If your favorite sport is football, and you've pledged your allegiance to the Scarlet and Gray, then you're pretty much in the same boat as me… Counting down the days til we get to August 31st, when we can once again watch our buckeyes take to the gridiron. In the 210 days between the Super Bowl and OSU's season opener we are awarded with one game however, the Spring Game.
Some of you I'm sure won't watch because you don't think it's genuine or that it's boring because it doesn't count for anything, which I won't exactly disagree with, I on the other hand love the spring game. I get to watch the incoming recruits/upcoming players in action, position battles, new wrinkles in the playbook… and hey, if nothing else it's an excuse to see a contact football game involving THE Ohio State University (If you can't already tell, I'm a pretty big homer). Anyways, here's what I'll be monitoring on Saturday.
1. Braxton's Throwing Motion: Braxton Miller, maybe outside of Johnny Manziel, was probably the most exciting playmaker in the country last year, certainly at the quarterback position at least. He accomplished this largely due to his ability to make plays with his legs. Urban and other coaches ended the season with borderline criticism of Braxton from a passing standpoint, and that stuck with Braxton. He spent part of his summer California working out with a renown qb guru who specializes in throwing mechanics. Sounds like he's going above and beyond what's expected, and he's getting (some) rave reviews, Saturday will be his first chance to silence the critics and prove that he's truly dynamic as both a runner and a passer.
2. Noah Spence: The former five-star recruit, just entering his second year at the defensive end position is already being deemed "unblock able" by coaches and members of a veteran offensive line expected to be one of the nation's best groups. While very exciting, practice is practice, I'll need to see it in game situations before I start calling him a freak.
3. The running back depth chart. There's no position that has the talent/depth anywhere near that of the running backs. The only certainty is that Carlos hyde will be the starter, he's my ideal style of back with size and speed and had a breakout year last year when Jordan Hall went out with an injury. Behind him are redhsirt-junior Rod Smith, sophomore Brionte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball. Three months ago I would've said that 2nd/3rd/4th spots would be going to Dunn, Smith and Ball respectively with Ball really not seeing any time, but all I'm reading about is Dunn this and Dunn that to the point in which I think it might be an even three horse race with maybe even a slight edge given to Dunn because of his less bruising and more blazing style being a great compliment to Ball. Urban is a big believer in taking advantage of big opportunities, so if one of these backs outplays the other two significantly, it could go a long way towards establishing them as Carlos Hydes running mate.
4. Linebackers: Yes, I'm worried about linebackers when this is the first time Ohio State has lost their entire starting D-line since I've been alive pretty much. The Defensive line will plug those holes with 4/5 star guys who had proven themselves with a lot of action last year, the linebackers didn't show nearly as much. Ryan Shazier is the lone returning starter, no worries about him. Curtis Grant though will be taking over a role at middle linebacker that he backed up for most of last year, yet still wasn't thought of as good enough to take it when the starter went out and lost out on it to the fullback Zack Boren. Josh Perry and/or Jamal Marcus have drawn rave reviews in practice, but really haven't logged any sort of experience to date. The position is also stretched kind of thin, so this situation is more of a "hope they show vast improvement from last year, because we have no where else to go if they haven't" type of thing.
5. Offensive playmaking in the passing game: Philly Brown surprised us last year, but we need more than him. A couple recruits that won't be playing in the game will help some in Dontre Wilson and some other receivers, but I'm looking to Michael Thomas (WR) and Nick Vannet (TE) to have much bigger roles and it'll show on saturday.
6. Recruits: Lastly, it's always fun for a recruiting nerd like myself to get to see the young pups get their first game action in the shoe to see how they stack up against the big boys in college ball. With such a big/talented class, there's surprisingly not too many guys at all that I see playing in the spring game that will have an impact at all this year. Three names do come to mind though, Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows are both db's that could see some limited role in dime packages or if injuries arise, and JT Barrett will get redshirted this year, but he could very well be the starter down the road, especially if we don't sign another qb in this upcoming recruiting class.
Well that's all I've got. If you're watching the game, hit me up on twitter @NHiltbrand.