COLUMBUS — The focus is solely on football again at Ohio State.
After a whirlwind, jet-setting stint on the recruiting trail for the coaches, an offseason grind in the strength program for the players and the early stages of a transition for everybody involved with the Buckeyes, finally the attention can again shift to what is done on the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Spring camp has arrived for new coach Ryan Day, and the upcoming 15 workouts are going to be of major significance as he puts his new stamp on the program and tries to build a national-title contender in his debut season. There is plenty to sort out over the next few weeks, and there will certainly be some unexpected developments that nobody could predict.
So, what answers should Ohio State be expected to find before the annual exhibition in the Horseshoe on April 13? Lettermen Row is starting the complete, wall-to-wall coverage of spring practice with Five Questions for the Buckeyes.
How will Buckeyes manage quarterback derby?
Another spring, another spotlight on the most important position on the field for the Buckeyes. Maybe this competition doesn’t quite have the overall star power or depth as some recent battles at Ohio State, and it lacks some of the entertainment value that last year’s high-stakes race provided. But Justin Fields arrives on campus as the most decorated prospect in school history, and Matthew Baldwin is fully healthy and ready to show exactly why Ryan Day coveted the Texan so much on the recruiting trail. The likely odds-on favorite will be Fields because of his reputation and athleticism, but Baldwin is more than capable of pushing for the job. It will be fascinating to see exactly how Day manages the reps, the evaluation and the decision-making process for the first time as the head man in charge.
What changes will new defensive staff make to Silver Bullets?
There have been a couple hints about what tweaks to the scheme might show up this spring. And there have also been some indications from the four new Ohio State assistants on the defensive side of the ball that a massive overhaul isn’t necessary — particularly with so many talented veterans returning for the Silver Bullets. Last year was obviously one of the most disappointing on defense in school history, though, so it’s safe to assume there will be noticeable differences about the way the Buckeyes handle their business. What does that mean at linebacker? How will Ohio State handle the approach in the secondary? There will be plenty of eyes on those new coaches as they get to work this spring.
Who will emerge as potential captains to lead Ohio State?
The process has traditionally started for the Buckeyes as soon as the previous season ends as strength coach Mickey Marotti looks for leadership traits to emerge during offseason conditioning drills. From there, the next step is handling business the correct way during spring camp, and Ohio State has some openings to take over as captains after losing a handful of key veterans. Jordan Fuller and Tuf Borland are still around on defense, so they are already established in that department. But now it will be up to guys like Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young on the defensive line, wide receivers like K.J. Hill and Austin Mack and running back J.K. Dobbins to prove they can set the tone on and off the field for the Buckeyes.
What’s going to happen on the offensive line?
Help is on the way, and the addition of Rutgers graduate transfer Jonah Jackson will be a nice boost for the Buckeyes when it comes to experience, flexibility and depth. But Jackson won’t be on campus until this summer, which makes for an interesting wrinkle to these workouts. Is it a problem that a potential starter isn’t around as the Buckeyes try to establish the best five guys up front? Might it be a silver lining that somebody else could have an opportunity this spring to get those reps at guard and maybe make a claim to a starting gig? Ohio State has to replace four full-time starters, and while it has a leg up knowing that Wyatt Davis is ready for one of them and Josh Myers was already tabbed to be the center in spring, there is still a good bit of uncertainty for such a critical unit. It gets even more tricky with Thayer Munford sitting out camp as he recovers from a hip injury, and the tackle spot bears watching as Nicholas Petit-Frere, Branden Bowen and Joshua Alabi fight to take over the position on the right side.
Who will unexpectedly develop into a future star?
Dating back to the surprising first-spring-practice unveiling of Darron Lee, Ohio State has occasionally come out of winter workouts having identified impressive potential and given those guys the opening crack at claiming a starting job. Sometimes it sticks, like it did with Darron Lee. Sometimes the early days of March don’t wind up meaning much by August. But there are potential breakout candidates in almost every unit, and if rising contributors like Teradja Mitchell at linebacker, Taron Vincent at defensive tackle or tight end Jeremy Ruckert get valuable opportunities, they might never look back. Spring is a critical proving ground, and it’s time for the Buckeyes to get to work.
Stick with Lettermen Row for complete coverage of spring ball, which opens at Ohio State on Wednesday morning.