COLUMBUS — It’s never too late to have an impact at Ohio State.
Plenty of Buckeyes don’t make huge plays until later in their careers. Some have roles that expand with age. Not every Ohio State player can step in and make plays instantly. It takes time.
For some of the Buckeyes, they’ve been on the field and had plenty of experience on the road to the College Football Playoff. Their time has already come, but now they must step in and become the true leaders of their units. Others are planning to be late bloomers, finding the field in the next run at a national title.
The time to make the leap is never too late, but fourth-year players are getting close to running out of it. Lettermen Row is looking at five fourth-year Buckeyes who are either going to step into larger roles than they previously had or are looking to finally get their crack at the rotational play-making role.
Thayer Munford has been taking steps toward becoming a dominant left tackle in each of the last two seasons. Now, it’s time to leap into another category. With plenty of starting experience heading into last season, it was thought that Munford might have a great year and leave Ohio State for the NFL Draft. He missed time due to an injury and played some of the season while still nursing that injury. With another offseason in Mickey Marotti’s strength program and more than six months remaining to master his position, Munford can be a true cornerstone of the Ohio State offensive line that is returning three starters — and they all could be high draft choices if next season goes according to plan.
Haskell Garrett hasn’t had the career he hoped for at Ohio State. Whether it was the logjam at defensive tackle or minor injury setbacks, Garrett just hasn’t been able to find the role on the defensive interior he wanted. That can change next season with a good offseason. Ohio State has plenty of openings for Garrett; Robert Landers, Jashon Cornell and DaVon Hamilton graduated and are no longer with the program. That means Garrett has to step into a large role alongside Tommy Togiai, Taron Vincent, Antwuan Jackson and the incoming freshmen. Togiai is slated to have a breakout season, and Garrett can join him with a good showing at spring camp.
Baron Browning came to Ohio State with expectations that would have been hard to match no matter how good his career was. But toward the end of last season, he began to live up to all the hype that surrounded him when he came to the Buckeyes as a five-star recruit from Texas. Browning was a Swiss army knife last season. He dropped back when needed, he stopped the run and he certainly rushed the passer. With Malik Harrison off to the NFL, Browning decided to return to Ohio State, and now he could have a true breakout season. All the tools he showed in spurts last year can be deployed in their entirety with another year of work. Alongside Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and a talented stable of linebackers behind him, Browning is due for a big spring — and a big season next year.
Jeff Okudah got all the love in the secondary last season. Damon Arnette’s story of returning for another season was incredible with the way he played. And then there was Shaun Wade, who quietly became a glue for the Ohio State defense, holding it together, and when he wasn’t on the field, the Buckeyes struggled at times against Michigan and Clemson. Now, Okudah and Arnette are gone to the NFL, while Wade made the decision to return to make a name for himself as a lock-down cornerback. So that’s what he’s tasked with doing. It’s unknown exactly what role Wade will play. He’s versatile enough to blitz the passer and make plays as a roaming defensive back. He’s gifted enough to shut wide receivers down in both the slot and on the outside. No matter where he plays, he has to take another step this offseason to become a true No. 1 cornerback for Kerry Coombs and the Buckeyes.
If Demario McCall is going to find a role for the Buckeyes, this offseason will be his final chance to find a spot on the field that expands beyond just watching kickoffs sail over his head for touchbacks. McCall”s underwhelming career has been full of optimism and expectations, but those have never come together for a role within the offense aside from the occasional handoff to spell the running backs. And that might not change. The Buckeyes have a deep stable of running backs, and they’ll likely use most of them. If McCall plans on being part of next season’s offense, he needs to have a good camp.