Spring Practice Midway Observations

Ohio State has finished eight of 15 spring practice sessions in Urban Meyer's first season, so the team Meyer will lead onto the field in early September is starting to take shape. Reporters have been able to watch a few of those practices and talk to the coaches and players, begging the question -- what do we know after two weeks of work? BuckeyeSports.com has some observations.

With Ohio State's spring practice sessions at the halfway point, it's worth taking a look at what we've learned so far. It is early, but head coach Urban Meyer said spots would be on the line, and the players have admitted a sense of urgency going into the spring.

The practice tempo is no joke. Before spring started, Meyer said he was pleased with the great offseason his team had in the weight room but still knew the tempo of practice would be a shock to his team's system. So far, he's been proven right. The intensity and rapidly with which drills are undertaken is something that hasn't been seen at Ohio State in quite some time. Each practice begins with a rapid-fire, high-energy stretching session followed by drills, and players are expected to get where they're going quickly and get in more reps than ever before. Meyer said between the new coaches and players, they still aren't quite at the speed he wants yet, too. There's no doubt these Buckeyes will be in shape and ready to go both physically and in terms of reps by the first game.

The defensive line will be really good. The OSU D-line was expected to be a major strength last year, but the injury to Nathan Williams tempered the team's pass rush, though Johnny Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Adam Bellamy and Garrett Goebel still turned in solid efforts. All return this year, with Simon and Hankins drawing particular praise thus far from the head man. Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, who played as freshmen last year, continue to mature. Come fall, Williams should be back in the mix with highly rated recruits Se'Von Pittman, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt joining the fray. Not bad.

Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier look like one heck of a recruiting haul. The two came in together a year ago and Shazier found immediate playing time. Now, Grant seems poised to join him, holding down the middle spot in practices thus far and advancing past the point where he struggled playing fast in the defense last season. Shazier has bulked up and looks the part as well. It would not be a surprise to see those two as starting linebackers in 2012 for a group that is still lacking depth but is seemingly developing high-level talent. Pair that with the defensive line skill and an athletic secondary and the defense should be among the best in the nation going forward.

Special teams could be better than in past seasons. No one doubts that punter Ben Buchanan and kicker Drew Basil will be ready to go after very good 2011 campaigns. But the rest of the units could be more in tune. The attention to detail when it came to special teams the last few years of the Jim Tressel era appeared to wane, but that hasn't been the case in practices so far. The Buckeyes have been spotted working on drills that correlate to specific skills on special teams, such as setting up the kickoff return and blocking punts – a Meyer specialty. There are also some intriguing options when it comes to returns.

Brionte Dunn will play. The star recruit from Canton (Ohio) GlenOak has been getting reps at the crowded running back spot, though he has had to shake off a minor injury suffered a week ago. He also was praised by Meyer before the spring even started. Dunn fits at this level and will push guys for playing time, though Roderick Smith also has flashed the talent that turned heads in 2010.

The search for a playmaker continues. Meyer has said the No. 1 thing the team still needs is a guy who pops on offense. He said it in the recruiting cycle and has echoed it since the practice sessions started, and to be fair, he has a point. There are some players with talent but no one has stepped up and grabbed the bull by the horns. Meyer likes the speed of Devin Smith and Corey Brown and the skill-set of Jordan Hall, but there hasn't been an eye-catching talent jump out along the lines of Percy Harvin at Florida. That's a high bar, but that's what Meyer is looking for.

The offensive line depth is what it is. Just like a year ago, the Buckeyes should have a top unit that holds its own. Though Jack Mewhort and Reid Fragel are moving to tackle, they have talent; Marcus Hall has stepped up at guard opposite the solid Andrew Norwell; and Corey Linsley seems ticketed for center after a successful cameo at guard last year. After that, though, there are more question marks. Taylor Decker is extremely talented but is still a true freshman at tackle. At guard, Antonio Underwood is coming along. At center, Jacoby Boren is impressive but small. After that, it's unclear who will be ready by September, so health will be important.

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