Golden Tickets: The Position Battles

Over the past week, we've look at the seven players that Urban Meyer has said will start on the Ohio State defense in 2014. That leaves four open spots, and we're not about to leave those stones unturned, so we complete our series with a break down of the quartet of jobs still open now that spring is done.

Over the past week, we've been profiling the seven players who in the words of Urban Meyer have earned starting spots on the Ohio State defense through the spring with our Golden Tickets series. Here's the seven players we profiled in that realm

DE Noah Spence
DE Joey Bosa
DT Michael Bennett
DT Adolphus Washington
WLB Joshua Perry
CB Doran Grant
S Tyvis Powell

But that leaves four spots still to be won when the Buckeyes begin the fall, probably more than Meyer would like but perhaps a necessary situation as Ohio State begins to try to rebuild that unit.

So which other players might be the first on the field when Ohio State takes on Navy in Baltimore come August? BSB takes a look at the position battles at the other four spots.

Strongside Linebacker
This spot might be the other one that is closest to being determined as Meyer stopped just short after the spring game of anointing second-year player Darron Lee the starter here.

"Darron Lee and Chris Worley are two examples of developed guys," Meyer said. "We were ready to send Darron Lee back to New Albany on a one-way bus ticket. He just didn't show up with the right demeanor. He was a quarterback. All the sudden about midway through the season you saw this natural athlete and great kid start to develop and here he is. He'll most likely start for Ohio State."

But Meyer didn't quite go all the way with Lee, perhaps a sign that Worley – Lee's classmate – is also strongly in the mix. Lee impressed throughout the spring for his willingness to go hard at all times and use his athleticism to make plays, while Worley made a number of open-field tackles in the spring game and looks like the prototypical "Star" thanks to his athleticism and physical play.

Lee played in a handful of games last year but didn't record a stat before suffering an injury that ended his campaign, while Worley took a redshirt. But both are physical, both will hit and both bring aggressiveness to a unit that dearly needed it after last season.

Middle Linebacker
This will be perhaps the most intriguing battle on the defense as it will be between a once-hyped senior and a stud true freshman.

Curtis Grant was a five-star prospect in 2012 but struggled to crack the rotation until last year, when he picked up 52 tackles and four TFL while battling injuries.

Raekwon McMillan, meanwhile, came in from Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County as the 50th-ranked player in the nation in this recruiting class. He immediately turned heads for his instinctual nature and ability to always find himself around the ball.

Both appear to be in the mix for a starting spot – along with darkhorse junior Camren Williams – and it could be quite the battle. Grant was excellent against the run when healthy a season ago but McMillan might already have a better all-around game and nose for what to do in space.

"He's in the rotation," Meyer said of McMillan. "He's going to play. I would put him in the same category, although a year younger than Worley and Darron Lee. Whether he's going to start depends on – you know, him and Curtis are in a battle. Curtis had his best spring. He's earned that right. He's not a freshman anymore. He's gotta go play."

Field Corner
This is a three-horse race that might even become a five-horse race with the arrivals of Erick Smith and Damon Webb in the summer. Armani Reeves returns with the most experience after serving as the third corner a year ago, but redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple both had their moments in spring and showed they will deserve a good, hard look to start opposite Doran Grant in 2014.

Reeves made 26 tackles and a pick a season ago when filling in for Bradley Roby during his star-crossed final season at OSU. He was victimized at times but also made some nice plays, and he seems likely to be the team's nickel back at the very least this year, though that was a spot that wasn't used a ton during the spring.

Conley is a long athlete who can pretty much do it all, and he showed plenty of competitive spirit in the spring. Apple, meanwhile, overcame an illness to be a playmaking dynamo at the end of the 15 practices.

"We're going to play more than two (corners)," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "Gareon is right in the mix. Eli Apple has had a very good spring. He's over some health issues that had gone undetected and so I'm really excited about that and I'm eager."

There would appear to be a favorite here, too, in sophomore Vonn Bell. A five-star member of the 2013 class, Bell went into the starting lineup at "Star" during the Orange Bowl and made a highlight-reel interception while showing off his high-level athletic skills.

But one can't count out Cam Burrows, a converted cornerback who has moved to what appears to be more of a natural position of safety. Burrows has excellent size (6-0, 206) and high hips, making him someone who seems suited for the spot physically.

"It's Cam Burrows or Vonn Bell, when they get back," Meyer said of the battle to start next to Powell.

Bell might be more of a playmaker at the spot while Burrows becomes more and more familiar with the position, but the head coach isn't worried how this battle will play out despite the fact all three are sophomores in eligibility replacing three departed seniors.

"I like our safeties," Meyer said. "I like Vonn, Tyvis and Cam Burrows. They're quick-twitch trigger guys back there."

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