One already might have emerged when the players talked to the media June 28 – "Next guy up." That is a particularly adept adage considering Ohio State must replace seven starters on defense as well as quarterback Terrelle Pryor, two graduated offensive linemen and three other offensive stars who will miss the first five games because of suspension.
Defensive back Nate Oliver said the slogan was inspired by television analyst Jon Gruden, who met with the team during the spring.
"He was talking about the Green Bay Packers and everything that happened to them in the Super Bowl – how guys got injured and they had to have guys step up," Oliver said. "He basically said, ‘Next guy up needs to go.' "
So who are the next men up? There are plenty of candidates as Ohio State will be forced to turn to some players at each position who possess lots of talent but are short on experience.
In this piece, BuckeyeSports.com takes a look at which players might break out during the 2011 season.
Quarterback: Freshman Braxton Miller
OK, this is an easy one. While OSU also has senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham at quarterback, it seems like Miller has the most upside when it comes to replacing Pryor. Miller turned heads in high school at Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne while earning a five-star ranking, then showed great promise while growing by leaps and bounds during the spring at Ohio State. All four candidates for the job bring their own skills to the table, but Miller boasts excellent scrambling ability and a quick release. As a freshman, he'll need to continue working on accuracy and decision-making.
Bonus pick: Graham showed good touch throughout the spring, especially on a long touchdown pass in the spring game. His lack of mobility is a true hindrance, however.
Running Back: Freshman Roderick Smith
Ohio State will need a starting tailback for the first five games with Dan Herron out because of suspension, and there are plenty of good options. However, many observers think Smith is the one who bears watching given his excellent combination of size and speed. He turned heads in practice throughout the 2010 season while taking a redshirt, and he showed his natural gifts in the spring by making some nice runs and always falling forward. He does need to work on his hands and blocking, skills at which young backs often need work.
Bonus pick: Jaamal Berry ran for 8.3 yards per carry a season ago and is OSU's best home-run back. After biding his time for two years, Berry should be ready for the spotlight.
Wide Receiver: Freshman Devin Smith
It's always a big risk to project that a true freshman might become a breakout star, especially at a position that requires players to know the tricks of the trade as much as wide receiver. However, there will be plenty of reps to be had with Dane Sanzenbacher graduated and DeVier Posey out five games, and Smith has been nothing but impressive in his prep career. He showed big-play abilities for two years at Massillon (Ohio) Washington, proved he was one of the best prep athletes in Ohio by winning state track and field titles in the 100 meters and the long jump, and then was completely unstoppable at the Big 33 Classic. Smith is as good a guess for a breakout star as any at this position after the rest of the young wideouts struggled to get open during the spring.
Bonus pick: Verlon Reed had the most impressive spring of any young receiver on the roster, showing good hands and the ability to make plays on the ball in the air. He's still raw, though, after spending his prep years as a quarterback.
Tight End: Junior Jake Stoneburner
This is a bit tough at a position with so few players, and it's also a bit unfair to pick Stoneburner after he caught 21 passes and two touchdowns in 2010 while fighting off the effects of an ankle injury. Still, it's not hard to imagine him turning a lot more heads in 2011, especially if he stays split out as a matchup nightmare as he was during the spring. Serving as a safe target for whichever inexperienced quarterback takes over, Stoneburner should see his numbers climb, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he earns national recognition.
Bonus pick: True freshman Jeff Heuerman showed both blocking and pass-catching skills in the spring and will likely go into the fall as the No. 3 tight end.
Offensive Line: Sophomore Andrew Norwell
With two starters gone from a year ago in guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning and left tackle Mike Adams out for five games, there are a few options here, but Norwell seems like a good choice to take over for Adams at the start of the campaign. The big Cincinnatian got his feet wet a year ago, and senior Michael Brewster said in spring that Norwell had definitely turned his head during those 15 practices. There are a few choices at left tackle, but Norwell has the nastiness and the pedigree – he was a top-10 recruit in the class of 2010 – to do the job.
Bonus pick: Sophomore Jack Mewhort seems a lock to take over at one guard spot and should be a steady performer in his first year as a starter.
Defensive Line: Freshman Joel Hale
There are few choices here, but we'll use this space to say Johnathan Hankins arrived a season ago, so any impact he makes won't be that much of a surprise. Adam Bellamy and Garrett Goebel are also good choices given the fact that one or both will likely start in 2011, but Hale seems to have the highest ceiling. A January enrollee, the true freshman had already debuted with the second team during spring; not only that, he made plays. A big body who can play three of the four spots on OSU's line, Hale figures to plug holes in the rotation.
Bonus pick: Redshirt freshman J.T. Moore went on a few trips last year and could get some playing time at the Leo spot with Solomon Thomas out for the first five games.
Linebacker: Junior Etienne Sabino
Sabino's story is well known by Ohio State fans. The Miami native was a five-star recruit in the class of 2008 and entered as a 17-year-old freshman. After two years of special teams duty behind such standouts as James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, Sabino was slated to be a starter last year before taking a redshirt given the emergence of Andrew Sweat. Now, the two are by far OSU's most experienced linebackers and are expected to team up as the team's main pair. Sabino, who took most of the reps in the middle in the spring, will never have a better chance than this, and he's expected to fill some big shoes at a place known for producing excellent linebackers.
Bonus pick: True freshman Curtis Grant was one of the top 20 players in the nation in the class of 2011 and could be what the Buckeyes are looking for at the strongside linebacker position.
Cornerback: Freshman Bradley Roby
A year ago, Roby made OSU's travel roster as a true freshman, but he ended up not being needed and took a redshirt. However, the coaching staff made it clear it thinks highly of the Georgia native's skills when it took him on those trips. Roby didn't disappoint this spring, either, earning a few interceptions during open scrimmages and generally keeping the wide receivers he covered off the board. He'll likely battle Dominic Clarke and Dionte Allen for a starting spot opposite Travis Howard, but Roby brings athleticism and playmaking ability to the table.
Bonus pick: Allen, the Florida State transfer who showed his chops by delivering a number of big hits in the spring. With experience on his side, Allen will be a dogged competitor for a starting job.
Safety: Sophomore C.J. Barnett
Barnett seemed well on his way to following fellow Clayton Northmont grad Kurt Coleman's path last year, moving from cornerback to safety as a freshman and then taking over a starting role as a sophomore. He even looked like a big-play safety in the Miami game before suffering a season-ending knee surgery in that contest. However, he was nearly back during the spring and should be good to go come fall. If he's ready, Barnett seems ticketed to start and pick up where he left off.
Bonus pick: Jamie Wood has two years in the system under his belt and got more playing time in the spring because of other injuries. The sophomore was highly rated coming out of high school and is a smooth athlete.