May 17, 2013

Spring grades: special teams

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice now in the books, we find ourselves just three months away from the opening of Urban Meyer's second fall camp as the head coach at Ohio State. With that in mind, we're taking a look back at what we've seen and learned from each position group throughout this offseason, wrapping up with today's look at the Buckeyes' special teams units.

Spring grade: C+

Ohio State's plans for its special teams unit were quickly derailed in February, when punter Johnny Townsend unexpectedly de-committed from the Buckeyes on National Signing Day. Townsend's change of heart left Meyer without a scholarship punter on his roster heading into 2013, a problem for a coach whose team averaged 5.1 punts per game in 2012.

Meyer is hopeful that his team will be punting less this season, but when it does, it will be placekicker Drew Basil to line up in the Buckeyes' backfield. The senior-to-be will pull double duty as both a punter and a kicker this season, and as a result he had a kick count placed on him by OSU special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs.

Spring surprise: Drew Basil

While Basil has only been a placekicker in the first three years of his college career, he looked far from a rookie while playing the role of the Buckeyes' primary punter this spring. Punting three times in Ohio State's spring game last month, Basil averaged a distance of 34 yards on his kicks, with one of them landing inside the 20-yard line.

Basil won't likely be an All-American, but he seems perfectly capable of replacing former Buckeyes punter Ben Buchanan. Wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos was thought to be a challenger to Basil for the punter position, but the senior seems to be a lock to start there this fall.

To be determined: Roby the returner?

A season ago, cornerback Bradley Roby made headlines when he proclaimed himself Ohio State's No. 1 kick returner, but a shoulder injury only allowed him to return three kicks in 2012. Roby spent the majority of this past spring as the Buckeyes' top kick returner, but didn't participate in the spring game as he doesn't have anything left to prove to the OSU coaching staff.

Whether or not his health or vitality to the Buckeyes defense will allow him to return kicks this fall remains to be seen. One of the fast players on the OSU roster, Roby could certainly be a dangerous weapon returning kicks, but it's no secret just how important he is to the Buckeyes at the cornerback position.

Looking ahead: TBD

With Basil being a senior and pulling double-duty this fall, the future of the Buckeyes' special teams unit is murky to say the least. Looking ahead to 2014, Ohio State will be replacing both its punter and its kicker, in a season where it has limited scholarships to hand out in recruiting.

That means that the Buckeyes will either spend two of those scholarships on special teams players, will look for another player capable of both punting and kicking, or won't have a scholarship playing at one -- or both -- of those positions. If there's a coach who can make the most out of the less than ideal situation, it's Meyer, but for now it's impossible to predict who will kicking the ball for the Buckeyes in 2014.


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