Position-by-Position Preview of Ohio State's 2014 Roster
Ohio State was just one victory away from playing Florida State in the national title game last year, but Michigan State derailed the Buckeyes' title run in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Urban Meyer is looking to rally his troops for another shot at glory this season, and fortunately for Ohio State fans, he has the talent to get it done.
With Braxton Miller back and a loaded defensive line, the Buckeyes have all they need to make a serious run at major college football's first-ever playoff.
Here's a position-by-position preview of Ohio State's 2014 roster.
At Ohio State, the quarterback position starts and ends with Braxton Miller.
The Buckeyes' signal-caller is the two-time reigning Big Ten MVP, and he's back for his senior season with the opportunity to be the conference's only three-time winner of the award. If he continues his upward trajectory, it would be a surprise if anyone beat him out for it in 2014.
The only problem is that Miller's safety net is gone.
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who saved Ohio State's undefeated season in 2012 when Miller was knocked out of the Purdue game, ran out of eligibility last year. He was vital to the Buckeyes in 2013, keeping them on track for most of three games early in the season after Miller sprained his MCL against San Diego State.
With Guiton gone, Miller will be backed up by two very unproven commodities in redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Uneven spring game performances from both suggest that keeping Miller healthy will be one of Ohio State's top priorities.
Ohio State does not have the same fortune at running back.
After recording a historic senior season despite missing the first three games due to suspension, Carlos Hyde was drafted by San Francisco in the second round of the NFL draft last month.
Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes must find a way to replace the 1,668 total yards and 18 touchdowns he registered in just 11 games.
That responsibility will most likely land with sophomore Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore blazer from St. Louis ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns during his first season, and after surging this spring, he's primed to take over the starting role this fall.
Elliott will have to produce right away because the Buckeyes have a handful of very talented backs vying for playing time.
Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn give Ohio State excellent depth, and true freshman Curtis Samuel—who enrolled early to take part in spring drills—also made noise in a crowded backfield.
Meyer certainly has a lot of options at running back, but it will be hard for any of them to fill Hyde's shoes.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The 2014 season should give Ohio State fans the opportunity to see what Dontre Wilson can really do.
After operating mainly as a decoy his freshman year, Wilson snagged the starting H-back spot (known as the Percy Harvin role) this spring. The Buckeyes will need him to provide a big boost after losing senior wideout Corey Brown, who led the team in receiving each of the last two seasons.
Ohio State returns seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer—two outside receivers with loads of experience. Both seniors have struggled to find consistency throughout their careers though, so Urban Meyer will need them to step up.
Other pass-catchers such as Michael Thomas and Corey Smith surged this spring, and while both are very talented, they each need to prove the can produce at a consistent level.
If they don't, Ohio State can lean on a pair of fantastic tight ends.
Jeff Heuerman is back, and he'll be ready to go for the season after suffering a foot injury that cost him most of Ohio State's spring practice. Heuerman caught 26 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, and if he has the kind of season Meyer wants from him, those numbers could double.
Behind Heuerman is Nick Vannett, who thrived as a backup last year and during spring while Heuerman was out this year. Vannett was so good, in fact, that Meyer is entertaining the possibility of getting both on the field at the same time.
It's safe to say Meyer has a lot of talented options on the perimeter.
The offensive line is Ohio State's most depleted unit.
The Buckeyes must replace four multiyear senior starters, and the candidates to do so are short on experience.
The lone returning starter, Taylor Decker, is expected to lead the group.
Decker started all of last season at right tackle, but as Ohio State's most experienced lineman, offensive line coach Ed Warinner switched him to left tackle to protect Braxton Miller's blind side.
Pat Elflein, who filled in admirably for Marcus Hall last season after the Michigan fight and ensuing meltdown, has locked up the starting right guard spot. He and Decker are the only named starters entering fall camp.
Darryl Baldwin and Evan Lisle will battle for the right tackle position. Antonio Underwood and Joel Hale are going at it for the left guard spot. At center, Jacoby Boren and Billy Price went back and forth this spring, but both could end up on the sideline watching Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay start this season if he can come in, as expected, and grasp Urban Meyer's spread offense quickly.
Ohio State's line might not be as dominant as it was a year ago when it paved the way for the nation's No. 5 rushing attack, but Warinner turned what was a horrible unit in 2011 into the team's strength a year later. The Buckeyes' title hopes rest on his ability do that again this year.
If the offensive line is Ohio State's weakest unit right now, its counterpart on defense is the strongest.
The Buckeyes defensive line is absolutely loaded this year.
It starts on the outside, where Ohio State has Joey Bosa and Noah Spence coming off the edge. Bosa was incredible in his first year, earning first-team freshmen All-American honors while Spence led the team in sacks. Both combined for 28 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks—numbers that are impressive because Bosa didn't become a starter until Week 5.
Players such as Tyquan Lewis and Steve Miller give Ohio State depth at defensive end, which is good, because the Buckeyes recently lost Jamal Marcus to transfer.
On the interior, the Buckeyes have two outstanding players in Michael Bennett, who many are expecting to be a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft, and Adolphus Washington. New defensive line coach Larry Johnson will clog the middle with a rotation of players that include Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter.
Ohio State's defensive line has the potential to not only be the best in the Big Ten, but in the entire country.
Ryan Shazier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL draft, and now Ohio State is left with the task is filling his enormous shoes.
Urban Meyer has turned to Joshua Perry, who started all season as Ohio State's outside linebacker opposite Shazier.
With Perry now filling Shazier's role, where he will be blitzing and supporting the run on a more consistent basis, that frees up a spot on the other side.
Darron Lee emerged in a big way this spring.
The redshirt freshman came out of nowhere and surged ahead of highly touted players such as Trey Johnson and Chris Worley, and he has the best shot at snagging the starting spot this fall.
At middle linebacker, senior Curtis Grant is trying to hold off true freshman Raekwon McMillan.
McMillan, a 5-star prospect who enrolled early to take part in spring practice, made a lot of noise despite his lack of collegiate experience. His biggest challenge this summer and fall will be learning the ins and outs of Ohio State's playbook. If he can do that, he has a legitimate shot at stealing Grant's spot in the starting lineup.
Cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are gone, so new co-defensive coordinator and pass defense specialist Chris Ash needs to break in a lot of new players this year.
Doran Grant returns at cornerback, and he'll lead a unit that's stocked with a lot of talent that's short on experience.
Armani Reeves, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple give the Buckeyes a lot of options for the other cornerback spot (or spots, when they go to nickel coverage). Conley and Apple, in particular, impressed this spring as the Buckeyes transition away from its press coverage for more man-to-man looks.
Tyvis Powell locked up one of the safety spots this spring, and Vonn Bell, who shined during Ohio State's loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, was in line to do the same before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for all of spring practice. He's expected to be at full health when fall camp begins.
In Bell's place this spring, Cameron Burrows made plays. The former cornerback showed he has the range and instincts to be a great safety, and with he and Bell as options, Ohio State is in good shape on the back end of its defense.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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