Ohio State football: What to know about Buckeyes’ skill-position players

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Ohio State coach Ryan Day on the paradox of wanting to play early but remaining patient at OSU

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio State football is set to begin training camp later this month.

That means it is time to take a look at the roster coach Ryan Day and his staff will be trying to mold into a championship unit again.

Explore4 takeaways from spring practice

We start with the “skill” players on offense, where a high standard has been set in Day’s first two seasons as head coach of the Buckeyes:

Quarterback

Returning starter: None

Likely new starter: C.J. Stroud

In the mix: Jack Miller, Kyle McCord

Stroud, a redshirt freshman from California, finished last season as the backup and spent most of the spring as the presumed frontrunner.

How big was his lead? With access to practice limited, that is hard to say.

He looked the best of the trio of freshmen signal-callers in the spring game, but that is only one data point Day is certain to take into consideration when he decides who will take the first snap against Minnesota.

Stroud and Miller were both four-star recruits while McCord is a five-star true freshman with a big arm but less knowledge of the offense.

Stroud and Miller both appeared in games last season, but neither has thrown a pass in a real college game, adding to the intrigue and potential difficulty in picking a starter.

ExploreWhat to take from 'glimpses' of QB battle

Stroud was an efficient 16-for-22 passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game with no turnovers while Miller had some shaky moments and completed 17 of 30 passes for 128 yards. McCord was 12-for-17 with a pair of touchdowns.

A freshman starter — or a second-year college player — getting the reins of the Ohio State offense is not unheard of, but it is likely to present some challenges for the coaching staff, especially early in the season.

ExploreA closer look at previous Ohio State freshman starting QBs

Running back

Returning starter: Master Teague III

Possible new starter: Miyan Williams or TreVeyon Henderson

Also in the mix: Marcus Crowley, Evan Pryor, Steele Chambers

A 5-foot-11, 226-pound fourth-year junior from Tennessee, Teague was the No. 1 back early last season after backing up J.K. Dobbins in 2019.

Although he averaged 73.4 yards per game, Teague never quite looked like himself in 2020 as he recovered from a spring achilles injury, and he was overtaken late in the season by Trey Sermon, who has since graduated.

A straight-line runner with power, Teague has 1,409 career rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, but he will face multiple challenges for carries this fall.

Henderson is a five-star freshman from North Carolina generally regarded as too good to keep off the field, but how much of a role he can earn remains to be seen.

Williams, a 5-8, 227-pound bowling ball from Cincinnati, impressed in limited game action last season as a true freshman and could push for a starting role.

Crowley wasn’t quite himself last season, either, as he recovered from a knee injury he suffered late in the 2019 season, but he was considered a potential difference-maker before that happened and could be again if he can get back to 100 percent.

Chambers is still listed as a running back on the official roster online, but he was spotted with the linebackers in a social media post from the team last month.

With much more depth at running back than linebacker, seeing him officially change positions when the preseason begins would not be a surprise, but Ohio State has not made anything official as of this writing.

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Receiver

Returning starters: Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson

Potential new starter: Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Also in the mix: Julian Fleming, Kamryn Babb, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Jayden Ballard, Demario McCall, Chris Booker, Xavier Johnson

Olave and Wilson were the top-rated receivers in the Big Ten last season, and they are the top two returning receivers in the country this season according to Pro Football Focus.

Smith-Njigba appeared to move into a starting role in the slot during spring ball, and returning starter Jameson Williams subsequently transferred to Alabama.

Harrison and Egbuka are true freshmen who flashed in the spring game and should be part of coach Brian Hartline’s rotation.

ExploreReceivers embracing chance to carry the QBs

The most intriguing receiver, though, might be Fleming.

The top-rated receiver in the class of 2020 was limited in the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. Hartline said that had held him back more than most might have realized and aised some eyebrows when he said a healthy Fleming has a combination of size (6-2, 205) and speed he has possibly never seen at the college level.

McCall is another intriguing member of the team — for the sixth year in a row. A shifty running back from northeast Ohio, he made a splash early but has never found a consistent role. Among the players who took the advantage of the NCAA allowing everyone a free year of eligibility, the 5-9, 195-pound McCall has a different skill set than the other receivers. He could be a true third-down back/safety valve for a long quarterback and could take handoffs as a change of pace.