June 22, 2013

Under the radar: offense

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The start of fall camp is still a little more than a month away, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2013 season. With that in mind, here's a look at five players on the offensive side of the ball who have flown under the radar thus far at Ohio State, and will help try to lead the Buckeyes to a second consecutive undefeated season.

Chris Fields, wide receiver

It's for most seniors to fly under the radar for three years -- or four in this case -- and still find themselves being counted on to significantly contribute in their senior seasons, but that's exactly the situation that Fields finds himself in heading into 2013. The Painesville, Ohio native has caught just 15 balls in his first three seasons of action for the Buckeyes, but earned a starting spot at wide receiver during the team's spring practice season.

Whether Fields will be able to hold onto his job as a started, and what he'll do with the opportunity, remains to be seen. Just know that the OSU coaching staff is counting on this being the year that 6-foot, 200-pounder finally breaks over.

Rod Smith, running back

The Buckeyes' primary backup running back for the 2013 season, Smith rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns on just 32 carries, numbers that are deceiving of the progress that the 6-foot-3, 238-pound bruiser actually made. Thought to be a likely transfer candidate when head coach Urban Meyer first arrived in Columbus, Smith turned his season -- and his career -- around, performing admirably in OSU wins over Penn State and Illinois, before an injury slowed him down for the final two weeks of the season.

Heading into his junior campaign, Smith is currently listed as the backup to Ohio State starter Carlos Hyde. And while he's unlikely to unseat Hyde as the Buckeyes' top back, don't count out OSU finding creative ways to get its top two running backs on the field on the same time.

Nick Vannett, tight end

While Jeff Heuerman might get most of the headlines when it comes to Ohio State tight ends, he's yet to be named the team's official starter for the 2013 season. That's because, as was the case last season, he still remains a co-starter, alongside the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Vannett.

An athletic end out of Westerville Central high school, Vannett has proven to be a reliable receiver in the Buckeyes' passing game, hauling in nine catches for 123 yards in 2013. Throughout the spring, Meyer constantly praised the work of his top two tight ends, and there stands reason to believe that both will see significant playing time in the upcoming season.

Marcus Hall, right guard

Although the Buckeyes return four starters on an offensive line that helped pave the way for the nation's 10th-ranked rushing offense in 2012, Hall often seems like a forgotten man. Thought by some to be the line's weak link last season, the Cleveland native was arguably the line's most improved player this past spring, according to OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner.

The Buckeyes are hopeful that Hall's improvement will help negate the loss of graduated right tackle Reid Fragel. The offensive line figures to be one of Ohio State's strengths this season, and an improved Hall would only help solidify that sentiment.

Michael Thomas, wide receiver

Perhaps the freshman who carried the highest expectations with him on the offensive side of the ball last season, Thomas didn't quite live up to the hype, catching just three passes for 22 yards. The coaching staff is hopeful, however, that this will be the Los Angeles, Calif.'s native's breakout season, and that those expectations will be reached in his sophomore campaign.

The nephew of former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Thomas certainly has the talent and size (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) to cut it at the college level. But it will take focus and concentration for him to set himself a part and become a more reliable weapon in the Buckeyes' offense.

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