Ohio State Position Battles: An Early Look

RT Taylor Decker

It's way too early to say exactly what will happen as players battle to win open starting spots on the Ohio State football team, but it's never too early to talk about what we know. Take a look at how the Buckeyes have started to attack replacing their departed seniors.

With one day of spring practice in the books, it's too early to say how the position battles on the Ohio State football team will shake out, right?

Well, yes.

But why let that stop us from talking about it?

The media was able to view Tuesday's practice and see the early ideas for Ohio State's plan to replace a number of departed starters. Afterward, head coach Urban Meyer also tipped his hand on a few spots to give Buckeye fans a clue who the starters might be come fall.

Some things will certainly change before the season opener Aug. 31 vs. Buffalo, but at least we know what to watch for at this point.

With that in mind, here are some early observations and quotes about the spots the Buckeyes have to fill.

Slot Receiver/"H"
Meyer said on signing day that true freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall will fill this spot when they arrive, but one practice shows it might be hard to unseat senior Jordan Hall.

Remember, Meyer thought very highly of Hall going into last season, repeatedly raving about the skills and leadership the senior from Jeannette, Pa., brought to the table. Hall was a captain last year but played in only three games at running back before first a knee and then a leg injury ended his season.

The Buckeyes simply didn't have an appropriate "H" – the famed hybrid spot in Meyer's offense – last season, as converted tight end Jacob Stoneburner often lined up in the slot and Corey Brown took over some of the running game responsibilities. On the whole, though, the spot didn't have the effectiveness Meyer was used to at Florida.

Now fully healthy, Hall seems like a perfect fit, though. He has always been able to catch the ball, meaning his transition to what is largely a wideout's role won't be that difficult, and he already looks like a matchup nightmare to linebackers and safeties. Hall's ability to quickly dart in and out of cuts is also suited to the spot.

His biggest moment Tuesday was a deep catch from Braxton Miller in which he got behind safety Christian Bryant and hauled in the pass in a scramble drill.

"I didn't know he was going to be as good catching it," Meyer said. "That was a tough catch down the middle of the field. We call that competitive excellence around here. He might go the rest of the spring and not have that shot again. You can't script that and say, OK, scramble and make a play with someone draped all over him. To see him go up and make the play, I'm real excited about his future.

"I think that's best for future, too."

Offensive Line
The two players who seem most likely to take over on the offensive line spot vacated by NFL-bound right tackle Reid Fragel are sophomores Taylor Decker and Chase Farris.

Both were the recipients of repeated praise last year even though they didn't see the field very much thanks to the experience ahead of them.

The two split time at right tackle on the first day, with Decker starting there before Farris took over with the top unit at times. Farris was also working without the No. 2 offensive line on the day at the same spot.

Decker has the prototypical tackle body – long and lean, and he has the ability to move seamlessly for a player of his size. He seemingly could slide in with little issue.

Farris, meanwhile, spent last year as a guard and seems most suited to that spot physically, but he has taken to the offensive line like a duck to water. It remains to be seen if Ohio State will shuffle things on the offensive line – guys like Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall have played tackle before – but either Hall or Decker seems likely to start on Aug. 31.

Defensive Line/Linebacker
These two positions might as well be combined, as the front seven lost six of its starters, and Meyer was blunt about how important it will be to see growth at those positions on day one.

"If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team," Meyer said. "If not, we won't. It's pretty simple."

The defensive line is probably the most intriguing position on the team, as the team must replace stalwarts Johnny Simon, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins with some pretty talented but still raw players.

The starters on the first day were Noah Spence at "Leo" with Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, J.T. Moore and Joel Hale also taking significant first team reps. On the second team, the Buckeyes lined up Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Purdue transfer Rashad Frazier.

"It's wide open," Meyer said. "There's no set rotation. Noah Spence, just what he did last year, he probably has a leg up. Adolphus Washington has a leg up because he got to play a little bit last year. There's a bunch of other guys who need to get going.

"Steve Miller has been here for a while. It's time to go play. Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter – how much longer is he going to be here? It's about time to start. At some point, you can't redshirt anymore."

At linebacker, Ryan Shazier has been fighting a sports hernia, leaving a rotation of Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry at middle linebacker and David Perkins starting at the "Will" spot. Meyer said Camren Williams and Luke Roberts are also in the battle, but the team wants to see if Grant can step up. A former No. 1 recruit, Grant just needs to feel the game better as he sometimes gets caught looking and thinking instead of reacting.

Cornerback
Ohio State moved a few players at this spot as Adam Griffin and Tyvis Powell lined up at the "Star" position on Tuesday, leaving sophomore Armani Reeves and true freshman Cameron Burrows and Eli Apple as the reserve corners.

The new starter across from Bradley Roby was junior Doran Grant, which was not a surprise, and Grant appears to be the odds-on favorite to take over from Travis Howard. Of course this will be a battle, but it would take someone really stepping up to unseat Grant, a highly rated recruit from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary who has earned spot duty in the past.

Punter
Four players took punts for the Buckeyes on Tuesday – senior kicker Drew Basil, junior Kyle Clinton, sophomore Jake Russell and redshirt freshman Frank Epitropoulos, who also continued to line up at wide receiver.

Basil and Epitropoulos looked as though they are the most likely entrants to start at the punter spot when the season begins. Both showed strong legs on Tuesday. Meyer likes Basil's consistency, though, while Epitropoulos has a booming leg that provides both height and hang time when he catches the ball right.

"Drew did a good job," Meyer said. "Fundamentally – I saw that last year – Drew could have punted last year. The only thing he's lacking is consistency because of experience, but fundamentally, I thought he was maybe our best punter.

"Drew has a strong leg, so I feel good with Drew. Obviously, we're still keeping our eyes and ears open."

As for Epitropoulos, Meyer said, "Epitropoulos has a long way to go in everything, but he's got talent."

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