COLUMBUS, Ohio — At Ohio State, the carousel of talent never stops spinning.
Each year under coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have added one of the 10 best recruiting classes in the country. Five of those six classes have finished in the top 5 of their respective recruiting cycles. Ohio State loses great players to the NFL draft but reloads at every position annually.
With young talent always being added, the window to earn a starting job is short. An older player leaves for the NFL, but an equally talented freshman often arrives in his place. What follows is a look at which players have the most at stake over whether they win a starting job this season.
Johnnie Dixon didn’t know at the end of last season if he’d be back in 2017. A tremendously talented receiver from the Class of 2014, Dixon has been hampered by knee injuries in each of his first three seasons at Ohio State.
“He probably shouldn’t have come back,” Meyer said, “if you had a career like he’s had. But his teammates, his position coach Zach Smith, [and] I talked to him, and [he] wanted one last swing.”
So far it’s paid off. Dixon starred in the Ohio State spring game in April, hauling in 6 passes for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. If he remains healthy, he’s a legitimate threat to help the Buckeyes passing attack. He has the talent to be one of the best options on the team, and he potentially could help revive the deep-passing attack.
If the injuries continue or he doesn’t flash, however, the four receivers Ohio State has added over the last two recruiting cycles could make seeing the field tougher than ever.
Although he was an offensive star for Canton (Ohio) McKinley, Eric Glover-Williams came to Ohio State as a defensive back.
He showed signs of promise by becoming one of four players in the Class of 2015 to see the field as a true freshman, though that mostly came on special teams. Since then, he has floated around the secondary between cornerback and safety while coaches have tried to find his best fit.
The answer appears to be on the other side of the ball. During Fiesta Bowl practice, Glover-Williams mimicked Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s mobility and found his way into the hearts of the Ohio State offensive coaches. Shortly after the 2016 season ended, it was announced that Glover-Williams was switching to offense.
That move could pay off, but Glover-Williams essentially is starting over as a junior. He’s walking into a crowded position group at H-back, with Parris Campbell and probably Demario McCall also there to eat up touches. Both of those players also have the advantage of having worked with the offensive staff longer. His talent is evident, but he’ll still need to produce this season so he can carve out a role.
Demetrius Knox and Matthew Burrell
Demetrius Knox and Matthew Burrell get lumped together while the battle between them at right guard continues. After all, both are in similar situations.
Knox and Burrell are tremendously talented offensive linemen who arrived at Ohio State as heralded recruits — Knox in 2014 and Burrell in 2015. While Billy Price and Pat Elflein starting as freshmen hurt chances for Knox and Burrell to see the field right away, Class of 2016 guard Michael Jordan managed to start as a true freshman last season.
Now Jordan will occupy one of those two guard spots for the foreseeable future, making the competition for the other spot even more fierce. To add to the urgency, 5-star offensive guard Wyatt Davis will arrive in June and could contend for early playing time. Knox and Burrell have enough promise to start at Ohio State, but they’ll need to fulfill it sooner than later.
As a true freshman in 2014, Sean Nuernberger was the starting kicker for a national championship team. It looked like the start of a promising career, but setbacks soon followed.
Ohio State went with walk-on transfer Jack Willoughby in 2015, and Nuernberger didn’t win back the job until late in the season. The next year he again was supplanted by a walk-on transfer, but that was because of injury and not inaccuracy. By the time Nuernberger recovered, Tyler Durbin had earned the right to remain the starting kicker.
Now Ohio State is bringing in the No. 2 kicker in the Class of 2017, Blake Haubeil. This is crunch time for Nuernberger.
Erick Smith arrived in the Class of 2014 alongside his Cleveland Glenville teammate Marshon Lattimore, and for a time, he looked like the more likely of the two to become a starter first.
Just listen to what safety Tyvis Powell said about Smith during spring practice in 2015:
“Erick’s the man,” Powell said. “If I ever break a shoestring, ain’t nobody going to blink an eye. Everybody’s going to be like, ‘We’re good.’ ”
Smith didn’t start in 2015 because both starters at safety from the national championship team, Powell and Vonn Bell, returned. Biding his time at backup, he suffered a devastating ACL tear late in the 2015 season that kept him out of spring practice in 2016.
He lost out on a starting spot to Malik Hooker and Damon Webb. With Hooker off to the NFL, there’s a spot open again. Lattimore provided the blueprint for turning an injury into NFL success, and this is the last chance for Smith to pull off a similar feat.