Ohio State football: Three biggest questions facing Buckeyes as spring practice begins

The Ohio State Buckeyes begin spring practice Monday morning.

Ryan Day set the bar high in his first full season as head coach, running off 13 straight wins to start the year and falling one game short of playing for the national championship.

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To win another Big Ten championship and get back to the College Football Playoff, he will have to replace 12 starters from the 2019 team, but there are plenty of building blocks already in place.

The begins with quarterback Justin Fields, offensive linemen Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford, a deep group of tight ends and young standout receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

The cupboard is more bare on the other side of the ball, where defensive back Shaun Wade, linebackers Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Barrett Browning and defensive ends Jonathan Cooper, Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith could form the nucleus.

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Here are the three biggest questions for Ohio State this spring:

1. Who will replace J.K. Dobbins?

The running back from Texas went from good to great last season and became perhaps the Buckeyes’ best all-around weapon on offense.

This was best on display in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. He ran wild as the Buckeyes dominated early, but they had a harder time moving the ball after he sprained an ankle.

After a third-team All-Big Ten season as Dobbins’ backup, Master Teague III is the logical successor, but his struggles against the Tigers have created some question about how much of a drop-off there might be this year.

Teague is a bigger, more straight-line runner than Dobbins, but Ohio State is equipped to retool the run scheme around Teague’s strengths if necessary.

He will have to continue improving to hold off sophomore Marcus Crowley and redshirt freshman Steele Chambers, though Crowley’s status for spring is uncertain after he ended last season on the sideline with a knee injury.

Potentially also back in the mix is Damario McCall, a senior scat-back who has shown flashes of playmaking ability but struggled to maintain a consistent role while bouncing back and forth between running back and receiver, where he might also be a candidate to fill the empty slot position.

2. How will the secondary look?

On defense, this is not only the biggest question but also the one that is hardest to predict.

When the Buckeyes’ No. 1 unit takes the field, all four spots figure to look different than last season, and they will be under different leadership.

Wade, the only returning starter, is planning to move to cornerback after playing strong safety/slot corner last season.

He has star potential, but coaches Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes have their work cutout for them figuring out who will join him in the back end.

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If they maintain the structure of a year ago, Josh Proctor is likely to be the deep safety while Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown are first in line to play the other cornerback slot. The new SS/SC could be the loser of that battle or someone else.

That might depend on who has the most productive spring and how the coaches choose to configure the defense overall because the alignment was a somewhat unique one brought by co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who has departed to be head coach at Boston College.

Coombs is back after two years in the NFL, where he was exposed to a large variety of coverages but said no overhaul is necessary based on the success of a season ago.

He could change his mind given that the massive change in personnel could yield a unit with different strengths to promote and weaknesses to mask.

3. Who mans the defensive front?

Coach Larry Johnson has a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the business, so there is little concern Ohio State will have a strong defensive line again in 2020 — nor that it will be much different from 2019.

Three starters are gone, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chase Young. No one returning has quite the raw ability and skills of Young, but sophomore Harrison might be close.

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He is in line for an expanded role in a rotation at end that will also feature the return of fifth-year senior Cooper and juniors Smith and Tyler Friday, among others.

Bigger questions are inside where the trio of DaVon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and BB Landers were low-key great last season (23 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks) but are out of eligibility.

Like pretty much every other position, there is no lack of four- and five-star talent in line for more playing time, but that is no guarantee the Buckeyes will get the same production they did a year ago.

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