If the returning Ohio State starters improve before the 2020 season, they will be one of the top teams in the country again.
The Buckeyes had a perfect regular season in 2019, and just barely missed out on a National Championship appearance. Most of the key players are coming back in 2020, but the Buckeyes shouldn’t be satisfied with that alone. They have to improve.
So, how does a team that was nearly perfect improve?
Among the returning starters are a Heisman finalist, an All-American, and several All-Big Ten players. It’s difficult to find room for improvement in most of these cases. Just because there are areas for Ohio State starters to improve doesn’t mean they are bad. Some of them are already among the best at their positions in the nation. For most, small improvements might mean the difference between being great and being elite. For the team, it might be the difference between a top four squad or the national champions.
Ways Returning Ohio State Starters Can Improve
Justin Fields: Avoiding Contact
It’s hard to find things for a Hesiman trophy candidate to improve. Justin Fields has barely been a Buckeye for a calendar year, so his ability to dominate is incredibly impressive.
Year two in Ryan Day’s system will be huge for Fields. The major area of concern for Fields this year is avoiding contact. Fields took too many big hits, which resulted in his left knee getting banged up. Fortunately, the worst that happened was that he had to miss a few snaps of the Michigan game.
There was no reason for Fields to take a lot of those hits. Ohio State was leading by a comfortable margin for the majority of almost every game. Fields needs to learn when he should take the hits, when to throw it away, or slide.
Chris Olave: Yards After the Catch
Olave does a lot of things well, which is what makes him such a valuable target. The one area that he needs to improve on the most is gaining yards after the catch. Olave was usually targeted on deep or contested throws, so he didn’t have much opportunity to try and gain extra yardage. When he does get the chance, Day would like to see him do that more. He didn’t show as much of that as you would expect a part-time punt returner to be able to do.
As it stands now, Olave is already a top receiver in college football. This will just make him all the more dangerous.
Garrett Wilson: Blocking
Garrett Wilson played as a true freshman at age 18, so no matter how talented of a receiver he is, there will be things he can improve.
For Wilson, he won’t have much to work on this offseason, but he can learn to block downfield a little better.
Wide receivers couldn’t play for Urban Meyer until they learned how to block. With Day, the pressure is not as heavy but it’s still an important job. Good blocks on the boundary from the receiver usually mean longer runs for running backs. A good block from a receiver can easily add dozens of extra yards to the play. It might even turn the run from a first down to a touchdown.
Wilson wasn’t bad at blocking last year, but it was the biggest hole in his game.
Thayer Munford: Protecting the Outside
Thayer Munford and Fields will have the same goal this year: make sure the quarterback takes fewer hits.
Munford will be entering his third season as the starting left tackle. He is a great tackle in many ways, but still has one area to improve. He needs to get quicker on the outside.
Most of the time Fields faced pressure from the left side, it was from defenders beating Munford on the outside. Munford is about as good of a blocker that there is if he doesn’t have to move. But he struggles with defenders beating him on his left side and lets pressure get to Fields.
He made up for it most of the time, so Fields didn’t get sacked many times. But he would still do well to clean that up and decrease the pressure altogether.
Josh Myers: protecting against bull rush
All of Ohio State’s offensive linemen earned All-Big Ten honors in 2019, including center Josh Meyers. Second team All-conference, Meyers was a huge part of the offense’s dominance last year.
If there is one thing Meyers needs to work on, it is his blocking against the bull rush. He never lets the defender get past him, but sometimes he can give up pressure off of bull rushes and make Fields move in the pocket.
Wyatt Davis: Instincts
Wyatt Davis had a very good year, earning a spot on the All-America team at guard. NFL scouts will be watching him closely this year, as he might be a first-round pick in 2021. Davis is one one the starters at Ohio State that needs to improve the least.
An NFL team would like to see him improve his instincts as a pass blocker. On the occasion that Ohio State played a 3-4 defense, Davis wouldn’t have anyone directly in front of him to block. Sometimes that confused him, as he wasn’t sure whether to double-team someone, go downfield, or pick up blitzes.
He was a first-year starter in 2019, so getting another year under his belt should help him improve even more next season.
Zach Harrison: Timing
As a true freshman, there is no better way to start your career than to have Chase Young play across from you. Zach Harrison had all kinds of favorable matchups because offenses were worried about the guy on the other side of the line.
So when Harrison is going to be the one that offenses are looking out for, he might need to step up his game a little bit.
Harrison’s biggest area of improvement will need to be working on his timing. He will need to watch the offensive linemen, watch their hands and their footwork, and learn to time his attacks. His raw talent helped him get away with this in his first year, but he needs to work on it if he wants to be the next elite Buckeye pass rusher.
Tuf Borland: Getting off Blocks
Tuf Borland is going to be a fourth-year starter for a reason. He has the instincts, leadership, and toughness you look for in a middle linebacker.
There is one more thing he can improve, though. He can try to get off blocks a little easier.
Borland is great at eating up blocks when he blitzes, but that as far as he usually goes. He doesn’t have any moves that he uses to get off blocks once engaged. Borland is also very good at getting in a threatening position. But once he gets blocked, he’s usually out of the play.
Pete Werner: Physicality
At 6’3”, 242 lbs, Pete Werner is one of the biggest linebackers at Ohio State. But for a man of his size, he doesn’t play like one.
One thing that Werner needs to improve is his physicality. He gets boxed out in coverage and easily blocked when blitzing. If he could play as physical as he is large, then he should be one of the top outside linebackers in the country.
Shaun Wade: Man Coverage
Shaun Wade was an excellent slot corner, but he will be moving to the outside in 2020. Wade played a lot of zone coverage from the slot, but now will be asked to play man. It’s not something that he had any problems with in the past. It’s just something that he needs to get used to.
Wade wasn’t talked about much in 2020 because Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette were off the charts. If Wade plays the boundary like did the slot, then he will be just as much of a star as Okduah and Arnette.