This offseason, Ohio State's new coordinators along with a few key position battles – cornerback, safety and left guard, namely – have dominated all talk and conjecture regarding Buckeye football.
Seeming to go under the radar, though, is what's going on in a forgotten unit – one that isn't even counted in Ohio State's "Nine Strong" mantra: the specialists.
While the Buckeyes will have a veteran-laden roster in 2017 with key players returning at nearly every position, the specialists will undergo a bit of a makeover as fans will see new faces at kicker, punter and holder.
To be fair, though first new face is not really a new face at all.
Barring anything changing in the next few weeks – freshman Blake Haubeil winning the job, a last-minute transfer or a walk-on turning heads in August – senior Sean Nuernberger will be Ohio State's placekicker this season, retaking the starting spot he held his freshman season.
That 2014 season, Nuernberger set 10 different school kicking records including total points in a season, consecutive extra points made and total extra points made. Throughout his career, he's never missed an extra point on 106 attempts – an Ohio State record. He's also 16-for-24 on field goals with a career long of 49 yards.
In 2015, Nuernberger lost a position battle to transfer Jack Willoughy during fall camp, but when Willoughby struggled late in the season, he reclaimed the job and finished the season as the starter. Nuernberger never appeared during the 2016 season after transfer Tyler Durbin won the starting job in camp, due in part to a leg injury to Nuernberger.
Nuernberger hasn't kicked in a game in quite some time, but he seems more than ready to do so once again. On Saturday, he posted a video of him blasting a 60-yard field goal. Urban Meyer seems to value distance quite a bit, praising both Willoughby and Durbin for their big legs the past two seasons. If Nuernberger can hit from anywhere near that range while remaining perfect on extra points, the Buckeyes will be just fine at the placekicker position.
The more interesting situation, actually, is who will take the kickoff duties. Nuernberger has never been the team's kickoff specialist, even when he was the starting placekicker in 2014. Those duties fell on senior Kyle Clinton that season, Willoughby in 2015 and Durbin in 2016. It will be interesting to see whether Nuernberger takes over that roll, or if the Buckeyes turn to their new freshman or perhaps a walk on.
Then there's the punter situation.
Out of all the departed players from the 2016 squad, one could argue the Buckeyes will miss Cameron Johnston the most. For four years, he did his job arguably better and with more consistency than anyone else on the roster. Almost every game, he flipped the field and gave his team what was sometimes hundreds of hidden yards a game. I even named him offensive player of the game in my debriefing more than once this season, and it was completely justified.
And though he averaged a booming 44.9 yards per punt throughout his career with a long of 73 yards(!), his power wasn't even the most impressive part of his game. Johnston had almost unrealistic accuracy behind his punts, downing over half of them inside the 20-yard line, oftentimes putting them literally inches from the goal line. If he punted from the 50-yard line and I rolled a ball from the 10, I am nearly certain he would be more accurate than me.
Johnston was legitimately incredible throughout his four seasons in Columbus.
Let's put it this way, when the biggest blunder in a four-year punting career is deciding not to go rogue to pick up a first down when the receiving team is basically begging you to do so, you've had a damn successful career.
So successful, in fact, that I'm going to include a 30-minute video compiling his best punts over the last four years and I'm positive some of you are going to watch the entire thing.
Needless to say, the 2016 Ray Guy finalist is going to be tough to replace in 2017. Those duties will likely fall on redshirt freshman Drue Chrisman, who was the nation's top punter in the 2016 recruiting class.
Honestly, I don't have a clue how well he will fill Johnston's shoes in 2017 and beyond, but what I can tell you is that he can flip a water bottle better than anyone else on the planet. Is that a skill that somehow translates to the kicking game? Well, we're about to find out!
Chrisman will also replace Johnston as Ohio State's holder for field goals and extra points. Holder is one of the most forgotten positions on the football field, until your team has a bad one. The job may be simple, but the margin for error is small, especially in clutch situations, and on occasion you're asked to hawk a cornerback who runs a 4.39 second 40-yard dash after he blocks a field goal.
It's likely Chrisman's ability to handle a snap and hold the ball for a kick will be one of the furthest things from your mind when the Buckeyes score for the first time this season, but he's replacing somebody who did that job – and did it well – for three years. That's a big deal for any task, no matter how thankless.
Despite all this flux, do return one key piece – long snapper Liam McCullough. Aside from being a noted good-tweeter, ingenious burrito eater and good shirt wearer, McCullough is as good as it gets at the long snapper position, earning a scholarship offer as the nation's top long snapper in the 2015 class. Aside from his ability to snap the ball quickly and accurately as well as anyone in the nation, McCullough also acts as a gunner in Ohio State's punt team, taking advantage of a rule that prohibits players from attacking them after the snap.
McCullough as the anchor, Ohio State's specialists will look to be just as dominant as any of the team's other nine units. They just know they'll receive a fraction of the attention while doing it.