It’s interesting to see the confidence Urban Meyer has instilled in Ohio State football fans.
Not that they weren’t a confident bunch with Jim Tressel, Earle Bruce and Woody Hayes as coach. And also with John Cooper every week until the week of the Michigan game.
But it seems to have gone to a new level with Meyer in charge.
With spring practice starting Monday, Ohio State is facing some significant questions that need to be answered if the Buckeyes are going to live up to the high expectations of them after back-to-back 12-0 regular seasons in Meyer’s first two years in Columbus.
OSU will have to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen, its leading rusher and its leading receiver on offense. And starting quarterback Braxton Miller just had surgery on his throwing shoulder.
Defensively, OSU’s back seven was a train wreck last year and its two best playmakers, linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby, chose to enter the NFL draft instead of using their final year of eligibility.
Even with those departed players, the Buckeyes lost their last two games last season to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Most places, all of this would create some anxiety. But the attitude throughout Ohio State’s fan base seems to be that Urban’s got this one, he will get it fixed.
The fixing actually began long ago. The start of spring practice just means the coaches can spend more time with the players and do more hands-on coaching.
It’s still important, though. Meyer likes to say that starting jobs are won in the spring. He doesn’t want a lot of open positions when preseason practice begins in August.
Also, there will be two new coaches, both on the troubled defensive side of the ball, who will be coaching on the field for the first time at Ohio State. Longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson is the new defensive line coach and Chris Ash has taken over as defensive backs coach.
The defensive backfield, which allowed more touchdown passes (31) than any Big Ten team, is a major concern, along with the linebackers. Neither of those areas performed up to Ohio State standards last season.
Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry are returning starters at linebacker, but their job security is based as much on a lack of apparent challengers for those jobs as it is on last season’s performance. In the defensive backfield, cornerback Doran Grant, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, is the only returning starter.
Help could be on the way in the defensive backfield from returning players like Armani Reeves, Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows.
Where the help could come from at linebacker is less clear. Recently signed Raekwon McMillan is a 5-star recruit, but so was Grant coming out of high school, and so was 2013 recruit Mike Mitchell, who redshirted last season before transferring out of OSU.
An area where finding replacements hasn’t drawn a lot of attention is the offensive line, where four of last season’s starters are gone. And last year’s line was certainly no ordinary line. It was one of the best in many seasons at Ohio State.
Taylor Decker is the only returning starter and he will be changing positions, moving to left tackle from right tackle. Last year’s left tackle, Jack Mewhort, center Corey Linsley and guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall are gone.
Pat Elflein, who replaced Hall after he was ejected from the Michigan game, and Jacoby Boren at center appear ready to claim starting jobs. But the rest of the line is a question mark. It is a big enough question that last year’s starting nose tackle Joel Hale could be moved to the offensive line.
Spring practice will continue for the next five weeks until the spring football game April 12. That game returns to Ohio Stadium after OSU took it on the road to Cincinnati last year.