The Top Five Position Battles to Watch at Fall Camp

By Mike Young on August 4, 2014 at 11:00 am
Ezekiel Elliott runs wild on Penn State.

Kirk Irwin Photography


Urban Meyer and three Ohio State players made their media rounds last week, and now the time for talking is over. Finally, the action takes place place on the field, rather than at a podium.

Fall camp opens today and Meyer faces the daunting task of trying to decide who steps in for Carlos Hyde, Corey "Philly" Brown and Corey Linsley. The 2014 Buckeyes feature a wealth of talent, yet inexperience at several skill positions. Youth is quite apparent in the back half of the defense, but it adds intrigue to this year's fall camp, as the Buckeyes look to fill the spots left by departed seniors. 

Competition for every spot on the offensive line – with the exception of left tackle – will be competitive. The progress of that group will determine Ohio State's success this season, but, with the nature of offensive line play, there are more intriguing spots on the field. Here are five to watch at the beginning of camp: 

1. Running Back

Ezekiel Elliott is widely presumed to be the lead back, but it isn't an assumption Urban Meyer is willing to make.  

“He's certainly not the starter right now," Meyer said, on ESPN Radio last week. "But, the way he handles himself on and off the field, he'll probably get the first rep when we start practice on Monday.”

The brutally honest Buckeye head coach isn't just saying that to motivate Elliott. He knows the wealth of talent competing at the position and isn't ready to count anyone out. As our Kyle Rowland wrote, however, Meyer is "concerned" the abilities of Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn, Warren Ball and Curtis Samuel aren't manifesting themselves on the field.

To be fair, that was more in reference to those who have been on campus for more than than seven months. After all, as Meyer told ESPN radio, Samuel "stole" his heart. While Eliott's impressive 2013 performance in a small sample size put him at the top of the depth chart, Samuel's 4.3 speed and elusiveness will allow him to see the field, not much unlike Dontre Wilson's freshman season – although, hopefully more consistently productive.

Prediction: Elliott receives over 150 carries, with Wilson and Samuel deployed in multiple sets – together, perhaps – as the season progresses. 

2. Middle linebacker

As our Patrick Maks neatly summarized, it's not too late for Curtis Grant to salvage his career, even though he'll never live up to the heavy expectations placed on him since his freshman year.

He's challenged by the same type of recruit – a unanimous five-star, best at his position – in Raekwon McMillan. Grant is embracing McMillan's presence, not only as competition, but in a leadership capacity. The senior linebacker can help build a monster that he, himself, has been incapable of becoming. It's fair to wonder whether the tumultuous 2011 season – Grant's freshman year – stunted his growth and future coaching shakeups hurt his development. 

Perhaps Grant uses that as guidance while shaping a freshman beast. The middle linebacker's on-field role is simplified in new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's system, so that will make it easier for McMillan to steal first-team reps. Still, Meyer has to respect a healthy and experienced Grant. 

Prediction: Grant takes the majority of the snaps this season.

3. Wide Receiver 

Much like linebacker, Ohio State puts wide receivers into the professional ranks, but the recent talent hasn't even been at the same caliber as it was towards the end of Jim Tressel's regime.

Philly Brown's combined 123 receptions and 1431 yards in the last two seasons will be incredibly difficult to replace, even with experienced options, such as Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Smith's deep-ball ability will continue to open up the offense, but his lack of consistency has held him back from being a more well-rounded threat. Granted, much of that has to do with Braxton Miller's play. 

Outside of the two seniors, the hope is Corey Smith, James Clark, Jeff Greene, Jalin Marshall and/or Michael Thomas – again – emerge. Thomas and Miller worked with QB "guru" George Whitfield, maintaining a rapport that only shows up in spring games. If not Thomas, then maybe Greene and his 6-foot-5-inch frame can provide Miller with a big, reliable target.

Prediction: Smith will be the only Buckeye with more than 50 receptions. However, four – Smith, Spencer, Wilson and tight end Jeff Heuerman – will have more than 30 catches.  

4. Strongside / walkout linebacker

As a whole, Meyer referred to the linebacker unit as "one of our stronger groups." Whether it's the change in scheme, recent recruiting efforts or the evolution of existing talent, OSU's head coach isn't nearly as concerned about it as he has been in the past.

Part of the reason why: Darron Lee and Chris Worley. During spring practice, Meyer heavily praised both, Lee in particular. While they're all still working to fully understand Ash's new system, the emphasis on pass coverage at this spot is clear. Lee, who played quarterback in high school, and Worley, who practiced last year at safety, have experience in understanding coverages.

If they continue to play as well as they did in the spring, both will force their way into the lineup.

Prediction: Lee receives the majority of the snaps, but it will be close to a 50-50 split. Worley will sub in for more obvious passing situations. 

5. Cornerback, opposite Doran Grant

The secondary is a significant concern, but it isn't nearly the most intriguing from a positional battle standpoint.

Bradley Roby is in Denver, but what remains is an experienced option. Doran Grant slides into the "boundary" corner spot, and junior corner Armani Reeves takes the opposite side. During Roby's suspension and Orange Bowl absence, the Ohio State defense took on a similar look.

While Reeves wasn't particularly consistent, another year and the switch to a press-style coverage should be more favorable to Reeves.

Prediction: If healthy, Reeves starts every game.

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