Nine Strong: Grading Ohio State's Nine Units With Spring Practices Underway

By Andrew Ellis on March 17, 2019 at 8:30 am
Practices are underway and we grade Ohio State's nine units with the spring game just a month away.
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During Urban Meyer's tenure in Columbus, we heard a bit about the "nine strong" philosophy; meaning that each one of the team's units has to be strong before the team as a whole can really excel and reach its goals. The mantra evolved over the years, but with Ryan Day now running the show, it's certainly still important for each unit to be in sync.

Last year there were some glaring issues at linebacker and in the secondary, but the Buckeyes made several defensive coaching changes in an attempt to help shore up some of the struggling areas. With practices underway, we decided to rate each one of the units — including the special teams — in preparation for the April 13th spring game.

Quarterback: B+

Justin Fields' talent and potential are both through the roof as the former No. 2 overall prospect is the top-rated player ever to make his way to Columbus. He had some electric moments for the Bulldogs last year and there will certainly be plenty in 2019. Matthew Baldwin has put himself in a spot for significant playing time even if the former three-star Colorado State commit doesn't win the starting gig 

We've mentioned it multiple times, but depth is the question for Ryan Day and Ohio State's quarterback room. Senior Chris Chugunov is No. 3 in line, but having another scholarship option under center would have been ideal. 

Running Back: B+

The loss of Mike Weber and Brian Snead hurts the running back stable, but J.K. Dobbins, Master Teague, and Demario McCall is still an impressive trio. Throw in early enrollee Marcus Crowley and Tony Alford should once again have a solid backfield. The biggest question may be how McCall ends up being deployed in the offense. Four-star signee Steele Chambers is set to arrive this summer.

Wide Receiver: A

Brian Hartline's group receives a high mark even with the departures of Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon. The return of K.J. Hill was a surprising bit of good news and the senior should lead the way in 2019. Austin Mack is back from his foot injury and Chris Olave will look to build off of his strong play to end last season. Everyone is waiting to see what kind of an early impact Garrett Wilson can make, and it seems inevitable that the true freshman will find some sort of a role in the passing game. 

Ohio State has a little bit of everything at wideout. Guys like Jaylen Harris and Binjimen Victor bring great size while Hill and the others have proven to be reliable pass catchers. The biggest question may be who can bring the Campbell/McLaurin home-run element to the field in 2019?

Tight End: B+

Ohio State hasn't been a team that's heavily relied on the tight end in the passing game, but the future is still pretty bright at the position. Buckeye tight ends hauled in 30 passes last season with Luke Farrell doing the bulk of the damage with 20 receptions. Rashod Berry caught nine passes and Jeremy Ruckert recorded a single reception during his true freshman campaign as well. All three are back this year and Ruckert is the guy who's got folks thinking the position will be more of a factor moving forward.

We're expecting the tight end room to take a bit of a hit before the season kicks off, but Memphis three-star Cormontae Hamilton will bring some more depth when he arrives this summer.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line is one of the more concerning units, but Greg Studrawa and the Buckeyes got some great news when Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson announced that he'll be spending his final season in Columbus. The former Scarlet Knight captain can play guard or center and the expectation is for him to man one of the starting spots along the line.

This is a unit where some may issue a slightly lower grade, but the Buckeyes do have plenty of talent in the trenches (we are including Jackson though he’s yet to arrive) even if depth is still a bit of a concern.

I'm most interested in seeing how Branden Bowen and Nicholas Petit-Fere fit in and how the battle at right tackle shakes out. We heard a lot about Josh Myers last year before Michael Jordan ultimately started at center. Is the redshirt sophomore now ready to take over in the middle?

Defensive Line: A

Larry Johnson's defensive line wizardry continues into 2019 and the unit is once again blessed with an abundance of depth and high-end talent. Chase Young may be the best defensive end in the country and Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith, and Tyler Friday give the Buckeyes one heck of a rotation on the edge. It'll be tough for five-star Zach Harrison to make an impact as a true freshman, but Young was able to do just that two years ago while spelling Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, and Tyquan Lewis.

Five-star true freshman Zach Harrison.
Zach Harrison could carve out a role for himself despite an abundance of talented pass rushers.

The interior portion of the line is also plenty talented with Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, Tommy Togiai, Haskell Garrett, and Taron Vincent all expected to see action in 2019. Jashon Cornell is a versatile guy who can flip-flop between the inside and outside. The Johnson-led defensive line will yet again be one of Ohio State's greatest strengths.

Linebacker: B-

The linebacking unit is perhaps the one we'll be paying the most attention to this spring and summer. Thankfully Bill Davis is back in the NFL coaching for the Arizona Cardinals, and everyone is excited to see what Al Washington can do with a unit that hasn't delivered despite an abundance of talent. 

Malik Harrison seems like the only sure thing at this point as several players will be battling it out for the other spots. They've experimented with Baron Browning on both the inside and out, and while I always expected him to be an outside guy, we'll see what Washington has in mind for the former five-star.

Tuf Borland still seemed a step slow last year after bouncing back from the achilles injury, but he may very well manning the middle again. A lot of folks are excited about Teradja Mitchell and what the sophomore may bring to the table. Brendon White may also be seeing some time at linebacker now that the hybrid linebacker/safety spot seems to be in play. Dallas Gant and Pete Werner will also be vying for playing time.

Defensive Back: B+

Damon Arnette is back for his senior year but Jeffrey Okudah and Jordan Fuller are likely to be the stars in Jeff Hafley's secondary. With White potentially moving to a hybrid role, one of the biggest questions may be surrounding Josh Proctor and whether or not he's ready to make the leap into a starting role. Shaun Wade has the versatility to play safety or slot cornerback and Sevyn Banks could make a big splash in his second season.

Special Teams: A

Drue Chrisman, Blake Haubeil, and long snapper Liam McCullough all are back and will retain their roles in 2019. Terry McLaurin may have been the best gunner we've ever seen in Columbus, so his departure may hurt the coverage unit a bit. K.J. Hill and Demario McCall will undoubtedly be heavily involved in the return game, but this also may be a spot where redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill makes a little bit of noise. 

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