COLUMBUS — The work on the practice field previously obviously helped, and Ohio State was planning to get Brendon White more involved down the stretch no matter what.
But the Buckeyes surely weren’t expecting a key new contributor to emerge this late in the season at such a critical position. And it also required circumstances that couldn’t have been anticipated with an injury and an ejection leaving the secondary without both of its starting safeties last week against Nebraska.
The emergence of White, though, has opened the door to speculation that the Buckeyes might have more guys primed for a November surprise hidden away in that stockpile of touted recruits. So, who else could potentially help Ohio State as it tries to get rolling down the stretch and win the Big Ten?
With the caveat that sweeping changes to personnel obviously aren’t the norm, here are the Lettermen Row picks for a handful of candidates who could possibly see expanded roles in the weeks ahead for Ohio State.
OG Wyatt Davis
Program insiders who have watched the redshirt freshman work in practice have been raving about Davis dating back to spring practice. Big, physical and improving technically, for whatever reason Davis didn’t get talked about much as an option at guard during training camp — and still didn’t get a shot to help even when the Buckeyes appeared to be struggling midseason on the interior of the line. Ohio State seems to be recognizing what Davis can bring to the offense now, though, and he made the most of his limited action as an extra blocker in a jumbo red-zone package last week against Nebraska. That might be the start of something bigger for the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder.
LB Teradja Mitchell
Despite its status as perhaps the most embattled unit on the team, the linebackers haven’t tinkered much with different personnel combinations to spark the defense. The starters all bring solid tools to the table, and it’s possible that the issue might be more tied to scheme than anything else. But using what happened at safety as a guide, it’s fair to at least wonder why a freshman like Teradja Mitchell who has turned heads since August hasn’t at least had a couple snaps to show what he could provide for Ohio State as a hard-hitting tackler. And he’s also not alone at that position as a candidate to offer a boost.
LB Keandre Jones
Now deep into his junior season, Keandre Jones isn’t exactly a newcomer early in the development process who might require a bit of patience. Jones knows the system, he’s been hailed by teammates as a leader and clearly brings a jolt of energy on special teams. Usually those three factors tend to get players a shot at their position, but that hasn’t really happened for Jones at this point. Could that change after blocking the punt against Nebraska? It has to be on the table for the Buckeyes.
TE Jeremy Ruckert
The Buckeyes are getting serviceable work from the tight ends, and the offense as a whole is having no problems racking up passing yards or lighting up the scoreboard. But when it comes to upside as a target from that position, Ruckert just seems to have the skills to operate at a different level in that regard. And now that he’s showing some ability as a blocker, the Buckeyes are starting to ramp up his usage and get the nation’s top recruit at tight end more snaps — and that should only increase down the stretch.
DT Haskell Garrett
There are a number of youngsters Ohio State has needed to rely on throughout the season thanks to a rash of injuries on the defensive line, so the list of candidates here goes well beyond just Haskell Garrett on the inside of the unit. But for some reason, it just feels like the sophomore often goes overlooked in terms of his potential. And maybe Garrett also gets lost in the shuffle as the Buckeyes rotate through linemen and try to get the production ramped back up in the trenches again. He showed during his opportunities against Nebraska that he can help change a game, and Garrett might be poised now late in his second season to become a consistent contributor.