Though it may feel like football season year round in Columbus, spring football marks a time where Buckeye fans can really get into the excitement of the looming Ohio State football season.
But spring football serves a different purpose for the coaches. The Buckeye staff finally gets a chance to look at their complete squad, save for some freshmen, and evaluate what they have for the following season.
It is a time for position battles, people to make a name for themselves, and for players otherwise forgotten to put themselves in a position to contribute come fall camp. BuckeyeGrove.com is one step ahead, though, as we break down five players that could emerge as key players on defense for the Buckeyes this spring.
The Front Runner - Mike Adams (6-foot-8, 300, Jr.): It is now the second consecutive spring where there are no answers at left tackle. Now that Jim Cordle has left the Buckeyes, they are back to square one. Adams has always been thought of when it comes to the next dominant left tackle at Ohio State, but it hasn't quite happened just yet. Injuries his freshman year and some off the field issues last year have slowed him. He comes into the spring as a slight favorite, but he could lose his chance as easy as he could get it.
The Challenger - Andy Miller (6-foot-6, 288, Sr.): Miller was in the same he finds himself in now heading into fall camp last season, but a combination of solid play and Adams' troubles led to him attaining the starting job last season. Miller, however, fell ill in the middle of the year and that opened the door up for Adams and Cordle at left tackle, but he will have to start over this season on his question to be the starting left tackle protecting Terrelle Pryor's blind side.
The Darkhorse - Andrew Norwell (6-foot-7, 275, Fr.): Norwell didn't finish his season last year in his season year in high school because of injury, but when he was healthy he did stand out as one of the best tackles in Ohio. Norwell showed his dominant ability during his time in high school and is expected to be someone who translates well to the college game. Given neither of the two above have been able to solidify the spot, Norwell could go a long way in pushing both of them upon arrival in the fall.
The Front Runner - J.B. Shugarts (6-foot-7, 297, Jr.) Shugarts has been a guy that has suffered from injuries as well, but he did a nice job last season as the Buckeyes' right tackle. Shugarts, who is another one of the members of the famous "Block O" recruiting class, could be the third player of the three to lock down a starting job on the Buckeye offensive line. Despite the fact that Shugarts seems to be the heavy favorite to lock down the position, nothing is guaranteed given the way his backup performed last season.
The Challenger - Marcus Hall (6-foot-5, 321, So.): Last season Hall was the only freshman offensive lineman to break into a playing role with the Buckeyes last season and he proved why that decision was made. Hall, who showed versatility on the right side of the line, played quite well for a freshman at tackle. He is certainly the underdog when it comes to landing this position, but it wouldn't completely blow people away if somehow Shugarts gets moved over to left tackle and Hall steps in to compete for the starting right tackle job.
The Darkhorse - Sam Longo (6-foot-5, 280, rFr.): There are so many young linemen on this team and most of the offensive line has solidified starters, but Longo has apparently been turning heads during winter workouts. Longo has been described as one of the stronger players and has certainly drawn some attention. The odds are certainly against him when it comes to cracking into some major role on the offensive line, but he has already done well enough to have his name mentioned.
No. 3 Running Back
The Front Runner - Carlos Hyde (6-foot, 235, Fr.): There is no question the Buckeyes backfield sports the most depth on the team, and assuming Brandon Saine and Dan Herron spit carries, there will be a big battle for the third running back to get into the game. Though there is undoubtedly still quite a bit to learn about Hyde and his competitors, it seems as if Hyde would be the leader of this competition out of the gate given his size and running style. Hyde figures to be a power back, which differs from Saine and Herron. This should be a good weapon for the Buckeyes to hit their opponents with different looks.
The Challenger - Jaamal Berry (5-foot-10, 200, rFr.): Ironically enough, there are probably as many questions about Berry as there are for Hyde, and that's after Berry has spent a year with the Buckeyes already. Berry was slowed the entire year as a freshman with a nagging injury to his hamstring, thus leading to an unexpected redshirt year. Berry is apparently full go now and when healthy the coaching staff has a lot of good things to say about him. It is not clear what he may bring that Saine or Herron don't, but if he is as quick and shifty as they say, he could find himself in the midst of some good playing time.
The Darkhorse - Roderick Smith (6-foot-3, 220, Fr.): Stepping in as a freshman running back and competing for playing time amidst some of the depth the Buckeyes already sport may be quite the undertaking for Smith. However, Smith is one of those talents that has already caught everyone's attention. Though it is possible Smith could redshirt his freshman year, if he sports the type of talent that many expect, it is possible he could crack carries as soon as this fall. As they say, if he is talented enough, there is no way the Buckeyes will keep him on the shelf.
No. 4 Wide Receiver
The Front Runner - Taurian Washington (6-foot-1, 181, Sr.): Assuming Duron Carter is eligible academically, he will most certainly regain the position he already earned a year ago, but the Buckeyes have packages where more than three receivers are often used. Washington, who has always stepped up big in the spring, could be the early favorite for the No. 4 receiver spot heading into spring ball. Washington is one of the older players in the receiving corps, but he has yet to break through and have a large role with this team. His role wouldn't be huge assuming he lands this job, but it is a role nonetheless. However, being a senior doesn't mean anything, and he has some great young talent waiting in the wings. It may be his job to lose, but you can bet he will need to excel to keep it.
The Challenger - Chris Fields (6-foot, 185, rFr.): The moment Fields stepped onto campus at Ohio State, he has been turning heads. A year to get better as a redshirt can only make things better. Fields last season drew comparisons from the coaching staff to former wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and if that is the case, he really could find himself as somebody who finally gets on the field in his redshirt freshman season.
The Darkhorse - James Jackson (5-foot-10, 184, rFr.): The situation is kind of the same for Jackson as it is for Fields, though they are different types of wide receivers. Jackson has been referred to as more of a speedsters, while Fields has been referred to as a pure receiver that wont leave Ohio State unrecognized. Either way, both have been hyped since day one, and now that both aren't in the midst or redshirting, if they are as good as people say, they could crack Washington's spot without problem. Look out for other guys, too, like James Louis, who has also drawn comparisons to Holmes.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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