With the 2019 spring game now less than a week away, we get our first live look at the Buckeyes. With expectations once again sky high, there are a lot of interesting story lines to follow.
Whether or not you choose to believe the quarterback race is neck and neck as coach Ryan Day says it is, is up to you. However, Buckeyes fans will get their first chance of seeing Justin Fields getting live snaps in a Buckeye uniform. Yes, he will not be getting hit and probably will not be running the ball either, but this is what fans have been waiting for. We want to see Fields uncork the ball down field and show off that lively arm.
At the same time, Matthew Baldwin has also been making a ton of plays in spring practices by all reports. The job is really Fields’ to lose, but you definitely need to have a capable backup that can come in and make plays. With the way the scarlet and grey rosters will be split up and even changed during the game, it would not be a shocker to see Baldwin actually have better numbers than Fields. So, while this probably is not a true quarterback “battle,” fans should be excited to get their first true, up close watch of Fields and Baldwin.
A lot of the spring ball talk recently has been about the wide receiver room. With Blue Smith transferring, and Kamryn Babb having another set back, the room is a lot smaller than most fans thought it would be heading into the game. Early enrollee Garrett Wilson has come in and turned heads to the point where it seems like he is going to factor into big games this season. With three major departures to the NFL, the leader of the group is now KJ Hill, as he surprised many returning to school for his senior year.
Behind Hill, Binjimen Victor returns with a lot of experience and raw talent, but it’s truly now or never for him. Chris Olave is back for his sophomore season with a ton of hype, as he ended his freshman year on an absolute tear. Austin Mack is back and healthy from injury, and is the reliable trusted target. But beyond there is where it gets interesting. Does Garrett Wilson make that move into the top tier group, and what about a guy like Jaylen Harris? When watching the spring game, the “second tier” guys like Wilson and Harris will be ones to look for and see if they make plays.
By all accounts, JK Dobbins is the Ohio State starting running back, no questions asked there. But the role for the second running back has a lot of interest to many. Master Teague returns for his second season and has been turning heads in spring practice with his insane physique. He probably represents the most “natural” backup running back choice, but he is not without competition.
DeMario McCall returns as another interesting name to watch. He is as explosive as any with the ball in his hands, but getting consistent playing time has been hard to come by. The question with McCall is whether or not he is a running back in this system or somebody that is going to be playing a slot receiver kind of hybrid role. My guess is he plays both roles in the spring game, and ends up breaking a long one.
The other name here is Jaelen Gill, who has also been a player making a name for himself in spring ball. His game is similar to McCall but Gill is a large back at 6’1 and showed the ability in high school to run legitimate wide receiver routs. Dobbins will probably not have a huge impact in this spring game, so these three will have a chance to really start to establish themselves.
A ferocious pass rusher probably will not be unleashed during the spring game, so the offensive line outlook becomes even the more interesting. Of all position battles on the roster, this might be the one to follow. The Buckeyes insist that they want to play the best five linemen on the roster, so getting them all on the field in a comfortable position is what makes this the story line to follow.
Thayer Munford will be held out of the game due to a back injury, but he should be penciled in as a starter. Wyatt Davis came on extremely strong last season, and he should have no issues securing a starting spot. But from here is where it gets interesting. Jonah Jackson is transferring in from Rutgers, but does not arrive until the summer, so we will not see him in the game. But as a fifth year graduate transfer, he did not select Ohio State to not start. So you probably have to factor him in somewhere on the line, as he can play multiple positions.
That leaves two spots. Josh Myers is a guy that has been in the system for a couple years now, but is now really starting to come along. The staff seems to like him at center, and he may be the favorite at the position right now. Jackson is also a guy the staff thinks can play center, and that may be the way the staff can get their best five playing.
Brandon Bowen is the man of mystery. When healthy, he has been one of the best linemen on the Buckeyes roster. By all reports, he is healthy and rolling. If he can regain his pre-injury form, he is somebody that will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup. Josh Alabi returns as he filled in admirably for Thayer Munford last season, as a fifth year season. Nicholas Petit-Frere is the future, and is putting on massive weight to be right in the middle of the race for a starting spot.
So, yes, the answers to the offensive line probably will not be figured out come next Saturday, but look to see who is starting with Fields and Baldwin.
Chase Young is the alpha dog and his spot as a starting spot is as secured as they come on this Buckeye roster. Whether or not he plays a lot in the game is another story. However, the main battle is to see if Jonathon Cooper or Tyreke Smith win the other starting job. Cooper did a nice job last season after Bosa went down, and got better as the season progressed. But the potential and athleticism of Smith is sky high and could win him the starting spot. Look to see how these two get off the line, as playing opposite of Young will create a ton of great chances for getting after the quarterback this season. The other name here is Jashon Cornell, as he has ability to play both end and tackle and will be getting a lot of live snaps this season as well.
Defensive tackle is even more interesting. Davon Hamilton might be the most underrated player on this whole roster, and his spot as a starter should not be in question. The other spot is up for grabs and players like Tommy Togiai, Taron Vincent, Haskell Garrett, and Antwuan Jackson are all in the mix. Togiai is reportedly the strongest on the field and has been clogging up everything in the middle. My prediction is Togiai wins the job, but all of these guys are going to play this season as Larry Johnson has a ridiculous amount of talent.
The position group everybody wants to talk about. After a poor showing last year, the Buckeyes revamped the defensive staff and have brought in Al Washington to lead the group. Malik Harrison was the alpha of the group last season, and is one of the most talented players on the roster. After that is where the mystery begins. Pete Warner and Tuf Borland return as the starters, and by all accounts, Borland is 100% healthy. Teradja Mitchell is a player that is really exciting Buckeye fans and factors in this linebacker race right in the middle. He is a thumper, and a tackling machine. Baron Browning has the potential to be an all conference type of player, but inconsistent play in the past has limited his role.
The starting battles here probably go until the end of summer practices, but it will be interesting to see the pairings and who gets first team reps during the game. My eye will be on Mitchell to see his instincts and how he reads the field.
With the news of a “bullet” position coming to the Buckeye defense, the outlook is much different than in previous years. Brendon White seems to be the logical choice as he is a sure handed tackler and great in open space playing close to the line of scrimmage.
Jordan Fuller returning is a huge boost for the Buckeye defense and will occupy one of the safety spots. After that, the battle for the second safety will be one to watch. Josh Proctor has been one of the names to follow this spring, and he looks like somebody that is going to be on the field a lot this season. He’s apparently a Malik Hooker type center fielder, and somebody that is explosive once he gets the ball in his hands. Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint are both challenging for this spot as well, but I believe Pryor would be a more natural fit for the bullet spot. Look for Proctor come the spring game.
At cornerback, Damon Arnette returning provides a boost and a return of senior leadership. I know a lot of fans dog him, but at times, he was the best corner on the roster last season. Keeping him off the field will not happen, but Jeff Okudah and Shawn Wade are right there with Arnette as well. Jeff Hafley seems to not want to rotate corners as much as prior seasons, and roll with the two best. Okudah and Wade probably have the most ability to be lockdowns, but Wade can also be used as the nickle corner that matches up against running backs and tight ends as we saw last season. The secondary room is as talented as any group, so there are a lot of “logical” choices here for the staff.
At the end of the day, learning a lot from the spring game may or may not happen. Player safety is the highest concern here, but getting to see a live scrimmage and hopefully some young guys and newer names making plays always make it a must watch.
What position battles are you most interested in seeing?
(Image via Sporting News)