Ohio State opened spring practice with a target on its back. The Buckeyes are the defending national champions and the favorite to win college football’s national title in 2015. Of course, a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. However, Ohio State is positioned for another run at the championship, especially with the returning talent on both sides of the ball.
5 Storylines to Watch in Ohio State’s Spring Practice
1. The Quarterbacks
Don’t expect to see a clear winner emerge from the quarterback battle in Columbus this spring. The Buckeyes have three players – J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller – that are capable of winning a Heisman if they are the starter for the full season. But it’s hard to gauge the quarterbacks this offseason with Barrett still recovering from a leg injury and Miller not at full strength from shoulder surgery. With Barrett and Miller sidelined, Jones will have the opportunity work as the No. 1 option this spring.
2. New Targets at Receiver
There are few holes for coach Urban Meyer to fill this offseason, with the biggest concern on offense revolving around a receiving corps that loses Devin Smith (28.2 ypc), Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman. Using the word “concern” might be a bit much here, as Ohio State returns plenty of talent in the receiving corps. Michael Thomas returns after catching 54 passes last year, and Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall are back after sharing the H-back role last year. What other receivers will take a claim for snaps this spring? Could it be redshirt freshmen Terry McLaurin or Johnnie Dixon? Or will incoming freshman K.J. Hill make an impact in the fall?
3. New Starter at Right Tackle
Darryl Baldwin (15 starts at right tackle in 2014) is the only departing member of Ohio State’s offensive line. With left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein leading the way, the Buckeyes should have one of the nation’s top lines in 2015. But who steps up to fill Baldwin’s shoes this spring? Senior Chase Farris and sophomore Jamarco Jones are considered the favorites to replace Baldwin on the right side. Will a clear frontrunner emerge?
4. Restocking the Defensive Line
The Buckeyes have the makings of one of the nation’s top defensive lines with the return of end Joey Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington. But question marks remain about the rest of this unit, especially as end Steve Miller and tackle Michael Bennett expired their eligibility after the national title. Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis have the edge in experience over Darius Slade and Sam Hubbard at end, while Michael Hill and Tommy Schutt are the top returning options at tackle. How quickly will this unit reload?
5. Replacing Doran Grant
Grant earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014 after recording 63 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups and leaves big shoes to fill at the cornerback position. Eli Apple – a rising star entering his sophomore year – and Gareon Conley will take on a bigger role in the secondary in 2015. Outside of Conley and Apple, the Buckeyes will look to Marshon Lattimore and sophomore Damon Webb to help fill the production and snaps lost by Grant.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Ohio State in the Big Ten:
National Championship. That’s the expectation for Ohio State in 2015. The Buckeyes return 14 starters from last year’s national title team and have the top quarterback depth chart in college football. The defense needs to reload at end, tackle and cornerback, but this unit should be among the best in the nation. The schedule is manageable with Michigan State and Penn State visiting Columbus. Road trips to Virginia Tech and Michigan will be a challenge. However, Ohio State should be favored to win its all of its regular season games in 2015.