COLUMBUS — The need for watch lists, predictions and every other form of endless offseason debate is finally coming to an end. It’s time for Ohio State to go to work.
The Buckeyes will open training camp on Friday, kicking off a busy month of practices that will settle position battles and set the tone for another potential run to the Big Ten championship. Urban Meyer is heading into his seventh year in charge of the program, and this might just be the most talented team he’s assembled — and he’s already won a national title with Ohio State, so that’s obviously a mouthful.
But that’s still all just a projection at this point, and it won’t mean much without the Buckeyes maximizing their abilities on the practice field. And, of course, there are still several key questions that will need to be answered ahead of the opener against Oregon State on Sept. 1.
What are they? I’m glad you asked.
Is Dwayne Haskins ready for Ohio State spotlight?
The most important starting job on the roster belongs to Dwayne Haskins, and now it’s his turn to show why he’s the right guy to handle it and move the power-spread offense forward at quarterback. For all of J.T. Barrett’s numerous, incredible accomplishments, he still couldn’t escape some criticism about his arm strength and Ohio State’s relative inability to connect on deep balls. There’s never been any question about Haskins in that department, but it remains to be seen whether he can bring the same type of leadership, poise and command of the attack that Barrett had over the last few years. This is, undoubtedly, going to be a critical August for Haskins — and those Heisman Trophy whispers.
Where does Tate Martell fit into plans?
There is no clear-cut solution at this point for getting Tate Martell involved as much as Ohio State might want this season, which means the month will be just as important for the backup quarterback as the starter. The Buckeyes obviously need Martell prepared to take over the offense if something were to happen to Haskins either through injury or performance, and that might be a factor that actually works against the redshirt freshman being worked into designated packages that take advantage of his game-breaking athleticism. Ohio State only has three scholarship quarterbacks, and Matthew Baldwin is coming off a significant knee injury that prematurely ended his final season in high school. How the coaching staff decides to proceed with Martell will be fascinating.
Can the linebackers take a step forward for Ohio State?
At some point, the Buckeyes are expecting a boost from the return of Tuf Borland from the Achilles injury he suffered during spring camp. But the middle linebacker won’t be ready in time for camp, which means Ohio State will be rolling out three new starters for a unit that didn’t quite live up to the program’s high standards last season. Maybe that could be a positive as Malik Harrison, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Keandre Jones try to prove themselves and build the kind of fearsome group of tacklers that Ohio State has been known for traditionally. The pressure is on for some guys that are inexperienced, but based on the recruiting rankings, definitely qualified to make an impact.
What does Brian Hartline bring to Zone 6?
Shaking up the coaching staff less than two weeks before the start of training camp definitely isn’t ideal. But there was actually a pretty clear silver lining for Ohio State in this case, because it didn’t have to look for to find a replacement who might be tailor-fitted for the job leading the wide receivers. Brian Hartline knows the program inside and out as both a former player and quality control assistant, he brings NFL experience as a wideout and he’s got the relentless work ethic and personality needed to be a successful recruiter. He also inherited the deepest position group on the team, which should allow Hartline to prove himself and eventually shed the interim tag and become a full-time assistant.
How will Ohio State line up on the offensive line?
On paper, this is clearly the deepest group of blockers that Meyer has had with the Buckeyes. And for maybe the first time, that should make the battle for playing time in the trenches an intriguing competition to watch. The most likely outcome heading into camp is Thayer Munford taking over at left tackle opposite Isaiah Prince, Michael Jordan starting for the third year in a row at left guard with Branden Bowen reclaiming his job at right guard and Brady Taylor finally getting his shot at center. But there are a lot of other permutations that could easily play out. Josh Myers is on the rise at center, Demetrius Knox might be too tough to remove from the lineup and Wyatt Davis might just be too good to leave on the bench.
That will all be settled soon. And the clock is about to start ticking at Ohio State.