Of course, spring isn't a word that has really been in the vocabulary of central Ohioans so far this year given the snow and cold temperatures that have blanketed the region, but that's neither here nor there. With the annual Scarlet and Gray Game moved up to April 12 and spring break in the middle of March, the Buckeyes now begin drills the first week of the third month of the year.
The Buckeyes will have to replace a number of major contributors from the 2013 season and make do, for the most part, without three-year starting quarterback Braxton Miller, who underwent a minor shoulder procedure last week. It's truly an important time of year, as head coach Urban Meyer notes that the depth chart is set in spring in the mind of the coaching staff.
With that in mind, we start our look ahead at the spring as I look at the players I am most interested in seeing how – or if – they develop at each position.
Cardale Jones. With Miller out, Jones, J.T. Barrett and Stephen Collier will each see more reps than previously expected, but interested to see how the eldest member of the group performs. We know Jones – a long strider at 6-5 – can run, and I remember from his high school days at Cleveland Glenville that he can throw a frozen rope. But can he direct and lead an offense after throwing but two passes a season ago? That is the big question, in my mind. If not, both Barrett – more of a polished passer when he arrived from last spring – and Collier will likely pass him by sooner rather than later.
Brionte Dunn. Dunn was a must-get in Urban Meyer's first recruiting cycle after serving as one of Ohio's most decorated backs his senior year at Canton GlenOak. But Dunn so far hasn't done much on the field, rushing for 133 yards and 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman in 2012 before taking a redshirt last season. The redshirt made sense, as there weren't a ton of carries behind Carlos Hyde, but the fact that Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson were parts of the attack has to raise some questions. Dunn is a power back at 6-0, 220 pounds, something the Buckeyes might need with Hyde's graduation. His time to make a move is right now, though reports were he practiced well as his second season at OSU developed.
Michael Thomas. Another player who surprisingly took a redshirt a season ago, Thomas could be the wild card in OSU's receiving corps, which is expected to be deeper and faster than in 2013. Thomas burst onto the scene when he caught 12 passes in the 2012 spring game, then he was a key blocker at the position as the Buckeyes went undefeated last season. But even though the Buckeyes didn't go very deep at wideout in 2013, Thomas still didn't see the field. He's big, fast and has good hands, and now in his third year in the program, he will be expected to start to be a difference maker even as the Buckeyes bring in a number of younger options at the receiver position.
Marcus Baugh. We know senior Jeff Heuerman can do it all and we know his backup, Nick Vannett, is pretty darn good too and a heck of a pass catcher. What we don't know is if Baugh is ready for prime time at OSU. Even taking away his two citations for underage consumption – transgressions that nearly cost him a spot on the team – Baugh had his pass-catching abilities questioned early last year by tight ends coach Tim Hinton. And that's exactly what he was brought in for, so Baugh must show he brings major skills to the table in order to break into the rotation. The news was he stood out late in his freshman season, so that's good, but now is the time to keep that momentum going – assuming he's a major part of drills after his January arrest led to a suspension.
Darryl Baldwin. This could be pretty much everyone not named Taylor Decker, but I am most curious to see how Baldwin does as he takes over at right tackle this year. A converted defensive end, Baldwin has a good frame to play tackle but has yet to really do it in a game, save for a cameo last year vs. Illinois that didn't go so hot for the OSU offense. While the Buckeyes need to rebuild the interior of the line, those spots aren't quite under the microscope as tackle, and the team needs Baldwin to be ready or the Buckeyes will have to really scrape for options opposite Decker.
Tommy Schutt. With Urban Meyer confirming on the Buckeye Cruise that senior defensive tackle Joel Hale will move to the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes need Schutt to be the five-star player many thought he'd be when he arrived as a freshman in 2012 in Illinois. He's certainly shown signs of excellent play in limited duty, but recurring foot and ankle injuries make him a bit of an unknown. If he's healthy and ready to go, the Buckeyes should have a dominant middle of the line in Schutt and Michael Bennett; if not, someone unproven will have to step up.
Raekwon McMillan: He's one of two early enrollees on my list, and I have to admit that given the struggles of the linebacking corps in 2013, I'm curious to see if the true freshman can come in and make a name for himself early. Word is he can play downhill fine – though that's not exactly an issue for Curtis Grant either in the middle – but I want to see if he gets lost in pass coverage and in the open field or if he's more of a natural football player. If he is, he'll be in the running for major time in 2014.
Armani Reeves: I think between Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, the Buckeyes have two pretty good safeties ready to go in 2014. I think Doran Grant is a fine enough player at one corner spot. But I am not sure what happens at the second cornerback spot, but Reeves might be the guy to take over. A top-100 recruit in 2012 who reportedly has been an excellent practice player, Reeves now goes into his junior season needing to show he's ready to be a full-time starter. If not, the Buckeyes will be very young and thin here.
Sean Nuernberger: I had to throw this one in, and the performance of the Kentucky kicker will be crucial considering he's the only scholarship option at the position after the graduation of Drew Basil. Count me as a bit worried as I've seen freshman kickers struggle with the adjustment to the college level plenty of times before, though Nuernbeger's high school stats leave no doubt he can kick the tar out of the ball. The Buckeyes had a stud freshman punter last year in Cameron Johnston. Will history repeat itself in the kicking realm in 2014 with Nuernberger?