Ohio State Spring Game: What To Watch For

Saturday is the one time each spring most fans have a chance to check out the Buckeyes before the first game in the fall, and so there's always anticipation for the annual spring game (1 p.m., BTN). So what should fans expect to see? BSB staffers break down what to watch for after having had an eye on the Buckeyes this spring.

Urban Meyer has been a proponent of spring football games throughout this year. Whereas some schools across the country are cutting out the annual spectacles in order to stage another controlled practice, Meyer has vociferously come out against that idea.

He likes to see how his players perform on the big stage – and Ohio State's stage is perhaps the brightest, with a huge crowd expected tomorrow with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures on the docket – and likes giving the chance for fans to come to Ohio Stadium in April for a game.

"We get a lot from it," he said. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, (it's more than a regular practice). To say another practice, I hope it's (in front of) 106,000. I don't think it probably will be, but I'd love to see a great crowd out there because we appreciate that.

"I get a lot evaluation (from the spring game). We'll grade the tape. I want to see who's going to make plays."

And the head coach has plenty of things he'll be looking for during the game as well.

"We're going to have some fun with the thing, but I want to see our wide receivers," he said. "We're going to throw the ball a lot. I want to see who is going to stand up and go make a play in front of the crowd. I've had players who are really fast and athletic and have great skill, but they can't get it done when the lights are on. And then I have others that that's when it's their time."

LINK: Spring game rosters by position

He'll get the chance to find out in the contest, set for approximately 1-1:30 p.m. after the men's lacrosse team takes on Michigan beforehand. The game will feature four 10-minute quarters with clock stoppages throughout the first half and a running clock in the second half. There will be no kickoffs but Cameron Johnston will be punting under live conditions with no returns.

So now that we know what the head coach is looking for, what should the fans keep an eye on?

BuckeyeSports.com has the answer. A number of our writers and analysts have been attending practices throughout the spring and have a few things in mind that we've noticed that fans will want to check out. There's also a few players who have stood out that we think fans will enjoy watching, perhaps for the first time.

While Ohio State's new Chris Ash-implemented quarters system on defense may be the biggest change for the Buckeyes this spring, fans will be most surprised by the quarterback play that they witness in the spring game. Because even without Braxton Miller playing, it won't be bad.

Cardale Jones actually looks like a quarterback and not just a 6-5, 240-pound behemoth running around and falling forward for first downs. He probably has the strongest arm of any OSU signal caller since Todd Boeckman. He's earned rave reviews from the coaching staff all spring, so much so that it decided to call the competition for the No. 2 quarterback spot early. That came as a shock to many, who expected Jones to be jumped by the younger J.T. Barrett.

J.T. BarrettSpeaking of Barrett, I'm equally as excited to see what the redshirt freshman has to bring to the table. Before this spring, many thought that he was already a more polished quarterback than Jones was, and while he may currently be slotted for third-team reps this fall, I expect to see a flash or two out of him in his first snaps ever inside The Horseshoe.

Player you'll want to watch – Gareon Conley: Keep an eye on Conley. The redshirt freshman has been turning heads all spring and is considered by some to be the favorite to start in the fall opposite Doran Grant. Conley is a long, athletic type who was a two-way prospect coming out of Massillon and is a guy who really seemed to take advantage of his redshirt season. With Grant's status for the spring game up in the air, it will be up to Conley to match up with the Buckeyes' top receivers.

If everything goes according to plan, the 2014 Ohio State defense will feature quite a different look than the unit that stumbled its way through last season. That starts in the secondary, where new safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has helped head up some changes in the scheme.

Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said in a post-practice interview that the Buckeyes have played press coverage on every snap, and that type of pressure on receivers is something that fans have been yearning for. They have the personnel to pull it off, too. Doran Grant has been impressive and Armani Reeves has been cited as the hardest worker in the secondary. Additionally, Grant said that Eli Apple has been "bullying" some of the top receivers, while Gareon Conley has also had an impressive spring.

The defense has plenty of holes to fix and I think the play at linebacker will also be something to watch, but the spring game will be the first time that Ohio State has the opportunity to demonstrate that its pass defense has improved. Shoring up that problem would go a long way toward bringing back a Silver Bullets-style defense.

Player you'll want to watch – Curtis Samuel: I had a gut feeling that Samuel would shine early, picking him in February as my choice for the class of 2014 member who would make the biggest impact this fall. He appears to be holding his own in the competition at running back and has drawn praise from Urban Meyer on several occasions. On Saturday, fans will finally be able to observe what players, coaches and media have seen this spring – Samuel can play.

The competition between the Ohio State receivers and defensive backs figures to be the most interesting to me Saturday. As a bonus, these figure to be battles more isolated than they would have been in the past.

While the secondary was dreadful last season, the onus is just as much on the receivers to step up this season after a disappointing last couple of years and with the team's biggest strength from that time – the offensive line – potentially compromised.

I'm most interested to see the receivers – especially bigger bodies Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Jeff Greene – battle if things get physical. Since this is a spring game and you're going to have winners and losers both representing Ohio State, I tend to think it's a better sign if the receivers are winning one-on-one battles with the DBs more so than vice versa. Getting beaten is part of life as a DB, but Ohio State is lacking players who have proven they can win those battles on the offensive side of the ball.

Player you'll want to watch – Darron Lee: Since I've already spoken about the receivers, I'll flip the script and say Lee is a man to keep an eye on Saturday. He is in a position that is new for the OSU defense as a walk-out Sam linebacker, and his development could be key to the unit improving in 2014 because he brings some instincts ("football sense") to the game that the unit was lacking overall last season. Watch to see if he is not only where he is supposed to be consistently but making things happen, especially on the perimeter, where the Buckeyes faltered at times last season.

Keeping in mind that the spring game is just one practice and not the kind of thing that necessarily translates to in-season results – hold your Bam Childress and Michael Thomas jokes – there's still gonna be some fun stuff to check out Saturday.

The one thing that has intrigued me throughout the spring has been the depth at the skill positions. Urban Meyer says the Buckeyes still aren't quite there – and he's probably right – but I think there are a number of guys who can step in and make plays on the roster in 2014.

The Buckeyes have to replace one of the best running backs they've had in recent years in Carlos Hyde as well as Philly Brown, who had the most receptions in a season for OSU in more than 15 years, but there's still guys who can make things happen with the ball in their hands. The stable of running backs is pretty deep, especially with true freshman Curtis Samuel turning heads, but the guys who catch the passes are the ones who have been most impressive to me this spring.

Out wide, Thomas has shown an affinity for making the difficult look routine, while Corey Smith has earned a lot of plaudits from coaches. Dontre Wilson is a mismatch nightmare waiting to happen for most opponents, and Marcus Baugh has been showing his skills at tight end. Add in a young game breaker like Johnnie Dixon and a huge target like Jeff Greene and there's a lot of potential right there, so let's see how they do in front of the big crowd.

Player you'll want to watch – Raekwon McMillan: You'll already be looking for him anyway, so I'll say McMillan. Perhaps the most needed of OSU's early enrollees, the top-50 player from Georgia has impressed the coaches at every turn. Fans will likely notice his fluid movements and the way he seeks out the ball instinctively if they watch closely. He'll likely be running with the ones at times on the Gray team.

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