The 2017 spring football season is just days away, and there are multiple jobs up for grabs as Ohio State prepares to get back to the College Football Playoff. With that, we give you a position-by-position breakdown of what to watch for when the Buckeyes open up spring practice on March 7.
Quarterback: Despite what many of you might think, J.T. Barrett is going to be the starting quarterback when Ohio State opens up the season against Indiana on the final day of August. However, who will be the second stringer at that time is very much up for grabs. Joe Burrow was QB2 last season and has not done anything to lose that job, however the emergence of Dwayne Haskins Jr. cannot be ignored. Coaches and players have raved about his passing ability since he arrived on campus and he made great strides in bowl prep, playing both Deshaun Watson on the scout team while also getting some reps with the second team offense. Behind Burrow and Haskins is freshman phenom Tate Martell who figures to be in for a redshirt year, unless he blows the coaches away in spring prep, which he will have the opportunity to do as an early enrollee.
Running Back: Much like the quarterback position, the starting running back spot also appears to be locked down by Mike Weber, who last season became the third freshman running back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first season. Behind him however there is much debate as to who might help carry the load left by Curtis Samuel who declared early for the NFL Draft. Antonio Williams was an early enrollee a season ago, but was quickly passed up by speedster Demario McCall on the depth chart. While McCall is listed as a running back, he figures to fit in better at H-back, much like Samuel did. After that, there is current early enrollee JK Dobbins, who figures to see some playing time as well as a true freshman. While there is not a lot of running plays called in the spring game, the No. 2 running back spot will be one of the top competitions to watch in spring camp.
Wide Receiver: Perhaps the most underperforming group from 2016, the Ohio State wide receivers have something to prove this season. Having lost its top two receivers in Samuel and Noah Brown to the NFL, Zach Smith's unit will be looking for some playmakers to break out for Barrett in 2017. Based on what we saw last season, it looks like Binjimen Victor could be the leader in the clubhouse to lead the receiver group. One of just two true freshman wide receivers to play last season, Victor stands 6-feet-4 inches and is a big target for quarterbacks to throw to. Big wide receivers appears to be the direction OSU is heading as the Buckeyes signed three wide receivers in the 2017 class, all over 6-feet-4 inches tall. Ohio State also returns veterans K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and others that could factor in as well as true sophomore Austin Mack. This is a position group with a lot to prove this spring, and will get its chance in the spring game, which usually features a heavy air attack.
Offensive Line: Losing Pat Elflein figures to be a setback for Ohio State, but sliding Billy Price in front of Barrett should help the offensive line transition up front. Michael Jordan, Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince all figure to retain their starting spots up front which leaves one guard position open. Demetrius Knox was the first reserve lineman off the bench in the Fiesta Bowl when Jordan suffered an injury, but visibly struggled with the speed and strength of the Clemson defensive front. Outside of Knox, other players that could factor in for the open spot include Tyler Gerald, Matt Burrell and Gavin Cupp but Malcolm Pridgeon appears to be the leader for an open spot up front. The JUCO transfer missed all of last season due to injury, but was able to resume non-contact drills during bowl prep.
Tight End: Marcus Baugh leads a group of five scholarship tight ends that were all on the roster a season ago. Jake Hausmann, Luke Farrell and Kierre Hawkins all redshirted in 2016 while A.J. Alexander took major strides as he saw significant playing time last season, despite being used mostly as an extra blocker. There isn't much intrigue at this spot in 2017, but one thing to watch for would be the competition for time at the No. 2 tight end spot behind Baugh. Hausmann seems to be the best of the three young tight ends, but Farrell and Hawkins were also 4-star prospects out of high school and could push for some time, even if it is just on special teams. Also be sure to watch how the tight end is used with Kevin Wilson taking over the position group following Ed Warinner's departure to Minnesota.
Kicker: With one year wonder Tyler Durbin gone to graduation, the kicker job will likely come down to Sean Nuernberger and true freshman Blake Haubeil. Nuernberger was Ohio State's starting kicker during the 2014 national title campaign, but lost his starting job to Jack Willoughby in 2015. He gained it back toward the tail end of that season, but after an offseason injury lost his job again to Durbin. Haubeil comes in as a highly rated prospect in the 2017 class, and with Ohio State's struggles in the kicking game in recent years, could be what OSU needs to stabilize the position.
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