COLUMBUS — The definitive answers about the first Ohio State team under Ryan Day are still a month away.
But after a long offseason full of questions about the depth chart, the new coaching staff and what the schemes might look like this season for the Buckeyes, now they actually get to settle all that on the field instead of talking about it.
August certainly is setting up to be a busy month for the program and its new leader, and the high-stakes pressure for a potential College Football Playoff contender only adds to the intrigue. What kind of product can Day deliver as he takes over for Urban Meyer? Is Justin Fields ready to fill the shoes of the Heisman Trophy finalist who played quarterback for the Buckeyes last year? Can the Silver Bullets live up to the program’s rich tradition again coming off the defensive debacles of a year ago?
All will be revealed soon enough as the Buckeyes hit the practice field on Friday. But to get ready for the month of training camp ahead, Lettermen Row is looking into the crystal ball and making five predictions for what will shake out during practice.
Justin Fields will officially be the starter within two weeks
Ohio State has made it quite clear throughout the spring and summer that no decision has been made about the starting quarterback and there will be a legitimate competition in camp. Day even reiterated at Big Ten Media Days that Fields still hadn’t earned the job and wasn’t going to just have it handed to the former five-star recruit based solely on his reputation.
Day’s approach makes sense, and he’s right not to rush a decision. But it seems pretty obvious that Fields will eventually be the guy. There probably won’t be any need to string the issue along deep into camp as his dual-threat athleticism is put on display again in an offense that he should get more comfortable with after every practice. Ohio State has a scrimmage scheduled for Aug. 10, and the expectation here is that will be the one that provides clarity and allows the program to move forward with a leader at the most important position on the roster.
Teradja Mitchell will win Ohio State middle linebacker job
The Buckeyes are blessed with two solid options to handle the key role in the heart of the defense, and it’s a distinct possibility that they will leave camp with the intention of rotating them both in the lineup. Tuf Borland is a respected captain, he’s experienced after starting for two years in the Big Ten and he should be able to get back to his old game-changing ways after playing all of last season at less than full speed. But Teradja Mitchell is the future of the position, and it feels like he’s ready to explode in training camp.
Mitchell was already one of the most impressive players during spring ball, and his physical gifts are impossible to ignore. He’s still inexperienced, and Mitchell simply won’t win a head-to-head comparison with Borland in that department — which is a significant mark in favor of the veteran. Virtually every other sign, though, points to Mitchell being the guy to take over in the middle. And the next four weeks should strengthen his claim to the spot.
Ohio State finds spot for Branden Bowen
At a minimum, Branden Bowen can be one of the most valuable members of the offensive line as the sixth man. Bowen’s ability to play either guard or tackle makes him a wonderful security blanket for the Buckeyes up front — but a starting job shouldn’t be ruled out for him now that he’s finally healthy after two years of dealing with a leg injury.
It feels pretty safe to project Nicholas Petit-Frere into the spot at right tackle given the spring he had as he started tapping into his five-star potential. And it certainly seems like Rutgers graduate transfer Jonah Jackson was brought in with the intention of him starting at left guard. But Bowen has the potential to compete for both of those roles, and considering all the motivation he’s pouring into his final season with the program, he’s going to be relentless in the competition during training camp. The tackle job might not fit him, but Bowen could reclaim a starting role at guard instead.
Second-year offensive weapons make leap for Buckeyes
Both tight end Jeremy Ruckert and H-back Jaelen Gill arrived with plenty of fanfare last season, and both wound up needing a season to acclimate to the rigors of playing at Ohio State. But that transition period is over, and expect to hear those two names consistently over the next four weeks for the Buckeyes.
The path to playing time is a little more clear for Ruckert since there simply aren’t as many competitors at the position and the coaching staff is planning to use more two tight-end sets. But he’s also been mentioned as a candidate to play some at the versatile H-back spot given his skills as a receiver. That spot is equally intriguing with Gill because of his ability as a rusher as Ohio State works in a few jet sweeps in a package with the quarterback under center. Both have incredible upside as playmakers, and their chance to impact the game for the Buckeyes is coming soon.
Damon Arnette keeps his starting job
Yes, Damon Arnette has been inconsistent during his career, the talent pool at cornerback is deep and young guys like Shaun Wade and Tyreke Johnson are pushing for more snaps.
No, Arnette isn’t a guy who should be written off for the Buckeyes, and his decision to put off the NFL for another season with the program should provide a real boost for the secondary.
With Arnette’s physical tools, experience and clean slate with a new position coach, he has the ability to be a shutdown cornerback in the Ohio State secondary. It might be the arrival of Jeff Hafley that really pushes Arnette over the top after the struggles last season when the Buckeyes clearly weren’t operating at the same level following the loss of decorated position coach Kerry Coombs. Given his track record, Hafley should get the most out of Arnette, and the Buckeyes can expand the rotation alongside him and Jeffrey Okudah to get those other talented defensive backs on the field as well.