Chat with Austin Ward
Welcome to BuckeyeNation! On Thursday, reporter Austin Ward stops by to chat about the state of Ohio State football.
Ward joined ESPN.com in 2012 after five years as a college football writer at the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune and the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. The award-winning journalist lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio.
Send your questions now and join Ward Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Austin Ward (2:00 PM)
Hey everybody, welcome back once again. We've still got a lot of offseason ahead of us, but we can get through it together. Let's get right to the latest news with the Buckeyes.
With David Perkins leaving the team, do you see any of the incoming freshman stepping up to be first off the bench for a LB spot or maybe even starting?
Austin Ward (2:03 PM)
Matt, it's hard to see Trey Johnson or Mike Mitchell coming in and winning a starting job right away, particularly with the impressive springs Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant had. But there will now be more pressure for those two guys to deliver quickly as backups, and there is also a clearer path into the two-deep if the young guys deliver on the athleticism (Mitchell) and intelligence (Johnson) that has the coaching staff so excited. I am certainly surprised by the decision from Perkins given how close he was to playing a significant role, but the door is open now for the newcomers.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What College Football Freshmen do you think will be the Best for Ohio State?
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
As a true freshman, I think the answer here is Dontre Wilson. He is exactly the type of speedy, elusive playmaker that Meyer craves for his offense, and the Buckeyes won't need him to learn all that much of the playbook to take advantage of what he does best. There could be big things in store for him quickly.
I think that Carlos Hyde is the key to the Bucks offense. He ran for 146 yards vs. Michigan. He tore their guts out while chewing up the clock. Kind of overlooked. Why is that?
Austin Ward (2:07 PM)
Braxton Miller getting so much attention takes away a lot of the spotlight from Hyde, but you're right, Dave, he deserves plenty of credit for what the Buckeyes did on offense last year. In fact, if Miller didn't have a partner in the backfield a year ago who was capable of moving the pile in short-yardage situations and tough to bring down between the tackles, defenses would have had a much easier time game-planning for the Ohio State quarterback. They might not have stopped him entirely, but Hyde's emergence kept defenses a bit more honest and helped Miller become the Heisman candidate he was.
cleveland ohio [via mobile]
Can the buckeyes go undefeated again this year?
Austin Ward (2:09 PM)
At this point, I think the Buckeyes have what it takes to make it through the regular season unbeaten. There are definitely a couple games that could trip them up (at Michigan, at Northwestern), but Ohio State has the edge in talent against both opponents in my opinion -- and the track record for Meyer speaks for itself. I don't know yet if the Buckeyes will develop defensively into a team that can win the national title, but the offense gives them a huge head start for the regular season.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
There was an article published recently of players who could make a run at Manziel for the Heisman this year.. they included: Bridgewater, Mariota, Boyd, Seastrunk, Winston, and Clowney. What does Miller have to do to get some love from the national media?!
Austin Ward (2:10 PM)
That's surprising that a guy who finished fifth a year ago wouldn't be listed as somebody who could win it the next season. Miller isn't usually hurting for national attention because the spotlight is always bright on Ohio State/Meyer anyway, and coming off an undefeated season as well, I have a hard time understanding that omission.
I think the surprise guy on offense this year is Mike Thomas.
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
I was really impressed with how he looked in spring practice. Granted, he had a productive camp a year ago leading up to that big performance in the spring game, but this was different. Thomas is clearly more physically developed, his routes are sharper and he's a beast in one-on-one situations. I think he could breakout in a big way as well.
Which of the incoming freshmen do you see contributing significantly on the defense this year?
Austin Ward (2:14 PM)
Even with all the depth, talent and experience on hand already in the secondary, I think the guy who could have a noticeable impact early on is Vonn Bell. He's not going to bump C.J. Barnett or Christian Bryant out of the lineup, but if he lives up to the expectations, he could see plenty of action in the nickel and dime packages and be a playmaker in the backend. I'd look for somebody from that group of defensive tackles to step up and be a contributor as well.
William Mandell (Nashville TN)
without a marquee out of conference game this coming season, what is your take on the Cal game for 2013 ?
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
I think the San Diego State game could be a bit tougher than many people expect, but the road trip to Cal figures to be the most taxing if for no other reason than flying across the country. Obviously the Golden Bears pushed the Buckeyes more than anticipated last year in the Shoe, and there are some players returning who know they can go toe-to-toe with Ohio State. Cal is still something of an unknown with their change in leadership and it could again be a real test, but I don't think Ohio State will be overlooking this matchup like it might have last year.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Austin, I'll be in the stadium for the Cal game in September. Are you coming West young man to hang out with the hippies?
Austin Ward (2:17 PM)
And, of course, Tony -- I'll be there and ready to experience everything Cal has to offer.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Is Thad Matta all over LB Mike Mitchell's little brother to come play basketball for the Buckeyes? The kid is a beast on the court.
Austin Ward (2:18 PM)
I've heard that as well, Tony, but I don't know if he's on Thad's radar or not. I'm sure Urban and Co. have passed along a tip, though.
Any updates on Special Teams? Last year things didn't go so well.
Austin Ward (2:21 PM)
That was a big emphasis throughout camp, and with Kerry Coombs and his legendary intensity now in charge, I would bet on big improvement for the Buckeyes in the kicking game this fall. There's still some uncertainty in my opinion due to Drew Basil handling both the field goal and punting duties, which has led Coombs to putting a "kick count" on him to make sure he's not wearing himself out. But Philly Brown really came on as a punt returner at the end of last season, there are a number of guys who could emerge on kickoffs and the cupboard is starting to get restocked more with athletes ready and willing to fly around and make an impression in coverage.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who are the Buckeyes top linebacker targets with Pugh committing to FSU?
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
Tony -- as for the recruiting issue, I'll pass that question along to my colleague Brad Bournival for his mailbag. He's the expert there and I defer to him, plus he'll be able to tackle that answer with a bit more depth.
I see a big year for Braxton, as does everyone, but I see Hyde closing in on 1500 yards this year and really opening eyes in the NFL with his size and speed combination.
Austin Ward (2:25 PM)
That number might be higher than I'd be willing to go with Hyde, but not because I don't think he has the ability to reach it. The number of other options the Buckeyes will be getting involved offensively would be the factor that I think keeps him closer to around maybe 1,200. From an improved passing game to the loaded backfield that will have guys like Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball more involved (sometimes with three on the field at once), Hyde might not be toting the rock as often as he probably could if needed.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
If the person who sent the hot dog comments in my name has something to say about my post. They should at least have the stones to use their own name.
Austin Ward (2:26 PM)
I'll get rid of it, Tony.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
When will this year's captains be picked/announced? Have any gut feeling who they might be?
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
I can't remember when exactly during August they came out last year, but it was during training camp that Meyer had the vote and announced the choices. I would bet heavily on Jack Mewhort getting a nod, and Christian Bryant, Bradley Roby and Philly Brown wouldn't be far behind on the odds board.
What are your thoughts on the role Jordan Hall will play in the offense this season? How do you see him being used?
Austin Ward (2:30 PM)
We only got a glimpse at what Hall could do in the H-back role (or Percy Position), but it was impressive and even had Meyer raving early in camp. Hall might have been pushing back from injury a bit too quickly though, and he had to miss a lot of time recovering and also had a brief absence with an academic issue. Assuming those two matters are taking care of, Hall's ability to move around the formation, his skills as a receiver and obviously his rushing ability make him a tough matchup for defenses. If healthy, I think he could be a guy who gets maybe 6 or 8 touches a game and could provide a lot of explosive plays.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
What kind of impact can WR Corey Smith have this season?
Austin Ward (2:34 PM)
Wide receiver is another position like linebacker where the amount of bodies currently on hand makes it a real possibility for incoming guys to crack the rotation in a hurry. For somebody like Smith who might be more developed physically (even if just slightly), that obviously helps his chances. The Buckeyes aren't exactly hurting with Philly Brown, Devin Smith, Chris Fields and Michael Thomas filling out spots in the two-deep, but there wasn't all that much competition around in the spring. That's clearly going to change with Smith and Co. on the way.
Eric (St. Louis)
How do the Bucks match up against TSUN in Ann Arbor this year? That strikes me as their biggest threat to an undefeated regular season.
Austin Ward (2:37 PM)
The key in my mind right now is how the teams develop their perceived weaknesses by the time The Game rolls around. What will Michigan's offense look like as it transitions moving forward? What kind of quarterback play will it have? Conversely, the Buckeyes will need to sort out the front seven and will have had plenty of time to bring along those young guys. While Ohio State's defense be further along the learning curve than Michigan's offense? The Wolverines had a good plan to slow down the Buckeyes on offense a year ago, and that could again be a relatively even battle.
Gordon Gee (Columbus, OH)
Do you have a muzzle I can place over my mouth to keep me from sticking my foot in it?
Aaron (Leesburg, VA)
Why does Gordon Gee continually run his mouth? Was he not hugged as a child, and in need of constant attention?
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
My goodness, where did those comments come from? I am all for candid interviews and entertainment, but at some point there's got to be a time to zip it, right?
what are the Buckeyes options for WR recruits? with Harris and Kitt of the board ... Kief?
Charles (Columbus, OH)
Are the Buckeyes in mix for Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones? The young men say the want to attend the same school and the Buckeyes definitely should have room for these top tier guys, right?
Austin Ward (2:40 PM)
Guys, I'll pass these along to my man Brad Bournival to dive in and give some great insight on the recruiting front. That's not my speciality with the way we handle the beat, since my focus is on the players and coaches already on campus. So for the best look at all that, I defer to Brad to bring the heat. Just want to make sure you all get the best info on that possible.
With the perceived weak SOS of the big10 , do you think osu will look to schedule high profile out of conference games as the playoffs draw near?
Austin Ward (2:43 PM)
As a matter of fact, Tommy, the Buckeyes are already doing that. Gene Smith has signed deals with TCU, Texas, Oklahoma and Oregon for series that will take place in the playoff era, moves that were clearly influenced by the need for stronger schedules outside the league to help impress a potential committee. The Buckeyes have been one of the more active programs in the country in getting out in front of that issue, and I would expect all those games would still be safe even with the move to a nine-game conference slate.
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
Awesome stuff as usual, folks. Thanks for the comments and questions -- hope you enjoyed it. I have to cut out just a little earlier than normal this week to work on some stuff coming up that I hope you'll all like reading. See you next time!