It may seem like the football season just ended, but we are only one month away from the start of Spring practice for Ohio State football. In fact, one future opponent will begin in less than 2 weeks, although they will be 3 players lighter when they do. With the loss of some key starters from their outright Big Ten Championship team, and with uncertainty at some positions where starters return, the OSU coaches will be looking to see who steps up and takes charge among all of the candidates at those positions. Here's a preview of what could be the most interesting battles.
The official line about the left tackle position is that the starter (Jim Cordle) is gone and OSU will be looking for a replacement. But the reality is that Cordle started the season at right tackle, with Andrew Miller starting at left tackle. Miller played well, but Mike Adams began playing better in practice and was apparently sharing the position. Then Miller had a nasty bout with the flu, and the resulting weight loss sidetracked his season. Adams failed to take firm control in Miller's absence, leading the coaches to move Cordle over to LT and install J.B. Shugarts (who had already proved himself while Cordle was injured) at the right tackle position.
Now that Cordle is preparing for the NFL draft, the position is roughly in the same shape it was last spring. Miller should be back at full strength and Adams remains an enigma to most observers. So is it Miller's position to lose? Adams seems to have the most potential, with his imposing size and his gigantic reach. It could be that the complexity of college blocking schemes is baffling him, which means that at some point the light may come on and he will start dominating like the recruiting experts obviously thought he could. Or maybe it won't. It's hard to predict, but it will definitely be a position to watch in the spring. Terrelle Pryor is a mobile quarterback, but most fans would rather see him run after he has scanned the field, not before he even has a chance to set up.
With the departure of all-everything captain Kurt Coleman and off-and-on starter Anderson Russell, the safety position becomes another battleground to watch in the spring. Jermale Hines will be the favorite to take over at Coleman's strong safety position, leaving the free safety spot open plus the nickel. There are many candidates but the favorites among fans seem to be Orhian Johnson, Nate Oliver, and Donnie Evege. It would also be wise to keep an eye on youngsters Zach Domicone, Jamie Wood, and Corey Brown. My feeling is that Johnson and Oliver will be the men to beat at the FS and Nickel positions respectively. But I expect to see a lot of Jamie Wood as well.
OSU fans got some good news when Cameron Heyward decided to return for his final season, but the early departure of Thad Gibson will open up an opportunity for someone. The most obvious candidate to start opposite of Heyward is Nathan Williams. Williams has seen extensive playing time in his first two seasons, and at times has seemed nearly impossible to block. Of course, he did have that very costly offsides penalty against Iowa, but excessive aggression is a trait we are inclined to forgive in a pass rusher. Other candidates are Keith Wells, Melvin Fellows, and last year's spring hero Solomon Thomas. Can any of them break through and win the starting nod? My feeling is probably not, but you can never have too many good pass rushers. Since OSU likes to rotate defensive linemen quite a bit, it would not surprise me to see three or more of them see action at some point. But expect Williams to be the starter for the duration barring injury.
Austin Spitler has exhausted his eligibility, and so one of the three starting LB positions will be available for the taking. Here is where you wonder if the coaches will go with the way they have the players currently slotted, or if they will play the best three players and just move them around as their talents dictate. The other question is whether Tyler Moeller will return to full strength. He has said that he will participate in the spring, but will not take part in any contact drills until the fall. This would seem to make Etienne Sabino the clear leader for the spot if the coaches simply go by position depth. But what if Storm Klein outplays Sabino? Would they consider moving him to the outside? Or would they move Brian Rolle and allow Klein to take over in the middle? The same questions arise when speaking of Andrew Sweat or Jonathan Newsome (although there are rumors that Sweat will redshirt). Whatever happens, OSU is not lacking in talent. My sense is that whoever wins, the position is in good hands.
This one would seem to be settled, but maybe not. Brandon Saine started the Rose Bowl and it would appear that he is the incumbent starter, but hold that thought for a moment. Daniel "Boom" Herron was the starter for the first part of the season until he started having problems with his ankle. Both runners have earned their time, and they have proved to be reliable, if not spectacular, ball-carriers. My money is on Saine because he has more upside potential and we saw a lot of that on display against the Ducks. But his career has been one of ups and downs and so you can never count Herron out. One thing is for sure, they will both get lots of carries in OSU's run-oriented offense.
Alright, now it's your turn. Which of these battles is the one you will be watching the most this spring? Or is there another one (DT, TE) that fascinates you? What do you think about my predictions? What young player have I left out who is just about ready to burst on the scene? Who will be the next "Mr. April" (upholding the tradition of Bam Childress)? Only one month before we get our first glimpse.