COLUMBUS, Ohio — Five new (to the top of the depth chart) players and newly-constructed position groups to watch as Ohio State concludes four weeks of spring practice with Saturday’s spring game at Ohio Stadium.
Linebacker Darron Lee
A redshirt freshman and local product (New Albany High School) who’s played outside linebacker with the first-team defense throughout the spring, Lee has earned public praise multiple times from head coach Urban Meyer for his development. Lee was a high school quarterback and defensive back who’s now listed at 225 pounds and, in Meyer’s words, is playing "like an Ohio State linebacker." Lee and true freshman early enrollee Raekwon McMillan could provide the linebacking corps a playmaking upgrade from last year and will be solid spring practices ahead of freshmen Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, both of whom arrive in June.
The offensive line
Four starters are gone from one of the best and most experienced lines in school history, and this group has gone through the spring without starting quarterback Braxton Miller (shoulder surgery) and with rotating running backs competing for time. So, it’s very much a work in progress and it’s the area of Meyer’s greatest concern going forward. Meyer said he’s comfortable with the only two players who have real game experience, Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein,
Miller’s been strictly taking mental reps in his final spring practice, giving redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett the opportunity to both sharpen up and make lasting impressions. Jones has been the leader in their spring derby, and that’s no surprise given his experience edge. They’ll play on different teams Saturday, and true freshman Stephen Collier will also get some chances, too. Spring games generally aren’t pretty even when experienced players play, but they can be important for young guys fighting for eventual real reps, and that’s the case with these quarterbacks.
Wide receivers Corey Smith and Johnnie Dixon
Smith redshirted as a junior college transfer last season because Meyer didn’t want to waste a year if he wasn’t completely ready. He has plenty of ability, and if he’s fully acclimated he’ll add speed and playmaking. Dixon is a five-star flyer who’s already in the mix, too. Last year’s receiving corps had good numbers but was pretty ordinary as a whole. This group could be much better in the big-play department — and will need to be.
The rest of the freshmen
Meyer named redshirt freshman safety Chris Worley and Lee as the two guys who keep standing out in spring. True freshman running back Curtis Samuel has rare speed and has played his way into the thinking as well. Meyer always sets a two-deep coming out of the spring, and on multiple occasions he’s lamented sticking with too many upperclassmen and redshirting too many players last year. From now on, it seems, the best guys will play. And for underclassmen lacking real game reps, the spring game can serve as a springboard.