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To Do List: Buckeye Special Teams Coaches Kerry Coombs and Urban Meyer
By Tony Gerdeman
Kerry Coombs and Urban Meyer have no time to waste in getting the special teams ready for 2017.
Photo by Jim Davidson

It wasn't exactly a dream season for the Ohio State special teams a year ago, as the Buckeyes dealt with problems both in returns and coverage. As the season went on, they also lost consistency with place kicking. Fortunately, they always had their Australian.

Entering this spring, however, Cameron Johnston has bid g'day to Ohio State, which leaves the Buckeyes without one of their most consistent players. Replacing Johnston is just one of the things that special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs and head coach Urban Meyer have to take care of in preparation for the 2017 season. What else is on the list?

1. Get place kicker Sean Nuernberger right and ready.

Sean Nuernberger was the Buckeyes' kicker in 2014 as a true freshman and played well enough. He was expected to take a step forward as a sophomore, but that didn't necessarily happen. He was injured last season as a junior, but now Ohio State needs him to step forward once again and be the guy they can rely on. This is his fourth year on campus, so youth should no longer be an issue. If there are problems this spring, the Buckeyes may have to turn to true freshman Blake Haubeil, which they don't necessarily want to do. How do they get Nuernberger straightened out? No idea, and I doubt, "Kick better!" qualifies as adequate coaching.

2. Fix the punt return game.

The Buckeyes were next-to-last in the Big Ten in punt returns last season, averaging a pitiful 5.2 yards per return. They had just one return of 20 or more yards last year, and none over 30 yards, which were both the worst numbers in the conference. Gone are Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel, who had 23 of OSU's 27 returns. With Wilson gone, the Buckeyes will finally have to turn the page on their return game and find somebody new. Demario McCall returned three punts last season, but managed just 14 yards. Have the problems been the blocking scheme? Do they just not have a special punt returner on the roster? And even aside from finding somebody who can do something with a return, they need to make sure they find somebody who will actually catch the ball first. 

3. Build on the kickoff return improvements with Parris Campbell.

You might find this a bit surprising, but the Buckeyes were second in the B1G in kickoff returns last season, averaging 24.4 yards per return, and Parris Campbell actually led all players with a 27.8-yard average on his 21 returns. The next step is getting Campbell into the end zone. Ohio State hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Jordan Hall in 2010, and that game no longer exists, so I guess you have to go back to Ray Small in 2009. Ray. Small. Campbell led the B1G with seven returns of 30+ yards, was second with three returns of 40+ yards, and was the only player in the conference with two returns of more than 50 yards. This could be a big season in a lot of ways for Campbell, and perhaps none bigger than what he can do for OSU's field position.

4. Get Drue Chrisman ready to be the guy.

This is probably the most important item on the to-do list, as redshirt freshman punter Drue Chrisman has to replace four-year starter Cameron Johnston, who was fantastic each and every season. There is a lot to live up to, but Chrisman was highly recruited and has spent the last year learning all of the different tricks from Johnston. Kerry Coombs talked last year about how for a long stretch of time they only had Chrisman kicking "Australian style" and Johnston "American style", so Chrisman has had plenty of practice with all of the different directional bounces that will be required of him. Chrisman will also likely be the holder, as Johnston was a season ago. That means he and long snapper Liam McCullough will have to get on the same page for both punts and placements.

5. Find your gunners and your piranhas.

Urban Meyer loves his gunners and Kerry Coombs loves his piranhas, and every year there are new candidates for both positions. The receivers that Meyer had at gunner last year defended punt returns very well, allowing just 55 yards on 14 returns, which was good for second in the conference. Expect Terry McLaurin to continue helping out in this area. The piranhas on kickoff coverage, however, had their issues a season ago. The Buckeyes were still good enough for No. 5 in the conference, allowing 18.9 yards per return, but they had been first or second the previous three seasons. The expectations are for them to return to form, and that process starts this spring.

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