June 13, 2016
The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the 2016 offseason needing to replace 16 starters from last year’s 12-1 team, and head coach Urban Meyer wanted to use a pivotal spring camp to put together some semblance of a two-deep depth chart ahead of the summer.
Establishing that pecking order didn’t go as planned, though, as 11 players expected to contribute this fall were either rehabbing from serious injuries or limited with nagging ones.
“With 11 guys out, that’s the thing that kicks you in the teeth,” Meyer said, via Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. “If everybody’s ready to go, I think you could [establish a depth chart]. But we’re not.”
The Buckeyes finished up spring practice with far more questions than answers, and with so many holes to fill, the coaching staff will need players to emerge and prove they’re ready for the spotlight this fall.
What will Ohio State’s starting lineup look like when it kicks the season off against Bowling Green on September 3?
With quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Pat Elflein and right guard Evan Lisle returning, Ohio State’s offense has its centerpiece and foundation to build around in 2016.
That process starts with rebuilding the line—which has been the heart and soul of the team since Meyer took over in 2012. Jamarco Jones secured the left tackle spot this spring, and Isaiah Prince surged to the front of the pack at right tackle.
The big surprise came at left guard, when true freshman and early enrollee Michael Jordan surpassed Demetrius Knox for first-team reps. Jordan is certainly talented—he was a 4-star prospect and the No. 127 prospect nationally—but it usually takes a first-year player (especially on the offensive line) awhile to acclimate to the speed and power at the collegiate level.
That wasn’t the case for Jordan, and because of that, he’ll be the final piece in Ohio State’s line this season.
Ohio State is also in the midst of reloading on pass-catchers after losing all three starting wide receivers (Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller) and tight end Nick Vannett to the NFL.
And while young guns such as redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson and true freshmen Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor will see the field regularly this year, Meyer will start the year with the experienced trio of Noah Brown, Corey Smith and Curtis Samuel on the perimeter, with Marcus Baugh at tight end.
That leaves the key vacancy at running back, which Ezekiel Elliott’s early departure to the NFL draft created. The Buckeyes have hung their hat on a strong, power-spread run game, and redshirt freshman Mike Weber looks like the perfect fit to fill that role. He’s quick and hard to tackle, and he complements that by finishing runs with his bruising strength.
That much was on display in the spring game, when he ran for 38 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Backup Bri’onte Dunn will be heavily involved in the rotation, but Weber will be the first back on the field.
Ohio State’s rebuild defensively starts up front as Meyer tries to identify successors for superstar defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.
Bosa‘s void is easy enough to fill with the return of Sam Hubbard, who served as his primary backup and ranked second on the team with 6.5 sacks. But the Buckeyes will get a familiar boost on the strong side when Nick Bosa, Joey’s younger brother, reports to campus and wins the backup spot in fall camp.
Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill will clog the middle at defensive tackle, and they’ll have a ton of young depth behind them with the likes of Jashon Cornell and Dre’Mont Jones in the rotation.
Returning starter and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will anchor the linebacker corps—and by extension the entire defense. Meyer and the coaching staff have already dubbed him a team captain. He was productive in his first year as a starter last year, leading the team with 119 tackles, but according to co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, it’s his leadership that sets him apart.
“[McMillan] was ready when he walked in the door, to be honest with you,” Fickell said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors.
The Buckeyes will need that leadership while they break in Chris Worley and Dante Booker as the new outside linebackers.
In the secondary, the Buckeyes need two new safeties and an outside corner to replace Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple, who all burned remaining eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
Malik Hooker looks like Ohio State’s next great safety, and he put on a show in the spring game when he intercepted a Barrett pass attempt and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. But rounding out the secondary will be a pair of high school teammates who were staples in Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class—cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith.
Both have played sparingly in backup roles throughout their careers, and they’re also coming off injuries that limited them in spring practice. But the pair should be ready to go by fall camp and complete Ohio State’s secondary.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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