Questions Remain As OSU Begins Camp

Ohio State fans and players are definitely expecting an improved team in 2012, but a few major holes must be filled if the Buckeyes are to have the success some anticipate. takes a look at the big things Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer need to figure out as camp progresses.

Urban Meyer's first Ohio State camp is under way. Initial soundbites from the Buckeye players sound good, but that's to be expected.

Instead, the truth will come out over the next few weeks of practices. Coming off a 6-7 campaign, the Buckeyes will have to improve in a number of key areas to reach their goals this season, the highest of which would be a 12-0 season completed by a victory against rival Michigan.

What are the key areas that need to be addressed as the Buckeyes prepare for the Sept. 1 opener in Ohio Stadium against Miami University? takes a look.

1. How good will Braxton Miller be? So much in any spread offense depends on the mental and physical capabilities of the quarterback, and that will be sophomore Braxton Miller in 2012.

The pedigree is there for Miller, who was named a five-star prospect in high school not just because of his athleticism – which is immense – but his ability to make plays in the passing game as well.

Early returns on Miller indicate he had an excellent offseason, but that still must be proved on the field. In Meyer's offense, a quarterback must be able to make quick decisions and find the open man while also having the ability to run the ball 10 to 15 times a game.

Miller wasn't trusted to throw it all that often last year – remember the one-completion, four-attempt performance in the win vs. Illinois? – but showed flashes of ability and got better as the season went on at making the big play with his arm, as evidenced in the Michigan game. He showed strides in spring as well, but the question will remain unanswered until he faces opposition.

2. Will playmakers emerge on offense? This is Meyer's biggest question going into camp, and with good reason. The team's best returning running back had 566 yards and the No. 1 receiver that returns was at 294 yards. The former is a solid number but not spectacular while the receiving number clearly needs to go up.

There are plenty of players with talent at the running back, receiver and tight end spots, but those players are largely unproven or at the very least have not lived up to the advance billing. In the backfield, Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde were solid last year but didn't truly break out, while fumbling problems hurt highly touted back Roderick Smith. Those players know they can do more, and they'll be pushed by backs Brionte Dunn and Warren Ball.

At wideout, the list of names is extensive in Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Mike Thomas, Tyrone Williams, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields to name a few. Jacob Stoneburner, Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are talented pass-catching tight ends, and Zach Boren is versatile. There are enough names in this group to expect big things, but Meyer has rued his lack of a truly explosive No. 1 guy who can both carry the ball and catch it. The next few weeks will go far in showing who is closest and who can help Miller put points on the board.

3. Will the offensive line come together? Of course, none of that will matter if a rebuilt offensive line can't protect Miller and open holes in the running game. Only left guard Andrew Norwell returns at the same spot he played a year ago.

The line last year was not what people had in mind for the senior seasons of Mike Adams, Michael Brewster and J.B. Shugarts, as the Buckeyes suffered a stunning 46 sacks. Not all of the fault could fall back on the line, but there were notable breakdowns in pass protection far too often.

This year, the Buckeyes will be banking on a few key changes to create a working line. Jack Mewhort moves from guard to tackle and is expected to hold down that spot thanks to good athleticism and a bulldog mentality.

In the middle, two reclamation projects must pay off in Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall. Both have had off-the-field issues and haven't quite lived up to their billings on the field in the first three seasons, but both appear rededicated and ready for huge campaigns. Then the right tackle battle between Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker must be settled; the only thing appearing to keep either from excelling is experience.

4. Will playmakers emerge on defense? One of Ohio State's big issues a season ago was a lack of big plays. Former defensive coordinator Jim Heacock lamented near the end of the year he just didn't have the usual number of guys who could change a game with sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions, and that was clear in the stats as OSU forced only 20 turnovers and 23 sacks. The numbers weren't awful but weren't up to "Silver Bullet" quality, either.

So what do Luke Fickell and Everett Withers need to do to see those numbers go up? Experience should help; Guys like Ryan Shazier, Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby have the ability but were in their first years as regulars last season.

Adding more of a pass rush should also be a key. Between Johnny Simon, the progressing Nathan Williams (knee injury) and a highly rated group of freshman defensive linemen coming in, Ohio State appears ready to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If they do so, both sacks and interceptions should go up.

5. Which freshmen will step up? More than any class in recent years, there are some obvious places where true freshmen can step into the team and onto the field quickly.

Running back, wide receiver, pass-rushing defensive end and linebacker are spots where either a lack of excellence last year or a lack of depth this year could mean the new imports have a heck of an opportunity to make their marks quickly.

At running back, Ball and Dunn will have a chance to step into a position where youngsters typically don't need a lot of seasoning to shine. Out wide, the team's passing game struggles last year could give not just Thomas but Frank Epitropoulos and Ricquan Southward a sight of the field.

Defensively, all eyes are on five-star prospects Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington as well as early enrollee Se'Von Pittman as the Buckeyes look for a threatening bookend to Simon. And the cupboard is nearly bare at linebacker, where Joshua Perry, Jamal Marcus, Camren Williams, David Perkins and Luke Roberts will have an immediate chance to enter the two-deep and earn special teams time.

The door is open for all of those players, but only a few will have the chance to step through.

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