COLUMBUS — The first phase of the offseason grind back to football is over at Ohio State.
The Ryan Day Era has already been underway for two months with the Buckeyes, but it will start to feel more real when the whistle is around his neck, his players have pads on and he’s the guy picking the entire depth chart.
Spring Camp has arrived, and it’s important for far more than just being a distraction until the brutal summer months make the wait for the return of football insufferable.
Ohio State has plenty to do over the next 15 workouts, starting on Wednesday morning and building up to the exhibition in the Horseshoe on April 13. Lettermen Row will have complete coverage all along the way, including from a couple practices that will be open to the media as Day has loosened some restrictions at the start of his tenure.
That should allow for keeping closer tabs on the status of these predictions as practice kicks off. And here is what Lettermen Row is forecasting in five key areas.
Ohio State won’t officially name a starting quarterback
The expectations were enormous enough already for Justin Fields without having his name listed as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and there was obviously good reason for the celebration at Ohio State when he picked the program and was cleared for instant eligibility. Fields is the highest-rated recruit in the history of the program, and he has the ability to keep evolving Day’s offense the way Dwayne Haskins did last year in record-setting fashion. But the first step is simply winning the starting job, and Matthew Baldwin isn’t going to be a pushover. Baldwin is a hand-picked recruit of Day, he’s had a year to learn the system and he also brings a huge arm to the position. It will be fascinating to see if Ohio State wants to make a pick by the middle of April or if Day wants to have a battle all the way through training camp — but the early guess is he’ll side with an extended competition.
Teradja Mitchell will emerge at linebacker
A healthy Tuf Borland can be a real asset to the Buckeyes given his experience, hard-nosed tackling and selfless approach. But if Ohio State is truly wiping the slate clean at linebacker after two years of struggles and taking a fresh look at the talent on hand, it might be hard to ignore the enormous upside Teradja Mitchell brings to the position. Not all of the changes to the system with the new defensive coaching staff are immediately clear, so it may take some time before the Buckeyes really get a feel for what they’ll be doing at the second level of the defense. But after a year of development largely on the sideline, Mitchell has the look of a player who needs to be in the plans.
Rushmen will set the leadership tone
Ohio State remains loaded with respected veterans who are also big-time playmakers at wide receiver, so that unit can again make a push as the most important in leading the program despite losing three captains. But it might be time for the defensive line to take that torch with so many potential captains lining up for the Rushmen. Jonathon Cooper is already a heart-and-soul guy for the Buckeyes, Robert Landers is one of the team’s best personalities and Chase Young is poised to add more responsibility to his plate off the field as he continues to rise on it. Beyond those guys, there’s an overflowing cupboard of talent at defensive tackle and respected youngsters like Tyreke Smith pushing to make the Ohio State defensive line the best in America.
Branden Bowen will claim a starting job
This is a bit of a hedge without picking an exact role for Branden Bowen as he returns after consecutive seasons were derailed by a leg injury. Bowen is intent on proving that he can be a building block at tackle, and that’s where he’ll go into spring competing for a starting job alongside Joshua Alabi and Nicholas Petit-Frere. But he also shined previously in his career at guard, and if Ohio State starts to get an indication that Petit-Frere might be ready for that role, it could potentially encourage it to slide Bowen back to the interior before transfer Jonah Jackson arrives this summer. No matter what happens, expect to see Bowen listed at the top of the depth chart somewhere heading into the summer.
Garrett Wilson will be spring game MVP
Sure, the early enrollee hasn’t even taken a single snap in practice yet. Yes, Ohio State will want to tap the brakes on some of this sort of buzz with the five-star recruit. No, the transition to the college game isn’t easy. But Garrett Wilson has everything the program could ever want in a wide receiver, and it also happens to be replacing three veterans from that unit this spring. Considering that guys like Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill aren’t going to need many reps in the spring game and the format tends to lend itself toward airing out the football, Wilson’s off-the-charts athleticism and the number of snaps he’s probably going to get could give him the spotlight in the Shoe. So, get ready, because the hype train is about to pick up even more steam.
Stick with Lettermen Row for complete coverage of spring ball, which opens at Ohio State on Wednesday morning.