COLUMBUS — Third-year players nearly won Ohio State a national title last season.
Members of the 2017 recruiting class included Jeff Okudah, Chase Young and J.K. Dobbins, and all three are off to the NFL Draft after helping lead the Buckeyes to a College Football Playoff appearance.
Third-year players are going to have to do some heavy lifting for the Buckeyes again next season. Dobbins will probably be replaced by a third-year player. So will Young and Okudah. All three spots will likely be filled by members of the Ohio State recruiting class of 2018. The departing members of the Fiesta Bowl team won’t be easy to replace for the Buckeyes. But that 2018 recruiting cycle saw the Buckeyes grab the No. 2 class and enjoy one of the best groups of players the program has ever brought in a single cycle.
As the Buckeyes enter the weightlifting portion of the offseason and Mickey Marotti begins to go to work on their strength program, Lettermen Row is breaking down five third-year Buckeyes who are due for a big spring and ultimately, a huge season next year.
RB Master Teague
It’s not every year that one of the greatest running backs in Ohio State program history needs to be replaced. Next year is one of those seasons. J.K. Dobbins had one of the most brilliant careers in Ohio State history, and now Master Teague is the leader to take a huge step and fill his shoes next season. Teague took a positive step toward that last season, finishing sixth in the Big Ten with 789 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. But when the competition got tougher, Teague struggled to gain more than a few yards. The Buckeyes are going to need a running back to complement what Justin Fields and the wide receivers can do in the passing game next season. Teague is the leader to replace Dobbins and become that back, but it’s going to take a big offseason to do so.
DE Tyreke Smith
Tyreke Smith has been long tabbed as the replacement for Chase Young. He is expected to be the next dominant Rushman to come from the Larry Johnson tree. This offseason can be the start of Smith’s transformation into a dominant pass-rusher. Now that Young is gone, Smith will line up opposite of Jonathon Cooper and a talented stable of defensive ends. But again, the expectations are that Smith will be the best pass-rusher on the Silver Bullets defense. Ohio State has a rich tradition of incredible defensive ends. If Smith is next in line, this offseason is going to be huge for his development. The Buckeyes could use his talent to fill the hole Young will leave.
OL Nicholas Petit-Frere
Nicholas Petit-Frere competed for a starting spot last season. Senior tackle Branden Bowen won the right tackle job, and Petit-Frere became the a reliable backup before having to flip and play left tackle against Northwestern for his first career start. When he started at left tackle, Petit-Frere held his own. Now with some game experience to his name, Petit-Frere is finally at a weight Ohio State wanted him to be at this offseason, and he can begin to focus on taking over at right tackle for Bowen, who graduated. Justin Fields can again be a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback if he is given time to throw. He had time last season, and now Petit-Frere needs a good offseason to earn the spot protecting Fields for another big season next year.
CB Cameron Brown, CB Sevyn Banks
As Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah both leave Columbus and head to the NFL, Ohio State will have two new cornerbacks when it opens the season in September. Shaun Wade will be the headliner of the secondary for the Buckeyes as the only starter returning to a dominant defense from last season. Cameron Brown became the third outside cornerback for the Buckeyes as the season went on and made plays in his little playing time against Ohio State’s best opponents. Sevyn Banks found the field sparingly when the Buckeyes had a lead, but he got his hands on the ball with an interception. Both will have to see expanded roles next season as Ohio State excepts to continue excellence in the secondary that dominated so many teams last year.
DB Josh Proctor
The explosive nature of Josh Proctor’s hit during the final play of the Big Ten title game on Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan is enough to resonate all offseason and get Ohio State excited for the future. Proctor has long been talked about as somebody who has a knack for getting his hands on the ball and creating turnovers in practice. He dropped a few interceptions and caught one last season. Now as the primary safety to replace Jordan Fuller, Proctor will need to improve and build off the positive momentum gained from last year, using it for a huge offseason ahead.