COLUMBUS — The Ohio State quarterback battle was always going to dominate storylines in spring camp.
As the Buckeyes continue to evaluate who gives them the best chance to win a national championship in the post-Justin Fields quarterback room, all signs point to C.J. Stroud being the leader. But that competition is far from over inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“This was just a very small glimpse at a bunch of guys taking some reps,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said after the spring game. “There’s a body of work that needs to be built from that first spring practice all the way through the first game that’s still yet to be written.
“They’ve learned a lot, but now the race is on over the next few months to see who can make the next stride so they’re further along. Spring has been good, but there’s still a long way to go before Minnesota.”
The quarterbacks — Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord — certainly have plenty to work on before the Buckeyes kick off against Minnesota on Sept. 2. But the rest of the Ohio State roster is littered with intriguing position battles that will help define whether it can return to the national title game. Lettermen Row is breaking down four non-quarterback position battles to keep an eye on into the summer.
Ohio State must solidify interior offensive line in loaded competition
The Buckeyes have two of the best returning tackles in the country. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere will anchor the outside of the offensive line. Paris Johnson Jr. will almost assuredly start at a guard spot. But that still leaves two offensive line openings, and there is plenty of talent to plug those gaps.
Harry Miller is a returning starter who is expected to slide to center. But as he was held out of spring practice due to injury, other options emerged. Matthew Jones continues to look impressive as a veteran presence. He filled in for Miller last year at guard and performed well. Second-year players — guard Josh Fryar and center/guard Luke Wypler — have both shown they are more than capable of helping the Ohio State line perform at a Joe Moore Award level. As the summer begins and the Buckeyes barrel toward fall camp, the interior of the offensive line will need sorted out. The Buckeyes have a lot of depth and multiple capable starters.
Starting slot cornerback job still up for grabs
The Buckeyes had problems in their secondary last season, causing the pass defense to rank No. 122 in the country. Part of that was the loss of key players to injury, and part of it was playing different members of the back end where they weren’t comfortable. It seems Ohio State now has three options to step up in the slot and man the third cornerback duties.
Veteran Marcus Williamson, who played in the role last season, is an option to take control of that job in the fall. He’s been around the program longer than the other two and has seemingly gotten better every year. But Lathan Ransom continued to improve as a freshman last season, and if the Buckeyes want the best 11 defensive players on the field, Ransom should be part of the equation. Then there’s Cameron Martinez, another second-year option. Martinez didn’t find the field much last year but broke out in spring camp and is rising up the depth chart. Ohio State has three capable slot cornerbacks.
Six elite running backs battling for Buckeyes rushing duties
The Ohio State running back room may be the deepest and most talented running back grouping in the country. The Buckeyes return four productive and capable backs from a season ago. Master Teague is the incumbent, a starter who played in each of the last two seasons. Steele Chambers is still pushing for carries in Year Three in the program. Miyan Williams has a chance to become the bell-cow back with his bowling-ball style of running. He’ll certainly be in the mix. Marcus Crowley seems to be cutting better and is fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in 2019.
And then the freshmen arrived. Both Evan Pryor and TreVeyon Henderson are top-100 prospects who now have a full spring under their belts. Henderson appears more game-ready as a freshman, but he’ll have to prove he’s better than Teague, Crowley, Williams and other backs to earn the bulk of the carries. As the Buckeyes break in a new quarterback this fall, the running back spot will be crucial for the offense. And it’s a loaded room with a bevy of options.
Buckeyes defensive tackle opening creates intrigue
Ohio State received a mix of good and bad news in the early stages of the offseason. All-American interior defensive lineman Haskell Garrett announced his intention to return for one final season. But Tommy Togiai decided to leave the program and pursue his NFL dreams, leaving a hole in the Buckeyes defensive front. But legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson always has a pipeline of capable defensive linemen ready to step in.
Garrett will receive a lot of attention, meaning the interior lineman beside him may have plenty of opportunities to make plays. Sixth-year veteran Antwuan Jackson and former five-star Taron Vincent have been impressive through spring camp, but the job isn’t theirs yet. Converted defensive end Noah Potter looks like he’s put on weight and is vying for that spot. Jerron Cage is a veteran who earned playing time late last year. Darrion Henry-Young, Jacolbe Cowan and Ty Hamilton will also have their chance. Tyler Friday even has a body type that could translate well on the inside.
The Buckeyes are loaded along the defensive line. They’ll just have to sort through the talent to find the best complementary player to line up beside Garrett.