Since Urban Meyer became the head coach before the 2012 season, the Ohio State spring game has been known for being centered around the offense and its passing attack. There are a few key storylines to watch for on the defensive side of the ball, however, when the program has its exhibition on Saturday.
With the annual spring game one day away, here are three things to watch for when the Buckeyes take the field.
1. The Secondary
The Ohio State cornerbacks room may have the the most unproven talent among any position on the team. The leading question for this group is who will be paired with Denzel Ward, who will more than likely be one of the starting corners in 2017. Possible candidates include Damon Arnette, who will be a third-year sophomore in the fall, and Rodjay Burns, who will be a true sophomore when the regular season begins. Other contenders are Jeff Okudah, Amir Riep, Kendall Sheffield, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson.
This spring, Arnette and Sheffield have emerged as the top options while Ohio State’s three freshmen who are already enrolled – Okudah, Wade and Williamson – are still jockeying as well. Burns would likely come next in the pecking order, and Riep, a Cincinnati Moeller product, will arrive this summer.
When it comes to the safety position, it is essentially a lock that Damon Webb has one of the two starting spots secured. Jordan Fuller or Erick Smith could be top choices to accompany Webb at the back end of the defense. Elijaah Goins, Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint will be on the field Saturday to showcase their abilities as well.
2. New Linebacker Roles
With Raekwon McMillan moving on to the NFL and Dante Booker returning from an injury he suffered last season, there have been some modifications to the OSU linebacking corps. Chris Worley, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall, has slid over from the Sam linebacker to the Mike, where McMillan played last season. Booker, who will be a fourth-year junior, has moved from the Will position to the Sam. And Jerome Baker, who will be a junior and filled in for Booker after he went down with his knee injury last year, will stay put as the Will linebacker.
With this new look, it will be interesting to see how Worley handles manning the middle of the defense. Additionally, keep an eye on Booker to see how he has recovered from the injury he suffered in the 2016 opener that kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. As for Baker, there aren’t many question marks surrounding him. He essentially has one full season of experience under his belt at the position he will play this coming fall. If there is anything to watch for concerning Baker, it will be to see how the he and the other two have meshed with these new roles.
3. Malik Barrow
Malik Barrow tore his ACL during his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and hasn’t played a regular-season football game since. The defensive tackle redshirted last year with Ohio State as a true freshman, meaning the 2017 season will be his first live action in roughly two years.
Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson noted earlier this spring that the team is counting on Barrow to play this fall. Johnson further explained that he and the coaches want to see how many snaps Barrow can play at maximum speed. With that, Saturday’s spring game presents the 6-2, 290-pounder a golden opportunity to show the coaching staff where he is at with his progression and what kind of workload he can handle.
The Buckeye defense explained this spring that it wants to employ a Jack linebacker this season where a defensive lineman will actually be in a standing position rather than in a typical three-point stance. The top candidate to be that Jack linebacker is defensive end Sam Hubbard. Though the team has talked about this wrinkle in the defense, the Jack linebacker will most likely not be used during the spring game because OSU won’t want to give opposing teams any idea of what the position will look like four months before the season starts, to name one reason.
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