The wheels are turning.
Tomorrow, training camp starts in Columbus. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will hit the field early in the morning, beginning a month of practice leading up to the first game of the season against Miami (OH). Though it’s the first fall camp that Meyer has conducted at Ohio State, the offseason workout sessions and spring practices may give us some indication of what to expect: grueling, mind-bending sessions that produce an intensely focused, competitive team.
Despite the fact that we, as fans, won’t be there to witness the proceedings, media and Twitter reports will keep us updated almost daily. To help prepare you for that coverage, I’ve thrown together a list of the top storylines I’ll be following as training camp proceeds:
1. Comparisons to past camps - Three years. Three head coaches. Meyer is running camp this season. Last season’s Luke Fickell-led training camp was completed under the shadow of Jim Tressel. The comparisons between Meyer’s style and that of his predecessors were ubiquitous during the team’s offseason conditioning program. There’s little reason to believe that the media’s interest in the story has abated over the summer. The usefulness of making these comparisons is arguable, especially considering that Tressel’s camps were consistently excellent. But noting the stylistic differences between the coaches is a simple way to get excited about the future.
2. Offense v. defense - The trajectory of the average training camp proceeds in a relatively predictable fashion. At the beginning of camp, the defense outshines the offense, particularly if a new system is being installed. As camp progresses, the offense catches up. This year, the trasformation should be particularly interesting. The offense has potential to be solid, but the defense has potential to be exceptional. Led by the “Tebowish” John Simon and a year removed from keeping the Buckeyes in most games, the team’s defense is capable of dominating the Big Ten. The offense is a year removed from generating one of the worst statistical outputs in the country. In short, the offense has a lot farther to go. It’ll be interesting to see if/when they catch up.
3. Wide receivers - Part of the fun of training camp comes from tracking the development of the two-deep. This year, the Buckeyes are unsettled at several positions. Most notably, the it’s unclear who will contribute regularly at wide receiver. Philly Brown and Devin Smith are safe bets. Michael Thomas shone at the spring game, and it will be interesting to hear whether he can succeed on a regular basis.
4. Anything and everything about special teams - Special teams are Urban Meyer’s specialty. His track record from Florida says a great deal about what we can expect in the coming year as Buckeye fans. So does Meyer’s treatment of the unit in Columbus. At the spring game and the practice held open to students in April, the kicking game took center stage. Meyer is so devoted to their success that he declined to hire a special teams coordinator, taking on the duties himself. The specialists, Ben Buchanan and Drew Basil, are the same as last year. The return game should be different, especially with Jordan Hall lost to injury for the beginning of the season.
5. Braxton Miller – The run-up to the 2012 football season has focused on two figures, Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller, and the potential they have to develop something special. As a freshman, Miller was effective but erratic. He demonstrated a penchant for . The first glimpse we got of his improved skills came at the spring game. However, his performance during camp will be highly revealing. For the Buckeyes to reach their considerable potential, Miller must demonstrate an ability to perform at a high level every day. Camp reports will likely tell us a great deal about his progress.
6. The freshman – There are over twenty new Buckeyes, most of which were hand-picked in by Meyer in an already-legendary recruiting spree during the offseason. I don’t expect Meyer to treat “his guys” differently from those recruited by Fickell and Tressel. But it will be interesting to see both how quickly they adjust to the speed of the college game and whether they are far along enough come September to contribute in a meaningful way.