Offense's Offseason Off-Kilter For OSU

The growth of the Ohio State offense will be paramount as the Buckeyes try to have a successful first season under Urban Meyer, but summer issues surrounding senior leaders Jake Stoneburner and Jordan Hall could set the Buckeyes back a peg going into fall camp.

When Urban Meyer sent the Ohio State football team on its way after 15 spring practices, the coach was blunt in saying the Buckeyes had to have the best offseason in the history of college football.

That was especially true on offense, where Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman spent the spring working to install a new scheme – perhaps a much-needed development given how the Buckeyes struggled a season ago (107th in the country in yards) under raw but talented true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.

Two of the key pieces of that development were supposed to be tight end Jacob Stoneburner and running back Jordan Hall. The two seniors have undeniable talents and were expected to be used in flex roles this year.

Those roles are hallmarks of Meyer's spread offense, which has produced excellent point production in all three of his previous stops. Wherever he has been, his scheme has made excellent use of small, quick backs like Hall and fast, pass-catching flex tight ends like Stoneburner (names Harvin, Demps, Rainey, Ingram and Hernandez should ring a bell).

But, as everyone knows, a funny thing happened on the road to fall practice. Stoneburner has been removed from scholarship and barred from team workouts following an incident around the Memorial Tournament, while Hall is on the shelf for at least two months after suffering a foot injury at his apartment complex that required surgery.

So now what will happen as the Buckeyes try to rework the offense into something leaner, meaner and more productive this fall? Certainly there are new questions that need to be asked.

With that in mind, takes a look at the possible changes one might see going forward.

1. Is losing the two really that big of a deal given the stats? Well, that is the interesting part. While fans, media and coaches alike see plenty of talent in each player, they have come up short of expectations on the stat sheet through their careers.

In three seasons, Hall has rushed for 814 yards and five touchdowns while sharing time with Dan Herron and others. While he has added 202 receiving yards and four TD catches to go with 1,494 return yards and another score, Hall has not been an every-down back yet for OSU, topping 15 carries in a game only three times.

Stoneburner, meanwhile, had a team-high seven touchdown catches last year and pulled in 14 balls overall, but only six catches came in the last 11 games. Overall, Stoneburner has 37 catches and nine touchdowns in three seasons of actions – numbers he hopes to top this season.

2. Who will start at running back with Hall out? The obvious answer is Carlos Hyde, who led the team with 5.3 yards per carry a season ago on 106 rushes. The Cincinnatian by way of Naples, Fla., has good breakaway speed and is also a load capable of running through arm tackles at 235 pounds, making him a solid choice as a No. 1 choice at the Division I level.

However, it's fair to say he's not the same type of player as Hall, who checks in at 5-9, 198 pounds and is more of a quick back who is at his best while using his vision and elusiveness to pick his way through tacklers.

3. Can anyone fill Hall's role as a potential running back "slash" wideout? That seems more unlikely. There was a lot of talk of the offensive coaches using Hall like Percy Harvin, who averaged 9.5 yards per carry on 194 totes while catching 133 passes as a slot receiver at Florida.

Just like Hyde, Ohio State's other running backs aren't built the same way as Hall. Sophomore Roderick Smith has very good explosion through the hole, but he's also big at 6-3, 230 and has battled fumbling/confidence problems in the past. True freshman Bri'onte Dunn has size at 6-1, 214, though his between-the-tackles talents are copious.

One name worth watching is incoming four-star back Warren Ball, a Columbus product who has the speed on the edge to blow by opposing defenders along with some power at 6-2, 205.

Then there's also the possibility of the coaches choosing to use junior wideout Corey Brown as a "slash" player, Meyer acknowledged Thursday. Brown played both running back and receiver in high school and has blinding speed. However, he might be needed out wide given the lack of depth.

4. How does the team plan to use Stoneburner this year? The Dublin Coffman product admitted he spent more time in the receivers room than the tight ends room this spring. Stoneburner said he thought one reason that was the case was to provide a veteran presence with a position group that has little experience and no seniors.

However, Stoneburner also spent a fair amount of time this spring split out wide as compared to the traditional tight end role he filled in past seasons. That would appear to be an indication he'll be used more as a receiver than ever before. Keep in mind, Hernandez grabbed 68 passes in 2009 and Cornelius Ingram averaged more than 30 catches in two years in Meyer's offense.

5. Does missing time hurt his development? In a major way, yes. The summer is the time when players develop chemistry, which is important this year on multiple fronts. Not only is the team installing a new offense with an edited passing tree, Miller is in a key offseason for his development. It's crucial that Stoneburner, one of the few seniors on the OSU offense, and Miller be on the same page.

Stoneburner has the talent to make up for this missed time, and it appears that if he fulfills all requirements he'll be back with the team in fall camp, so there might not be that much reason for alarm. But it's not ideal.

6. Are there any players who can fill Stoneburner's role? It looks as though there might be. Redshirt freshman Nick Vannett stands 6-6, 248 and has excellent speed, making him a potential high-level pass catcher. He just has to do it on the field, and picking up the offense has to come quickly.

Then there's Jeff Heuerman. The Naples, Fla., product showed he's a Big Ten-level player last year both as a blocker and a pass catcher, but he might not have the high-end receiving abilities of players like Stoneburner and Vannett.

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