COLUMBUS — Ohio State can’t get the real games back.
Half of those meaningful, live-action reps that are so critical for the developmental experience of the roster were wiped away last fall, and there’s no real replacement for them. But the Buckeyes are going to at least try to replicate the situations and get as close as possible this spring, because it really has no other option as the offense looks to reload after losing a handful of critical contributors.
That process obviously starts at quarterback. But every unit at Ohio State has areas that will be under the microscope when practice resumes later this month, and Ryan Day wants to see what he has in a full-speed setting.
“We’re definitely going to look at a different spring model on how we go about it,” Day said last month. “I’m going to try to do as many game-like situations as possible, for sure. Also the way that the season ended a little later here, we have no spring break, so it’s going to be a little bit different.
“What a great opportunity this spring to have these guys go compete. We’re going to try to do the best we can to simulate games this spring to get a feel for where these guys are at.”
The Buckeyes haven’t publicly confirmed the plans yet for how that camp will be structured, though it is again expected to include 15 workouts and could potentially have more than one scrimmage in the Horseshoe based on how Day handled training camp last fall. But either way, it’s already clear what the most pressing questions will be for Ohio State on offense, and Lettermen Row is breaking them down as the spring preview series begins on that side of the football.
Who will emerge at quarterback for Ohio State?
Nothing is more pressing for the Buckeyes than filling the vacancy at the most important position on the roster, and the urgency only ramps up because of the lack of experience and the incredibly large shoes Justin Fields is leaving behind after his prolific two-year stint leading the attack. Ohio State is picking from three of the most talented prospects in the country, so talent isn’t a concern at all for Day as he evaluates his options. But C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and early enrollee Kyle McCord have combined to attempt zero passes at the collegiate level, and that’s never a situation that will make a coaching staff feel comfortable.
Stroud should have a slight edge heading into camp after pulling ahead of Miller for the backup spot last year, but that could certainly change depending on what happens in the simulated games over the next two months. The Buckeyes want every position to get meaningful reps during spring, but that’s obviously far more important at quarterback. There is legitimate national-title potential everywhere else in the lineup, but winning one is still going to require high-level production from the passer. McCord has the ability to push for the job, but even one year around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is a decent head start for Stroud and Miller.
How will Buckeyes handle tailback workload?
The return of so many veteran starters elsewhere on offense really narrows the focus to the Ohio State backfield, and the competition at tailback is going to be fierce now that record-setting rusher Trey Sermon is off to the NFL. The Buckeyes have an experienced option in Master Teague, but they’ve also probably seen the ceiling for what he can provide and might be more inclined to take long looks at the skilled guys pushing behind him.
Miyan Williams unleashed his bowling-ball style late in the season and proved he can handle the role during his limited chances. Marcus Crowley finally got fully healthy at the end of the year, and the coaching staff had enough confidence in the once-overlooked recruit to put him on the field in the national title game. Then there’s the arrival of five-star phenom TreVeyon Henderson and his versatile, four-star classmate Evan Pryor — and both of them could be factors right away. Henderson has been turning heads for a while and looks physically ready to contribute on Day One, but the Buckeyes won’t rush to a decision on a depth chart or a rotation with plenty of time to let the battle play out on the practice field.
Can Buckeyes find another second option at tight end?
Bringing back arguably the nation’s best overall tight end is a fantastic building block, so Ohio State can’t have any complaints with Jeremy Ruckert leading the unit. But considering how frequently the Buckeyes have deployed two-tight end sets over the last couple years, the loss of Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann will add some intrigue to see how the coaching staff elects to move forward.
The spotlight will be on Cade Stover, and he clearly has the tools Ohio State wants and the mentality it needs from somebody at the position. It feels like a relatively safe bet that Stover will emerge as the complementary piece to Ruckert, although Joe Royer has had a year to develop and freshman Sam Hart has a shot to show what he can do early. Farrell’s consistency and reliability were probably under-appreciated outside of the program, but Ohio State is fully aware that filling that void will be key for the success of the offense moving forward.