COLUMBUS, Ohio — National Signing Day having come and gone can only mean one thing: Spring practice is right around the corner. Just more than two months after seeing its 2016 campaign come to an end, Ohio State will return to the practice field on March 6 for the first of its 15 spring practices.
As Urban Meyer often likes to say, spring practice is where starting spots are won, while fall camp is reserved for preparing for the upcoming campaign. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five Buckeyes who can better their standing for the fall with big showings on the practice field this spring.
With Curtis Samuel off to the NFL, the most prominent (non-quarterback) position in Meyer’s offense is now open. The good news is Ohio State appears to have its next great H-back already waiting in the wings.
Although he served as a reserve running back throughout his freshman campaign, Demario McCall displayed flashes of possessing the versatile skill set necessary to play the “Percy Harvin” position in the Buckeyes’ offense. In limited action, McCall totaled 354 yards (270 rushing, 84 receiving) in 2016.
At the Fiesta Bowl in December, McCall stated that he expected to convert to H-back should Samuel indeed declare for the draft.
“Heading into my sophomore year, I’ll be more like an H-back and punt returner and kick returner,” he said. “And from there, whatever happens, happens.”
McCall’s first action at his new position will come this spring as Ohio State attempts to replace its top playmaker from a season ago. And while the Buckeyes lack depth at H-back, a big spring from McCall could go a long way toward instilling confidence in the OSU offense heading into 2017.
For most early enrollees, their first spring practice serves as an adjustment period of sorts for their college careers.
Jeffrey Okudah, however, isn’t most early enrollees.
A 5-star prospect, Okudah is expected to compete for one of the two open starting cornerback spots on the Buckeyes’ depth chart in 2017. And while Denzel Ward is expected to win one of those jobs, Okudah is firmly in the mix to start opposite the junior corner in the coming year.
What’s more, Okudah’s primary competition for the spot, Kendall Sheffield, won’t arrive on campus until mid-semester. Should Okudah take advantage of the opportunity ahead of him, the JUCO transfer could have some catching up to do.
With J.T. Barrett back in Columbus, there’s no doubting who Ohio State’s starting signal-caller will be in 2017.
But the battle to become the Buckeyes’ backup quarterback rages on.
While a year ago, Joe Burrow served as Ohio State’s de facto No. 2 signal-caller, this year, the redshirt sophomore has competition. After redshirting as a true freshman in 2016, Dwayne Haskins is ready to play after the former 4-star prospect drew rave reviews in the Buckeyes’ bowl practice last winter.
“Dwayne Haskins is a tremendous talent that a lot of people probably do not know about,” said linebacker Chris Worley. “He’s been the nothing but the best – probably the best – scout team quarterback I’ve ever seen us have.”
No longer restricted as a redshirt, Haskins will look to carry that momentum into this spring. And should he edge out Burrow for the right to back up Barrett, he could have a leg up in a much more important quarterback battle a year from now.
As a true freshman, Binjimen Victor only caught four balls. But the 6-foot-4, 185-pound wideout’s potential was apparent in more than just his stat line.
Totaling 16 yards per reception — the highest of any OSU wideout in 2016 — Victor looked like the closest thing the Buckeyes had to a deep threat last season. Even in Ohio State’s 31-0 Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, the true freshman served as a rare bright spot, catching a 21-yard pass.
With Noah Brown off to the NFL, the Buckeyes have an unexpected opening for a new starting X receiver. Thus far, Victor has looked the part. And this spring, he’ll have an opportunity to prove he deserves a prominent place in the OSU offense.
Of the voids on the Buckeyes’ defense, none may be bigger than the one left by Malik Hooker. After replacing second-round draft pick Vonn Bell, Hooker starred as a unanimous All-American in 2016 and potential top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Although it’s tough to imagine Ohio State receiving another upgrade at its safety spot in the coming year, sophomore Jordan Fuller seems to be the next man up. A former 4-star prospect, Fuller saw significant playing time on special teams in 2016, when he recorded 11 tackles.
Now Fuller will look for an expanded role on the Buckeyes defense, where he’ll likely battle with junior Erick Smith for the right to replace Hooker.
Heading into spring practice, Fuller appears to have the edge. But a lot can change over the course of 15 practices, and it will be up to Fuller to use the coming weeks to his advantage.