Nine spring practices have come and gone for the Ohio State football team and the depth chart appears more definite just a week-and-a-half before the spring game.
Coach Urban Meyer discussed the ongoing position battles and some standout performers in spring practice, while also revealing that sophomore linebacker Malik Harrison has undergone shoulder surgery and will miss the remainder of the spring. Meyer added that Harrison has been “having a tremendous spring” and “will compete for a starting spot” once he is healthy again.
Here are five takeaways from Meyer’s Tuesday’s press conference.
Barrett improving accuracy
Coming off a season where redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett completed his lowest percentage of passes in his career, Barrett has been working with co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day on improving his accuracy and trying to rediscover the success he found in his redshirt freshman season.
Last season, Barrett completed just 61.8 percent of passes, 1.5 percent worse than his 2015 season and 2.8 percent less than his redshirt freshman season.
“I thought his freshman year, he was a very accurate player and the last two years weren’t quite as accurate,” Meyer said. “Our deep ball percentage was the best that it’s been since we’ve been here last week. We were charting everything and JT and the boys did a really good job. We didn’t catch all of them, but as far as accuracy, it was almost something like 90 percent and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Burrow leading the race for backup quarterback
There was never really a competition for the starting quarterback job with Barrett’s return, but Meyer offered insight on the battle for the No. 2 at the position.
Redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow currently stands out among the quarterbacks to serve as Barrett’s backup in the upcoming season, but freshman quarterback Tate Martell is still taking plenty of reps, Meyer said.
“I’d say Joe is ahead of them, but they’re both getting reps,” he said. “Tate had his best day, too, the other day in the scrimmage, so it’s good competition there and that brings out the best in people. We all know what happened a couple years ago where all of a sudden someone taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘You’re the starter. Go beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.’ And they did it. So that position is a key guy.”
Offensive-line recruiting has ‘missed’ in the past
Part of the reason the offense struggled to produce at its same level in 2016 was because of an offensive line that did not provide the same level of pass protection that it had in years past.
Meyer said that two of his offensive-line classes “didn’t turn out” the way he had hoped, but that he has a trio of offensive lineman who are really coming along in practice and should be able to help improve the play of the line in 2017 .
“Yes we have (missed a few). More than a few. You can’t do that. That’s what happens is you have a year like we did last year where guys — you know, true freshmen should have not played then,” Meyer said. “Demetrius Knox is running with the ones and Malcolm Pridgeon is still learning the offense, but Matt Burrell is probably one of the most improved offensive lineman at this point and the other guys are much improved as well. Very pleased with where we are at on the offensive line.”
Tight end is most improved position in spring practices
There has been improvement in the offensive line and the quarterbacks so far, but the position that has stepped up its game in spring the most has been the tight ends, Meyer said.
Even with senior tight end Marcus Baugh missing spring practice so far with offseason shoulder surgery, the tight end position has looked promising thus far and has been “the most improved position on the team.”
“A.J. Alexander is really coming on and Luke Farrell is a little bit ahead of Jake Hausmann, but they’re both very comparable,” Meyer said.
Defensive line will be backbone of the team
The defensive line will be returning a lot of stars from last season, including all defensive ends and the team will count on them to once again be the backbone of the defense in the upcoming season.
With a returning group of defensive ends that include Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Tyquan Lewis, redshirt junior Sam Hubbard, sophomore Nick Bosa and senior Jalyn Holmes, the defensive line will be “as good as anybody in America,” Meyer said.
“I think as of right now, it’s the strength of our team on defense,” Meyer said. “Dre’Mont Jones is really turning into a fine player here for us. On the other side, we’re really hoping Tracy Sprinkle can give us some depth and be the guy that we thought he was going to be before he got hurt.”
Meyer added that Hubbard, who finished third on the team in sacks and second in quarterback hits, is “the definition of elite” and works as hard as anybody to perfect his craft.
“We call it 10-80-10 around here and it’s elite self discipline, self respect and incredible work ethic, that’s how you identify the characteristics of an elite player and he’s as elite as I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said.
- A battle for the position of kicker will continue on over the remainder of the spring and the summer between junior kicker Sean Nuernberger and recruit Blake Haubeil, Meyer said, with Nuernberger in “much better shape than he’s ever been,” though he will still have to win over the spot.
- Sophomore wide receiver Binjimen Victor has “a bit of a sore shoulder,” Meyer said, but he’s making progress and has the talent to do “anything he wants.”
- Meyer said that senior safety Damon Webb is “a much improved player than he was in the spring” and credited Webb’s success to recent weight loss