Entering his seventh season as Ohio State's head football coach, Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes well positioned to remain in the discussion as a College Football Playoff contender. Meyer and company are coming off of a successful 2017 campaign that saw Ohio State go 12-2, win the Big Ten title and cap the season off with a dominant defensive performance over USC in the Cotton Bowl, beating the Trojans 24-7.
But with the focus now shifting to the 2018 season, Meyer has shown no signs of slowing down. Ohio State secured 26 players in their 2018 recruiting class, which is considered among the very best in the nation, according to recruiting analysts and outlets. While cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs left in January to take a job with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, Meyer was able to replace Coombs with Taver Johnson, a former Ohio State assistant under Jim Tressel (2007-11), who served as Temple's defensive coordinator last season. Meyer also added former Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to the staff, where he will serve as co-defensive coordinator alongside Greg Schiano. Grinch also will coach safeties, while Johnson will handle the cornerbacks.
Ohio State begins spring practice this week and will wrap the sessions up with the spring game on April 14. While several position battles may continue beyond spring practice and into fall camp, below are five areas to keep an eye on as the Buckeyes return to the field.
5 Storylines to Watch During Ohio State's Spring Practice
1. Quarterback battle
For the first time since 2013, Ohio State will go into a season without J.T. Barrett as an option at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins (above, right) is the presumed front-runner, but Urban Meyer has emphasized that no starter has been set. Redshirt junior Joe Burrow and redshirt freshman Tate Martell also will be given opportunities to win the starting job, but this is a position group that may go well into fall camp without an announced starter.
2. A reshuffled offensive line
Jamarco Jones and Billy Price are off to the NFL, which means there are two open positions on the offensive line. While Jones manned the left tackle spot, Isaiah Prince was stationed at right tackle. Prince will get an opportunity to take over for Jones at the left tackle spot, leaving right tackle as an open spot. Sophomore Thayer Munford has been mentioned as a prime candidate for the right tackle position. Price's departure from center will open up a battle between fifth-year senior Brady Taylor, redshirt junior Matthew Burrell, and possibly incoming freshman Matthew Jones. Last season, redshirt junior Branden Bowen began the season as Ohio State's starting right guard, but Bowen suffered a broken leg against Maryland in early October, opening up an opportunity for Demetrius Knox. It could be a battle between Bowen and Knox again for the starting right guard spot.
3. Revamped linebacker corps
Jerome Baker and Chris Worley are both off to the NFL. Ohio State's linebacker play in 2017 was very inconsistent, with Worley playing out of position in the middle. Several players are back, but it is anyone's guess as to how these position battles will take shape, with starting jobs available at all three spots. No matter where he lines up, sophomore Baron Browning is likely to be in contention for one of the available linebacker jobs.
4. Reconfigured secondary
As mentioned earlier, Ohio State will have two new coaches handling the secondary responsibilities for this season in Alex Grinch and Taver Johnson. Add in an open cornerback position, as well as an open safety position, and you may understand why I consider this position group to be reconfigured. Thankfully for the Buckeyes, the players who will be competing for these jobs earned substantial playing time in 2017, and will be bolstered by the return of junior Jordan Fuller at one of the safety spots.
5. Tight end is wide open
Marcus Baugh has graduated and hopes to continue playing in the NFL, leaving returnees such as redshirt junior Rashod Berry, redshirt sophomore Luke Farrell, and redshirt sophomore Jake Hausmann as candidates to win the starting spot. True freshman Jeremy Ruckert is considered the best tight end prospect from the 2018 recruiting cycle, but Ruckert will not be on campus until the summer. For Berry, Farrell and Hausmann, spring practices may be the best time for them to solidify their spots on the tight end depth chart.