COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football has returned, with two practices already complete in the Buckeyes’ spring football campaign.
With J.T. Barrett no longer around, the spotlight is on the battle to replace him at quarterback. But there are several other positions where players are battling for the right to replace former starters.
Here are five things to know about Ohio State’s position battles in 2018.
Joe Burrow could get answer soon
Junior quarterback Joe Burrow is set to graduate in May, which throws an interesting twist into the quarterback battle. Earning a degree would make Burrow eligible for a graduate transfer, where he would be eligible immediately and have two years left in his college career.
In his Tuesday press conference, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was asked if that dynamic means the coaching staff feels obligated to let Burrow know where he stands at the end of spring practice. Although that would shorten the quarterback battle, doing so would give Burrow the information he needs to make a decision.
“Without getting too deep, we’ve had conversations with his family,” Meyer said. “We try to be as transparent with you guys without getting too nose deep into our meetings, but the answer is probably yes. My first obligation is Ohio State. But not far below that is the player and the family. And so, yeah.”
Quarterback will be fair fight
If bookies posted lines, Dwayne Haskins would be a substantial betting favorite over Burrow and Tate Martell to be Ohio State’s next starting quarterback. With Burrow out for more than a month with a broken right hand and Martell in his first year on campus, Haskins seized the backup role in practice in 2017. He also got an unexpected chance to put some meaningful plays on tape when J.T. Barrett left the Michigan game with a knee injury. Haskins guided the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind win at Michigan Stadium in a must-win rivalry matchup.
Given those circumstances, it’s fair to assume that he’s the likeliest candidate to win the job. But Ohio State will make him earn it. Burrow will get every shot to beat him out, and Martell is also good enough to see the field. In the media viewing portion of practice Tuesday, Burrow seemed to be getting the same amount of reps as Haskins.
“I think we all know Dwayne kind of finished the season and finished it strong against The Team Up North,” Meyer said. “[But] Joe, before his injury, was neck and neck. So this is going to be trying to do the best we can to make sure that we have equal opportunity to compete. And I’m going to throw Tate Martell’s name in there as well. He’s earned the right to compete as well. So we’ll do the best job we can to make sure we — you know, playing quarterback, that’s everyone’s dream, to be a starting quarterback at Ohio State. We’ll make sure we’re doing it right.”
Center could be free-for-all
Ohio State has produced the last two winners of the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s best center, but there’s no clear-cut answer for which player will follow Pat Elflein and Billy Price. Fifth-year senior Brady Taylor seems like the most logical candidate, but Ohio State will kick the tires on some other options, as well.
Meyer noted that he might be more stressed about the center battle than quarterback because there are more unknown quantities involved, whereas with quarterback there are really no wrong answers. In addition to Taylor, the battle at center includes redshirt freshman Josh Myers, junior Matt Burrell and possibly junior Josh Alabi. Myers and Burrell are guards, while Alabi played defensive tackle before becoming Ohio State’s backup left tackle in 2017.
“I don’t know who is going to be our center,” Meyer said. “I know we have some people that are going to go after it. But there’s not — Brady Taylor, Josh Myers, Matt Burrell. I just talked to Josh Alabi. Look at that kid walking around here. Great-looking player at that spot.
“It’s a lot of stress when — center is every bit important as quarterback. I don’t know if they’re great players or not.”
Wide receivers group values production over reputation
After practice Thursday, wide receivers coach Zach Smith made one thing clear: Ohio State’s best wide receivers will be the ones who play. The Buckeyes return everyone except Trevon Grimes, which means the position could look awfully similar to 2017, but Smith said the lineup could shuffle if backups assert themselves and starters don’t practice well.
“If Austin Mack is not playing as well as Jaylen Harris, Jaylen Harris is going to play over Austin Mack,” Smith said. “There’s some loyalty to a guy who’s played, maybe, but there’s no expectation here. Everybody’s got to go earn it. That gives a young guy hope, and it keeps those older guys motivated to stay ahead of the curve and stay ahead of those younger guys because they know people are coming after their spot.”
Hole to fill at safety
With safety Damon Webb out of eligibility, Ohio State now has a vacancy at a position that doesn’t have much depth. There’s not much worry with Jordan Fuller after a strong 2017 season in which he beat out Erick Smith, but the Buckeyes need someone to step up and win the spot opposite Fuller.
“The field safety is a concern right now,” Meyer said. “You lost Damon Webb. Had a great year for us. Jordan Fuller, I know you were out there watching him earlier, the first half of practice he looked fantastic and he’s starting to move around better and from his injury. But the field safety position is a concern.”
Sophomore Isaiah Pryor is the most likely candidate to win that job.