March 3, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio– The 15 practice days that make up the 2014 Ohio State University football spring drills start Tuesday, March 4 and will extend through the LiFE Sports Spring Game, presented by Nationwide, on April 12. The Buckeyes will practice on these days:
A total of 93 individuals are on Ohio State’s spring roster, which includes 39 returning lettermen from last season’s 12-2 team that played in the Big Ten championship game and the Discover Orange Bowl. A total of 12 starters off the 2013 team’s offense (five) and defense (seven) return. (Note: the updated spring roster will be available online Tuesday.)
Returning starters from an offense that set a Big Ten record for most rushing yards (4,321), ranked fifth nationally in rushing (308.6 yards per game) and shattered school records for points scored (637), touchdowns (87) and touchdown passes (38) are senior quarterback Braxton Miller, senior tight end Jeff Heuerman, senior receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, and junior tackle Taylor Decker.
The seven returnees on defense include everyone who started along the front line – senior Michael Bennett, juniors Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and sophomore Joey Bosa – plus linebackers Curtis Grant, a senior, and junior Joshua Perry (who shared starts with nickel back/safety Tyvis Powell), and senior cornerback Doran Grant.
Sophomore punter Cameron Johnston, who led the Big Ten in punting with a 44.0 average, also returns.
A new foundation
The Buckeyes have powered for 7,228 rushing yards – a 278.0 yards per game average – and 82 rushing touchdowns in two seasons under Urban Meyer, a rush total that only seven schools can top. The foundation of this success has been an offensive line that is now void of four upperclassmen – all of whom have the potential to make an NFL roster – and their 135 combined starts. It’s time to restock up front.
Junior Taylor Decker started all 14 games at right tackle last year and is the new leader of the pack. He’ll move to left tackle this spring. Sophomore Pat Elflein, who played well in three quarters vs. Michigan and in a start against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, is tested and proven at one guard position. Jacoby Boren and Darryl Baldwin have some game experience the last two seasons at center and tackle, respectively. Nine additional scholarship linemen will be vying for playing time, including Antonio Underwood, who is returning after missing the 2013 season, Kyle Dodson, Billy Price and Joel Hale, who has moved to the offensive line from the defensive line.
Expect spirited competition everywhere
Position battles will be spirited and fervent at running back, receiver and at quarterback. Braxton Miller isn’t likely to take a snap this spring because of his Feb. 21 surgery, which means untested young quarterbacks Cardale Jones, a third-year sophomore who was on the field for 39 plays in three games last year, and red-shirt freshman J.T. Barrett will have plenty of opportunities to perform in the competition for the No. 2 position. Early enrollee and true freshman Stephen Collieris the third scholarship quarterback on the roster.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott’s 30 carries (for 262 yards and an 8.7 per carry average) were the most last year of any returning running back, a testament to his skill, savvy and practice habits, but he’ll be challenged hard by a slew of veterans for this open position. Rod Smith is a fifth-year senior who has gained 448 yards with a 5.4 per carry average and is a solid 6-3 and 231 pounds. A couple of third-year sophomores will also be mixing it up at the position: Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
And speedster Dontre Wilson, a running back who also played H-back last year and averaged 13.2 yards with every touch of the football, is bound to be bigger, better and stronger in his second season. He averaged 8.1 yards off 31 carries, 15.0 yards off 22 receptions and 24.9 yards on kickoff returns plus scored three times as a freshman.
Seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer return as starting wide receivers with 22 and 15 starts, respectively, but expect the juice to be loose with this position group that doesn’t have a starter – yet – according to receivers coach Zach Smith and is loaded with talented players eager to play and who either red-shirted (Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Jalin Marshall), sat out (Jeff Greene) or were in high school (WR Johnny Dixon and H-B Curtis Samuel) last season.
Smith has speed and experience – 88 receptions for 1,572 yards and 18 touchdowns – on his resume and Spencer, although he won’t play this spring, has consistently been lauded for his downfield blocking and football awareness. He has 37 career catches and four touchdowns.
Ohio State boasts two outstanding, veteran tight ends in senior Jeff Heuerman (22 starts; 35 receptions for 585 yards and five touchdowns) and fourth-year junior Nick Vannett. Both are in the 6-6, 250-pound range.
A foundation to build upon
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickellhas a couple new assistants on his side of the ball to work with and a line that will anchor the defense. Every lineman returns from a 2013 unit that registered a combined 53 tackles for loss, including 31 quarterback sacks.
Tackle Michael Bennett (11.5 TFLs and 7.0 sacks) is the only senior among this group and he is a force on and off the field. First-team all-Big Ten junior end Noah Spence (14.5 and 8.0, respectively) is a 12-game starter and junior Adolphus Washington (4.0 and 2.0, respectively) is a formidable performer at 6-4 and 295 pounds. Physical sophomore Joey Bosa(13.5 and 7.5, respectively) was a freshman All-American during a 2013 season in which he started 10 games.
Senior Steve Miller, juniors Tommy Schutt, Jamal Marcus and Chris Carter and sophomore Michael Hill, who is coming back after having mid-season surgery, have all played well and had their moments in back-up rolls. Schutt and Marcus have each started games in the past.
Just three LB/DB starters return
Linebacker and the defensive backfield areas each lost an All-American performer to early application into the NFL Draft: Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. Both standouts and their incredible playmaking abilities will be missed on a defense that is focused on improving significantly upon last season’s numbers.
Senior Curtis Grant is the man in the middle at linebacker and is coming off his most productive season with 12 starts, 52 tackles, including four tackles-for-loss, and a pair of pass break-ups. Joshua Perry, fourth on the team with 64 tackles last year, has significant experience – 10 starts – at outside linebacker and the junior continued to improve as the season progressed. Junior Camren Williamsand sophomore Tre Johnson also had game action, with Williams in on 10 tackles in a start at Illinois.
Linebacker is a position where true freshmen will have to contribute this fall, according to Meyer. Four linebackers are in this year’s recruiting class, including the nation’s No. 1 middle linebacker and an early enrollee, Raekwon McMillan.
The secondary will feature a talented senior and 15-game starter in cornerback Doran Grant, and a quartet of young players eager for more time. Grant was second on the team last season with three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups, and he was also a top five tackler with 58 stops, including 43 solos.
Junior Armani Reeves, who started the first two games of the season and the Discover Orange Bowl in place of Roby, played plenty in between and is the only other cornerback with game experience, now that Cam Burrows, who played in 12 games last season but mostly on special teams, has moved to safety. Reeves had seven pass break-ups and an interception last season, in addition to 26 tackles.
Sophomores Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bellare poised to make noise at safety this year. Powell played 732 snaps from scrimmage last season and started five times while playing as the team’s nickel back. He made 48 tackles plus the game-deciding play against Michigan: intercepting a two-point conversion attempt with seconds left to play. Bell was an outstanding special teamer last season who managed a modest 70 snaps on defense through the first 13 games. And then he started against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl and performed well: registering seven solo tackles and an end zone interception while in for 78 plays from scrimmage.
Burrows, who played 124 snaps on defense as a freshman cornerback last season, will vie for playing time at safety along with fourth-year junior Ron Tanner, considered among the best tacklers on the team. Tanner had his first significant action on defense last season – 56 snaps – and had an interception against Buffalo.
Cameron Johnston had an outstanding freshman season punting, leading the Big Ten in average but also leading the nation in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (31 of 49; 63 pct.). He returns, as does Bryce Haynes, who has shared long-snapping duties the past two seasons. A battle for Drew Basil’s kicking responsibilities will take place among third-year walk-on senior Kyle Clinton and freshman Sean Nuernberger.
News and Notes …
New on the sidelines Coach Urban Meyer’s staff will feature two new assistant coaches: Chris Ash is the team’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach and Larry Johnsonis assistant head coach and defensive line coach. Ash spent the past year at Arkansas and the previous three years at Wisconsin. Johnson has coached collegiately for the past 18 years at Penn State.
And some additional additions to the program:
Limited and/or out this Spring
Braxton Miller’s shoulder surgery Feb. 21 will limit what he will do from a physical standpoint this spring. Evan Spencer, injured in the Orange Bowl game against Clemson, will not compete in spring drills as he continues to rehabilitate from his lower leg surgery in January. Two others – junior OL Chase Farris and junior LB Devan Bogard – will also be held out of spring drills while continuing to recover from surgery last fall. Expected to practice, albeit with some limitations, is red-shirt freshmen WR James Clark. Linebacker Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team. Ben St. John, a walk-on offensive lineman who has been with the program four years, has elected not to compete as a fifth-year senior because of a shoulder issue.
Seniors and juniors and sophomores and …
Ohio State’s spring roster includes 93 student-athletes. The breakdown by class includes 20 seniors (seven fifth-year seniors and 13 true seniors), 28 juniors, 24 sophomores and 21 freshmen (14 red-shirt freshmen and seven true freshmen).
Some notable position changes have been made for the start of spring drills. Joel Hale, a veteran of 29 games along the defensive line and a true senior, will practice with the offensive linemen. Sophomore Cam Burrows, who lettered with 306 plays last season including 124 snaps as a cornerback, has been moved to safety. And Chase Farris has moved back to offensive line, where he played in 2012 but converted to defensive line last season when Tommy Schuttwas injured in the preseason.
The early arrivers
Seven prospects from the 2014 recruiting class (of 23) are now Ohio State student-athletes, having enrolled in January for the start of the spring academic semester. The newest Buckeyes are:
The early trend
The seven new Buckeyes continue a trend of high school seniors electing to graduate early/complete requirements to graduate and enroll at Ohio State for a winter or spring academic session. Ohio State has a total of 22 players on its roster who have left high school early. Those players, in addition to the class of 2014 enrollees, include:
2013: CB Eli Apple, QB J.T. Barrett, CB Cam Burrows, DL Tyquan Lewis and DL Tracy Sprinkle;
2012: OL Jacoby Boren, OL Taylor Decker, RB Bri’onte Dunn, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DB Tyvis Powell and WR Michael Thomas; and
2011: OL Joel Hale, TE Jeff Heuerman, QB Braxton Miller.
Coming this Fall…
The 2014 season will be the 125th season of football for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State first fielded a football squad in 1890. The program has had only 24 head coaches and it has become one of the top programs in the nation with a No. 5 ranking in victories (849) and with seven national championships, 34 Big Ten Conference championships, 43 bowl game appearances, 78 consensus All-Americans, 36 Academic All-Americans, 20 National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Scholar-Athletes, 24 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Famers, 71 first-round NFL Draft picks and 10 Pro Football Hall of Famers.
More seats and lights in Ohio Stadium
An $8.9 million project ongoing at Ohio Stadium will add approximately 2,600 seats with the construction of two seating areas that extend above the south stands’ stadium tunnels. The project, which will be completed in August 2014, will include a new players’ tunnel and it will also add rows of permanent MUSCO sports lighting atop the stadium’s east wall and above the press box. Upon completion, the south stands will hold just over 17,300 students (an additional 9,000 students will continue to have seats in the north end of the stadium).
The Big Ten Conference
Maryland and Rutgers are now members of the Big Ten Conference and a new East/West divisional format replaces the Legends and Leaders divisions. New division alignments will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East Division and Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin in the West Division. Each school will play the other six schools in its division plus two teams from the other division in 2014 and 2015 before moving to nine-game conference slates in 2016.
Some next games “west” notes
The Big Ten schedules are set through the 2019 season. A few notes: Ohio State won’t play Wisconsin in Ohio Stadium until the 2019 season. Ohio State plays Iowa and Purdue only once in the next six years with each game on the road, so Iowa and Purdue won’t play in Columbus until at least 2020. Nebraska and Ohio State will play four consecutive years beginning in 2016. Ohio State’s next scheduled games (through 2019) against Big Ten Conference West division foes are:
Illinois – 2014, *2015 & 2017
Iowa – *2017
Minnesota – *2014, 2015 & 2018
Nebraska – 2016, *2017, 2018 & *2019
Northwestern – 2016 & *2019
Purdue – *2018
Wisconsin – *2016 & 2019
Another view of Big Ten schedules
Ohio State’s eight-game Big Ten Conference schedules for 2014 and 2015, and its nine-game Big Ten schedules for 2016 through 2019, are as follows:
12-game bowl lineup
Big Ten teams will be part of the largest post-season bowl lineup in conference history with 12 bowl-game opportunities for the 2014-15 bowl season.
Big Ten Bowl Games