COLUMBUS — Since Ohio State’s drubbing by eventual national champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff, coach Urban Meyer has hired new offensive coordinators who have to figure out how to score touchdowns without the Buckeyes’ best all-around offensive player and top wide receiver from 2016.
Underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft, some expected and some not, will change the face of the Ohio State offense. Its big-play ability stalled despite talent including veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett, 1,000-yard rusher Mike Weber and dynamic hybrid back Curtis Samuel. The Buckeyes had problems throwing the ball downfield throughout the season, culminating in the embarrassing 31-0 loss to Clemson on Dec. 31.
Meyer responded by showing the door to co-offensive coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner. In their place, he hired former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and San Francisco 49ers assistant Ryan Day. It’s not clear who will take the lead in calling plays, but Wilson has previous experience as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Northwestern and Miami (Ohio).
Wilson also will coach tight ends, and Day will coach a crowded stable of five quarterbacks, led by Barrett returning for his final year of eligibility after failing the past two seasons to equal his numbers in the 2014 national championship season.
“I’m coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said in a tweet Jan. 4. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”
Gone to the NFL draft is Samuel, the team’s leading receiver and the only player in the nation to compile 800 yards receiving and 700 yards rushing. Also departing early is Noah Brown, whose breakout four-touchdown game against Oklahoma in September raised hopes but turned out to be one of his only season highlights. He finished with just 32 catches for 402 yards and seven touchdowns. With two years of eligibility left, Brown wasn’t at the top of list of players expected to leave early.
Brown tweeted Saturday that “I have decided to move on to the next level and chase my dreams.”
Candidates for H-back include Demario McCall, who looked great when he got to play, mostly in mop-up duty behind Weber at tailback. K.J. Hill, a rising sophomore receiver who had 18 catches for 262 yards, also could fill that spot, and wide receiver Parris Campbell could also be a candidate.
With Dontre Wilson out of eligibility, only tight end Marcus Baugh returns from Ohio State’s top four receivers. Campbell, Hill and Terry McLaurin showed potential, and one of will be expected to emerge as the go-to deep threat the team lacked last season. Meyer has raved about rising sophomore receiver Binjimen Victor, and classmate Austin Mack also could contribute more.
The offensive line, one of the problem areas in 2016, returns four of five starters including Billy Price, who will shift over from guard to center. The return of huge junior-college transfer Malcolm Pridgeon, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, will boost the O-line.
For the second season in a row, the Buckeyes lose three of their four starting defensive backs to the NFL draft. The departure of All-American safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Gareon Conley were no-brainers. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who had four interceptions and was eighth on the team in tackles, also declared for the draft.
The defense also took a hit with its leader, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, leaving early. McMillan was terrific, leading the team with 102 tackles, seven of them for losses. Thanks to the return of breakout star Jerome Baker, stalwart Chris Worley and Dante Booker, who was out with an injury in 2016, the linebacker corps should be solid again.
Ohio State got a pleasant surprise when defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who led the team with eight sacks, said was staying for his final year. With the return of defensive end Sam Hubbard and injured defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle, the defensive line should also be in decent shape.
Meyer hired veteran NFL coach Bill Davis to coach linebackers after Luke Fickell was hired as the head coach at Cincinnati.
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