Gone is the gaudy production of Carlos Hyde and Ryan Shazier. Hyde is off to San Francisco to bust heads under the employ of fellow Big Tenner Jim Harbaugh; Shazier is in the Steel City now and will likely break Johnny Football in half this fall.
So where does that leave Ohio State? After all, production like those two produced doesn't exactly grow on trees; however, Ohio State could be in better shape than one might think.
BTN released a list of three breakout players to watch in the 2014 season, and two Buckeyes made the list.
The first isn't much of a surprise: running back Ezekiel Elliot. Here's what Sean Merriman had to say:
I almost chose this guy as my most underrated player in yesterday’s post, but then I realized, it’s tough to refer to a running back as being “underrated” when he’s only carried the ball 30 times. However, Elliott is a perfect fit in this category, especially after the loss of starting tailback Carlos Hyde to the NFL. With Hyde carrying the rushing load last season, the Buckeyes offense led the nation with 6.8 yards per carry. Now, Elliott will be looked at to take over the role as Ohio State’s go-to tailback, and he should be an absolute force in that backfield. Despite playing in a backup role during his freshman year, Elliott still managed to gain 262 yards on the ground, an average of 8.7 yards per carry, which was tops among all Buckeye players who had at least 30 rushing attempts. This is an Ohio State team that loves to run the football, and Elliott has the size and skill to be the next great Buckeye running back.
Now, I doubt Elliot will be able to match the 8.7 yards per carry mark because he'll be a featured back not playing in mop-up duty. Still, the young man is electric, and like his predecessor, he is no stranger to doling out punishment either.
Elliot will never be confused for Carlos Hyde, but he'll bring plenty of (different-flavored) dishes to the table.
Tom Dienhart's pick might surprise the casual fan, but won't shock anyone who paid attention to spring camp: linebacker Darron Lee:
Ohio State needs help at linebacker with Ryan Shazier off early to the NFL. Truth be told, even with Shazier, the Buckeye linebacker play wasn’t up to par in 2013. But that soon could be changing as plenty of talented players develop. A guy I’m watching is redshirt freshman Darron Lee, who looks ready to take over at strongside linebacker after Joshua Perry was moved to Shazier’s weakside spot. Lee emerged in the spring, showing skills and instincts that could make him a difference maker. But he’s being pushed by fellow redshirt freshman Chris Worley, giving the Buckeyes some nice options as breakout players at the strongside linebacking slot. Also, keep an eye on true freshman Raekwon McMillan, who is pushing Curtis Grant at middle linebacker after enrolling early. So, take your pick from Lee, Worley and McMillan as breakout Ohio State linebackers. But when it’s all said and done, I think Lee will emerge the most this fall.
Reading that paragraph, it's almost as if....as if... *single tear drops down my cheek*... there will be some linebacker depth this fall.
Darron Lee is a former three-star recruit from New Albany, but if his spring is any indication, he'll outshoot his recruiting ranking in no time.
While he's not replacing Shazier directly (Hello, Mr. Perry), Lee would bring solidarity to a linebackers corps that has been in disarray (outside of Shazier) for the last couple years. In turn, that would be a massive help in solidifying some of the defensive woes that have plagued Ohio State.
If Elliot and Lee can fulfill their obvious potential, it would go a long way in again proving Ohio State doesn't rebuilt, it merely reloads.
There are only 91 days until Ohio State kicks off in Baltimore against the U.S. Naval Academy.