Coming off a 13-1 season that saw the Ohio State Buckeyes win its third straight Big Ten championship and earn a berth in the College Football Playoff for the first time since the 2016 season, one would assume second-year head coach Ryan Day would be coming into spring football somewhat relaxed, right? After all, what more could have been asked of the first-time head coach?
Try a national championship. Ohio State fans are a demanding bunch, and Day certainly knows that while his debut as Ohio State's head coach went exceptionally well in 2019, the fans' expectations of the program are somewhere in the stratosphere, and it is Day's job to do everything possible to reach those goals.
Fortunately for Day, Ohio State returns a tremendously talented team. Even with the departure of several starters and contributors from the 2019 team, he has recruited well, and the strong reinforcements will only help to buoy the fans' goals of adding another national championship trophy in 2020 to Ohio State's arsenal.
5 Storylines to Watch During Ohio State's Spring Practice
1. Rebuilding the Ohio State secondary
The most important position group heading into 2020, bar none. Ohio State lost starters Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller, while also sustaining a loss of depth with Amir Riep's and Jahsen Wint's ongoing legal troubles that resulted in Day kicking the duo off the team. Shaun Wade made the important decision to return for his senior year, but other cornerbacks, such as Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, will need to step up at the other cornerback positions. Junior Josh Proctor will get the first crack at taking over the safety spot for Fuller. Depth and competition will be provided by returnees such as Tyreke Johnson, Marcus Williamson, and Marcus Hooker. Redshirt freshmen Bryson Shaw and Ronnie Hickman, as well as early enrollees Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts, and Kourt Williams, will all compete to impress newly-returned defensive coordinator and secondary coach Kerry Coombs this spring.
2. The backup quarterback battle
While the secondary is the most important position group, the battle for the backup quarterback position will garner the majority of the scrutiny and publicity. Justin Fields returns for another year as Ohio State's starter, with abundant speculation that 2020 will be Fields' last season in Columbus. Graduate transfer Gunnar Hoak will begin spring practice as the second-string quarterback, but everyone will be closely watching to see how true freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III develop this spring. Either Stroud or Miller could take a step forward in the battle to see who might be Ohio State's starter at quarterback in 2021.
3. Defensive line replacements
Chase Young declared early for the 2020 NFL Draft, and key players such as Robert Landers, DaVon Hamilton, and Joshua Cornell also are attempting NFL careers. Backup defensive lineman Alex Williams transferred to Vanderbilt. Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is legendary for his development of talent, and this spring will simply be a matter of mixing and matching the personnel to get the best players on the field. A name to keep an eye on within the Ohio State interior defensive line is junior Tommy Togiai. Togiai is arguably the strongest player on the team and could wind up as the starter at nose tackle.
4. Wide receiver rotation
K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor are off to the NFL, while key returnees such as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will look to build upon very impressive seasons in 2019. As this writing, it is unknown if 2019 captain C.J. Saunders will be able to play for Ohio State in 2020, with a requested sixth year of eligibility. A talented crop of true freshmen wide receivers have enrolled early at Ohio State and could earn their way into the rotation in the fall with strong spring performances.
5. Which running back will emerge?
J.K. Dobbins declared early for the 2020 NFL draft, leaving returnee Master Teague III as the probable starter. Teague had some strong moments in 2019, but his play during the Michigan and Clemson games left Ohio State fans concerned about his ability to take over a game in the manner and fashion that Dobbins demonstrated in 2019. Sophomore Marcus Crowley will be withheld from spring football, as he rehabilitates a knee injury suffered late in 2019. Crowley should be ready to compete in fall camp. Redshirt freshman Steele Chambers will also have a chance to spell Teague at the position.