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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Each week at Buckeye Grove, we'll examine the current state of the Ohio State position groups, with insight from Buckeyes' players and coaches.
Today, we take a look at the Ohio State offense, which already has high expectations placed on it thanks to the arrival of head coach Urban Meyer, despite having a down year in 2011. It won't be until Saturday- or perhaps even later- when we'll find out if the preseason hype has been warranted, but that stop us projecting what we might see when the Buckeyes take the field against the RedHawks on Saturday.
Although the Ohio State passing game ranked 115th in the nation a season ago, Meyer hasn't been shy about heaping plenty of praise- as well as some criticism- on sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller[db]. The Buckeyes' coach has referred to Miller as "the most dynamic athlete" he's ever coached, but he's also pointed out that it takes more than athleticism for a quarterback to succeed in his system.
"This is not throwing Braxton underneath the bus, it's just what I saw. There wasn't a whole lot of leadership between him and the receivers," Meyer said. "Not a whole lot of relationship there and now it's a much different animal."
Right tackle [db]Reid Fragel said that he's noticed Miller taking on a larger leadership role in the offseason, regardless of whether it was necessary for him to do so or not.
"I don't think he needed be, but I think he felt he needed to," Fragel said. "As far as him stepping up from his freshman year, I think he's definitely become more vocal. That's kind of cool to see a player like that develop."
After spring practice, it appeared that Jordan Hall would be one of the stars of the Ohio State offense, but after undergoing foot surgery in late June, the senior running back is slated to miss at least the Buckeyes' first two games of the season. That hasn't stopped other Buckeye backs from stepping up in his absence, namely Carlos Hyde, who Meyer named as one of the most improved players in the OSU program on Monday.
"I feel like my time is now," Hyde said. "This year I feel like I just need to get out there and play my game. I can't wait to get out there, first game, I'm excited, I just can't wait."
Backing up Hyde against the RedHawks will be true freshman Bri'onte Dunn, who beat out third-year sophomore Rod Smith in a position battle to be the Buckeyes' No. 2 running back. Dunn will also help return kicks for the Buckeyes as his offensive talent stood out to players on both sides of the ball in the last few weeks.
"He's done a great job carrying the ball," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "Him and Carlos have a lot of similar things that they're good at."
With 14 catches being good enough for three separate players to lead OSU in receptions a season ago, no position on the Buckeyes' roster has received more scrutiny than the receivers. After Meyer referred to the unit as "nonfunctional" in the spring, the OSU coaching staff likes the progress that the group has made throughout fall camp.
"As a group, they've improved fundamentally and as far as committing to exactly what we touch - it has been immense," OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. "It is a commitment to every route and really the whole philosophy of how we doing things in the throw game and the run game."
Corey Brown, Devin Smith, and Jake Stoneburner were listed as the Buckeyes' starting wide receivers on the first depth chart of the regular season, but with Meyer's spread offense having the capability to play four or five receivers at time, expect several other wideouts to get the chance to make an impact on Saturday, including true freshman Michael Thomas.
"He's working hard. He's diving in the playbook every single day," Smith said of Thomas. "One thing with him is he really needs to understand the plays and why things are the way they are in a particular play. And I think once he do that, it's all just go."
With only one starter returning to the position he played a season ago in left guard Andrew Norwell, the OSU offensive line is not without questions of its own. On Monday it was announced that Fragel will start over true freshman Taylor Decker at right tackle, but that Decker will still see playing time and also serve as the Buckeyes' backup at left tackle.
"Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker both can be good players for us," OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. "Reid is just a little bit ahead."
With Jack Mewhort in place at left tackle and Marcus Hall looking improved at right guard, the Buckeyes' offensive line has the chance to be one of the strong points of of their offense, especially with the emergence of center Corey Linsley, who Meyer referred to as the "apex" of the OSU offense.
"He's accepted the new regime, accepted the way that the program is run and really embraced it and he's a very hard worker," Warinner said. "He's totally committed turnaround in his life and so forth in terms of the past and moving forward. A very blue-collar guy that just trains hard in the weight room, practices hard."
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