Ohio State's Dark-Horse Breakout Candidates

By Mike Young on June 2, 2014 at 11:00a

Kirk Irwin Photography


Only 89 days remain until kickoff, but concerns surrounding key positions will last well beyond noon on Aug. 30 in Baltimore.

Coaches know what they're getting from a stacked defensive line unit and are reasonably confident in a healthy, potentially improved Braxton Miller. Outside of that, there are few, known quantities on this Ohio State team. 

The running back corps features a wealth of experience and talent, yet replacing a workhorse like Carlos Hyde might require that entire committee. That hasn't stopped the hype surrounding Ezekiel Elliott, despite his one carry over the Buckeyes' last five games. His 29 other rushing attempts gave fans hope heading into this season, showcasing an ideal blend of speed and power.

Even behind a rebuilt offensive line, he'll carry a great deal of expectations, in addition to Miller handoffs early in the season. This is why BTN recently named Elliott a "breakout player to watch" in 2014. 

Linebacker Darron Lee joins Elliott on that list after a huge spring performance. Neither are particularly fearless predictions, considering the weight of optimism already placed upon them. 

Excluding Elliott and Lee does not mean OSU lacks in breakout candidates. Here are five more to consider: 

Cam Burrows

Sophomore Vonn Bell is destined to be the next stud safety, but he won't be handed the job in the fall. 

That's because of sophomore Cam Burrows, who played free safety in the spring due to Bell's knee injury. Burrows earned effusive praise from Urban Meyer throughout March and April, while Bell recovered from a torn MCL. Presumably, Bell will be ready by fall practice, but Burrows will ensure the Buckeyes will have at least one physically capable safety in the back half.

As the first oral commit of Ohio State's 2013 class, Burrows was largely forgotten about until he roared back into our collective consciousness in the middle of last season. Once again, injuries decimated the OSU secondary and Burrows stepped in. 

Under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash, every member of the secondary is expected to be physical and capable of playing press-coverage, especially at the safety spots. Ash once called Burrows "the model of what we want to recruit here," as a former cornerback who is versatile enough to transition to safety. Even if he doesn't jump ahead of Bell on the depth chart, Burrows should see a significant amount of snaps because of the newfound emphasis on coverage skills.

Hopefully, he packs on a few more pounds, though
Greene's height is unique among this WR corps.

Jeff Greene

Last season, Ohio State's red-zone scoring percentage ranked among the top five nationally. Imagine what they could do with another 6-foot-5-inch target.

Junior Jeff Greene, eligible for the first time since transferring from Georgia Tech, is not as raw as, say, recent flameout T.Y. Williams. Greene caught 18 passes in 2012, which might be a record year for a Yellow Jacket receiver under Paul Johnson.

Obviously, the Buckeye offense poses completely different sets of challenges, so it's a good thing Greene had a year to sit out and learn it. The current group ahead of Greene at his position are rich with experience, but not with consistent production.

If Greene can add to his frame – corners can only combat his size with physical play – he could become a reliable target across the field, not just in the red zone.

Demetrius Knox

Offensive line may be the most difficult spot on the field for a true freshman to play.

However, Texas native Demetrius Knox has a chance to make an impact this season – and I'm not just saying that for page views. Antonio Underwood played six games in 2012, making him the most experienced option at left guard – by far. Behind Underwood, who tore his ACL in 2013, is converted defensive lineman Joel Hale and Tommy Brown, who hasn't seen the field in his two years at Ohio State.

The offensive line struggled throughout the spring and Meyer noted only left tackle Taylor Decker and right guard Pat Elflein are starters, at this point. Knox projects as a guard, at least early in his college career, and will have every chance to make an immediate difference once we see him on the field this fall.

Nick Vannett

This spring, Burrows benefitted from an injury to a teammate and so did tight end Nick Vannett.

In place of Jeff Heuerman, who sat out while recovering from foot surgery, Vannett had an opportunity to showcase a little more than his run-blocking abilities. The 6-foot-6-inch redshirt junior has caught 17 passes and one touchdown in his Buckeye career. If offensive coordinator Tom Herman designs more two tight-end sets in 2014, Vannett will get more opportunities to haul in passes. 

While Heuerman will likely reclaim his starting job, Vannett has a lot to build off.

"Nick’s had a phenomenal spring so far, and obviously getting a few more reps (now) that Jeff’s a little nicked up," tight ends coach Tim Hinton said in April. "He’s doing a great job of managing the X’s and O’s. Boy, he’s having a great spring."

Chris Worley

Darron Lee gained all the attention, but he didn't lock up the starting job in the spring.

That still leaves a chance for redshirt freshman Chris Worley. Lee ran with the first string for most of spring practice, with Worley as his backup.

Still, they provide similar skill sets, which allows Ash and Luke Fickell to keep the competition open. Both played a bit of safety in high school, which is vital to the "walkout linebacker" in Ash's system. This spring, both excelled in coverage, a major reason why they seemingly came out of nowhere. 

Lee's hype is well-earned, but you can't discount a guy motivated by the attention he isn't getting. In this case, it's Worley, who even said he played a similar role in his defense at Glenville. If Worley continues to challenge Lee, and with plans to constantly rotate linebackers, both will see the field this fall. 


Comments Show All Comments

WesPatterson23's picture

Honestly I'm so excited to see what the H-Back brings to the offense. Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall are two guys who could really breakout this year and be a defenses nightmare.

+6 HS
d5k's picture

I expect more screen passes next year, including packaged plays since the strength of the team has moved somewhat from the interior to the perimeter.  Still heavy doses of the running game of course.  I think Johnnie Dixon along with those names you mentioned will catch quite a few short passes and try to make something happen.  I think the intermediate passing game will be vital against the better defenses though so I am hoping to see more consistent play at WR and confident throws from Braxton.

rdubs's picture

With so many young guys I hope we use some of the early games to rotate more players in even at positions where rotations don't happen as frequently like the defensive backfield.  

+2 HS
osu407's picture

Burrows was awesome against Indiana last year and latimer got drafted in the second. Burrows locked him down. 

+6 HS
alust2013's picture

I was also really impressed with Burrows in that game last year. I can't quite figure out why Reeves was kept ahead of him after that, but it was also a pretty short chunk of playing time.

...and Michigan still sucks.

+2 HS
tussey's picture

I think it was because Burrows was Grant's back-up and Reeves was Roby's back up

+2 HS
Rogabone's picture

I'm really excited to see the LB play this year and the emergence of Guys like Lee and Worley, but what I'm dying to see is the competition between Grant and McMillan. Raekwon is pure diesel and will only push Grant harder. Also cannot wait to see what the incoming guys like Berger will add to the mix.

"Who is that madman?" the new arrival asked St. Peter.

"That's God," St. Peter replied. "But he thinks he's Woody Hayes."

+2 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

If a freshman could breakout like Bosa did last year, it would be Meech. I'm just not sure a freshman will break out this year quite like that though. Nothing against any of them, but the depth at a lot of positions is currently being fought for by juniors and sophomores. This team is loaded and I just think some freshmen will get PT, but I don't think any will have a huge impact this year.

Meech could prove that wrong though!

I think a good dark horse might be James Clark. He was coming on strong last year before his injury and the kid is electric on the field. He is highly forgotten and could be a contributor at some point this year.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
Meechy77's picture

I'm coming 

Angry staff, Angry team. The Ohio State

+14 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

Big Meech isnt trying to hear none of that soph,Jr. crap. Once you hit campus its steady focus and take no prisoners. Stay away from the late night partying and I could easily see a Fr. steal a position.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

HaVy NuTs's picture

Get em' Meechy!

+1 HS
IH8UOFM's picture

We see you big fella


+3 HS
d5k's picture

I don't know about that.  There's some pretty big shoes to fill by this guy:


I think we need Meechy and Jamarco perhaps to come in with that attitude.  "I'm here to play offensive line".

+1 HS
JDunc686's picture

Is Jeff Greene on scholarship, or is he considered a walk-on?

BuckeyeinSavannah's picture

I think he's a prefered walk on.

buckeyedude's picture

I'm hoping that M.Thomas finally puts it together and has  a good year, but I'm really excited to see what Jeff Greene can do. He's a huge target @ WR. Something that I don't think we've had for a while.



+1 HS
THEOSUfan's picture

I remember that through the summer last year, Brax and others were talking about Mike Thomas as a player to look out for.  Be it injuries or other problems, Mike hasn't shown himself.  This fall would be a good time for him to start doing that.

zebiraross's picture

Darkhorses for me
Defense-E. Smith


+1 HS
thatlillefty's picture

i think this will be a breakout year for Eli Apple. He makes a lot of plays on my NCAA dynasty team, anyway.

+6 HS
Nutinpa's picture

I will go with McMillan on D;  

Michael Thomas on O.

BoFuquel's picture

D. Smith on O, and C. and D. Grant on D. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

sivaDavis's picture

Eli Apple on defense.

Mike Thomas on offense. 

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Special teams s/o to Sean Neurnberger - wins job, sets regular season PAT record.

In (very) limited duty, Cameron Johnston kills the spirits of opposing offenses.

+2 HS
woodi19's picture

Corey Smith on offense ....Tyvis Powell on defense

+1 HS
Drew2006's picture

Dontre and Braxton will carry the offense in my opinion. We will see what Jalin does and Ezekiel. 

Love thy neighbor as yourself-Jesus

Shangheyed's picture

Let them all break out~!!

+2 HS
chirobuck's picture

Urban Meyer is gonna have a break out year.....just a gut feeling


^ best post ever ^

+1 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Nice to see some of the younger players stepping up!  Time to reload!!

Go Bucks!!

BeijingBucks's picture

actually our offence could be just as prolific as last year and with a 50% better defence will get the ball more often and even more opportunities to score.

if they can survive to mid season all those hungry young players won't be so young any more.  backups even will be electric.  was it me or was our 2nd and 3rd string D line forcing quick passes in the meaningless (but still meaningful) spring game?

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
luckynutz's picture

The fact that none of the starters dressed for the spring game, yet the d line made life uncomfortable for the qbs was a beautiful thing. The depth there is just beyond insane. And i think from watching that, tyquan lewis is ready for prime time. Think you will see him shine in the absence of spence early.

216ToThe614's picture

What if neither Darron Lee or Chris Worley start because Kyle (Alex) Burger takes the starting spot? Urban has been already effusing high praise on him this spring and he isn't even on campus yet

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

TraptnMI's picture

If that happens,I will book my reservations to Hades,if I haven't done so already.

" It's real good whatcha done Anthony, real good ! "

+1 HS
pdan46's picture

I am a firm believer in depth and playing that depth frequently.


That's why it is great to read about guys like Vannett, Burrows, Lee, Worley and even Knox.  All of those guys, and several more, should get as much PT as possible as early as possible.  We will need all of them this year and it will make us even stronger in the future.  I would also like to see Price get a chance to be the starter at LG and Boren at C.  Smith and Marshall are great receivers in waiting.  Dunn and Ball deserve some early PT at RB.  Apple and Conley at CB.  Looking forward to seeing Hill and Munger at DT.  Many more too!