Of OSU's 24-member recruiting class, seven arrived for spring ball and got a head start on their careers, while 16 more are set to arrive in June and will want to upset the apple cart and earn their own playing time.
So which ones will? It's hard to say, of course, but why not take a position-by-position look and see what the early tea leaves might say.
Incoming: Braxton Miller (five stars), Cardale Jones (three stars)
Contributors Present: Terrelle Pryor, Joe Bauserman, Taylor Graham, Kenny Guiton
Of course, this position is a bit odd, as Miller has been enrolled in school since January and Jones will take a grayshirt and enroll in 2012. Miller has a great chance at playing time after a solid spring, though the four-person battle to replace Pryor for the starting job is far from over. Miller's performance as the only signal caller to complete more than half of his passes during the spring game while leading scoring drives on three of his four opportunities helped cement him as a fan favorite. After starting out somewhat overwhelmed by the OSU offense, the Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne product got better as spring went along, and continued growth through the fall should keep him squarely in the debate. It seems implausible that he would take a redshirt.
Incoming: Devin Smith (four stars), Evan Spencer (four stars)
Contributors Present: DeVier Posey, Corey Brown, Chris Fields, Tyrone Williams, Verlon Reed, James Louis
With Posey out for the first five games, the Buckeyes will be really young at wideout in 2011, so one would have to think Smith and Spencer will have shots to earn playing time. Brown had eight catches last year, Fields had three and the other three scholarship players redshirted; all remain underclassmen with much to prove, so there won't be a huge age/experience difference between the Ohioan Smith (Massillon Washington) and Illinois product Spencer (Vernon Hills). Also, old wideouts coach Darrell Hazell sometimes seemed hesitant to play youngsters until their technique was rock-solid, but new coach Stan Drayton emphasizes playmaking skills, Posey said. Smith sure looks like he could jump right in considering his impressive size, speed and strength, while Spencer is less familiar to Ohio observers but also looks like a freak athletic specimen with smooth moves. At least one should see playing time, if not both.
Incoming: Nick Vannett (four stars), Jeff Heuerman (three stars)
Contributors Present: Jacob Stoneburner, Reid Fragel
Vannett comes in from nearby Westerville Central with the pedigree of an elite pass-catching tight end, while Heuerman (Barron Collier HS, Naples, Fla.) was predicted to be more of a blocker, though he showed good hands while catching three passes in the spring game after enrolling early. With Stoneburner and Fragel coming back as co-starters from a season ago, there shouldn't be a huge need for two more tight ends to play this year, meaning one could face a redshirt. While Vannett would be the sexier pick to play, if the Buckeyes get into more jumbo sets early in the season to help their strong running game, Heuerman could prove to be a valuable blocker who can still haul in passes if necessary.
Incoming: Brian Bobek (four stars), Tommy Brown (three stars), Antonio Underwood (three stars), Chris Carter (three stars)
Contributors Present: Mike Adams, Michael Brewster, J.B. Shugarts, Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort
Most observers agree Bobek is the most ready of the incoming Buckeyes, as Scout ranked the Palatine (Ill.) William Fremd product the No. 1 center in the country. That might not translate to playing time, though, as OSU already has a potential All-American manning the middle spot in Brewster. But with Linsley and Mewhort – both of whom served as backup centers in the spring – possibly needed at the guard spots, Bobek could slide into the depth chart as the No. 2 center right away. Because of a dearth of scholarship players along the line, some freshmen will likely be needed in the two-deep, though many feel Ohioans Brown (Akron Firestone), Underwood (Shaker Heights) and Carter (Cleveland JFK) would best be served by developing during their redshirt years. Brown might be the most likely to earn playing time after coming in early and playing right tackle, a position at which he improved as spring went on after a rough start.
Incoming: Steve Miller (five stars), Ken Hayes (four stars), Michael Bennett (four stars), Chase Farris (four stars), Joel Hale (three stars)
Contributors Present: Johnny Simon, Nathan Williams, Adam Bellamy, Garrett Goebel, Johnathan Hankins, J.T. Moore, Evan Blankenship, Melvin Fellows, Darryl Baldwin, Solomon Thomas
It will be hard for any newcomers to break into the rotation simply because of the depth already there. While Simon, Williams, Bellamy, Goebel, Hankins and Thomas (suspended for five games) were major contributors a season ago, the other four scholarship players on the roster compiled excellent prep résumés and are itching at the chance for time. But while there's no real obvious need along the line, defensive line coach and coordinator Jim Heacock will play the best players. Miller, a Canton (Ohio) McKinley product, has wowed consistently and could see time as a big, quick player on the edge in the mold of Williams, especially with Thomas out early. Hayes (Toledo Whitmer) figures to be in the same battle, while Bennett (Centerville, Ohio) and Farris (Elyria, Ohio) seem more likely to play more interior roles. They will have to outshine the talent on hand. One player to watch is Hale, a Greenwood (Ind.) Center Grove product who came in early for spring practice. He consistently worked with the second team in a three-technique role and was noticeable, and his work in spring could get him in the mix.
Incoming: Curtis Grant (five stars), Ejuan Price (four stars), Ryan Shazier (four stars), Conner Crowell (three stars)
Contributors Present: Andrew Sweat, Etienne Sabino, Storm Klein, Chad Hagan, Scott McVey, Jordan Whiting, Tony Jackson, Jonathan Newsome
This is another spot that will be hard to crack considering all of the talent on hand, but the Buckeyes do seem to have one need: strongside linebacker. While there will be plenty of times in which OSU will use Tyler Moeller as a hybrid linebacker/safety, there will also be situations against power teams in which the team could possibly use a strong player who can hold the edge, a la Austin Spitler in 2009. OSU lacked such a player a season ago and in the spring, but Price of Pittsburgh Woodland Hills might closest to having the prototypical size, checking in at 6-0, 235. Grant also looks like a can't-miss prospect, as the Richmond (Va.) Hermitage product has it all and is ranked the top outside linebacker in the land. At 6-3, 225, he might not be the ideal Sam backer, but he seems destined for at least a special teams role. Shazier enrolled early from Plantation, Fla., but injury seemed to stop him whenever he was close to making a move. He also seems like he's made for a special teams role with his good speed. Simply because of numbers, Crowell of Waldorf (Md.) North Point seems a longshot to play, but you can never say never.
Incoming: Doran Grant (four stars), DerJuan Gambrell (four stars)
Contributors Present: Travis Howard, Dominic Clarke, Bradley Roby, Dionte Allen, Adam Griffin, Corey Brown
Simply because of numbers, it will be hard to find playing time here. Howard stepped up his game in spring and looks like a potential lockdown corner, while Clarke, Roby and Allen all showed why they deserve time on the other side of the field. Grant was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and has the pedigree to make an early impact, but he could be like Roby – a player good enough to make the travel squad but who ends up taking a redshirt because of the talent ahead of him. Gambrell is also a highly thought of athlete out of Toledo Rogers but will run into the same issue.
Incoming: Ron Tanner (four stars), Jeremy Cash (three stars)
Contributors Present: Orhian Johnson, C.J. Barnett, Tyler Moeller, Christian Bryant, Nate Oliver, Zach Domicone, Jamie Wood, Nate Ebner
Tanner and Cash were given the gift of lots of playing time during the spring given the numerous injuries to hit the position, and that could go a long way toward getting each on the field during the spring. Neither Tanner, a local product from Columbus Eastmoor, nor Cash, who hails from Plantation, Fla., looked out of place in their cameos, and the experienced gained will truly put them in the battle come fall. However, there will be a lot of guys they'll have to pass in order to see the field. The good news is that both Tanner and Cash have the skills to cover kicks should the Buckeyes need them.
Incoming: Bryce Haynes (two stars)
Contributors Present: George Makridis, Garrett Dornbrook
Haynes was a late addition to the class, but the Cumming (Ga.) Pinecrest Academy product is rated as one of the best prospects at his position in the country. Haynes is expected to make an early impact, as long snappers rarely receive scholarships coming into school. Makridis is the brother of former OSU long snapper Dimitrios Makridis and joined the program last year, while Dornbrook has been around for a while, but there will be a battle to replace Jake McQuaide in fall and Haynes should have a good chance to win it.