Putting too much stock into anything that happens in the spring game can often be futile, but to pretend we learned nothing from this past weekend’s exhibition would be disingenuous.
There are plenty of takeaways to unpack from Ohio State’s final “practice” of the spring, and in a special edition of the stock report to start the week, we take a stab at doing exactly that.
From underclassman standouts and veterans who appear to be on the verge of breaking through to a few things that might have underwhelmed on Saturday, here’s our rundown of how things are trending across the Buckeye roster following the conclusion of spring camp in Columbus.
No single player might have boosted their stock more than true freshman safety Kye Stokes on Saturday, as the first-year defensive back had media members, Ohio State coaches and the Buckeye fan base buzzing about his potential future following Stokes’ spring game performance. Stokes, who surprised many when he was the first freshman to shed his black stripe this spring, was credited with two pass breakups and nine total tackles – tied for second-most on the day – and made plays both downfield in pass coverage and up at the line of scrimmage in the run game.
With Bryson Shaw gone in the transfer portal, Stokes looks like an ideal fit to be the second-string adjuster safety behind Ronnie Hickman, and his early progress is nothing short of impressive given that he was one of the lower-rated recruits in Ohio State’s 2022 class.
Another underclassman defensive back who flashed Saturday was second-year cornerback Jordan Hancock, who continues to look like the third man at the position behind presumptive starters Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke.
Like Stokes, Hancock had a pair of pass breakups, and he made another eye-catching play with an impressive open field tackle on Miyan Williams for a four-yard loss in the second quarter. Hancock’s name had already come up on numerous occasions with his coaches and teammates throughout the offseason even before Saturday, but the spring game just confirmed what everyone had been talking about.
Backup running backs
It may be tempting for the Buckeyes to leave a back as gifted as TreVeyon Henderson on the field as much as possible in 2022, but a couple players lower on the depth chart might have given Tony Alford and company more confidence in their ability to spell the star rusher during the season. Both Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor flashed on the field Saturday, with the former cracking 100 yards on just 15 carries while the latter tallied 106 total yards on 13 touches before game’s end.
Evan Pryor pic.twitter.com/fxJ2Z2pVuQ— Eleven Warriors (@11W) April 16, 2022
Pryor’s performance was more of a revelation, given that he carried the ball just 21 times as true freshman, but his innate penchant for making quick cuts and eluding defenders with shiftiness gives the Ohio State running back room another dimension – and even more so with his skills as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Second-year defensive ends
After both fell short of achieving the truly explosive first-year success they may have been clamoring for as freshmen, J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer continue to look like pass-rushers coming into their own ahead of their second seasons in Columbus.
Tuimoloau had two sacks on Saturday, having his way with some of the Buckeye backups in particular during one stretch in the first half, and Sawyer had a sack of his own as the pair accounted for half of the Team Gray’s production in that department.
Ryan Day said after the game that he expects that tandem to be “a force” in the fall if they continue what they’ve started this offseason, and that’s an exciting prospect for fans who have been waiting to see the five-star defensive ends break out in Larry Johnson’s position room.
Tight end depth
Question marks have not been in short supply at the tight end position since the departure of Jeremy Ruckert from the program at the start of the offseason. Cade Stover’s move from linebacker figured to lend the room some stability, but a couple of third-year players behind him on the depth chart made several nice plays at Ohio Stadium over the weekend.
Gee Scott Jr., who has seemed to struggle to carve out a legitimate role for himself at the position up until now, led all Buckeyes with five catches on the day for 40 yards. Joe Royer caught two passes Saturday, but one of them stood out among the afternoon's top plays as the redshirt sophomore went airborne to snag a 24-yard score from Kyle McCord in the first half.
Tight end touchdown, courtesy of Joe Royer. pic.twitter.com/KvoGFJ23dD— Eleven Warriors (@11W) April 16, 2022
Of course, their ability to block may be even more important than their pass-catching skills as far as their usage in the Buckeye offense is concerned, but both players impressed in the spring game, which is a good sign on its own.
Julian Fleming’s “healthiest spring”
Julian Fleming has now been on Ohio State campus for more than three years, but he still has yet to play a snap in a spring game. The five-star wideout had that opportunity snatched from him in 2020 due to COVID-19, and in 2021 he was rehabbing from a shoulder procedure that kept him out of most of another spring. This year was supposed to be his healthiest spring to date, and a chance to make good on the potential that made him the top wide receiver recruit in the country just a few years ago. Unfortunately for Fleming, another injury kept him out of this year’s spring game, even if it doesn’t sound like a significant one, as Day said Fleming was “day-to-day” and held out for precautionary reasons.
What is significant, though, is that Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. continue to make the most of the reps they’re getting as first-teamers in the Buckeye offense, which only makes the competition for a starting role all the more difficult for Fleming.
Mitchell Melton’s momentum
One of the breakout success stories of the spring was the emergence of Mitchell Melton, who returned from a season-ending injury a year ago, switched from linebacker to the defensive line and began earning praise from Jim Knowles as a leading candidate for reps at the Jack position. But Melton’s momentum may have stalled a bit Saturday, depending on the severity of an injury that saw him limp off to the locker room with the help of two trainers in the second quarter of the spring game.
Knowles said after the game he didn’t know what Melton’s status was as of yet, but given the time he missed last season, it could be cause for concern for a player that had been gaining steam fast early in the offseason.
Offensive line depth
It’s been a repeated lament of Ryan Day’s this spring, and the Buckeyes’ lack of offensive line depth was evident at times in Saturday’s exhibition. Ohio State had all five of its presumptive starters available, but with Josh Fryar, Ben Christman, Zen Michalski and Trey Leroux all out, the Buckeyes struggled to keep the defensive line out of the backfield – depending on the lineup – giving up six sacks (and a couple more could probably have been whistled with the Buckeye quarterbacks wearing non-contact jerseys).
The Buckeye offensive line also committed three penalties during the scrimmage. Noah Potter, who has yet to record a sack in a regulation game at the college level, finished with a pair on Saturday. Depth up front will be an area to improve on for the Buckeyes moving forward, although getting several contributors back healthy should help in that regard before the fall.