OSU Coaches Try To Put Pieces In Place

Urban Meyer has said he wants more speed for his first Ohio State offense, but there are ways to cope without it. That much is clear in the variety of skill sets possessed by those he identified as the team's best playmakers coming out of spring football.

Tim Tebow. Percy Harvin. Jeff Demps. Aaron Hernandez. Those four names came up from time to time throughout discussions about the Ohio State offense during the just-concluded round of spring football practices.

That might not come as a surprise given the roles each played in the success of Urban Meyer's offense at Florida, but then again there is one little inconvenient fact: None of them are going to be suiting up in scarlet and gray for Meyer's new team this fall.

So while fans and media tend to cling to what they've seen before in Meyer's spread, coach and his staff have been busy at working to mold what they have into something new.

And what do they have?

Meyer named six players – running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, tight end Jake Stoneburner and wide receivers Corey "Philly" Brown, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas – as his top playmakers exiting spring ball. That group brings a unique set of skills to the football team, but only one of them much resembles any of the aforementioned big names from Meyer's past.

That would be Stoneburner, who at 6-5, 245 pounds shares some similarities with the 6-1, 245-pound Hernandez. It is not hard to envision the Buckeye senior making plays all over the formation, whether that means catching shovel passes at the line of scrimmage, turning linebackers inside out on pivot routes or going vertical through the seam of the defense.

"The first day we were warming up (Meyer) said, ‘You better be a hell of a player,'" Stoneburner said. "I think he's expecting a lot from us. He loves to use the tight end as a focal point in our offense along with all the other skill positions. He's expecting a lot."

"I feel like I've played almost every position here besides fullback. That's kind of the only thing I've got to learn here. It's kind of an easy transition because this is the kind of offense we ran in high school, too. I feel like I've grasped this offense pretty well. Now it's about getting reps and getting ready for the fall."

But how will the rest of the Buckeyes find their niche this fall? That remains to be seen.

"We're going to play to guys' strengths," said running backs coach Stan Drayton, who had the same position at Florida for part of Meyer's tenure there. "Jordan Hall is a guy who can be a versatile player for us. He is primarily a tailback for us, but we're going to put more on his plate and see how much he can handle."

Drayton answered in the affirmative when asked if the Buckeyes could use Hall in a similar fashion to Demps, but he pointed out there are differences between the players. Hall is slightly bigger and lacks the pure speed of his Florida counterpart, but the Buckeye senior has some natural wiggle that makes him hard to get a hand on in the open field.

"I think we can maybe even load his plate up a little bit more than Jeff. He's got natural hands and I think we're going to use him in a bigger role," Drayton said. "Once he gets the ball, his first step when the ball in his hands is as good as I've ever seen. He's tough to tackle. He's so quick, so to not get him in space, we've got to be dumb coaches, right? We're going to do the best we can to showcase that ability."

In Stoneburner and Hall, the coaches have a pair of versatile weapons with which to attack a defense. That may be by air or by land, but more than likely it will take place within the tackle box. There, too, can Hyde use his combination of size (235 pounds) and speed to batter teams, although he looked comfortable catching passes out of the backfield as well during spring ball.

Thus leaves the question of how and with whom the Buckeyes will attack on the outside. That is where the trio of Brown, Smith and Thomas enter the equation.

Meyer has expressed a concern he does not have enough pure speed options on his first Ohio State squad, but one of those players could change his mind with continued development. That's something Smith, who led the team with 294 receiving yards last season, is aware of.

"Obviously with speed you can get past DBs, but it's not all about long balls," Smith said. "There's the short game and intermediate passes and making a move. That's one thing he talks about, making a defender miss is one thing he really likes skill players to do."

Many fans are anxious to see if players such as Smith and Brown are given the chance to makes plays in a variety of ways, a la Harvin, who caught and ran the ball during his days as a Gator. That is something wide receivers coach Zach Smith said could happen if they continue their upward trajectory from the spring.

"Philly's a very talented, versatile guy," Zach Smith said. "We still have to see how he fits in the offense was we develop the offense. There's a lot that's involved. There are different ways we can get the ball to him, but at the same time he has to earn the right to touch the ball. I think he's done a good job, but to say he's done a number of things that other guys have done or will do, I don't know that. It's a ways away. But he's proved to us he has bought in and is going to get it done. Now he has to show that."

Lastly there is quarterback, where Braxton Miller. If Hyde takes over the power-back role Tebow filled at Florida, Miller could supply the speed of Demps and the multi-talented Harvin.

"This offense is designed to adjust to our skill set," Drayton said. "We've still got a young quarterback in Braxton Miller who's trying to figure it out, but think about what we're talking about here. Probably the fastest kid on our team is the quarterback, and then you've got this skill set at running back and Jake Stoneburner out there at tight end and Zach Boren at fullback, the future is bright for this program.

"It's just a matter of going through the growing pains of this offense, and it's going to take a while. It's not going to happen overnight, but when it does I really foresee a very explosive offense in the fall."

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