COLUMBUS, Ohio — A wise man once theorized “that spring football is when you go earn a spot,” because by the time fall camp rolls around it’s time to prepare to win a game. That man happened to be Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
On Tuesday, Meyer will kick off his sixth spring practice session in charge of the Buckeyes, and there will be no shortage of spots to be won. Ohio State will replace seven starters, including three on offense, four on defense and three-fourths of its starting secondary.
If Meyer gets his wish, the Buckeyes’ next 15 practices will go a long way toward shaping their depth chart this fall. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five position battles getting set to take place at Ohio State’s spring practice.
With Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley off to the NFL, the Buckeyes have not one, but two starting cornerback spots to fill. The good news is that junior Denzel Ward, who received steady playing time in 2016, seems to have already locked up one of Ohio State’s cornerback vacancies.
As for the other, it will likely come down to a three-way battle among a trio of early enrollees in Kendall Sheffield, Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade.
Given his experience as a junior college transfer, Sheffield could very well have the upper hand. The former 5-star prospect and Alabama corner arrived in Columbus earlier this week, just in time for the start of spring practice. Already three years removed from high school, Sheffield possesses the potential to be a one-and-done at Ohio State with a strong 2017 season.
As Buckeyes cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has shown a willingness to rotate his players, it may not ultimately matter who starts at corner for Ohio State in the coming year. But it’s nevertheless worth noting that for all they’re replacing, the Buckeyes secondary remains as talented as it’s ever been under Meyer’s watch.
At this point, it’s been written about plenty but it’s still worth mentioning: One of the most intriguing position battles on Ohio State’s roster won’t even be for a starting spot.
Now that we know J.T. Barrett is entering his final season as the Buckeyes’ starting signal-caller, the race to replace him is on. At this point, it’s a three-way race among Joe Burrow, Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell.
For now, the three quarterbacks are battling to become Barrett’s backup, but it could give the winner a leg up in the fight to wind up as his successor. Given his experience, Burrow would seem to be the favorite, but Haskins is rising quickly.
An early enrollee, Martell possesses plenty of intrigue but is more likely to redshirt in 2017.
Regardless of who winds up having the best spring, don’t count on this being a position battle that ends anytime soon.
After starting all 13 games at right tackle for the Buckeyes a season ago, Isaiah Prince returns in 2017 — although his starting spot is hardly secure.
Prince struggle throughout his sophomore season, and Malcolm Pridgeon is now back to full strength after a knee injury cost the former JUCO transfer his first season in Columbus. Prince should be considered favored to reclaim his starting status, but Pridgeon will get a fair shot at unseating the former 4-star prospect.
What’s most intriguing, however, is the impact Ohio State’s right tackle battle could have on the rest of the offensive line. Should Prince indeed maintain his starting spot, Pridgeon could become a candidate to fill the void at right guard left by now-center Billy Price. Conversely, should Pridgeon receive the right tackle role, Prince could theoretically slide inside.
In more ways than one, the Buckeyes’ right tackle battle could play a key role in shaping Ohio State’s front five.
Perhaps the most intriguing spring position battle for the Buckeyes is the one at middle linebacker.
That’s because there’s not an immediate front-runner to replace Raekwon McMillan.
One option could be converting Dante Booker, after an injury cost the outside linebacker the bulk of his junior season. Another could be using Baron Browning, although the former 5-star prospect appears best suited to play outside.
Second-year players Malik Harrison and Tuf Borland also present potentially intriguing options for new OSU linebackers coach Bill Davis. Without much experience among the candidates involved, it truly appears to be anybody’s race.
When Vonn Bell declared for the 2016 NFL draft, the Buckeyes managed to upgrade at their free safety position thanks to the All-America play of Malik Hooker.
Now Ohio State will attempt to pull off the same trick twice.
It won’t come easily — not with Hooker projecting as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft in April. But Meyer has recruited a talented stable of safeties since arriving in Columbus, including potential replacements for Hooker in Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller.
Who has the better spring between the pair of former 4-star prospects will determine who will possess the upper hand heading into the fall.
Replacing a player as talented as Hooker is certainly a tall task — but not an impossible one.