With spring practice set to begin at Ohio State just two weeks from today, it’s time for us to take a look at how the 2020 Buckeyes could stack up going into their first on-field work of the year.
Even though the Buckeyes will have one of the most talented rosters in college football once again this year, they have plenty of depth chart questions to answer entering this spring.
They’re replacing six regulars from last year’s offense (running back J.K. Dobbins, left guard Jonah Jackson, right tackle Branden Bowen and wide receivers K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor) and seven starters from last year’s defense (defensive linemen Chase Young, DaVon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell, linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive backs Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah and Jordan Fuller), opening up plenty of opportunities all over the field for younger, less experienced Buckeyes to climb the depth chart.
In our pre-spring projection of Ohio State’s depth chart, we take a look at how the Buckeyes’ new two-deep could stack up in 2020.
Note that these projections are intended to predict how Ohio State’s lineups and rotations will look this fall, not necessarily what the depth chart will look like when spring practices open on March 2, when true freshmen will likely start on the bottom of the depth chart and more experienced players will likely get the first crack at spots on the two-deep.
1. Justin Fields
2. C.J. Stroud
There won’t be any need for a starting quarterback competition this year. Unlike last year, when Ryan Day waited until August to name Fields as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, his standing as the Buckeyes’ QB1 is cemented for 2020, his second and likely final season in Columbus.
There will be a real competition for the No. 2 spot on Ohio State’s quarterback depth chart, though, between fifth-year senior Gunnar Hoak and early enrollee freshmen Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud. Hoak will likely enter the spring as Fields’ primary backup, but Stroud and Miller are the leading candidates to start for the Buckeyes in 2021, and they offer more upside as fill-in starters if anything happens to Fields this year. If either of them is ready to play this year, the Buckeyes would be smart to get them as much playing experience as possible, and Stroud – who soared up the rankings for the class of 2020 in his senior year – might enter with a slight leg up on Miller.
1. Master Teague
2. Steele Chambers
Teague is expected to replace Dobbins in the starting lineup after running for 789 yards as his backup last season, but it’s expected that he’ll share the load with at least one other running back, and the depth chart behind him is wide open.
Marcus Crowley saw playing time before Steele Chambers when they were true freshmen last year, but Crowley’s status for this spring is uncertain due to injuries, which opens the door for Chambers to potentially seize the No. 2 spot on this year’s depth chart. Demario McCall is also a candidate to play a role at running back, but that’s more likely to be in a situational capacity than in a true rotation after he’s bounced back and forth between running back and H-back over the last few years.
Wide Receiver (Z)
1. Chris Olave
2. Jameson Williams
Wide Receiver (X)
1. Garrett Wilson
2. Julian Fleming
Wide Receiver (Slot)
1. Jaelen Gill
2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Olave and Wilson are in line to lead Ohio State’s receiving corps in 2020 after rotating at the outside positions in 2019. Assuming they stay at the same positions they played last year, Olave will likely start at Z and rotate with Williams while Wilson will start at X. There are numerous candidates to fill the fourth spot in the outside receiver rotation, including true freshman Gee Scott Jr. and veterans Jaylen Harris, Ellijah Gardiner and Kamryn Babb, but Fleming – the No. 3 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2020 – is too talented not to play immediately.
The slot receiver depth chart is wide open since Hill was the only player who saw regular snaps at that spot, but Gill should be in line for the first chance to win that job. It won’t be handed to him. Both Smith-Njigba and Mookie Cooper have a real chance to earn immediate playing time after enrolling in January, though the Buckeyes would probably prefer not to start a true freshman right away. C.J. Saunders could also factor into the slot receiver rotation if his request for a sixth year of eligibility is approved by the NCAA.
1. Luke Farrell
2. Jeremy Ruckert
Farrell and Ruckert were Ohio State’s top two tight ends last season, and that shouldn’t change in 2020. Farrell is likely to maintain his place in the Buckeyes’ starting lineup for the third year in a row, but Ruckert saw just as much playing time down the stretch of last season and could be in line for even more playing time this year. Jake Hausmann should also see his share of playing time as the Buckeyes’ third tight end, but the top of Ohio State’s depth chart at the position is pretty much set.
1. Thayer Munford
2. Paris Johnson Jr.
1. Harry Miller
2. Matthew Jones
1. Josh Myers
2. Luke Wypler
1. Wyatt Davis
2. Gavin Cupp
1. Nicholas Petit-Frere
2. Dawand Jones
Munford returns for his third season as Ohio State’s starting left tackle while Myers and Davis return for their second year as starters on the Buckeyes’ interior offensive line. Miller and Petit-Frere, both five-star prospects from their respective recruiting classes, are the top candidates to fill the open spots in the starting lineup around them.
While it’s plausible Myers could move to left guard and Miller could take over at center, the Buckeyes typically prefer experience in the middle, and Myers has Rimington Trophy potential at that position. That said, Miller seems destined for a spot in the lineup one way or another after his coaches raved about his development as a true freshman, though Matthew Jones, Enokk Vimahi and Gavin Cupp are also candidates to compete at left guard.
The starting right tackle job should be Petit-Frere’s to lose after he competed with Bowen for the job last offseason, but Dawand Jones will also get a chance to win the job after impressing coaches with his development as a freshman. Johnson also has the talent to make a legitimate run at a starting job as a true freshman, but he’ll most likely back up Munford and be groomed to succeed him at left tackle in 2021.
Wypler, also a true freshman, could slot in as the second-team center if Miller moves to guard, though it’s likely that Miller would slide back over to center if anything happened to Myers.
1. Jonathon Cooper
2. Tyler Friday
1. Zach Harrison
2. Tyreke Smith
Cooper should return to Ohio State’s starting lineup at defensive end after taking a redshirt due to an ankle injury this past season. Friday, who started several games in place of Cooper last season, will likely rotate with him in 2020.
Harrison and Smith are both strong candidates to start opposite Cooper, and it’s likely they’ll end up seeing nearly equal playing time in a rotation, but Harrison’s start in the Fiesta Bowl could be a sign of things to come. Both defensive ends have the potential to be the star pass-rusher the Buckeyes need to emerge in place of Chase Young, but Harrison – a five-star recruit in 2019 – seems well on his way to becoming Ohio State’s next elite defensive end.
Javontae Jean-Baptiste should also see some snaps in the rotation after playing in all but the final game last season, but Cooper, Harrison, Smith and Friday should all be solidly on the two-deep.
Defensive Tackle (Nose)
1. Tommy Togiai
2. Antwuan Jackson
Defensive Tackle (3-Technique)
1. Taron Vincent
2. Haskell Garrett
After serving as the third-string nose tackle behind DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers for the past two years, Togiai is in line to ascend to the starting lineup now that they are gone. Jackson, who saw snaps in the rotation at both defensive tackle spots last season, will likely slot in as Togiai’s backup.
Vincent and Garrett, meanwhile, are likely to lead the rotation at 3-technique. Vincent missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, but has the talent to compete his way back in the starting lineup this year, though it’s likely he and Garrett – like Harrison and Smith at defensive end – will play a similar number of snaps regardless of who starts. Jerron Cage could also be a contender to earn some snaps in the rotation.
1. Baron Browning
2. Dallas Gant
1. Tuf Borland
2. Teradja Mitchell
1. Pete Werner
2. Justin Hilliard
Borland and Werner return for their third seasons as starting linebackers and will likely play the majority of snaps at Mike and Sam linebacker. Browning, who has rotated with Borland at middle linebacker for the past two seasons, could slide over to Will linebacker to replace Malik Harrison in the starting lineup.
That said, the Buckeyes also have a multitude of other linebackers who should push for playing time this year. Hilliard played situationally as a second outside linebacker in four-linebacker packages last season and could be in line for a similar role again in 2020. Gant, Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope are all third-year linebackers who could still have to wait their turn to start but should at least have a chance to earn rotational snaps. Craig Young could also be a candidate to earn some snaps as a role player after burning his redshirt as a true freshman last year.
1. Shaun Wade
2. Tyreke Johnson
1. Cameron Brown
2. Sevyn Banks
1. Marcus Williamson
2. Lejond Cavazos
Wade, the only returning starter in Ohio State’s secondary, is expected to move to outside cornerback after starting in the slot last season. Brown and Banks are the top candidates to start opposite Wade, and they could end up rotating at that spot, as new defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has said it is his preference to rotate defensive backs, just as he did in his previous tenure with the Buckeyes.
It’s also possible that one of them could move inside to play slot cornerback, where the depth chart is wide open following Amir Riep’s dismissal from the team. Williamson, a senior, will likely get the first shot at earning that spot in the lineup, but he’ll have to prove he’s up to the task after playing only sparingly in his first three seasons as a Buckeye.
Johnson, a five-star recruit in 2018, will also have a big opportunity to climb the depth chart this spring and summer after a quiet start to his Ohio State career, while Cavazos and fellow true freshman Ryan Watts will be thrust into immediate competition for spots on the two-deep as early enrollees this spring. Cameron Martinez could also help the Buckeyes fill their slot cornerback void if he ends up on the defensive side of the ball, though he’s expected to get a look on offense as well when he arrives this summer.
1. Josh Proctor
2. Marcus Hooker
Proctor has been groomed as the heir apparent to Fuller at middle safety and will likely take his place in the lineup in 2020. Hooker, who also impressed his coaches enough to earn some significant snaps in big games this past season, should also be in line for playing time this fall. Considering that the Buckeyes might not have three cornerbacks who need to be on the field like they did with Okudah, Arnette and Wade last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Buckeyes mixed in more two-safety sets with Proctor and Hooker this season.
1. Blake Haubeil
2. Jake Seibert
1. Drue Chrisman
2. Zack Hoover
1. Roen McCullough
2. Bradley Robinson
Haubeil and Chrisman are both back for their senior seasons as Ohio State’s starting kicker and punter. Jake Seibert, a grayshirt who will be placed on scholarship in 2021, will likely redshirt this season but will be groomed to replace Haubeil next season and would be in line to play this year if anything happens to Haubeil. The Buckeyes don’t have a second scholarship punter, so Hoover – a senior walk-on – will likely remain Chrisman’s backup for this year.
The Buckeyes don’t currently have any scholarship long snappers, but they have two legitimate candidates to replace Liam McCullough in his younger brother Roen and in Robinson, who was the No. 2 long snapper on the depth chart for the past two years.
1. Demario McCall
2. Jaelen Gill
1. Garrett Wilson
2. Cameron Martinez
Ohio State will likely give a number of players the opportunity to compete for kickoff return duties in search of a spark that it hasn’t had in that area in years, but McCall still offers big-play potential and was the Buckeyes’ lead kickoff returner last year. Gill is another strong candidate to return kickoffs if Ohio State trusts him to play a bigger role in 2020.
Wilson showed flashes of game-breaking ability as a punt returner last season, and Day’s decision to stick with him in that role despite multiple muffed punts indicated that he believes in Wilson’s long-term potential in that role. Martinez is another candidate to potentially earn a role in the return game when he arrives on campus this summer.