OSU spring drills should be interesting

Defense, defense, defense.

When you’ve heard that mentioned in years past in reference to Ohio State football, the talk was pretty much all good about what used to be a staple of Buckeye grid squads.

But after the disastrous end to last season in back-to-back losses in the Big Ten championship game and then in the Orange Bowl, “there is plenty of work to do,” writes Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network (BTN.com) senior writer.

Two of “the three key areas of focus this spring for the Buckeyes,” noted Dienhart, are linebackers and the secondary that was particularly dreadful against Michigan State in Indianapolis and Clemson in Miami as what was supposed to be a strength coming into last season never really was as it turned out.

So I’m sure when spring practice started this week (Tuesday and Thursday, then a week off for spring break and back at it up to the Scarlet and Gray game April 12), improving the defense was the principal item on the agenda to be stressed – and stressed a lot!

After head coach Urban Meyer, that task falls primarily to new safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, a former Bret Bielema protege at Wisconsin and last year at Arkansas. “Ash’s top goal: develop the back seven on defense,” said Dienhart. “as too many big plays were yielded last season.”

After that defensive fix, the key X-factor on offense is the line, which returns just one starter, along with a question: Who will replace workhorse Carlos Hyde as the primary running back for OSU?

Last season, an offensive line that Dienhart stated “was arguably the best in the Big Ten” paved the way for a conference-best rushing offense at 308.6 yards per game.

Tackle Taylor Decker, the lone starter back, has moved from the right side to the left, while Joel Hale has been switched over from the D-line to provide some help.

Plus, Meyer got letter-of-intent signatures from five top line prospects on signing day, although right now Pat Elflein and Antonio Underwood are at guards with Jacoby Boren at center and Kyle Dodson at right tackle. But nothing is set in stone here yet as the line is in flux.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier leaving early for the NFL draft only hastened the need at that position, with “Meyer loading up on linebackers in (this year’s) recruiting class,” penned Dienhart. Heading that list was Raekwon McMillan, the top linebacker in the nation according to some, but “plenty of others will get long looks,” added Dienhart, “since this was just the No. 7 defense in the Big Ten in 2013 (377.4 ypg).”

However, by the end of the season, the secondary more than anything else was the issue with the Buckeye faithful as well as the coaching staff. After all, it couldn’t get much worse after ranking 11th in the Big Ten versus the pass last season (268.0 ypg).

There are lots of candidates – Doran Grant and Armani Reeves at cornerback, with Eli Apple and Gareon Conley also in the mix there, and at safety, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell are the first top options, along with Cameron Burrows too.

So it should be an interesting spring in Buckeyeland.

Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at shemmelgarn@newsandsentinel.com