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Spring game will give Ohio State clarity into some roster battles

04/15/2017, 12:58am EDT
By By NICHOLAS PIOTROWICZ BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Buckeyes have several positions that need to be filled because of graduation


Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill, left, is one of several at the position who could see more time on the field this coming season. ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS — The most popular practice in American sports has arrived.

Ohio State concludes spring football today with an intrasquad game at Ohio Stadium that features four 10-minute quarters and a running clock in the second half. The attendance this afternoon won’t surpass 100,000 this season because of stadium restoration work, though Ohio State announced Friday that its 82,000 tickets were gone.

For the entrenched veterans, the spring game means little. Players such as quarterback J.T. Barrett and defensive end Tyquan Lewis are multiple-year starters who have nothing additional to gain.

However, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has said in the past that he wants to see how his unproven players perform in a nearly full Ohio Stadium. There is at least some intrigue for the Buckeyes in certain areas of the depth chart:

CORNERBACK

Cornerback was Ohio State’s strongest position in 2016 — and arguably the single most important part of the Buckeyes’ identity as a team. Ohio State asks its cornerbacks to survive with little help in coverage, conditions under which departed corners Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore thrived.

Denzel Ward — who was in a three-man rotation with Conley and Lattimore last year — probably is a lock in the rotation once again. Beyond that, playing time is available.

Sophomores Damon Arnette, Joshua Norwood, and Rodjay Burns are in the running, but an influx of talent arrived behind them. Junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield plus true freshmen Jeffery Okudah, Shaun Wade, and Marcus Williamson could do wonders for themselves with a good showing.

This position battle might continue all the way until the opener.

BACKUP RUNNING BACK

Whoever claims this spot will earn real playing time, even without an injury. Now that Ohio State has some depth here once again, someone is due 50 to 100 carries behind incumbent starter Mike Weber.

The two options look to be true freshman J.K. Dobbins and sophomore Demario McCall, with Antonio Williams a distant third. McCall did well when he played last season, but he could move to slot receiver later this year.

Dobbins already has impressed in his first semester on campus. Meyer said earlier this week Dobbins “is going to play in the fall.”

RIGHT GUARD

Matt Burrell has seen first-team action in the spring, but he is not the starter just yet. Against a loaded OSU defensive line, Burrell, Demetrius Knox, and Malcolm Pridgeon can make a case for the offensive line’s only open spot.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

This spot will rotate no matter who starts, but the order has not totally settled. Dre’Mont Jones has drawn rave reviews from his coaches and teammates this spring and looks to be a clear starter.

Michael Hill is the most experienced of the group with 21 games played, but Tracy Sprinkle was set to start at tackle last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton could be factors as well.

RECEIVER

Mediocre a season ago, the Buckeyes simply need more out of its receivers this season. So far, Parris Campbell has been the star of the spring at receiver and, with a notable effort today, he could further strengthen his position.

Behind Campbell, the Buckeyes have a trio of players — Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, and Johnnie Dixon — who played last season. True freshman Brendon White likely isn’t ready for playing time just yet, but the Buckeyes have been encouraged by his early progress at a new position.

Ohio State has been eager to give Binjimen Victor an elevated role, and after a year mostly watching, Victor might be ready for it this season.

Further, the Buckeyes’ experimentation at receiver will have its best trial yet. Ohio State has used Campbell at its slot receiver spot — formerly held by Curtis Samuel — and should gain some clarity on where and how to use its receivers.

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at: npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 724-6110, or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, right, looks to be a lock for one of the starting cornerback spots this fall for the Buckeyes. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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