Welcome to week two of your eight-week Empire season preview for the 2012 football Buckeyes. At 9 a.m. on Tuesdays between now and kickoff, we’ll break down a different component of the fall season (see topics and links to past posts below). Some will be written by me. Some will be presented in roundtable format if the topic calls for it.
Week One: Welcome to the Urban Era
Week Two: The Roster
Week Three: The Schedule
Week Four: No Bowling Allowed
Week Five: Big Ten
Week Six: The Shoe
Week Seven: Beyond 2012
Week Eight: Predictions
This week, I’ll take a look at the team’s roster, using the most recent two-deep the team has released. GO BUCKS!
Any discussion of the 2012 Buckeyes begins and ends with the quarterback position. For good reason. Braxton Miller is poised for a breakout year after being paired with head coach Urban Meyer in a combination that screams “Heisman.” The true sophomore has some room for improvement after his freshman campaign. His delivery and, therefore, his accuracy were erratic. He also held the ball for a maddeningly long time. Fortunately, those are both classic “rookie mistakes.” The more important traits he exhibited in 2011? Arm strength, agility, speed, poise, leadership, improvisational skills. I think he’ll turn out okay.
There’s no question about who’s starting, but the team’s depth at quarterback is strong, especially considering how bleak things seemed last season. Cardale Jones will likely prove to be a capable third-stringer, but Kenny Guiton is the man standing behind Miller. After a spring game in which he excelled both during game action and otherwise, his stock is rising.
The running back position is less settled. Versatile burner Jordan Hall was expected to not only start, but play a much-expanded role in the offense. As he recovers from injury, a stable of talent led by Carlos Hyde and freshman Brionte Dunn will fight for his snaps. To some extent, the depth at this position suits Meyer’s running back-by-committee preferences nicely. But Hall’s absence cuts deeper than that. He’s the only running back of his type on the roster (the rest of the players fit a power-back mold), which means that the team’s use of its running game and, therefore, the offensive scheme as a whole, could change throughout the year depending on which players are healthy.
Perhaps the most interesting group on the team is composed of wide receivers and tight ends. Early reports from spring practice were clear in their disappointment with these units. WR Philly Brown, WR Devin Smith, and TE Jake Stoneburner (assuming his reinstatement) are all probable starters. All are excellent athletes who haven’t tapped their massive potential. That could be a function of the team’s ineptitude in throwing the ball during 2011. Meyer changes the equation and, as a result, all three could be poised for a breakout year. However, there’s plenty of room for wild cards here. One example is freshman Michael Thomas. The young receiver was a star of the spring game and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the two-deep behind Devin Smith. There’s also room on the team for one more tight end to make an impact. Currently, Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are both listed on the team’s depth chart, but one will presumably step into the important role of second tight end in Meyer’s offense.
The starting offensive line consists of (from left to right) Jack Mewhort (assuming his reinstatement), Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall, and Reid Fragel. This unit, which caused problems for the Buckeyes last season, has seen substantial turnover in the offseason. As a result, this group is an unknown. However, there’s reason for optimism. Early signs from the spring game, in which the line held its own against the Buckeyes’ potent defensive front (albeit with rules tilting the field slightly in its favor), were positive.
The starting front seven looks mostly monstrous. Along the defensive line, the Buckeyes have stars John Simon and Johnathan Hankins poised for excellent, potentially award-winning seasons. They’ll be complemented nicely Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy, and Nathan Williams, along with a few other players who may see regular snaps. The linebackers are no different. Starters Ryan Shazier, Curtis Grant, and Etienne Sabino are all talented players who reportedly thrived during the offseason. All have massive potential and are likely to reach it after an offseason under Mickey Marotti.
Despite the solid starting talent at all positions on the defensive front, depth is a major concern here. Linebacker is woefully thin, particularly after the departure of Storm Klein. And though the Buckeyes have a major influx of talent from the recruiting classes of 2013 and 2014 at each of these positions, those players either haven’t arrived or won’t be ready for contributing positions early in the year.
The secondary is similar to the front seven in one respect: consistency. The unit bears a strong resemblance to its 2011 counterpart. Starting cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby will be supported by Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett at safety. Roby in particular should excel. He’s a star in the making and provided a major bright spot in a unit that struggled at times last season. The rest of secondary is a solid, if not exceptional, group.
It should be noted that the concerns that I have with the front seven extend to the secondary as well. The unit has talent on the way, but lacks depth at the moment.
In short, there’s much reason for reserved optimism about the defense as a whole. The starters are, for the most part, both talented and established. They were asked to bear the burden of keeping the Buckeyes competitive last year, a job they performed admirably. However, their effectiveness waned as the season wore on and injuries decimated the starting lineup. The same outcome is possible this year, though the offense should be more capable.
From a roster standpoint, not much has changed. Ben Buchanan returns to handle punting duties and Drew Basil will once again be the kicker. Less clear is who will handle returning duties. Jordan Hall was a frontrunner, but his injury will force Meyer to look elsewhere. Though no definitive answer will be given before September, it’s likely that Devin Smith and Philly Brown will play a role, given their past involvement.
Interestingly, the Buckeyes’ biggest change at special teams comes from the coaching side. Meyer will be overseeing the unit directly. Given the quality of the special teams play at Florida during his tenure there, Buckeye fans have much to look forward to. From a roster perspective that means that while the cast hasn’t changed, the results probably will.
This is a roster in flux, which is appropriate given that this will be a season of transition for the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer is working with players that he mostly didn’t recruit. Those that he picked are, for the large part, too young to make any substantial contribution to the team this season. That said, there is talent here. Talent that last year’s turmoil partially masked.
That means that all of these players, not just the freshman, should be given a clean slate. For example, Philly Brown may have failed to meet expectations last year, but that says nothing about his potential production in a scheme that may be perfectly suited to his talents.
Let these kids make their first impressions for a second time. You might be surprised.