Ohio State football: What we learned this spring and what’s left to be determined

Football never really stops these days, but Ohio State won’t be back on the practice field until late summer.

Here are some of the things we learned at each position during coach Ryan Day’s first spring as the head coach of the Buckeyes.

Quarterback: The biggest question of the spring — who will replaced Dwayne Haskins? — went unanswered.

While freshman Matthew Baldwin has an advantage of an extra year to learn the playbook, transfer Justin Fields has had more practice and game action at the college level.

Fields played 12 games at Georgia while Baldwin was not even full-go at times in practice at Ohio State following a knee injury that ended his career at Austin’s Lake Travis High School in Texas in 2017.

Both have plenty of arm to get the job done, so the tiebreaker ultimately could be Fields’ legs.

Although he does not have the game-breaking open-field skills of a Braxton Miller, Fields’ running ability adds another dimension to the offense and can take the place of some of the short passes that either moved the chains or created more third-and-manageable situations for the Buckeyes last season.

UPDATE: A few hours after this story was published, the news Baldwin is at least considering a transfer became public. 

Running back: J.K. Dobbins is the unquestioned top back this year, but who will back him up?

Demario McCall has moved back to running back after spending most of his junior season at receiver last year, but a calf injury prevented him from doing much this spring. While all of the running backs are expected to be able to do everything when they are in the game, his best role might be as an Eric Metcalf or Dave Meggett type pass-catcher who is enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest.

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Meanwhile, Master Teague and Marcus Crowley both showed flashes in the spring of being dangerous bigger-bodied backups for Dobbins.

Wide receiver: Coach Brian Hartline has eight veterans to choose from despite losing three players who could be drafted next week, but a pair of freshmen stole the spring game show and could be too talented to keep off the field.

Garrett Wilson, a five-star early enrollee from the same school that produced Baldwin, showed off the athleticism and ball skills he was reputed to have by snagging a highlight-reel touchdown in the spring game while Jaelen Gill is the type of open-field playmaker (now former OSU coach) Urban Meyer’s offense was known for showcasing when he was at Florida.

Tight end: Luke Farrell is coming off a solid finish to last season, and Rashod Berry has flashed big-time ability at times over the past two years after flipping between offense and defense early in his college career.

Jeremy Ruckert is a potential matchup nightmare with his natural ability as a receiver, but coach Kevin Wilson said all four must demonstrate the ability to block and threaten the defense in the passing game to get onto the field.

With Jake Hausmann also in the mix, the depth of this position looks to be the best it has been in years, and that opens up a lot of schematic options for the coaching staff after relying on three-receiver sets almost exclusively in the Meyer era.

Offensive line: Maybe this group has depth after all.

Nicholas Petit-Frere, a five-star freshman who redshirted last fall, is considered the future at the position, but he is probably on the outside looking in when Thayer Munford returns from injury and Rutgers graduate transfer Jonah Jackson arrives this summer.

“NPF” needed to bulk up upon arriving in college, and his having both a strong spring and remaining a backup is probably the best-case scenario for Ohio State, where too many first- and second-year players have been forced into playing time over the past few seasons because of lack of depth in the line room.

Defensive line: The depth of this group is mind-boggling.

Coach Larry Johnson maintained his preferred method of rotating heavily last year despite the starters all being injured to some degree or another at various times. That meant a lot of run for members of the 2017 and ’18 recruiting class — for better or for worse.

The youngsters sometimes swam, sometimes sunk but rarely did much to change a game. Nonetheless, that experience (and another year to grow physically) could pay off in spades this fall.

Linebacker: A new scheme and a new coach make this group the hardest to project.

Al Washington has plenty of experience available to him, though.

Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison and Pete Werner were the starters last season and Barron Browning logged a significant number of snaps.

But the group as a whole was not very good, and Borland and Browning missed time this spring with injuries.

That opened the door for youngsters Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughn Pope and Ben Schmiesing (a walk-on from Piqua) to show what they can do, and Washington had praise for all of them.

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Ohio State may go with only two linebackers a significant amount of the time, but they also showed a 4-4 alignment so specialization could be a buzzword this fall.

When there are two linebackers on the field, the third will be replaced by the “Bullet” position, a hybrid safety and linebacker who will also be expected to rush the passer.

Secondary: How senior-to-be Jordan Fuller adapts to the new defense is a wild card this fall.

He missed spring recovering from an offseason surgery, but his coverage skills might make him a perfect candidate to play free safety in a revamped defense brought by co-coordinator Jeff Hafley.

That would free the coaches to move around versatile Brendon White, who is in line to be the No. 1 “Bullet,” but should also continue seeing time at safety, and Shaun Wade, who has already played extensively at safety and cornerback at the college level.

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