Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes coaching staff have their work cut out for them as Spring practice enters into its second week. Significant decisions, at key starting positions, need to be reached as the program prepares for another season of sky-high expectations, of which a return to the College Football Playoff is an absolute bare minimum.
The positions in question make Spring football in 2021 a tantalizing one for Buckeyes fans. Coach Day’s first order of business will be appraising his trio of four and five-star quarterbacks. The performances of Justin Fields, who projects to be a top-10 draft pick next month, and his predecessor, Dwayne Haskins, had fans salivating and, now, expecting more of the same. But the drama doesn’t end there. There are also smaller skirmishes to settle on the interior offensive line, defensive end, cornerback, linebacker and defensive tackle following the departures of Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers, Jonathan Cooper, Shaun Wade, and multiple starting linebackers, respectively.
So how might things shake out on the offensive side of the ball?
Three’s A Crowd: Quarterback
Ryan Day will select a starting QB knowing that at least one of the unlucky runners-up for the job will likely enter the transfer portal. It’s important he chooses wisely. And whoever, out CJ Stroud, Kyle McCord, and Jack Miller, emerge victoriously, they will have the legacy of back-to-back first-round NFL draft picks, and a blowing up of the program’s record book, to live up to.
The early frontrunner will be the only one who has seen time on a college football field: CJ Stroud. Granted, the sophomore out of Rancho Cucamonga, California did not attempt a pass. However, the number 2 overall dual-threat from the 2019 class did show his wheels with a 48-yard touchdown run against Michigan State in garbage time. Other than that, he only came into games to hand-off to the running backs late in a game or if Fields sat out a play or two after taking a hit. His fellow sophomore teammate Jack Miller, also a former four-star recruit, is a pro-style QB seen by most as the odd man out. That’s because freshman Kyle McCord – a five-star recruit out of St Joseph’s High School in Philadelphia, and, like Miller, a pro-style QB – will also be in the mix.
Each man will aim to connect and build rapport, early, with star receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. But with so much talent vying for one spot, expect coaches to be looking out for the intangible qualities in each candidate: leadership, toughness, resilience, attitude. How each man carries himself in practice throughout Spring could be the difference between leading your team onto the field in Minneapolis on September 2nd, warming the bench, or playing elsewhere after transferring to a different school.
For what it’s worth, Ryan Day doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to name his man: “On the field, we just want to keep building, put one foot in front of the other, and don’t label early on,” Day said. “Just let it play out, let these guys compete.”
Early Outlook: Day goes with Stroud in a tight QB competition with McCord backing him up. Miller enters the portal knowing that Quinn Ewers will join an already deep and impressive QB room in Columbus in 2022.
Reload not Rebuild
When a team loses two impact players, both with a ton of experience, from the offensive line there can often be some cause for concern. Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers, along with Thayer Munford were all seniors in 2020 who joined the program from the same high school class. Having that level of experience and continuity on three-fifths of your offensive line is highly valuable.
Fortunately, for Ohio State, starting left tackle, Munford, opted for the extra year of eligibility to get one last crack at a natty. That certainly took a little pressure off Greg Studrawa as he gets a guy with 46 games experience (over 30 starts) back at a pivotal position on the O-line. The Center should also be an easy fix. All fingers point to Harry Miller assuming that role. He was recruited as a center out of high school, but had struggled last season at left guard, and then with his snapping when he had to fill in for Myers who missed a game due to Covid. With a full preseason, those issues will likely be put behind him.
As for his replacement at left guard, Matthew Jones took over on the left side when Miller was called in to play center, so to pencil Jones in there seems a safe bet. As for right guard, Paris Johnson, Jr made a great transition to that spot last season, from his natural role as an offensive tackle, when Wyatt Davis went down with an injury. The sample size is small, but since Nicholas Petit-Frere seems locked in at right tackle, the way for the former five-star, Johnson, to get on the field as a starter will involve a change in position. The other candidates for right guard are Enokk Vihami, Luke Wypler, Dawand Jones and Donovan Jackson, the five-star true freshman, who was the number 1 overall guard prospect coming out of high school.
The Buckeyes have a lot of flexibility on the O-Line with multiple guys able to compete on the field at multiple positions. It will be interesting to see what five Day believes will be his best starting line. For now, we’ll give the early advantage to those who gained valuable experience at the vacant positions, last season.
Early Outlook: Munford and Petit-Frere at the tackle positions, Miller at Center, Matthew Jones at left guard, and Paris Johnson, Jr at right guard.
Master or Student?
The other intriguing story which has been overshadowed by the ‘who will play quarterback?’ chatter, is that which is developing in the running backs room. This was a deep, versatile and talented group before its ranks were augmented by the arrival of Treveyon Henderson: 2020s number one running back in the recruiting cycle.
All six backs – Master Teague, Miyan Williams, Marcus Crowley, Steele Chambers, Evan Pryor and Henderson – were recruited by running backs coach Tony Horford. Teague is in his fourth year in Columbus; Chambers and Crowley, who missed part of 2019, and all of 2020 due to injury and rehab setbacks, are in their third seasons, while Williams is a sophomore and Pryor, who was second, behind Henderson, among all high school backs in the nation, is a true freshman.
Teague is by far the most experienced. He played a ton of snaps in 2019 as JK Dobbins, and the other starters on offense, often sat out the bulk of second halves of games that OSU was winning handily. He also split time with Trey Sermon in 2020, before the injury and Sermon’s explosion in the final three games of the season, significantly diminished his role.
On the subject of Teague, Horford had this to say:
“Well, yeah, if we had a game tomorrow he would be the starter,” Alford said. “He’s been a starter and he’s had the most reps of anyone in the room. But there are other really good backs here too. I’m really anxious to watch Miyan Williams. Here is a guy who had a smattering of carries — a very small sample — but he was very successful in those opportunities. So, he continues to grow and he’s going to be a part of our offense”.
Steele Chambers, in very limited playing time, also showed a flair for explosiveness in the few opportunities he got last season. With how high Horford is on his guys, and the different attributes each of them can show off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple guys given significant carries this season.
Early Outlook: The team rides with Teague early as he sees the lion’s share of the carries. Williams, Crowley and Chambers will all get a chance to take handoffs, but it will be Williams and Chambers, I think, who earn more playing time and start to split carries evenly with Teague as the season progresses.