Ohio State is coming off an impressive 2019 campaign that featured a dominant 13-0 start and a heartbreaking finish to Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
Head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are using that 29-23 Fiesta Bowl loss as motivation as they work their way through winter conditioning ahead of spring camp, which opens the first week of March.
That motivation is fueling the team, but the openings in the depth chart should be fueling certain players.
Ohio State has to replace five starters on offense and seven on defense before it can defend its Big Ten crown and make another run at the College Football Playoff. Some of those openings already have assumed starters lined up — Master Teague at running back, Garrett Wilson at wideout and Zach Harrison at defensive end — but Day and the coaching staff will keep everything open to promote as much competition as possible during the offseason.
The players on the second and third lines of the 2019 depth chart — former recruits who were a part of classes ranked in the top three nationally — have a big opportunity in front of them over the course of the next three months.
What will Ohio State's starting lineup look like when it kicks off against Bowling Green on September 5? Only time will tell, but these three under-the-radar players in particular could make a move this spring to secure a coveted starter spot this fall, and if not that, a role as a key rotational player.
Dawand Jones, Offensive Tackle
It's hard to qualify a person as "under the radar" when they're a 6'8", 360-pound human being, but that's where Dawand Jones stands.
Jones found the field sporadically as a true freshman in 2019, but his presence was unsurprisingly impossible to ignore when he was put in the spotlight.
Arguably the most memorable moment came during Ohio State's 52-3 thrashing of Northwestern in mid-October. With eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Teaque took a handoff and looked for room on the left side, where Jones was occupying the left tackle spot. Jones used his immense size and strength to move the line and create a hole for Teague, who took it to the house for a 73-yard touchdown.
The Buckeyes are looking for a new right tackle after the graduation of Branden Bowen, and Nicholas Petit-Frere figures to have the inside track after backing up both Bowen and left tackle Thayer Munford last fall.
But Jones knows that there's an opportunity this spring, and he's trying to seize it.
“I'm going to try to go get it, honestly,” Jones said of the open right tackle spot before the Fiesta Bowl. “If it's up for grabs, I'm definitely going to try to go get it.”
Jameson Williams, Wide Receiver
Few teams have had the kind of turnover Ohio State has experienced at the wide receiver spot over the last two seasons.
After 2018, the Buckeyes had to replace a trio of multiyear starters in Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. This offseason, Ohio State is looking to replace three of its top five pass-catchers from 2019 in K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack.
Thanks to Urban Meyer and Day's recruiting, there are plenty of replacements. Three of Ohio State's highest-rated incoming recruits (two of whom are 5-stars) are wideouts, joining surprising depth at the position.
Jameson Williams is a part of that depth.
As a true freshman in 2019, Williams played sparingly and hauled in just six receptions, but he showcased his rare and special speed when he had the ball in his hands.
With Chris Olave and Wilson pegged to headline the receiving corps, Williams could provide a burst of speed that could make the group an absolute nightmare to defend.
Tyreke Johnson, Cornerback
Ohio State was one NFL deflection away from a complete overhaul of its secondary.
Safety Jordan Fuller and cornerback Damon Arnette are set for graduation and the NFL draft. Cornerback Jeff Okudah left eligibility on the board in favor of an early jump to the league. Shaun Wade could've made a similar jump, but the corner made the decision to return to Columbus to lead the Buckeyes secondary in 2020.
Several spots are open in the secondary, and cornerback Tyreke Johnson is looking to find a role.
Johnson, a 5-star prospect out of Jacksonville, Florida, was one of the crown jewels of Ohio State's 2018 recruiting class. But after two years in the program, his presence on the field hasn't been much louder than a whisper.
It hasn't been the typical trajectory of a 5-star standout, but Johnson believes his time is coming.
“All I've got to do is keep going on the track I am now,” the cornerback said before the Fiesta Bowl. “I feel like I've got everything somewhat figured out now. And then just follow the blueprint that Jeff Hafley's made for me.”
Hafley is gone and replaced by Kerry Coombs, who has a proven track record of raising up superstar cornerbacks. It's possibly that Johnson is next in line.