Now that the spring football season is over, Ohio State’s coaches should have a pretty good idea of what their depth chart will look like this fall.
With the first 15 practices of the year now complete, Ryan Day and his staff have had an opportunity to evaluate each of their players and watch them compete at their respective positions, which serves as a starting point for determining which players will be most ready to handle significant roles and make an impact for the Buckeyes this season.
That’s not to say the depth chart is finalized. Day said prior to the spring game that he expects the competitions at each position to continue into preseason camp, so don’t expect any announcements on starters until August.
“Preseason’s a long time, it’s three weeks, so injuries happen, different things happen, and we like to mix up different guys working with each other,” Day said. “So we’re not in a rush to name starters or anything like that.”
Playing time is still up for grabs, at some positions more than others, and there’s still plenty of time for the depth chart coming to change. That said, the spring is enough of a baseline to get a pretty good idea for what the Buckeyes’ lineups will look like when they open their season against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, so it’s time for another projection of how the depth chart will ultimately stack up.
As was the case in the previous depth chart projection following the first week of spring practice, at least a two-deep is listed at every position, but three players are listed at some positions where the Buckeyes could rotate more than two players into the lineup regularly.
In this depth chart projection, you’ll also find that there are 12 positions listed on defense. Because the Buckeyes are experimenting with a variety of personnel alignments on defense, including some that utilize the new Bullet position but also some that utilize three traditional linebackers, an additional position is included to reflect the distinct players who line up at each position.
1. Justin Fields
2. Chris Chugunov
With Matthew Baldwin’s decision to transfer, Fields is now Ohio State’s clear-cut starting quarterback, and Chugunov is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster. The Buckeyes will likely bring in another quarterback from the transfer market to provide additional depth, but for now, Chugunov is the No. 2 quarterback by default.
1. J.K. Dobbins
2. Master Teague
3. Demario McCall
McCall would have had the opportunity to establish himself as the No. 2 running back behind Dobbins this spring, but he battled a calf injury that kept him off the practice field. That opened the door for Teague, who is more of a traditional downhill running back than McCall, and he had an impressive performance in the spring game for the second year in a row.
McCall is an explosive athlete who has the potential to be a big-play weapon if he can get healthy, but he’s probably best suited to playing in a situational capacity as a third-down/passing-down back. Teague, a bigger back with great athleticism for his size, looks ready to be the primary complement to Dobbins.
Wide Receiver (X)
1. Austin Mack
2. Binjimen Victor
Wide Receiver (Z)
1. Chris Olave
2. Garrett Wilson
The outside receiver positions are somewhat interchangeable, as Mack spent time playing both X and Z receiver this spring, but the rotation at those two positions should include some combination of the four receivers listed above.
Mack and Victor have both been in the rotation for the past two years, while Olave exhibited star potential upon entering the rotation down the stretch of last season. Wilson made a big impression this spring as an early enrollee and looks poised to make an immediate impact as a true freshman this fall.
Wide Receiver (H/Slot)
1. K.J. Hill
2. Jaelen Gill
With Hill entrenched as the starter, the competition to be the Buckeyes’ No. 2 slot receiver between Gill and C.J. Saunders is one that should continue into preseason camp. Saunders is a senior receiver who has shown he can be a solid secondary option in the slot even though he began his career as a walk-on, but Gill has huge upside and looked this spring like a playmaker who could be a breakout weapon for the offense. Saunders should see some playing time too, but Gill’s speed and big-play potential shouldn’t be kept out of the rotation.
1. Luke Farrell
2. Rashod Berry
3. Jeremy Ruckert
Just as they did last year, all of the Buckeyes’ top three tight ends should see a regular share of playing time within Ohio State’s offense. Farrell is in line to start, while Berry should also see substantial playing time, but Ruckert is also a candidate for increased playing time as a sophomore. The Buckeyes’ depth at the position could lead to more two-tight end packages this year, and Ruckert spent time lining up as an H receiver this spring as the Buckeyes look for more potential ways to get multiple tight ends on the field together.
1. Thayer Munford
2. Joshua Alabi
Munford missed the entire spring while recovering from back surgery, but he’s still fully expected to return to the starting left tackle role. Alabi should continue to be the next man up at the position, as he was last year, after practicing as the first-team left tackle.
1. Jonah Jackson
2. Branden Bowen/Gavin Cupp
Jackson is expected to have an immediate opportunity to earn the starting job at left guard when he arrives this summer as a graduate transfer from Rutgers. Cupp is likely to be listed as the second-team left guard after practicing as the first-team left guard this spring, but Bowen – who played left guard with the first-team offense in the spring game – would likely be the next man if anything happens to Jackson.
1. Josh Myers
2. Matthew Jones
Myers appears to have solidified himself as the Buckeyes’ new starting center by impressing his coaches with his development this spring and dating back to last season. Incoming five-star recruit Harry Miller will have a chance to compete for the backup center job when he arrives on campus this summer, but Jones was a highly touted recruit in his own right who now has a year of practicing at Ohio State under his belt.
1. Wyatt Davis
2. Branden Bowen/Harry Miller
Davis, like Myers, appears to be an established new starter on the Buckeyes’ offensive line after starting the final two games of last season. Miller’s opportunity to earn an immediate spot on the two-deep could come at right guard, but Bowen – who started the Buckeyes’ first six games of the season at right guard in 2017 – will likely be the next man up at that spot, as well.
1. Nicholas Petit-Frere
2. Branden Bowen
Bowen’s chance to earn a starting spot this season comes at right tackle, where he spent most of the spring working with the first-team offensive line. That said, Petit-Frere made a big impression on his coaches with his development this spring, and the five-star recruit could prove too talented to keep off the field. He started at right tackle with the first-team offensive line in the spring game and appears to be on an upward trajectory toward the starting job if he continues making strides this summer.
1. Chase Young
2. Zach Harrison
3. Tyler Friday
1. Jonathon Cooper
2. Tyreke Smith
3. Javontae Jean-Baptiste
Young and Cooper are both returning starters at defensive end, while Smith is also expected to see substantial playing time in the rotation this year. How the depth chart stacks up behind those three is less certain, as the Buckeyes have five other first- and second-year defensive ends – in addition to Smith – who are all vying for snaps in the rotation, as well.
Like Wilson at wide receiver, Harrison is a five-star recruit who made an immediate impression this spring as an early enrollee, which could lead to a spot on the two-deep as well as a spot in the Buckeyes’ Rushmen lineup right away. He will likely continue to compete with Friday for the fourth spot in the defensive end rotation into preseason camp. Larry Johnson likes to maintain a deep defensive line rotation, though, so both of them should see at least some playing time while Jean-Baptiste, Alex Williams and Noah Potter are also candidates to get some snaps.
Defensive Tackle (Nose)
1. Robert Landers
2. Davon Hamilton
3. Tommy Togiai
Like last season, Landers and Hamilton should continue to rotate as the Buckeyes’ top two nose tackles while Togiai will also see a steady share of playing time at the position, as well. Togiai could be in line for a somewhat bigger piece of the pie as a sophomore, but Landers and Hamilton will still play most of the snaps.
Defensive Tackle (3-Tech)
1. Jashon Cornell
2. Taron Vincent
3. Haskell Garrett
Cornell ran with the first-team defense at defensive tackle all spring and appears set to replace Dre’Mont Jones as the starter at that position after moving outside to defensive end for last season. Vincent also played for the Scarlet team and the first-team defense in the spring game and should be in line for a bigger role as a sophomore. Garrett is also a candidate for significant playing time at the position, so it’s likely that all three will have regular opportunities to rotate into the lineup.
1. Malik Harrison
2. Dallas Gant
While there have been many moving parts at the linebacker position, the weakside linebacker two-deep appears to be fairly clear-cut. Harrison ran with the first-team defense at Will linebacker all spring, while Gant ran with the second-team defense at that spot all spring.
1. Teradja Mitchell
2. Tuf Borland
3. Baron Browning
Middle linebacker was the toughest position to project on Ohio State’s depth chart going into the spring, and it’s still the toughest position to project on the Buckeyes’ depth chart coming out of spring.
Borland, Browning and Mitchell all saw time with the first-team defense this spring. As a returning starter and team captain, Borland might still be the frontrunner to start at middle linebacker. But Browning was the first-team middle linebacker in the spring game, which Borland missed with a knee injury, while Mitchell has a noticeable presence at the position and drew considerable praise from his coaches for his improvement this spring.
Borland and Browning will likely enter the summer at the top of the middle linebacker depth chart, given that they are more experienced than Mitchell. This competition should continue into preseason camp, though, and if Mitchell can continue to make the strides that his coaches expect from him, he appears to be on a trajectory that could ultimately end up with him stealing the starting middle linebacker job away.
Given the closeness of the competition, it’s likely that the Buckeyes will rotate at this position and two or three middle linebackers will play regularly; Browning, in particular, is a strong candidate to see some playing time in nickel packages, as he has for the past two years, even if he isn’t the early-down starter at the position.
1. Pete Werner
2. K’Vaughan Pope
Werner manned the strongside linebacker position with the first-team unit in three-linebacker sets all spring, so he appears to be in line to retain his starting job at that spot. Pope ran primarily with the second-team unit at the position.
The Sam linebacker will be the linebacker that comes off the field this year when the Buckeyes only deploy two traditional linebackers on defense, so Werner probably won’t see as much playing time this season as he did last season. But he still appears to be in line for a substantial role in the Buckeyes’ 4-3 defense, which will likely be used more against opponents with power running offenses and less against opponents with spread offenses.
1. Brendon White
2. Jahsen Wint
White and Wint were the two Buckeyes who practiced regularly this spring at the Bullet position, a safety/linebacker hybrid position that will take the place of the strongside linebacker in some packages on Ohio State’s new defense. White is in line to play most of the snaps at the position, though Wint made his case for some playing time too with a two-interception performance in the spring game.
Both players could also see time at the other safety positions, as well, but based on how they were utilized in the spring game, it appears that being able to play all over the field – which sometimes means lining up as a deep safety, and other times playing closer to the line of scrimmage – will simply be a part of their Bullet responsibilities.
1. Jeffrey Okudah
2. Tyreke Johnson
1. Damon Arnette
2. Sevyn Banks
As the returning members of Ohio State’s outside cornerback rotation from last year, Okudah and Arnette look to be locked in as the Buckeyes’ starting cornerbacks for 2019. It’s unclear whether Jeff Hafley will rotate cornerbacks the way Kerry Coombs and Taver Johnson did, so Okudah and Arnette could both be in line to play the vast majority of snaps, but Banks appears likely to be the next man up if there is an outside cornerback rotation, while Tyreke Johnson, Cameron Brown and Marcus Williamson (who battled an undisclosed injury throughout the spring) provide depth.
1. Shaun Wade
2. Amir Riep
In what was perhaps the biggest schematic revelation from the spring game, Ohio State utilized Wade and Riep – who practiced with both the cornerbacks and safeties this spring – as three-down players in which they lined up primarily as slot cornerbacks, taking the place of a second deep safety in the Buckeyes’ 4-3 defense.
With their versatility and experience playing both cornerback and safety, such a hybrid role appears to be a natural fit for both Wade – who was the Buckeyes’ first-team slot cornerback in nickel packages, and could now be in line to parlay that into a starting role – and Riep, who could also potentially see playing time at outside cornerback or deep safety, as well.
1. Jordan Fuller
2. Josh Proctor
3. Isaiah Pryor
Pryor lined up as the deep safety with the Buckeyes’ first-team defense in the spring game, but Fuller – who missed the entire spring while recovering from injury – is a lock to start at the position once he is healthy. Proctor, meanwhile, made a big impression this spring with the playmaking ability he displayed in practice, which could ultimately propel him ahead of Pryor on the depth chart as well if he can continue to perform at the same level in preseason camp.
As the Buckeyes continue to test out various defensive formations, there could be times in which two of these safeties are on the field simultaneously manning the back end – though Wade, White, Riep and Wint can all play that role in their positions, as well. One way or another, Proctor and Pryor should have chances to earn some playing time even though Fuller probably won’t come off the field much.
1. Blake Haubeil
2. Zach Hoover
1. Drue Chrisman
2. Jake Metzer
1. Liam McCullough
2. Bradley Robinson
1. Drue Chrisman
2. C.J. Saunders
Haubeil, Chrisman and McCullough are all returning starters and the only current scholarship players at their positions, so all of them are locked into the top spots on the specialists’ depth chart.
1. Demario McCall
2. Jaelen Gill
McCall remains the frontrunner to be Ohio State’s lead kickoff returner this season after taking over those duties late last season. Other candidates to line up at kickoff returner include K.J. Hill and C.J. Saunders, who both have experience lining up as the secondary returner, but Gill has the potential to be a difference-maker in the return game and could be a natural fit to join McCall back deep.
1. Jaelen Gill
2. K.J. Hill
Hill is the safe option at punt returner as the most sure-handed receiver on the team, but he hasn’t made many big plays in that role over the past two years. Gill’s speed and lateral agility give him the potential to be more of a home-run threat on punt returns, and he served as the Buckeyes’ lead punt returner in the spring game – suggesting that they are considering deploying him in that role.
Garrett Wilson also caught a punt in the spring game, while Chris Olave also spent time catching punts this spring and Saunders has experience in the role, but Gill and Hill look like the most likely options – depending on whether the Buckeyes opt to side with proven reliability and experience, or turn to a young player with the potential to create more of a spark in the return game.