COLUMBUS, Ohio — The time to make a move for a starting job is already almost up, and Ohio State has just barely been in training camp for more than a week.
Urban Meyer isn’t messing around as the Buckeyes gear up for another run at the College Football Playoff. He has made it clear that he wanted a depth chart to start being finalized early in August — with a scrimmage on Saturday standing as a potential make-or-break moment in the battle for the handful of undecided starting jobs.
“Then after that you’re going to start seeing depth charts get materialized a little bit,” Meyer said. “Following that one, they’re done. So they have about 10 days or whatever it is, to establish themselves, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
That puts a little extra pressure on the Buckeyes this weekend as the sense of urgency is unmistakable around the program.
So which position group has the most to gain on Saturday? Our Ohio State reporters make their picks and establish the stakes for the crucial scrimmage.
Austin Ward: Defensive backs
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has undoubtedly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to replacing top-flight talent in his unit. And defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s track record working with the secondary speaks for itself.
So the Buckeyes are probably once again going to unleash one of the best secondaries in the country this season. But there is still plenty left to be settled in terms of just who is going to be leading that effort by the time the opener rolls around at Indiana on Aug. 31.
Denzel Ward is secure in his role at cornerback and looks capable of becoming the next first-rounder off the assembly line for Coombs. And Damon Webb’s experience will be invaluable at safety in helping bring along some new faces around him. So, there’s not much for those guys to prove.
But the young corners vying for a spot in the rotation will be under the microscope, starting with redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette and junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield, along with a handful of touted freshmen who figure to be in the mix. At safety, the Buckeyes seem to have narrowed the focus down to Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller, and the scrimmage could make the difference in the eventual decision.
There’s no reason to doubt the defensive backs. But the contenders to play will need to shine on Saturday.
Ryan Ginn: Wide receivers
When it comes to fighting for jobs, Ohio State’s wide receivers have it pretty good. Their position coach Zach Smith has already said they’ll have at least six players in a regular rotation, so the stakes aren’t quite as high as, say, the right guard battle. The usual suspects will have at least some role in the offense no matter what happens over the next month.
But there’s a difference between playing and contributing, and the latter happens when players start producing in practice and earning more time on the field. There’s also a difference between being a top target and an afterthought. Of the players in the wide receiver room, the top pass catcher last year hauled in 74 passes. The sixth-highest total in that room was 11 catches.
J.T. Barrett’s three most frequent targets from 2016 are all gone. There’s a huge opportunity for players to step in and become a go-to receiver. Curtis Samuel went from 22 catches in 2015 to 74 in 2016, and Noah Brown had one career catch (though he missed a season to injury) before tallying 32 receptions and 7 touchdowns last fall. That type of improvement is on the table for pretty much every returning receiver on the roster.
Ohio State will rotate receivers throughout games, especially with the tempo offense, so everyone will have some role. But the chances will come to the players who best show they can deliver, and that’s there for the taking. The pecking order will start to be developed Saturday, and there’s no better time for a receiver to show what he can do.