Ohio State Spring Preview: Offense

Spring practice begins this week at Ohio State as the Buckeyes look to continue improvement even after last year's 12-0 campaign. BuckeyeSports.com takes a look at where the team needs to get better this spring, starting with an offense that was flawed but effective in 2012.

Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football team are set to return to the practice field Tuesday. With that in mind, check out our position-by-position capsules of the Buckeye offense. Ohio State returns almost every contributor of note from last season but must continue building depth and finding playmakers.

Starter returning: Junior Braxton Miller

Depth: Fifth-year senior Kenneth Guiton, redshirt freshman Cardale Jones, true freshman J.T. Barrett

BSB postseason position grade: A-

Positive stat: Miller's 3,310 yards of total offense set a new Ohio State record if Terrelle Pryor's vacated 2010 season is not taken into account, and his 14 runs of 20 yards or more are the most among returning Big Ten players.

Negative stat: Miller averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and 143.0 passing yards per contest with just one passing touchdown and no rushing scores in the last two games vs. Wisconsin and Michigan.

What they need this spring: Miller to show that he's more comfortable in the pocket when the bullets are flying. The staff has talked repeatedly about how the 2012 Big Ten MVP has good fundamentals when he can settle in the pocket but sometimes loses those basics when pressured, resulting in off-target and wild throws. Miller went about working on that this offseason, spending time with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. If the Huber Heights, Ohio, native keeps showing growth, the sky is the limit both for him and Ohio State's chances in 2013.

On the spot: Jones. With the staff preparing Miller and Guiton for the start of the 2012 season in a new offense, there simply weren't many reps to be had for Jones last year. The Cleveland Glenville and Fork Union Military Academy product has size, speed and a cannon, but his game was raw when he got to Ohio State. He needs work to get better.

Worth watching: How much work Barrett gets in. He likely won't take part in contact drills as he continues to rehab a knee injury suffered last year, but the early enrollee should take part in some throwing drills as camp goes on. The staff has talked about his leadership already, but anything he can do will serve as a knowledge base for when Barrett is full-go in the fall.

Running Back
Starter returning: Senior Carlos Hyde

Depth: Senior Jordan Hall, Junior Roderick Smith, sophomore Bri'onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Warren Ball

BSB postseason position grade: A-

Positive stat: Hyde got better as the season went on, rushing for 4.51 yards per carry in September, 4.86 yards per carry in October and 6.27 yards per carry in November, while finishing just 30 yards short of becoming Meyer's first-ever 1,000-yard back.

Negative stat: Ohio State received only one rush of 30 or more yards from a running back – Smith's 33-yard TD run vs. Nebraska.

What they need this spring: To keep seeing the young players develop. Both Dunn and Ball were undone by injuries last season, and it didn't help their causes that Hyde asserted himself as the No. 1 back by the time the conference season came around. Now that Dunn and Ball are healthy, they have the chance to start making an impact.

On the spot: Smith. The Fort Wayne, Ind., native started to show he can be a big-play back late in the season, gaining 165 yards on his last 20 carries. But with the running back position still crowded, Smith has to keep getting better to earn more carries, and he has to show the fumbling issues that have plagued him in his career are gone in order to earn Meyer's trust.

Worth watching: Hall will technically spend the 2013 season, it appears, as a slot player – the famous spot once filled by Percy Harvin. No matter where he winds up, though, Hall can be a key piece of the offense thanks to his ability to weave through traffic and his quickness. The Buckeyes are bringing in some dynamic skill players in the fall, but Hall – who was expected to be a key player in 2012 and was named captain – can cement his spot yet again if he proves he's recovered from an injury-plagued season in the spring.

Wide Receiver
Starters returning: Senior Corey Brown, junior Devin Smith

Depth: Junior Evan Spencer, sophomore Michael Thomas, fifth-year senior Chris Fields, redshirt freshman Frank Epitropoulos

BSB postseason position grade: B-

Positive stat: Smith's average of 20.6 yards per catch led the Big Ten, as did his three grabs of 60 or more yards.

Negative stat: Players officially listed as wide receivers caught only 126 passes on the season, an average of 10.5 per game. That was just eight more than USC's Marqise Lee, who led the country with 118 grabs.

What they need this spring: Continued development out of every member of the squad. Meyer saw progress out of his team's throwing and catching game during the season after a lousy 2011 campaign, but the Buckeyes still weren't an elite passing team and had some receivers struggle to get open at times. The players at the top need to see their chemistry with Miller continue to improve, while others need to become more reliable or risk being buried on the depth chart.

On the spot: Spencer. The son of former OSU running back Tim Spencer has good size, good speed and great hands, but he has only 21 catches in two seasons including 12 a year ago. There is plenty of reason to believe he's capable of a lot more production now that he's an upperclassman, and now is the time to start to unlock it.

Worth watching: If Thomas or Fields can step up. Thomas had a great spring last year and proved his worth as a blocker last season, while Fields caught perhaps the biggest touchdown catch of the year vs. Purdue. They're clearly useful players, but can do they do enough in spring to be relevant in the fall?

Fullback/Tight End
Starter returning: Junior Jeff Heuerman

Depth: Sophomore Nick Vannett, redshirt freshman Blake Thomas, junior Craig Cataline, true freshman William Houston, sophomore Devin Hill

BSB postseason position grade: B

Positive stat: Heuerman and Vannett combined for three catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in the team's 63-point outburst vs. Nebraska.

Negative stat: The two tight ends had only 14 catches for 132 yards and no scores combined in the other 11 games.

What they need this spring: Someone to prove they can play fullback. The offense doesn't usually use one, but it's always nice to have a body that can line up and provide some heft on the wing or in short-yardage situations. The Buckeyes have brought in a pair of players who can play the spot in Houston, a legacy Buckeye, and Hill, a transfer from Purdue. If either proves up to the challenge, they might see playing time in 2013.

On the spot: Vannett. He entered Ohio State billed as someone who could be a prototypical dominant pass-catching tight end thanks to his massive size, good hands and excellent running ability. Playing in an offense that has been known to highlight tight ends who have the ability to get down the field, he has a chance to become an impact player in his second year in the offense.

Worth watching: How the team uses everyone. The Buckeyes had a good rotation of Zach Boren working at fullback and on the wing with Heuerman and Vannett last year until his move to defense, which left the team down to just the two young tight ends. It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes find more spots for players in this group if they show they can play in the spring.

Offensive Line
Starters returning: Seniors Jack Mewhort (left tackle), Andrew Norwell (left guard), Corey Linsley (center) and Marcus Hall (right guard)

Depth: Sophomore Taylor Decker, sophomore Chase Farris, sophomore Jacoby Boren, junior Antonio Underwood, junior Darryl Baldwin, sophomore Tommy Brown, redshirt freshman Kyle Dodson, redshirt freshman Pat Elflein

BSB postseason position grade: A

Positive stat: Ohio State ran for 242.3 yards per game (second in the Big Ten), 37 touchdowns (second) and 5.20 yards per carry (third) while starting the same five linemen in all games.

Negative stat: The team allowed 2.50 sacks per game, tied for 90th in the country, while also placing 115th in the country in passing attempts.

What they need this spring: Depth. The Buckeyes didn't substitute much if at all along the line last year, and there wasn't much confidence shown in the team's backups other than Decker and Farris. Meyer and line coach Ed Warinner would love to see the Buckeyes get to the point they have a second string they trust, especially with the team falling a little short on numbers in the recruiting process this year.

On the spot: Decker and Farris. The two seem like the most likely players to take over on the line for Reid Fragel. Decker could slot in at right tackle in a like-for-like trade with Fragel, or Farris could start at guard if the team decides to shake things up. Both were praised quite a bit last season, though. Decker has the perfect body and great athleticism for a lineman, while Farris seems to have picked up the O-line since moving over from the defense.

Worth watching: If Dodson is healed and ready to go. A National Signing Day commitment in the class of 2012, Dodson was one of the top offensive lineman in the class but was quickly ruled out for much of the campaign thanks to a shoulder injury. He should be healthy enough to play, and if he's ready to go, he can provide the Buckeyes with the kind of high-quality depth that was missing a season ago.

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