Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/4/12
A new era for Ohio State football officially started Tuesday morning as Urban Meyer met with his new team. Spring practice is still almost three months away, but the excitement surrounding both Meyer's arrival and Ohio State's chance to move past a tumultous 6-7 season means it's never too early to start looking ahead. The thought of Braxton Miller returning as a sophomore in Meyer's spread offense is an exciting one, to say the least. The Buckeyes defense lost no top-line talent and should return seven of its top eight tacklers. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins could be even better in 2012 than they were in the trenches in 2011, and that could cause opposing offensive coordinators a whole lot of headaches. There will be no bowl game for the 2012 Buckeyes, but there will be very high expectations. RETURNING PERSONNEL - OFFENSE Miller has both explosive ability and upside, but he'll need to grasp the offense and become a more refined passer. He showed flashes in 2011 but was inconsistent and at times indecisive. His speed makes him a threat not only to run but to run for big yards, but the coaching staff will want him running to create and not running for his life. With three senior starters on the offensive line gone, creating continuity and erasing some of last season's problems with quarterback-center communication won't be easy. Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall return at running back, though Hall could also play in the slot and figures to again be the Buckeyes' top return man. The future seems murky for Rod Smith and Jamaal Berry after each encountered off-field issues in 2011, potentially opening the door for top recruit Brionte Dunn to push Hyde and Hall for carries. The Buckeyes have numbers at receiver but also have an unproven group. Devin Smith was explosive but underutilized as a freshman, Philly Brown couldn't stay healthy and Verlon Reed was starting before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Stan Drayton moves from wide receivers coach to running backs coach, and Meyer's Florida offenses often used receivers in a variety of different ways. Hall and Devin Smith seem candidates to play the Percy Harvin-type wingback role. Three different players shared the 2011 team with 14 receptions. That's not a misprint, and it means the passing game has miles to go. All three of those players return, and tight end Jake Stoneburner should get more chance to play in space in the new offense. Tight end Reid Fragel has said he plans to add weight and move to offensive tackle. Zach Boren's role as a senior may be different, but he's one of the nation's best fullbacks and will give the Buckeyes the ability to use two-back sets, mix power football with the spread and keep opponents guessing. RETURNING PERSONNEL - DEFENSE Simon, who led the 2011 team with 7 sacks, hasn't offered any indication that he's thinking about giving up his senior year for the NFL. If he does return, he'll return as a captain and maybe as the leading candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. With Hankins back and linebackerend Nathan Williams seeking a medical redshirt after playing just one game in 2011, the Buckeyes could be very good up front. They have tons of depth returning in the secondary as well, giving the 2012 defense a chance to be dominant. Ryan Shazier was a playmaker who earned more chances at linebacker through his freshman season and has a chance to be a star. Almost the entire secondary is back and features returning leading tackler C.J. Barnett; Christian Bryant can also be an impact safety. The Buckeyes' depth in the secondary is certainly a strength. The linebacker position is thin now and the pass coverage has to improve, but there's young talent that will get a chance to improve and, eventually, to shine. SHOES TO FILL Meyer has already landed some of Ohio's best recruits, including flipping one from Michigan State and going into Pennsylvania to get another defensive lineman who was previously committed to Penn State. How many freshmen will actually play is something for way down the road, but look for 2011 freshmen Michael Bennett and Doran Grant to push for more defensive snaps and for Williams to return as a key player if he can get healthy. Fragel's move should help offensive line depth, and Andrew Norwell got left tackle experience last season during Mike Adams' suspension. It won't be easy to replace Adams and center Mike Brewster, but the competition for the jobs and the implementation of the new system provides opportunity for the Buckeyes' young linemen. At the skill positions, 2011's suspensions provided Hyde, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and others some valuable playing time in big games that should serve all of them well going forward. We don't know exactly how Meyer's offense will look, but those who show in the spring and summer that they can be playmakers will get chances to get into space and create. BOTTOM LINE Meyer will push the Buckeyes to aspire for greatness, and he's already created energy on the recruiting trail and inside the Woody Hayes Center. High expectations should be welcomed, bowl game or not. Any team that returns its quarterback, so much on defense and so much raw young talent deserves to be excited. Depth is a concern, especially on the offensive line and in the defensive front seven, but those issues will be addressed. The 2012 Buckeyes have a chance to be very, very good.
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