COLUMBUS, Ohio -- While the rest of his teammates wear their traditional scarlet or white uniforms in this Saturday's spring game, Braxton Miller will be donning a black jersey, warning Buckeye defenders not to come into contact with their team's star quarterback. But just in case a different colored top isn't enough to protect Miller, Urban Meyer may make a purchase at the souvenir shop when the Buckeyes visit the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum this weekend.
"I'm going to carry a baseball bat," the second-year Ohio State head coach joked.
Just because the Buckeyes defense won't be allowed to tackle Miller doesn't mean that the junior signal-caller won't play an integral role in Saturday's exhibition. In fact, Meyer said to expect plenty of passes in this year's spring game, for reasons affecting Ohio State on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, Miller will attempt to showcase an offseason's worth of improved throwing mechanics, after the Buckeyes ranked 105th in the country in passing yards per game. Meyer also hopes to see growth in the play of the Ohio State receivers, who made strides, yet failed to meet the expectations of the Buckeyes coaching staff in 2012.
"I want to see the receivers make some plays that we didn't make a year ago," Meyer said. "We're way behind on quality of depth at that position. That's a major, major concern."
A pass-heavy offense in Saturday's spring game- which will take place inside of Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium- will also play a role in helping Meyer and his staff evaluate the Ohio State defense.
The Buckeyes are replacing seven starters from a season ago on the unit, including six players in the defense's front-seven. Through the first 14 practices of the spring, Meyer's been pleased with what he's seen from the likes of new starters Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Curtis Grant, Tyvis Powell, and Doran Grant, but also knows that the 15th practice- Saturday's game- will play a large role in evaluating just where the OSU defense stands heading into 2013.
"We're going to throw a lot and get some pressure on the quarterback," Meyer said. "Everybody's watching. And if you give up a touchdown pass in a controlled scrimmage, the ball goes back to the 20-yard line. This, you're going to start to see points accumulating on the board. (That's) a lot different. Look around the nation, not many schools can do what we're getting ready to do and that's put a good crowd in the stadium and go play in front of them."
Washington, a sophomore defensive end who is expected to take over for 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon, is confident that regardless of how the defensive line is split between the two squads on Saturday, that the unit will hold its own after a successful spring.
"We're real good right now," he said. "At the beginning, we were kind of unsure about what we were going to do, but we came out those first couple of practices, we went at it with the offensive line and it just built up confidence. And now, we're doing pretty good."
Outside of the Buckeyes' passing game and new starters on defense, perhaps the position that will draw the most attention on Saturday will be right tackle. Sophomores Taylor Decker and Chase Farris are currently vying to replace departed senior Reid Fragel at the Buckeyes' lone vacancy on the offensive line, with neither player having grabbed a hold of the opening through Ohio State's first 14 spring practices.
"That's real bothersome to me," Meyer admitted. "It's real bothersome to our coaches."
Tomorrow will provide both Decker and Farris with one last opportunity to impress the OSU staff before the Buckeyes take a break from official football activity until the start of fall camp in August. Meyer has made it clear that he'd like to leave Paul Brown Stadium tomorrow with a better idea of who his team's right tackle is going to be, as his ideal timeline for position battles nears an end.
"In spring ball, you're trying to win a spot," he said. "During the fall, we're trying to win games."
That mindset doesn't apply to just Ohio State's right tackle position, but the other newcomers as well. It's one thing to impress inside the controlled confines of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but another to do it inside of an NFL stadium with thousands of eyeballs watching your every move.
"I'm not too worried about the returning starters," Meyer said. "I want to see an environment. I want to see the coaches on the field screaming their assignments to these kids who've never played before. I want to see them play.