Wednesday, April 11, 2012

'PLAYMAKERS' BEGINNING TO SURFACE AT CAMP URBAN MEYER

Carlos Hyde
(TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — Coming into spring camp, new Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer admitted that he didn't see a whole lot of "playmakers" on the Buckeyes' roster.

After three weeks of molding and observing, though, the sentiments are beginning to change for the two-time national championship winning mentor.

Following Wednesday evening's practice in Columbus — one that Meyer stated was "the best practice this spring" — the coach mentioned two budding playmakers in particular.

"Jordan Hall has already showed me that (he can be a playmaker)," Meyer said. "A guy that had an excellent practice today was Carlos Hyde. Excellent practice."

Hyde has looked like a potential all-American tailback this spring, running with great quickness, confidence and power. Hyde, who rushed for 566 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore last season, isn't just pounding the rock in the backfield this spring, he's also making great contributions in the passing game, as well — a phase of the offense that's in dire need of "playmakers."

During Wednesday's live game-like scrimmage, Buckeyes sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was flushed out of the pocket by a heavy pass rush, kept the play alive with his feet and fired a shot down the right sideline to a streaking Hyde, who raced all the way to pay dirt. The play covered 80 yards.

"He's drinking the Kool-aid right now," Meyer said of Hyde.

The combination of Hall and Hyde is looking like the strength of the Buckeyes' offense thus far. Although Miller is by far the most instrumental player on offense, it's one-two punch of Hall and Hyde that is making the new Meyer "spread" come together.

After being defeated in every practice this spring, the Buckeyes offense finally were declared victors on Wednesday by Meyer.

"That was a 'ball practice," Meyer said. "The offense won their first scrimmage. They kept winning the third-and-5 plays."

Hall also scored a touchdown Wednesday on sprint option to the left from 10 yards out.

FRESHMAN THOMAS MAKING STRIDES ... Speaking of looking for "playmakers," Meyer seemed a little disappointed with the Buckeyes' receiving unit early on in the spring.

However, one young Buck is beginning to make the coach take notice.

Michael Thomas — a 6-foot-2, 196-pound receiver from Los Angeles — has been demonstrating an instinctual, smooth style of play out on the edge this spring which has garnered him practice time with the first-team offense.

The nephew of former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson has held his own in scrimmage drills against the Buckeyes' first-team defense, catching every thing thrown his way, as well as showing an ability to cut it up field for some serious YAC.

He's also hauled in some praise from the Buckeyes' boss.

"He's doing good," Meyer said. "You're talking about the most improved man on our team (throughout the spring)."

A FEW PLAYERS WHO HAVE CAUGHT MY EYE ... True freshman outside linebacker Luke Roberts looks like he could be another Andrew Sweat in the making.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pounder from Lancaster (OH) has displayed great instincts, quickness and toughness you need at the outside linebacker position. He is currently running with the second unit and also sports a No. 42 jersey — the same worn by Sweat.

I know I mentioned him before, but I can't say it enough ... sophomore cornerback Doran Grant is an incredible talent and in my opinion will find his way into the starting defensive backfield this fall.

I paid close attention to the cornerbacks on Wednesday and I can't recall one single pass being completed to a receiver being covered by Grant. He has the ball skills of an NFL corner, and the athleticism to make up for any missteps. 

During one play in Wednesday drills, after Grant broke up a pass from Miller to Devin Smith in the end zone,  cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs ran all the way across the field to offer up a flying chest bump for the rising star.

I usually don't talk much about the kicking game, but junior kicker Drew Basil has been stellar this spring ... and I'm putting that lightly.

Basil seems to have benefitted greatly from new strength coach Mickey Marotti's regimen because he's thicker in stature and stronger with his kicks. Each boot has a boom to it and nearly every attempt — from every depth and angle — has been true. 

Basil could be the Big Ten's best kicker this fall.

— You can follow Lee Hudnell on Twitter @LeeHudnell_TBT