Fall camp is just around the corner for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes prepare to defend their national title. Head coach Urban Meyer and his staff have already welcomed the incoming freshmen to Columbus. Players have been issued jersey numbers, and are working diligently to make a positive impression upon the coaching staff when fall camp begins.
A challenge for any freshman football player, no matter which program across the country, is to do enough to warrant more and more playing time. Considering Ohio State is coming off a national championship season, with only a handful of players having departed the program for possible NFL stardom, this challenge is even greater.
It would be easy to look at recruiting rankings and suggest this player or that player may be in line for playing time. If that was the case, incoming freshmen linebackers Jerome Baker or Justin Hilliard may be freshmen to keep an eye and ear open for (it is possible either of these players could wind up contributing on special teams from the onset of the season, by the way).
It would also be easy to look at players who redshirted last season, and are prepared to contribute. Defensive end Sam Hubbard is a prominent name who flashed potential in the 2015 Ohio State spring game, and was consistently lauded by Meyer all of last season as a player who possibly should not have redshirted.
Other freshmen enrolled and participated in spring practices. The most impressive of these early enrollees was linebacker Nick Conner, who also played a prominent role in the spring game.
My picks are going to be more of the sleeper variety - players who were somewhat under the radar of recruiting analysts and fans, yet may be able to get playing time in position groups where Ohio State has talent, but may not have tremendous depth.
Rashod Berry, TE
My first pick for a sleeper on the offensive side of the ball is incoming freshman tight end Rashod Berry. Berry was a later addition to the recruiting class, ranked a three-star recruit, and could possibly play at defensive end. Berry intrigues me for these reasons — Nick Vannett will return as the projected starter, with Marcus Baugh the likely backup at the position. Considering the frequency with which Ohio State employs two tight ends, it stands to reason that Berry may get opportunities at tight end, especially in the early portion of the season when Ohio State may be heavy favorites against its opposition.
Robert Landers, DL
My second pick for a sleeper on the defensive side of the ball is incoming freshman defensive lineman Robert Landers. Similar to Berry, Landers was a later addition to the recruiting class. Defensive line, especially along the interior, is usually not a position where freshmen can make an impact. My pick for Landers is based upon Landers' strong performance in the Ohio high school state playoffs last season (which helped to secure Landers his Ohio State offer), as well as the departure of Michael Bennett to the NFL. In 2016 Ohio State will lose Adolphus Washington; it may behoove the coaching staff to get Landers onto the field for needed game experience this season.
Sometimes the best freshmen players are the players who fell under the radar. It will be interesting to note if my sleeper picks contribute in 2015, as well as beyond.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.