Big Ten Team Previews: Ohio State

BY DANNY PAYNE | AUGUST 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Things changed quickly for Braxton Miller and Ohio State. In mid-August, the Buckeyes were one of the best teams in the Big Ten led by a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Then, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year injured his shoulder in camp.

On Tuesday, he had surgery, and he will miss the 2014 season.

That leaves redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett in charge of the Ohio State offense. He’s widely regarded as a question mark, but he threw for 784 yards and 5 touchdowns, adding 569 yards and 7 touchdowns in five games during his senior year at Rider High (Texas). He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game.

“I saw things before because [Miller] didn’t get many reps in spring practice,” head coach Urban Meyer said during the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. “We all thought he would develop; he went to a great high-school program, incredible family.

“All of his positives are coming out right now. I saw it before the injury, but I’m really seeing it now.”

To help ease his way into the starting role, he’ll have plenty of weapons at his disposal.

Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, and Evan Spencer are all back; they combined for 92 catches, nearly 1,350 yards, and 15 touchdowns last season.

Spencer should move into a more established role after last year’s leading receiver, Philly Brown, graduated.

Heuerman has been named a captain for his senior season, and he will be tasked with leading the entire offensive unit — one that now has some uncertainties.

“Guys look at you differently; you’re not a sophomore or a junior anymore, you’re a captain,” Heuerman said. “Helping young guys out, I’ll probably help some older guys out who are going through some times.”

The running game is one of those question marks. Of the Buckeyes’ top-five rushers last season, only Miller and Ezekiel Elliot remain. A combination of young backs, Meyer hopes, will help pick up the slack.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman and line coach Ed Warinner will have to build an offensive line on the fly early in the season because only one starter returns — left tackle Taylor Decker.

The Buckeyes’ defense is very capable of picking up some of the slack, too.

Starting up front, the combination of Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa combined for 14.5 sacks last season and will have even more help when Noah Spence, who had 8 sacks and 52 tackles in 2013, returns from a two-game suspension.

The strength of the Buckeyes is at defensive line, but the linebackers are a bit more unknown. Last year’s leading tackler, Ryan Shazier, is now in the NFL, and his 143 tackles will surely be missed.

However, Joshua Perry is coming back after tallying 64 tackles as a sophomore, and Curtis Grant also has experience.

“I think they’re a lot more together, I don’t think there are any followers in the linebacking core,” Bennett said. “I think every one of them is a leader in their unit, and they all want to be leaders of the defense. That’s hard to get, an entire unit of leaders.”

The secondary suffered the loss of Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett — the Buckeyes’ interception leaders in 2013 — but Doran Grant returns and will lead a new-look backfield. Much of the talk coming out of Columbus has been that the Buckeyes will play receivers tighter after allowing 682 yards in their last two games and finished ranked 112th in Division I last year.

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