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!
plsbuckeye (south jersey)
Quick bball question - who the heck was giving D Thomas advice to enter the draft - he very well may go undrafted - one more year with DT and the Bucks probably go back to the Elite 8 and maybe even the title game - now to football - I really think we have a better shot at National Title in 14 than t his year - your thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
It kind of depends on how you look at it with Thomas. He could have accomplished more with the Buckeyes next year, and the team would obviously have been better. But I don't think his stock would have really changed at all as a pro, and he's got a family to think about. There are a couple variables to consider with the '14 team that have to be sorted out first -- starting with decisions for Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier on returning for that season or not. I assume at this point both will, but the offensive line will be in for a major overhaul, and that shouldn't be discounted. On the flip side, the defense should have much more experience and depth in the front seven ... so ultimately, I think the chances are pretty much even this year and next.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What College Football Players will set School Records in 2013 for Ohio State?
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
Oh boy. Well, Braxton Miller could knock over a few records, but single-season and career depending on his development as a passer. He's obviously the most likely candidate to do something special, but as I've detailed on the blog throughout the week, there are a handful of seniors who are chasing some spots among the all-time Ohio State greats statistically. Check it out at BuckeyeNation if you haven't already.
Is Urban Meyer a molder of men? How many chances did he give Hernandez at Florida. It also seems a lot of his players in the pros are getting in trouble
Austin Ward (2:08 PM)
I have a hard time assigning any blame to Meyer for what's happened with Aaron Hernandez. Is Bill Belichick a molder of men? While football coaches are integral parts of the lives of their players and typically wind up influencing them well after they're done working together, some times there are people who either don't absorb the message or believe they're above the law -- and there's nothing anybody can do to change that. I don't know Hernandez, and I didn't cover Meyer at Florida, so it's not really fair for me to make a judgement either way about them. But this seems well, well beyond Meyer's control in my mind.
Matt Stevenson (Columbus, Ohio)
Looking ahead past the 2013 season, Ohio State is going to lose a lot of talent next offseason. Even if Roby and/or Shazier stay, we will lose a lot of offensive weapons and veterans in the secondary, not to mention four offensive linemen. Will Ohio State struggle to keep up with the nation's and B1G's best teams in 2014? Is 2013 the most realistic title-shot OSU has in the next 2-3 years?
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
That's the fun part of projecting teams moving forward, isn't it? We've already got potentially two different views of the 2014 team in the first 10 minutes of the chat -- that's why I love sports. Anyway, the biggest issue for the Buckeyes will be rebuilding on the offensive line, and they didn't bring in much help in the 2013 recruiting class. So the pressure will be on Taylor Decker to probably shift to left tackle, Chase Farris to continue his development that has generated so much excitement and some guys like Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein to keep the ship moving in the right direction. There is an abundance of young talent in the secondary, so I don't think that will be a concern. And assuming Shazier sticks around, the linebackers and defensive line (with Spence and Washington) should be back in one complete piece -- which would be a huge bonus and could signal a true return to the Silver Bullet era.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
Have you heard any updates to the extent of Kenny Guiton's injury?
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
I don't know the specifics of the injury at this point, Andrew, but it doesn't sound like anything serious based on Meyer's comments. As of now, I expect he'll be fine in time for camp, but I'm still trying to find out more about what happened.
Did Jamarco Jones commit yet?
Scott ((Columbus, OH))
Any word on the commitment of Jones? He was supposed to announce at 2pm today. Was that CST or CST?
Austin Ward (2:14 PM)
Jones is a Buckeye. Another significant commitment, and at the position of future need we've already been harping on today.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
Am I the only one who finds it silly people are blaming Urban Meyer for things happening years after he's had these men? That would be like A.J. Hawk blaming Coach Tress for speeding on his way home.
MARI IL [via mobile]
What are the potential trap games in your opinion
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
A road trip to Northwestern probably doesn't count as a trap game, though that's the game I've most often referenced as the one that could be the biggest test for the Buckeyes (not counting a rivalry showdown, obviously). A non-conference opponent that I think many people are overlooking is San Diego State. That's been a solid program for the last few years, won 9 games a year ago and also won at Boise State, one of the toughest road venues in the country. The Buckeyes will need to be sharp for the Aztecs in Week Two.
Were you surprised the B1G made the East so hard (and off-balanced)? Maryland is a little down these days, but Rutgers will not be a cupcake and Penn St will be back and powerful. Do you think Mich and Mich St should be in the other division?
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
I actually think the Big Ten made the right call with the divisions this time, Mitch. The balance of power definitely leans to the East, as you mentioned, but I think it's preferable to have Ohio State and Michigan on the same side to avoid the possibility of a rematch in the title game. That's not enough reason to do that on its own, of course, but the league has to have faith that programs like Nebraska and Wisconsin will be able to ensure legitimacy and balance on the other side.
how would you rank Ohio States overall speed in comparison to the rest of the BIG?
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
Even though the Buckeyes might not have been as deep or collectively talented a year ago as Meyer wants them to be, I still think they had a pretty decided edge over most of the league in athleticism. Certainly the record bore that out, but there's reason to think with guys like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and the incoming defensive backs that the difference in speed should be even more noticeable. The big disparity could be on the defensive line now, though -- watching Noah Spence move this spring was an eye-opening experience.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
True or false: Cameron Johnston is the starting punter on day one?
Austin Ward (2:25 PM)
If that's not true, I would be pretty surprised given the way the Buckeyes pursued him after signing day, the track record of guys in the program he was in Down Under and the glowing reviews of his leg. Plus, I think it's definitely in Ohio State's best interests if Drew Basil only has to focus on field goals.
Do you think Collier is the QB Meyer can expect to flourish in his system?
Austin Ward (2:29 PM)
I don't think Meyer and Herman would have offered him if they didn't believe he would fit into what they're doing, but he does seem a little bit out of the mold compared to the current guys Ohio State has on hand. Based on the number of reps the coaching staff gave Cardale Jones this spring, I truly believe they think he can be an effective option at quarterback down the line. He's big, strong, mobile and hard to bring down, and forgive the comparison, but that sounds a lot like the kind of guy Meyer had at Florida. Collier, I think, would be more like the Alex Smith-type guy from Utah, which also works when there's enough speed surrounding him -- which the Buckeyes are starting to really stockpile. So, yes, I think it can work, but Jones and Barrett will have a lot to say about his playing time for a while.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Which defensive lineman will/needs to step up Ohio State this fall in order for the Buckeyes to have a legitimate at the national title?
Austin Ward (2:31 PM)
Good question, Tony. I think Spence, Washington and, to a lesser extent, Bennett, are all going to provide exactly what the Buckeyes are hoping for. The key is getting consistent production out of another guy or two on the inside. If Tommy Schutt shakes off the injuries that bugged him in the spring, I think he'll be the one to ultimately emerge. But whether it's him or Joel Hale, that tackle spot will be critical in stopping the run and helping determine how good that front four can be.
Top to bottom where nationally does Ohio States overall talent rank?
Austin Ward (2:35 PM)
At the top, Ohio State is as talented as any team in the country. The bottom isn't quite where Meyer wants it yet, and that is what separates the current roster from, say, Alabama's. But assuming perfect health and good luck, any team would take Ohio State's situation on the offensive line and in the secondary, which is as experienced and talented as can be found. Braxton speaks for himself, but the quarterback situation as a whole is envious because of the presence of Guiton (assuming, again, the hand injury is not serious). And at running back, same thing with Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. This is definitely an elite team at the top, but the overall depth is maybe top-15ish if that makes sense.
Jeff (Tampa, FL)
Do you think Beanie Wells finds himself on an Opening Day roster? If so, will it be his last shot to prove he can contribute at the highest level?
Austin Ward (2:35 PM)
Some team is surely going to take a shot, right? I haven't been following his situation all that closely in the offseason, but I find it hard to believe that he could already be done in the league.
Brandon Moore (Cleveland)
How is the depth on both the O-Line and D-Line? how many DL will play this year ideally?
Austin Ward (2:40 PM)
The offensive line is in much better shape than it was last year, that's for sure. A guy like Chase Farris, for instance, could potentially fill in at four different spots if needed, but Elflein and Boren are both in position now where they could contribute if need be. That situation is pretty solid at this point. The defensive line could use some of the newcomers to lend a hand if they're ready, especially on the interior. But Chris Carter, somewhat surprisingly, presented himself as an option for maybe 10 or 12 snaps a game, and that could go a long way. I think the target would be to get eight defensive linemen involved, but Vrabel has stated publicly and proved last year that he'll ride his first unit as long as possible.
Andrew Z. (Struthers, OH)
Has Mike Vrabal become the best recruiter on Urban's staff?
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
It's hard to even make that call, honestly, because this staff is loaded with tireless workers who are pretty skilled at building relationships. But I do think Vrabel's NFL career carries a lot of weight with recruits who want to spend 14 years cashing check in the league like he did, and his ability to sell that experience is a huge plus for him that is pretty unique.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who is the top draft eligible prospect this year for Ohio State?
Austin Ward (2:44 PM)
If Ryan Shazier were to come out after this season, I think he would be the first Ohio State player drafted. All signs point to him returning for a senior campaign, though, which moves Bradley Roby back to the top of the list. If they both came out, I still think Shazier would go first given the historical tendency of teams to avoid taking defensive backs really early in the draft, but I expect both would be first-round picks. What happens to the offensive linemen will be interesting next year, because I think all four are likely to be selected.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Other than the Michigan road game, does the contest in Evanston scare you the most giving the game is before November, when Northwestern usually fades?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
I think it's going to be challenging for the Buckeyes for a number of reasons, starting with how good I think Northwestern will be this fall. The job that coaching staff has done with the program is nothing short of incredible, and they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the best in the Big Ten. Couple that with the fact the game is being played at night and could potentially be the biggest matchup in the history of that stadium, and there figures to be some adversity for the Buckeyes to overcome. That game could really be the test to see if this is a championship-worthy team or not.
Does Braxton Miller possess the intelligence and intangibles to make the next step as a QB and as a leader?
Austin Ward (2:50 PM)
Braxton will probably never become the type of leader Tebow was for Meyer at Florida, but it doesn't have anything to do with intelligence or work ethic or any of that. He's just a quieter, more shy kid and doesn't typically show much emotion or raise his voice to set the tone. That doesn't mean he isn't respected by his teammates, though, because he is dedicated to his craft and has the results on the field to prove it. I don't think there are any doubts among the coaches bout his ability to improve as a passer or field general either, and there was marked improvement during the spring in terms of accuracy and knowing where to go with the football that wasn't there last fall. It's more of a matter of maturing and taking time to learn the system, and that process was a bit rushed at times since he didn't have the benefit of sitting out his freshman season like planned.
Austin Ward (2:51 PM)
All right, folks -- have to run. Thanks as always for the great questions and comments! We'll see you next time.
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