Five questions as Ohio State football begins spring practice
Ohio State begins spring football with a goal of doing something that has never been done in Columbus: Winning back-to-back national championships. The Buckeyes have a lot of big names coming back, but there will be plenty of work to do as well on both sides of the ball.
1. Who will step up at wide receiver?
In Urban Meyer’s offense, receivers are key to big plays in more than one way. If they are not running by defensive backs with pure speed, they are running interference to help a running back like Ezekiel Elliott turn a 5-yard run into a 50-yarder. Ohio State heads into this spring having lost its best deep threat and its best blocker out of the receiving corps, but there are certainly plenty of bodies available to try to fill the voids.
Michael Thomas returns as a composite receiver who can get open, break tackles and make big plays, but who will join him in the starting lineup? As far as deep threats, the two top candidates are still question marks as far as health, but there remains hope Johnnie Dixon and James Clark can replace the graduated Devin Smith eventually. Receivers coach Zach Smith also mentioned Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, both redshirts last season, as players with the potential to stretch the field.
While Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall are likely to continue to share the H-back role, they can also stretch the field. Other candidates to take playing time in place of the graduated Evan Spencer include Corey Smith and Noah Brown.
2. How will the defensive line look?
End Joey Bosa is the best building block in the country as far as putting together a defensive line, but tackle Michael Bennett will be tough to replace both from a leadership and playmaking standpoint.
The top candidate could be Adolphus Washington, who is a tremendous athlete for an interior lineman but found his niche last year tying up blockers for Bennett. Michael Hill, Tommy Schutt, Donovan Munger and Tracey Sprinkle could all be candidates for playing time inside while coach Larry Johnson also needs a new starter at end opposite Bosa. Washington could move back to 3-technique — where Bennett thrived late in the season — if Johnson finds someone else to handle nose tackle. Jalyn Holmes showed some flashes he could be a guy who can bend the corner last season, and Tyquan Lewis was solid in spot duty as well.
An X-factor at end could be Sam Hubbard, the top-rated recruit in the 2014 class who redshirted last season but is viewed as a great all-around athlete with loads of potential.
3. What is the depth chart at cornerback?
Eli Apple holds one starter’s job after a mostly positive first year in the lineup, but the other is up for grabs after the graduation of the unsung Doran Grant. Gareon Conley would seem to be the favorite to win the job after backing up Apple last season, but Damon Webb could have something to say about that after making a cameo on special teams as a true freshman in 2014.
Redshirt freshman Marshon Lattimore, a four-star recruit from Cleveland Glenville, could join the fray as well if he is healthy after hamstring surgery wiped out his 2014 season.
4. Who takes over at right tackle?
Things look much different in the offensive line room this year as four starters return instead of four starters needing to be replaced.
The one open spot is right tackle, where Darryl Baldwin was a pleasant surprise in his only season as a starter last year. He was not a dominant force, but he was never a liability on a unit that turned into a wrecking crew by the end of the season.
Chase Farris could try to follow in Baldwin’s footsteps as a senior who puts it together in his last go-round. Also a former defensive lineman, Farris was the subject of rave reviews from line coach Ed Warinner two years ago but has bounced around and battled injury since.
Sophomore Jamarco Jones is also a player to watch after the four-star recruit from Chicago got his feet wet during garbage time last season.
5. How do things shake out at quarterback?
You knew we couldn’t make it all the way through a piece like this without mention of the signal callers, right? New quarterbacks coach Tim Beck takes over a position with three proven players, but Cardale Jones is the only one who is fully healthy this spring.
Will that give him a chance to soak in reps and build up a lead over Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett in the race to be the starter this fall? Only time will tell, but you can bet every move will be dissected in this unprecedented situaiton for the defending national champs.