COLUMBUS — Ohio State has a set standard to meet every fall.
Last year, that simply wasn’t met. And the Buckeyes know that. So as they entered this offseason, Ryan Day, his coaching staff and everyone in the building knew they needed to get better just to reach the ultra-high bar needed to be at Ohio State.
The roster was admittedly young last season, littered with promising playmakers earning playing time for the first time at the highest level of college football. So as most of them return for another year, they enter the offseason with experience — both on and off the field.
The on-field product should improve. The leadership off the field might take an even bigger leap forward.
“When you have a team who has the experience we have coming back, now you can put some more focus on leadership,” Day said this spring. “That’s what happened in the second half of the Rose Bowl, the leadership stepped up at halftime. We didn’t have that in the [Michigan] game. That’s just the truth. … So that’s that’s been a focus and identification. I think we’ve really made a lot of progress there.
“But the proof will be in the pudding moving forward.”
Who will help prove Ohio State has improved on leadership and on-field production this offseason and into the fall? Lettermen Row is breaking down Five Buckeyes who are stepping into much larger roles as they hope to get back to the championship standard after a year away from it.
DT Taron Vincent
The former five-star prospect has been expecting a breakout season for the last three years. Taron Vincent began to show signs of his special talent last season after two years of injuries. Now entering his fifth season in the program, Vincent has a clear path to being a starter on the defensive line, and he could be one of the stars of the defensive front. His impressive six-tackle Rose Bowl performance provided Vincent with a springboard for the offseason. With Haskell Garrett gone to the NFL and the Buckeyes in need of veteran defensive linemen, Taron Vincent’s last season with the Buckeyes certainly has a chance to be his best yet.
OG Matthew Jones
It’s finally Matthew Jones turn to become a mainstay on the offensive line at Ohio State. Jones arrived at Ohio State as the top center in the country from the class of 2018, but the Buckeyes have repeatedly been loaded at the position since then. Jones has the skills to play both guard spots and inside at center, but he is officially settling in at right guard between returning starters Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler. Jones has already proven he can be one of the best offensive linemen on the roster — he showed it every time he earned a start in relief duty for injured starters. Now the challenge for Jones is to keep that starting spot, get better this summer and consistently dominate on Saturdays this fall.
LB Tommy Eichenberg
In a defense that struggled a season ago, Tommy Eichenberg became one of the promising new starters at linebacker. Eichenberg was second on the Buckeyes roster with 64 total tackles. He had 6.5 tackles for loss, an interception, a fumble recovery and even two pass-breakups. Even after a breakout season, Eichenberg has consistently been named as one of the top performers this offseason by the coaching staff. He is a leader of the defense and could end up as one of the Buckeyes team captains this fall. Eichenberg has a massive opportunity to become a superstar at linebacker in the new and improved defense. Don’t bet against him making that happen.
TE Cade Stover
Cade Stover was doing just fine as a position-less player flipping back and forth between tight end and linebacker. But now that the coaching staff has allowed him to stay in the offensive meeting rooms, he can settle in with the tight end and carve out a permanent role for the Buckeyes. After playing linebacker in the Rose Bowl, Stover spent nearly all spring with the offense, making his presence known as a willing blocker who has the ability to help out in the passing game. Stover is the most physical option for the Buckeyes. As he gets a full offseason at tight end, he has a chance to take over for Jeremy Ruckert and become the next in line of Buckeyes tight ends to end up in the NFL.
DT Jerron Cage
While all the attention this offseason has been on the rise young defensive tackles such as Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall, Jerron Cage’s return for a final season will provide a huge boost to the Buckeyes front. It’s hard to forget the incredible scoop-and-score touchdown, but Cage was much more than just a one-highlight player for the Buckeyes last season. He had four tackles for loss along with a sack, providing Ohio State with quality depth where it needed some. Now with another offseason and one final year ahead of him, Cage has a chance to leave his mark on the defensive line room. He’ll need to play a bigger role for the Buckeyes to get back to the Silver Bullet standard.