COLUMBUS – Three running backs, eight wide receivers, three tight ends, eight offensive linemen and a bunch of quarterbacks.
That’s how many players Kevin Wilson believes he needs to have ready to play this season.
That’s not only for contingency plans in case starters get hurt, but also because Wilson wants to play a multitude of players across the offense. Ohio State’s first-year offensive coordinator expects his offense to move fast, but he knows he needs enough personnel to keep players fresh not only over the course of the season, but over the course of each game.
"Whether we’re talking about running backs or we’re talking about tight ends, you need more than one, and how much depth can we have?" Wilson said. "When you’re playing fast, you need to play more than 11 people. I know in previous years, sometimes we talked about, we had 17, 18, 19 starters, because we knew guys were going to play and play a lot."
The question now, as the Buckeyes replace some players from an offense that had its struggles last season, is whether they will have that many players ready to play.
In order to have the depth he covets, Wilson will need to identify new players who are ready to play at each position.
“When you’re playing fast, you need to play more than 11 people.”– Kevin Wilson
The toughest position to find that depth might be at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes lost their three most productive pass-catchers from last season (Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson). Head coach Urban Meyer indicated Monday that Parris Campbell is in line to replace Samuel as the starting H-back, while Terry McLaurin is in line to be one of the starting wide receivers on the outside. Meyer and Wilson both spoke highly this week of Johnnie Dixon, indicating he is a contender for the other starting spot.
Wilson is also counting on sophomore wideouts Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor to provide depth outside. He is counting on redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill and sophomore Eric Glover-Williams to provide depth in the slot.
Every one of those players was a four-star recruit, so there’s a lot of potential in the group. The problem with counting on all of them to be ready to play is that none of them are proven commodities; none of them have more than 18 career catches. To get to eight wide receivers, Wilson will also need at least one true freshman – Trevon Grimes, Jaylen Harris and/or Elijah Gardiner – to step up.
Ohio State knows who its starters will be at quarterback (J.T. Barrett), running back (Mike Weber) and tight end (Marcus Baugh), assuming all are healthy, though Baugh (toe inflammation) and Weber (undisclosed injury) were both sidelined during Thursday’s opening practice of the season.
The Buckeyes also have four returning starters on the offensive line; left tackle Jamarco Jones, left guard Michael Jordan and right tackle Isaiah Prince are expected to retain their starting jobs, while Billy Price moves to center from right guard.
Depth questions still remain, however, at all of those position groups.
Weber was the only Ohio State running back who saw regular playing time last season, but Wilson says he expects to play two running backs regularly while he wants to have a third ready to go. The hot name to potentially fill that secondary running back role is true freshman J.K. Dobbins, who has drawn praise from both Meyer and Wilson after an impressive spring. Sophomores Demario McCall and Antonio Williams, who saw limited playing time as freshmen last season, are also candidates to be the second or third running back.
Tight end depth is a major question mark because the only tight end other than Baugh who caught a pass last season, A.J. Alexander, is out for this season with a knee injury. The Buckeyes are counting on Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann, both redshirt freshmen, to step up into playing roles this season. Wilson says Kierre Hawkins, also a redshirt freshman, and Rashod Berry, a converted defensive end, are also competing for depth chart spots at the position.
Ohio State has seven offensive linemen competing for the vacant starting spot at right guard, according to Meyer, but it’s highly unlikely that all of them will be ready to play in 2017. The top candidates to either start or play as reserves appear to be Malcolm Pridgeon and Matthew Burrell, who split first-team repetitions at right guard on Thursday, and Branden Bowen, who filled in for Jamarco Jones (limited with an undisclosed injury) as the first-team left tackle on Thursday.
To have eight offensive linemen ready to play, Wilson will need all three of them as well as Demetrius Knox, Brady Taylor or one of three true freshmen (Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis or Thayer Munford). Ideally, Wilson wants to have two centers, three guards and three offensive tackles who are ready to play at all times.
Ohio State isn’t likely to rotate at quarterback, where Barrett is an entrenched starter, but Wilson wants to have at least two more quarterbacks ready to play if needed. Those two quarterbacks should be redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow and redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins, who have both demonstrated potential but have yet to play any meaningful game action (or in Haskins’ case, any regular season game action at all).
It’s uncertain whether Burrow or Haskins will be the No. 2 quarterback, but what’s more important to Wilson is that both are prepared should their number be called. True freshman Tate Martell has the talent to push for a spot on the depth chart, but it’s likely he will redshirt as long as Burrow and Haskins prove capable backups.
The Buckeyes enter the 2017 season with many questions on offense, but finding depth appears to be Wilson’s biggest concern as the Buckeyes begin fall camp.