It is no secret that Urban Meyer has been less than enthusiastic about the offensive fire power he inherited on Ohio State’s roster.
Meyer has repeatedly said that he is still waiting for someone to catch his eye as a game changer on that side of the ball.
While I suspect that Meyer is serving the dual purpose of motivating the current roster and enticing future recruits with his words, the fact remains that the Buckeyes need to see improvement from the offense and quickly.
The best way to do that is to identify the impact players on the team and get them the ball as much as possible.
Even with Urban Meyer at the helm, that may take a bit longer than we would like to admit, particularly when you look back at last season.
Then again, this is Ohio State and there is plenty of talent to utilize despite the results from last year.
Watching who the offense focuses on in the spring game (or at least what positions are focused on if the starters are split up) will give us a great glimpse at the future stars and game changers for the coming season.
Here is a look at my early top five impact players in next year’s offense.
Wide Receiver #10
6’0″ 186, Junior
Much was expected of Corey Brown last season. Unfortunately, those expectations were left largely unmet.
There is certainly plenty of blame to go around for Brown’s lack of production a year ago (14 receptions, 205 yards, 1 TD), but dropping catchable throws on more than one occasion clearly didn’t help his cause.
Worst of all, some of those drops came on potentially game-changing plays. Drops made Brown a target for pent up frustration with the offense last season- which has carried over into this year.
Like most things, I think many fans have taken the criticism of Brown too far, causing them to overlook what he brings to the offense.
Brown may have established that he is not the greatest threat down field due to his inconsistency catching the ball in traffic (although that is an area that can be improved upon), but the fact remains that he is perhaps the most explosive weapon on the offense- when the ball is securely in his hands, or course.
Getting to that point will be the trick. In Meyer’s offense, bubble screens, jet sweeps, quick passes in the flats and a whole host of other plays provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Hopefully Philly Brown can use that opportunity to thrive as one of the impact players that Meyer is searching for. We will see if he can prove himself in time for the spring game.
You can’t teach speed.
Left Tackle #74
6’6″ 310, RS Junior
Despite coming off of a highly successful season at right guard in 2011, the coaches quickly identified that Mewhort possessed the skill set to succeed at left tackle in their system and they made the move this spring.
I was initially skeptical of such a move, fearing that it would set one of Ohio State’s best linemen back as he adjusted to a new position.
Those fears were apparently misplaced, however, as reports from practice identify Mewhort as one of the most impressive linemen thus far at his new position.
Behind QB, this is the most important position on the field. On top of that, the offensive line is in major rebuilding mode- making Mewhort’s transition to his new position even more important. If that weren’t enough, tackle is one of the thinnest positions on the entire team in terms of depth and experience.
In many ways, the success of the entire offensive line hinges on how well the left tackle spot is filled, and right now Mewhort is the top option.
It has been a long time since the Buckeyes have had an over-achiever at left tackle, so the possibilities here are exciting. On the other hand, it is yet to be seen how well Mewhort can handle elite speed rushers on the edge- something he hasn’t dealt with yet on the college level.
The good news is that every day in practice he sees some of the best defensive linemen he will face all year to help him prepare.
Needless to say, a lot of eyes will be on Mewhort during the spring game and during the season- his performance will have a huge impact on the offense.
Running Back #25
6’1″ 214, Freshman
This ranking doesn’t necessarily mean that I think Bri’onte Dunn will be a starter this season, but his impact on the offense will be felt regardless of how much time he sees in games.
The difference that Dunn makes is pushing every other back on the roster to either step their game up or watch him get the carries.
There is no doubt that the Buckeyes have plenty of bruisers at running back this season, and a healthy competition for carries will only make them all better.
The worst case scenario is a transfer- but that would likely mean that someone has cemented himself as the starter, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Either way, seeing how well Meyer incorporates his big backs into the offense will be worth keeping a close eye on.
Dunn will be a huge part of that effort. After all- Meyer didn’t bring him back from the edge (committing to Michigan) for nothing.
Tight End #11
6’5″ 245, RS Senior
It might seem odd to be putting a tight end at the #2 spot on this list after the past decade, but hear me out.
There are two main factors at work here. First, Jake Stoneburner is the most experienced and consistent receiving threat on the roster and it’s not even close. Second, the tight end is one of Urban Meyer’s favorite weapons on offense due to the mismatches that they consistently create.
There are few players on Ohio State’s roster that will be creating more mismatches this season than Jake Stoneburner, and it will be truly exciting to see how he is incorporated in to the offensive attack.
Last season (14 receptions, 193 yards, 7 TDs) was just a glimpse of what Stoneburner can do. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him propel himself to the top of the tight end board in next year’s draft after his final year in Columbus.
The key will be developing other weapons around him so that defenses can’t focus exclusively on stopping him, which is basically what happened towards the middle and end of last season.
Stoneburner will be one of the top impact players on the offense, but he can’t be the only weapon this time around.
6’2″ 210, Sophomore
Braxton Miller being the #1 impact player on the offense is a no brainer from now until he is no longer on the team.
When Meyer talks about not being “wowed” by any of his weapons on offense, I think he is conveniently forgetting about Miller.
Ohio State has a stable of big backs to run between the tackles, but when it comes to game breaking ability from the backfield, Braxton Miller will still be to go-to player.
Miller was the leading rusher for Ohio State last season with 715 yard and 7 TDs on 159 carries. Depending on what the rotation at RB looks like, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at the top again in 2012.
That leaves the passing game, which can clearly use some work (85/167 [54.1%] 1159 yards, 13 TDs, 4 interceptions).
One of the major problems last season was slow developing plays which left Miller hanging out to dry in the pocket against the blitz. His amazing ability to break the pocket and get yards bailed out the offense sometimes, but it was an extremely frustrating uphill battle the whole season.
Looking back at the offensive mess last year, it is remarkable the Miller was still able to do this.
This year, I expect quick hitting plays (possibly to Philly Brown as mentioned above) to really simplify things for Miller and take the pressure off of him in the face of a blitz.
If Miller thrives in this new system- and there is no reason to think he won’t, he will become the worst nightmare of opposing defenses.
There is a reason Urban Meyer is so excited to have Miller running his system… he is the perfect impact player to excel in it.