COLUMBUS, Ohio — The recruitments are over, the signatures are secured and an absolutely loaded class of athletes can now officially call themselves Ohio State Buckeyes.
Now the fun really begins.
Thanks to the early signing period, much of this newest wave of Buckeyes has already been known since December and a handful of them have already been on campus for a month participating in winter conditioning. Those early enrollees have something of a leg up on their classmates who aren’t on campus yet or just signed their letters of intent on Wednesday, but they aren’t the only ones who figure to be involved with the competition for playing time when the season opener rolls around.
So, which newcomers are likely going to need to see some action right away? Here are the leading candidates now that the Class of 2018 is locked down at Ohio State.
DE Tyreke Smith
Despite all the offseason attrition from the Rushmen, there is already growing buzz that Ohio State’s defensive line can be as tenacious as ever again next fall with Nick Bosa and Chase Young leading the way. But the losses of a few key veterans will open up the potential for playing time for an athletic, rangy defensive end like Tyreke Smith, who made his pledge to the Buckeyes official at the Under Armour All-America Game. Considering how position coach Larry Johnson likes to rotate his pass-rushers, Smith should be in the mix for a role right away.
TE Jeremy Ruckert
There is an immediate need for a pass-catching weapon who also can provide some physical blocking for the rushing attack, and Ohio State addressed it as well as it possibly could by landing the nation’s top-ranked tight end. Given how much Urban Meyer and offensive assistant Kevin Wilson have utilized that position throughout their careers, it seems like a safe bet that Jeremy Ruckert is going to be involved in the offensive game plan as quickly as he can get up to speed. Based on his evaluations coming out of high school, that probably won’t take long.
DT Antwuan Jackson
Just like on the edge of the defensive line, Ohio State could use some help to restock the depth chart on the interior. And it should come as no surprise, but the Buckeyes again cleaned up at a position of need by landing three of the best defensive tackles on the market. Antwuan Jackson might come to campus with a bit of an edge for playing time thanks to his stint developing and playing in the junior-college ranks, and he’s certainly got the physical tools at 6-foot-2, 305 pounds to cause problems in the middle. But Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent might just push for some reps right away as well.
DB Josh Proctor
Ohio State remains loaded in the secondary, and with more elite cornerbacks than perhaps it could ever use this year, maybe one of those guys could shift to safety to replace starter Damon Webb this offseason. But if not, one of the nation’s most coveted players on the position is on the way for the Buckeyes, and Josh Proctor’s impressive combination of size and mobility could help him become a contributor in the secondary sooner rather than later. One way or another, the future remains bright for Ohio State’s defensive backfield.
H-B Jaelen Gill
There is no question that Meyer will be looking to unleash an athlete who looks like the prototypical H-back for his power-spread offense as soon as he gets his hands on Jaelen Gill. It’s a bit tougher now to project a heavy involvement for Gill right away, though, than it might have been when he signed in December and Ohio State didn’t yet know if Parris Campbell or a handful of other veteran wide receivers would be back in 2018. The Buckeyes wound up keeping them all in the fold to stockpile a ridiculous amount of talent at the skill positions — but it still feels likely that Gill is going to see the football in his hands as a freshman.