J.K. Dobbins and Chase Young Headline List of Juniors Expected to Play Key Roles for Ohio State

By Chris Lauderback on March 7, 2019 at 11:05 am
Chase Young and J.K. Dobbins lead Ohio State's junior class.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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What was an incredibly young team just a few years ago under Urban Meyer is now a seasoned, veteran-laden squad as Ohio State gets set to embark on the first year of the Ryan Day era. 

The depth of experience should serve the team well while Day gets his feet wet as the permanent head coach while his plethora of new assistant coaches do the same. 

This fall, no less than 12 seniors – including seven fifth-year guys – will be play vital roles and it's looking like at least a dozen juniors will also be key cogs in the Buckeyes machine. 

Here's how the junior-eligible class stacks up on each side of the ball: 

OFFENSE

2019 JUNIOR CLASS
PLAYER POSITION
J.K. DOBBINS RB
DEMARIO MCCALL HB
JAKE HAUSMANN TE
LUKE FARRELL TE
GAVIN CUPP OL
THAYER MUNFORD OL
CHASE YOUNG DE
HASKELL GARRETT DT
ANTWAUN JACKSON DT
TUF BORLAND LB
BARON BROWNING LB
PETE WERNER LB
JEFFREY OKUDAH CB
MARCUS WILLIAMSON CB
JAHSEN WINT S
ISAIAH PRYOR S
AMIR RIEP S
BRENDON WHITE S
BLAKE HAUBEIL K
DRUE CHRISMAN P

The lead dog among the juniors on offense is returning starting tailback J.K. Dobbins. 

Dobbins should be hungrier than ever coming off a "down" sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,053 yards but did so on a pedestrian – by Ohio State standards – 4.6 yards per carry after rushing for 1,403 yards on 7.2 per attempt as a true freshman. 

Left tackle Thayer Munford serves as Ohio State's lone returning starter on the offensive line and despite being held out of spring drills to rehab, Munford should be an all-league force come fall. 

With Dobbins and Munford primed to play major roles, redshirt junior Luke Farrell should be in position to hold off Rashod Berry and Jeremy Ruckert for the starting tight end gig.

Farrell improved his blocking as last season progressed and he finished with 20 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown, emerging as the clear-cut best tight end on the roster but Berry and Ruckert will surely see some time. 

The wildcard on offense is redshirt junior Demario McCall. The kid has talent for days but injuries and talent logjams have kept us from getting the full McCall Experience. Could this be the year the back-up tailback and H-back is more effectively utilized, maybe even as a third down specialist type of player? The assumption is that he'll certainly play significantly more offense than we saw last year and despite a few gaffes on special teams a season ago, he also turned in a few big plays that should earn even more snaps on the kickoff return team.  

Offensive lineman Gavin Cupp opened up spring practice running with the ones at left guard but it's hard to envision either he or tight end Jake Hausmann playing meaningful snaps to round out the juniors on offense. 

DEFENSE

The defensive side of the ball will feature far more big time junior contributors starting with Chase Young. 

The defensive end racked up an impressive 15.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, five PBU and nine hurries and is primed for a more consistent performance this season as long as he can get some help from the opposite edge. 

Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah came on strong toward the end of last season posting eight PBU and figures to start opposite senior Damon Arnette at cornerback. 

After breaking midway last season at safety, it will be interesting to see exactly how Brendon White figures into Ohio State's plans. Last year, he solidified the safety position, giving Jordan Fuller a sturdy teammate along the back line, after failed attempts from Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint. 

This fall, White would likely fill the hybrid linebacker/safety position favored in new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's scheme meaning juniors Pryor and Wint could find themselves in the mix at safety, if they can hold off sophomore Josh Proctor and maybe redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade, depending on how the defensive braintrust chooses to deploy him.

My gut says the staff finds a way to get Wade on the field ahead of Pryor, Wade and fellow junior Amir Riep, and White stars in the hybrid role that seems to perfectly suit his physicality and versatility. The question will be just how often Mattison runs with that hybrid role coupled with two traditional linebackers versus the standard three linebacker sets largely featured in recent years under Urban Meyer. 

How things shake out at linebacker for junior-eligible guys should be very interesting when you consider White's potential to fill a hybrid role when deployed which could leave just two linebacker spots with one of those already reserved for senior Malik Harrison. 

Redshirt junior Tuf Borland placed third on the team in both tackles (67) and TFL (9.0) a season ago – and did so after recovering from an achilles injury suffered last spring – but drew the ire of many fans for a lack of speed. Junior Pete Werner also started last season and ranked fourth in tackles while junior Baron Browning saw less time but isn't lacking for physical talent. There will be snaps up for grabs for these three but the distribution could look a lot different than 2018 depending on Mattison's scheme. 

Along the interior defensive line, a pair of redshirt seniors in Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton will start but Larry Johnson's desire to rotate guys should give junior Haskell Garrett a real shot to contribute while redshirt junior Antwaun Jackson will have to make a run at sophomores Taron Vincent and Tommy Togiai if he wants to be a factor. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

While not the sexiest positions, the kicking and punting duties are in great hands with junior Blake Haubeil and redshirt junior Drue Chrisman. 

Haubeil replaced Sean Nuernberger last year and hit a respectable 10 of 13 field goal tries including two of three from 40-49 yards. With a year of experience under his belt, the expectation is that he's just as good or better this season. 

Chrisman was exceptional last fall averaging 43.2 yards per punt and with his hang time and Ohio State's elite coverage unit, opponents averaged just 3.31 yards on 13 returns, good for eighth-best in the land.

He also dropped 29 of 61 punts inside the 20 helping Ohio State rank second nationally forcing opponents to start, on average, 73.9 yards from the end zone. 

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