. The coaching staff should be able to put the best five players on the line at any time.
Weakness: Pass blocking. Yes, it was because Braxton Miller danced a lot and ran to try to make things happen, but still, the line couldn’t seem to keep him upright allowing a whopping 46 sacks. The offense only threw the ball 245 times.
Outlook: Quickness and athleticism are the keys to the Meyer line. While he’ll like to blast always from time to time, for the most part he needs his blockers to get on the move. After struggling way too much last season with its consistency, this year the line has to find the right combination and come together in a hurry. This is a relatively young group with almost all the projected starters coming back next season, but for now it would be nice if the pass protection was stronger.
Unit Rating: 7
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