Six sophomores who could surge for Buckeyes this spring

Spencer Holbrook7 months
Cody Simon By Birm-Lettermen Row
Cody Simon found his way onto the field on special teams last year. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — The sophomores at Ohio State don’t know what a normal offseason looks like.

Even the members of the class of 2020 who enrolled early last year didn’t have a feel for an offseason, especially after the pandemic wiped out nearly all of spring practice last year and forced a shutdown of the football facility on multiple occasions.

So with few practices, weight-room sessions and film studies in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last year, the program is re-shuffling and re-evaluating how to go through spring practice this month and into April — which is still a work in progress after the team paused activities on Tuesday.

“We’re definitely going to look at a different spring model on how we go about it,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said last month. “I’m going to try to do as many game-like situations as possible, for sure. Also the way that the season ended a little later here, we have no spring break, so it’s going to be a little bit different. We’re still working through that and how we’re going to organize it. I think we have the weeks that we’re going to be working pretty much nailed down, but we’ll finalize that over the next week or so.”

The Buckeyes just got a fresh reminder that this offseason still won’t be normal. But spring practice is still slated to begin March 19, and it’ll be a chance for the sophomores who were shorted practice sessions a year ago to gain many much-needed reps.

Lettermen Row is diving into the class of 2020 and examining five breakout candidates from the Buckeyes sophomores.

C.J. Stroud-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud played a snap in the Sugar Bowl. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

QB C.J. Stroud

Unless five-star freshman Kyle McCord can wow everyone inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the Buckeyes will be starting a sophomore quarterback. Will that be C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller? This spring will go a long way in finding out the answer to that question, and a battle is set to begin this spring between the two sophomore signal-callers. Stroud is a former five-star prospect. Miller was a four-star. Both have plenty of talent to make a leap and take control of the Ohio State offense. Stroud was the backup for Justin Fields last season, which was apparent when he went in for Fields during the Sugar Bowl and took a snap. Stroud gives the Buckeyes the best chance to win a national title. He has a chance to prove that this spring.

LB Cody Simon

After losing four starters to graduation, Ohio State now needs a new crop of linebackers to fill the void. Second-year linebacker Cody Simon could be the perfect fit. Simon turned heads as a freshman last season and made a good impression during his first year on campus. A former top-100 player, Simon is in a room with three rising seniors who have waited their turn for playing time, as well as some other veterans who are fighting for playing time. But Simon has a chance to have an impressive spring and make his move up the depth chart.

Paris Johnson-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Paris Johnson earned snaps in the national title game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

OL Paris Johnson

One of the highest-rated members of the class, Paris Johnson pushed Nicolas Petit-Frere for playing time at right tackle as a true freshman last season. Now with both tackles returning for the Buckeyes offensive line, Johnson could slide in and play guard for one of the country’s best offensive lines before eventually making a transition back out to tackle in the future. Johnson has all the tools to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft when that time comes, and he could flash some versatility by winning a starting guard spot in Year Two with the program. Either way, he’ll find his way on the field this fall.

DB Kourt Williams

Kourt Williams had plans of making an impact during his freshman season. Those plans were derailed when Williams tore his ACL in October during preseason camp. Now after a year with the program and months into his rehabilitation, Williams is on track to begin his playing career at Ohio State this season. Williams may not be fully ready to go for the onset of spring practice, but when he finds his spot in the defense post-injury, he’ll be ready to showcase what made him such a coveted recruit for the Buckeyes in the 2020 class.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Jaxon Smith-Njigba made an impact on the Buckeyes offense last season. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba

The star trio of wide receivers assembled by Brian Hartline has now been with him for a full year. After a weird year full of pauses due to the pandemic, limited number of practices and games and other distractions, the trio of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming and Gee Scott Jr. could all three emerge as top options behind Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave for the Ohio State offense. Of the trio, Smith-Njigba was the most college-ready, and that showed on the field. He’ll still have that advantage heading into the spring, and he will emerge as the No. 3 option for a new quarterback for the Buckeyes.

DB Lathan Ransom

Of the freshmen who received playing time during their first year, Lathan Ransom may have made the most of his. Ransom didn’t enroll early last spring and still somehow clawed his way up the depth chart, becoming a big piece of the Ohio State defense late in the season. The safety from Arizona continued to get better last year and provided a glimpse of hope for the future of the secondary that struggled at times. If he takes another step forward this spring, he could be a breakout star in the Ohio State secondary.

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