Recruiting

Meyer: Offense will have different ‘taste’

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The kitchen is still stocked with enough ingredients to make another delicious offensive meal, but the main dish probably won’t be beef again. With four senior starters gone from the line and bullish running back Carlos Hyde headed to the NFL, Ohio State is going to have to make some changes to its high-scoring recipe after rewriting the record books thanks in large part to all the meat it had in the middle of the field.

+ EnlargeJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State’s offensive line will be revamped in 2014, with tackle Taylor Decker as the only returning starter.And while that doesn’t mean Urban Meyer or coordinator Tom Herman will be abandoning the power rushing attack that has been the calling card of their version of the spread attack in favor of a more finesse approach, some of its finest ingredients are now on the perimeter, potentially giving the Buckeyes a new look when they’re done experimenting this spring. “As bad as we want an offensive line like last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and with our line coach Ed Warinner, that will happen. But no, it’s going to be different.

“We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that. Last year it was rushing for 300-plus yards per game. It’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will be a little different taste to it than last year.”

Braxton Miller will still provide the most flavor heading into his senior year at quarterback, but there will be plenty of fresh faces around him as the Buckeyes transition from the veterans who helped pile up points over the last couple seasons to the younger talent Meyer has recruited since taking over the program.

The loss of the core group of linemen is certainly a blow, though Ohio State has prepared for it by working the replacements into games and getting them extra practice work last fall. Filling the void left by the workhorse Hyde might seem like a tall order as well, but the Buckeyes have as many as five candidates they have confidence in to carry the load on the ground in his absence. There’s also the matter of replacing leading receiver Philly Brown, a versatile athlete who supplemented his 63 receptions with a handful of rushing attempts in a hybrid role.

But if there aren’t experienced seniors ready to step up on the line, the Buckeyes at least have returning starter Taylor Decker around to bridge last season to the future at left tackle. Hyde’s production and consistency made him one of the nation’s best tailbacks and a potential first-round draft pick, but Ezekiel Elliott shined in his limited opportunities and senior Rod Smith has never had his physical tools questioned. Dontre Wilson is more than capable of taking over Brown’s role now that he has had a chance to grasp the responsibilities of the H-back position and improved his hands enough to be considered a full-time receiver.

Meyer has suggested that using Wilson and athletes like Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel on bubble screens or jet sweeps to get to the edge might be the best way to adapt while the offensive line develops, and he’s certainly been recruiting enough speed to perhaps more truly spread the field than the Buckeyes have done in his first two seasons. And as successful as they’ve been anyway, that different taste might not go down easily for opposing defenses. “We’ll never leave our core values,” Herman said. “Spread the field horizontally and vertically, be in the shotgun, add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap, tight-zone, vertical, power-run team with vertical play-action pass off it…

Big Ten’s lunch links

Warning: Brackets are once again prone to be being busted. Ohio State is auditioning students to see if anybody on campus can beat a speedster like Dontre Wilson in a race.

Michigan reshuffled its defensive coaching staff to get its line more hands-on attention, but that doesn’t mean Brady Hoke will be staying away completely.

Taiwan Jones has the first crack at filling the vacant role at middle linebacker for Michigan State this spring, and the senior is embracing the move.

James Franklin is dialing up the intensity of workouts for Penn State, including reps in the Oklahoma Drill for just about everybody on the roster.

Rutgers is flip-flopping roles for two returning linebackers, trying to squeeze more production from the unit after a disastrous defensive season a year ago.

Wisconsin is looking to expand its recruiting footprint in the areas opened up by Big Ten expansion, and new recruiting coordinator Chris Beatty will lead the charge.

Randy Edsall is concerned about the kind of impact recruiting is having on kids these days, and he has a detailed plan to help take some pressure off and fix what he views as a broken system.

Replacing three senior linebackers is at the top of the priority list for Kirk Ferentz as spring practice gets rolling at Iowa.

A pair of notable injuries have opened up opportunities at wide receiver for Purdue, and Dan Monteroso is trying to make the most of his chance in the slot.

Ground will be broken this year on a sparkling new indoor practice facility at Minnesota, which is expected to come with a price tag of $70 million.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming. Tags:Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Brady Hoke, Kirk Ferentz, Randy Edsall, Chris Beatty, James Franklin, Taiwan Jones, Dan Monteroso, Dontre Wilson

Meyer wants ‘angry, blue-collar’ team

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The slogan on the banner hanging outside Mickey Marotti’s office was no longer delivering exactly the right message, so the Ohio State strength coach decided to update it himself.

The last word left some room for ambiguity, so Marotti pulled out some athletic tape to cover it up, got out a marker and made his expectations much more clear for a team coming off consecutive losses to end last season.

The sign that greeted the Buckeyes used to demand that “the BEST players have to be the BEST workers,” but that bar was too low for Marotti and necessitated some editing and minor redecorating during offseason conditioning ahead of Tuesday’s first practice of spring.

“Anybody can be a worker,” Marotti said. “Anybody can punch a clock and get a paycheck. I want grinders.”

The Buckeyes can now find that word scribbled in all caps on the white tape just above the door to Marotti’s office. And that hard-working mentality has clearly emerged early in the year as a driving force for a team that came up short of a couple of its most important goals after its 24-game winning streak came to an end, giving way to a two-game losing streak.

Ohio State still had plenty to feel good about last season after winning its division again, knocking off rival Michigan to cap another perfect regular season and piling up some individual honors along the way. But the loss in the conference title game that kept the Buckeyes from claiming the top prize in the Big Ten and likely from playing for the national championship, and the defeat in the Discover Orange Bowl that followed it, still sting in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And part of the process in erasing that pain and reaching a higher level in 2014 started with tweaking their vocabulary along with their mindsets.

“Last year, I don’t want to say the word entitled,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “ … Last year it was kind of, well, you were 12-0, you’re preseason this, you’re this, and I haven’t had many people ask about our preseason ranking. Right now we’re just trying to find out who’s going to play for us in some spots.

“I don’t want to diminish what happened because we came back and took the lead in the fourth quarter and lost a couple leads in those last two games, and that happens. If I felt like there was a lack of fight, then we’d blow the whole thing up. There was certainly not lack of fight.”

There were, perhaps, a few critical pieces missing in terms of personnel and maybe a defensive philosophy that didn’t quite match up with what Meyer ideally wants from his program. Those were obviously at the top of his list when he reported for practice on the indoor field Tuesday.

Ohio State still has some questions to answer at linebacker, but it attacked that weakness on the recruiting trail by signing four guys in the most recent class and appears like it might have a somewhat unexpected solution to replace Ryan Shazier on the weakside with Darron Lee emerging with the first-team unit to start camp.

The process of installing a more aggressive secondary under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has only just begun, but his approach appears to be more in line with what Meyer is expecting even in the early stages.

But again establishing Meyer’s standard for work ethic and reinforcing his emphasis on “4-to-6 seconds of relentless effort” on every play was just as important in shaping his team to compete for a title, and Marotti did his part to help cut down on any wiggle room.

“We just have to improve, we’ve got to finish and I like where we’re at as a team,” Meyer said. “I want an angry, blue-collar team, and I’m hoping that’s what we have.”

The key for the Buckeyes is apparently making sure those blue-collar workers are showing up to do more than punch a clock.

Mitchell departure a blow for Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward in replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction. The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won’t participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father.

His departure would put more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition. The news release from the program doesn’t address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies.

“The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”

Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and join the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options at the position.

The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.

Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of last season during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.

“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”

It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.

Mitchell departure a blow for Bucks

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward to replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction. The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won’t participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father, putting more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition.

The news release from the program doesn’t address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies. “The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”

Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and joined the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options on hand at the position.

The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.

Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of the year during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.

“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”

It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 1

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn’t over yet. There’s less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can’t fly by quickly enough for the players. We’ve already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we’ll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

+ EnlargeJason Mowry/Icon SMITyvis Powell played well for the Buckeyes in 2013, but he will have a bigger role next season.No. 1: The secondary earns rave reviews No unit will be under closer inspection this spring than the secondary with a new coach, three new starters and huge task in front of it after the Buckeyes struggled so mightily to stop the pass last season.

But all those fresh faces and all that room to grow also allows for the defensive backs to make the biggest impression in the spring, and the Buckeyes are in position to turn a few heads and get back to the level the program is accustomed to defensively by the fall.

With Bradley Roby off to the NFL a year early, Christian Bryant’s appeals for a medical redshirt denied and C.J. Barnett out of eligibility, there are critical holes to fill. Few teams in the nation, though, can match the talent the Buckeyes have acquired in the secondary in the last couple recruiting cycles, and all that work is poised to pay off as the youngsters move into the starting lineup.

Tyvis Powell already did that as a redshirt freshman last fall, and he proved he can be counted on after spending his first season as a regular playing in nickel and dime packages before starting at safety in the Discover Orange Bowl. He was joined on the back line in that game by heralded recruit Vonn Bell, who flashed the athleticism that made him one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits last year with a leaping, one-handed interception that restarted the hype for his sophomore campaign.

At cornerback, Doran Grant played better and more reliably than perhaps he received credit for, and there will be a spirited battle to land the job on the other side of the formation during camp. Armani Reeves might have the inside track when practice opens given his experience, but Gareon Conley and Eli Apple will be legitimate threats after watching from the sideline during their first seasons on campus.

And all of those guys will be getting watched by a fresh set of eyes with new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash taking over and implementing his more aggressive approach to shutting down passing attacks. He might be getting monitored just as closely as the players as Urban Meyer takes a more hands-on approach to getting his defense fixed and ready to contend for at least a Big Ten title.

That job probably won’t be done by the time the spring game rolls around in April. But it seems like a safe bet the Buckeyes will be able to see plenty of progress by then, regardless of how much further they might still have to go.

Top spring position battles: No. 1

February, 21, 2014 Feb 21 9:00 AM ET COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field this spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline. But the pressure isn’t the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won’t be sweating a competition for a starting job — obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But determining the backup to Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and three others, the countdown concludes with what figures to be the hottest, most critical competition in camp.

+ EnlargeSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsArmani Reeves had 26 tackles and an interception as a sophomore in 2013.No. 1: Cornerback Predecessor: Bradley Roby (69 tackles, 16 passes defended, three interceptions, two blocked kicks, two touchdowns; declared early for the NFL draft)

Candidates: Junior Armani Reeves, redshirt freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley

Why to watch: The weakness of the Ohio State defense last season was obviously no secret, and removing the supremely talented Roby from the equation in pass coverage only adds to the degree of difficulty in trying to fix it for co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Thanks to a recruiting haul in the secondary during the last two seasons that might be the best in the nation, though, the new assistant coach is inheriting a roster with enough skill and athleticism to make those improvements and turn the Buckeyes back into an aggressive, lockdown defense. Doran Grant didn’t receive nearly as much acclaim for his work in coverage last year as Roby, but he left little room to doubt that he’s capable of taking over as the top dog at cornerback, leaving at least three guys to fight for the other spot. The battle is only going to become more heated when Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore arrive on campus in the fall, but the Buckeyes definitely won’t be short on options during the spring.

Pre-camp edge: Grant parlayed some action off the bench two years ago into a springboard to a starting job last spring, and Reeves appears to be in line for the same type of jump after being pressed into a fair amount of action as a sophomore. Reeves finished the season with 26 tackles, eight passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble, and while he didn’t quite seem ready for a full-time role yet, he has had a taste of success and what it takes to succeed at this level, which should give him an early advantage over Apple and Conley. Both of those young guys, though, were highly coveted recruits a year ago for a reason, and their athleticism could help them close the gap and make a legitimate push for a starting spot as the Buckeyes try to address their biggest defensive shortcoming from 2013.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming.

Top spring position battles: No. 2

February, 20, 2014 Feb 20 9:00 AM ET COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline. + EnlargeAP Photo/David DurochikDarryl Baldwin has the inside track to winning Ohio State’s starting right tackle job.But the pressure isn’t the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won’t be sweating a competition for a starting job — obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and a critical spot on defense, the series focuses on a potential anchor up front. No. 2: Right tackle

Predecessor: Rising junior Taylor Decker held the starting job throughout last season for the Big Ten’s best rushing attack, but he’ll swing over to the left side with Jack Mewhort heading off to the NFL.

Candidates: Senior Darryl Baldwin, junior Tommy Brown and redshirt sophomore Kyle Dodson

Why to watch: For all the firepower the Buckeyes have returning at the skill positions and, more importantly, at quarterback, that might not mean all that much unless four new starters are able to get close to the level of production the veteran blockers provided over the past two seasons. Replacing all that experience and talent is no small task, but Ohio State has known this moment was coming for a while and has certainly taken steps to make sure it’s prepared to move on without its core four up front. Decker’s move to the high-profile gig on the left side opens up what could be a competitive battle for the starting job he left behind, particularly if Dodson is able to live up to the recruiting hype from two years ago and become a factor on the practice field during camp. The Buckeyes are likely set with Decker on the left edge, Pat Elflein at one guard spot and Jacoby Boren at center. And right tackle isn’t the only battle that will be waged during practice in March and April as they audition guys for the other vacancy at guard. But Ohio State will need somebody to come in and make an instant impact without much experience at right tackle like Decker last season and Reid Fragel before him if it is going to keep the spread offense humming.

Pre-camp edge: Much of his prior playing time has come on special teams, but Baldwin did see some action off the bench at times last season and has been in the program for years, developing physically and spending plenty of time absorbing the blocking schemes. He’ll have the inside track heading into camp, and at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, he’s certainly got the size required to deal with his responsibilities at tackle

Players to watch in spring: No. 4

February, 11, 2014 Feb 11 9:00 AM ET COLUMBUS, Ohio — The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here. Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can’t go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we’re counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it’s a turning point in their careers or the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national title again in the fall. The journey continues today on the offensive perimeter.

+ EnlargeAP Photo/Al BehrmanMichael Thomas has been a standout in the last two spring practices. It could be his time to shine in the fall in 2014 after redshirting last season.No. 4: Michael Thomas, wide receiver By the numbers: After surprisingly taking a redshirt during his second season on campus, the sophomore from Los Angeles still has only three catches and 22 yards to show for his career.

What’s at stake: With three years of eligibility remaining, there certainly would seem to be plenty of time left for Thomas to make an impact — but the clock is actually ticking rather loudly already. The Buckeyes have stockpiled playmakers at wide receiver on the recruiting trail over the last couple years and will continue to do so as long as Urban Meyer is leading the program, and the competition for snaps is only going to get more heated moving forward. On top of that, there might be no better opportunity to move into the lineup than now with Philly Brown and Chris Fields both out of the picture. Brown, in particular, piled up catches and was as consistent a producer as the Buckeyes have had at the position in the spread offense, and filling that void will be at the top of the priority list in the spring. That’s been the time of year when Thomas has shined, showing off his ability to make difficult catches, regularly winning individual matchups with defensive backs and flashing his impressive athleticism. That hasn’t yet translated to the fall, and the Buckeyes would certainly benefit if it did after his third go-around.

Best-case scenario: Thomas can’t simply be plugged into the role Brown played in the last couple years because his strength and size at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds doesn’t really lend itself to jet sweeps and bubble screens. But the Buckeyes could use a reliable target in the intermediate passing game, a physical presence that can run routes over the middle of the field or create separation from defenders on third downs to help move the chains

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

With so much chatting going on during the signing day festivities, maybe we were due for a slower afternoon. That didn’t stop the conversation from proceeding as planned, and there was still plenty to discuss this afternoon. The full rundown is available over there, and the highlights are right here. Paul (Washington, DC): Who will have a better year next year? Michigan or Michigan State?

Austin Ward: I haven’t seen any developments since the end of the season that would convince me Michigan is going to be better off than Michigan State next year. The Wolverines signed a better recruiting class based on the rankings, but that roster was in much more need of an upgrade than the one that just helped the Spartans win the league and the Rose Bowl. Certainly there’s a lot of defensive talent to replace, but the cupboards aren’t bare and that is one of the most well-coached units in the entire country in my opinion. I’m not sold on Michigan’s hire at OC, either.

Pete (Eau Claire): In Brian’s last chat, he stated he felt that Wisconsin playing LSU in the season opener makes it more likely that Stave would start since Coach Anderson would not want an inexperienced QB to face that opponent. I think he’s 100% wrong because LSU as the opponent makes it is more likely Stave is on the bench. …

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