Ohio State Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp
The Ohio State football team is gearing up for another run at a national title, and that journey starts in two weeks when the team officially reports for fall camp.
Urban Meyer has a talented roster that's loaded with players he recruited, but the Buckeyes are still working to fill the void left by playmakers such as Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby and Carlos Hyde.
Ohio State lost 10 starters and a number of key backups from last year's team. With fall camp nearing, here's what the Buckeyes' depth chart should look like heading into the 2014 season.
Starters listed in bold.
Quarterback: Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones
At quarterback, it starts and ends with Braxton Miller.
With Miller out, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett got an overwhelming majority of the action this spring. Jones emerged as Miller's backup, but uneven performances from both signal-callers in the spring game put Miller's health at the top of Urban Meyer's priority list.
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
Ohio State will turn to sophomore Ezekiel Elliott to replace Carlos Hyde at running back.
Elliott, a former 4-star stud out of St. Louis, shined in his limited opportunities as a freshman last year. He played in half of Ohio State's 14 games and rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns on just 30 carries.
Elliott's blend of speed and power will fit perfectly into what offensive coordinator Tom Herman wants to do in the run game, but it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes featuring him like they did Hyde the last two years.
That's because Ohio State has a ton of depth at running back. Senior Rod Smith has been consistent over the years, averaging 5.4 yards per carry for the Buckeyes. He'll need a strong fall camp to hold off some talented players such as Curtis Samuel, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball.
Wide Receiver: Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall
Wide Receiver: Devin Smith, Corey Smith
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, Johnnie Dixon
Ohio State has the tall task of replacing Corey Brown, who led the Buckeyes in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. That will be a lot easier with an infusion of young talent.
Dontre Wilson is primed for a big season after snagging the starting H-back spot this spring. Senior Devin Smith is hoping to give the Buckeyes a consistency that has evaded him throughout his career, per Patrick Murphy of theozone.net. Michael Thomas wants his strong showing in the spring to translate to fall production.
Evan Spencer is the wild card. The senior missed spring practice after injuring his right leg in the Orange Bowl, but if he can come back strong during fall camp, he'll give the Buckeyes' wide receiver unit a huge boost.
Tight End: Jeff Heuerman, Nick Vannett
The Buckeyes have two very talented options at tight end.
Jeff Heuerman, who started for the Buckeyes and caught 26 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns last year, missed some time this spring after spraining his foot. That gave Nick Vannett time to shine, and he didn't waste the opportunity. According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer, tight ends coach Tim Hinton said Vannett finally has a grasp on things.
He’s spending a little less time figuring out where and how. He’s not thinking about it anymore. He knows it...This time last year the consistency of Nick wasn’t there. He had really good spurts, you always realized he had great talent, but his consistency is so much better.
Vannett has been so good, in fact, that the Buckeyes are trying to figure out ways to get both him and Heuerman on the field at the same time this season.
Left Tackle: Taylor Decker, Kyle Dodson
Left Guard: Antonio Underwood, Demetrius Knox
Center: Chad Lindsay, Jacoby Boren
Right Guard: Pat Elflein, Tommy Brown
Right Tackle: Darryl Baldwin, Evan Lisle
One of Ohio State's toughest challenges this season will be finding a way to replace the four senior starters it lost along the offensive line last year.
With only one new starter identified in the spring—Pat Elflein at right guard—Meyer and the Buckeyes still have a lot of work to do.
Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay will make things a bit easier. The former 3-star recruit started four games for the Tide last year, but he'll be eligible to play this year for the Buckeyes because he already graduated from Alabama.
Antonio Underwood and Darryl Baldwin will build off solid springs to secure starting spots this fall.
Defensive End: Joey Bosa, Rashad Frazier
Defensive Tackle: Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt
Defensive Tackle: Michael Bennett, Chris Carter
Defensive End: Noah Spence, Steve Miller
Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Noah Spence return after combining for 28 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks last season. Michael Bennett—who Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects as a top-five pick in next year's NFL draft—will anchor the line alongside Adolphus Washington in the middle.
That starting four will be bolstered by a ton of depth. Reserves such as Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Steve Miller will be factors in the new rotation that defensive line coach Larry Johnson is implementing this fall.
Of course, the Buckeyes will be without Noah Spence for the first two games because of a suspension handed down by the Big Ten last January. Miller is expected to start, and he could be backed up by true freshman Jalyn Holmes until Spence's return.
Linebacker: Joshua Perry, Trey Johnson
Linebacker: Curtis Grant, Raekwon McMillan
Linebacker: Darron Lee, Chris Worley
Ohio State's linebacker unit could feature two freshmen by the end of the year.
Redshirt frosh Darron Lee filled the hole left by Joshua Perry, who moved over to fill Ryan Shazier's vacated spot. Senior Curtis Grant is back to man the middle linebacker position, and he'll do enough in fall camp to be the Week 1 starter. He'll have to perform at a high level to hold off Raekwon McMillan.
The 5-star prospect enrolled early this spring to get a jumpstart on his collegiate career, and that proved to be a smart move. McMillan made a strong case to be the starter, and according to Tim May of the The Columbus Dispatch, he even impressed Grant, who's trying to hold him off in his final year with the Buckeyes.
The senior will get the nod against Navy, but it wouldn't be a surprise if McMillan ascends to the top of the depth chart midway through the season.
Cornerback: Doran Grant, Gareon Conley
Safety: Tyvis Powell, Erick Smith
Safety: Vonn Bell, Cameron Burrows
Cornerback: Armani Reeves, Eli Apple
Ohio State's most beleaguered unit from a season ago lost its two best players in Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett, but the secondary should be vastly improved in 2014.
That won't be the result of a talent upgrade, but rather a schematic one. Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to overhaul Ohio State's defense, with a specific emphasis on pass coverage. As explained by Jeff Svoboda at OhioState.Scout.com, Ash is known for his vaunted 4-3 scheme, and through spring practice, he dramatically enhanced Ohio State's ability to defend the pass, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder.
Doran Grant and Armani Reeves—the top two cornerbacks behind Roby last year—will start in Ohio State's base defense. The Buckeyes will turn to a pair of talented redshirt freshmen in Gareon Conley and Eli Apple for their pass-heavy packages.
The safety position will be bolstered by Vonn Bell, who shined in an otherwise disastrous Orange Bowl for the Buckeyes. He'll be accompanied by Tyvis Powell and backed up by Cameron Burrows and true freshman Erick Smith.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.