Even before the spring, the outlook at many positions for Ohio State’s 2023 roster was already all but settled.
On offense, the Buckeyes return all three of their starting wideouts from a year ago, bring back both starting guards on the offensive line and should have TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams healthy to split reps at running back by the start of the season. At tight end, Cade Stover returns to hold down the starting job he dominated reps at in 2022.
On defense, JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer are the clear starters at defensive end, some combination of Mike Hall, Ty Hamilton and Tyleik Williams will rotate at defensive tackle and the Buckeyes’ linebacker duo of Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers is set. Behind them, players like Denzel Burke and Lathan Ransom are back to reprise starting roles on the back end.
But there are plenty of vital spots at which things are still unclear as Ohio State heads into the summer. Starting at quarterback, where the Buckeyes have yet to name a new starter to fill C.J. Stroud’s shoes, we broke down six position battles that remain either entirely unresolved or slightly ajar for potential shakeups before the start of the 2023 season.
Candidates: Kyle McCord, Devin Brown
The most high-profile position on the team remains without a clear-cut No. 1 entering the summer, as Kyle McCord and Devin Brown will continue to vie for the Buckeyes’ vacant starting quarterback position during preseason camp.
McCord was the only one of the two to appear in Ohio State’s spring game last month, but that was due to a minor finger injury that cut Brown’s spring short in the final week. Before that, both passers split reps with the first-team Ohio State offense all spring, and neither one appeared leaps and bounds ahead of the other. As a result, Ryan Day didn’t name a starter following the spring game, and the quarterback battle will wage on in the coming months.
"It would be nice to have it be black and white. I can't sit here and tell you it is right now. I think they've both done really good things, I think there's things they both will have to improve on. I think if they were sitting right here, they'd both tell you the same thing," Day said on April 12. "There's no games, there's no agenda here. It's two guys competing and one day one guy has the upper hand, the next day the other guy might have the upper hand. Those reps have been split up evenly, you guys have seen in practice we've been really making sure we do that. They know that there's things they need to work on, there's things that they've done well.”
McCord still figures to have a leg up in the competition. The Philadelphia native has an extra year of experience in the program, one start under his belt from the 2021 season and a longstanding relationship with top offensive weapon Marvin Harrison Jr., with whom he’s developed an on-field chemistry since their high school tenure at St. Joseph's Preparatory School.
If Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis already had their minds made up, though, they might have already named McCord the starter before the preseason. Instead, they left the door open for Brown to make a surge before the start of the season.
Candidates: Josh Simmons, Tegra Tshabola, Zen Michalski
The struggles on Ohio State’s retooled offensive line were no secret over the spring, and the spring game itself did little to change any narrative that the unit still needs plenty of work before the fall.
Replacing three starters is no easy task, with Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler beginning their NFL careers this season, but that isn’t likely to afford Ohio State much leeway from fans if the standard of play up front drops off in 2023. And given that the Buckeyes will have a new starter under center, having a cohesive front five will be all the more crucial.
“Inconsistent,” Day said of the offensive line after the spring game. “I thought that there was some good things, but we need more consistency there.”
Luckily for the Buckeyes, help is on the way this summer as former San Diego State tackle Josh Simmons committed to the program late last month and should contend for a starting job on the right side of the line. Tegra Tshabola and Zen Michalski duked it out at right tackle for most of the spring, but often to underwhelming results. Tshabola received a vote of confidence from Day at the start of the spring, but the 6-foot-6, 327-pound lineman is only in his second year in the program and played guard as a true freshman.
Perhaps Tshabola could still wind up a starter after getting more opportunities at the new position over the summer. But Simmons’ experience (799 snaps for San Diego State in 2022) could prove the difference as the Buckeyes look to put the best five linemen on the field in 2023.
Candidates: Carson Hinzman, Jakob James, Victor Cutler
After the dust settled in the spring, there didn’t seem to be much of a controversy at the center position. Second-year lineman Carson Hinzman handled most of the first-team reps in the middle of Justin Frye’s offensive line and didn’t look out of place doing so.
However, Day stopped short of naming Hinzman a surefire starter when asked about him on multiple occasions. Hinzman, who did not see game action last year, practiced at guard as a true freshman and said he had never even snapped the ball before taking some occasional practice reps at center in his first year with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State brought in Lousiana-Monroe transfer Victor Cutler to contend for the starting job, but his transition has been shaky thus far. A tackle at his last stop, Cutler’s snaps weren’t always pretty during spring practices, whether he was running with the first or second unit on offense. That allowed Hinzman to emerge as the frontrunner to replace Wypler at center.
Still, Hinzman remains untested and inexperienced at a position that will be vital for the success of Ohio State’s offense and its new starting quarterback. Not to mention, he may have another starting candidate to hold off this preseason. Jakob James enters his fourth year in scarlet and gray and despite missing the spring with injury, he received plaudits from Frye for his efforts to stay engaged and get back on the field. James, who was the second-team center in 2022, could factor into the position battle in preseason camp.
Candidates: Jordan Hancock, Davison Igbinosun
Denzel Burke’s standout spring left little question that he will remain a starting cornerback for Ohio State in 2023. But multiple Buckeyes still have a chance to win the other starting job opposite Burke.
Jordan Hancock filled that role more often than not this spring after struggling with injuries throughout 2022, and he looked impressive on numerous occasions while battling against Ohio State’s elite receiving corps. But Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun might have looked just as good, if not better.
Almost a great catch by Carnell Tate, but Davison Igbinosun breaks up the play pic.twitter.com/UuwtK4jj51— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) April 1, 2023
Igbinosun’s 6-foot-2 frame jumped off the field during Ohio State’s first spring practices and he put it to good use thereafter, breaking up several passes and even recording an interception during one 7-on-7 scrimmage period that was open to the media.
Igbinosun’s technique and playmaking ability made him one of the more buzzed-about players on the entire Buckeye roster throughout March and April, and the Buckeye coaching staff seemed just as excited about Igbinosun.
“I liked his length. He has real length and got his hands on a lot of balls,” Jim Knowles said in March. “And he was quick to mix it up, too. I joke with him all the time, he's got that Jersey toughness, you know? And he's got experience in the SEC, played a lot of football. I just think he's gonna bring a lot of competition to the position.”
Whether or not Knowles and company have seen enough to make Igbinosun a starter won’t be determined until the preseason, but if he continues to show out over the summer, it will be hard to keep him off the field.
Candidates: Cameron Martinez, Ja'Had Carter
Like at center, Ohio State’s nickelback position wasn’t exactly hotly contested this spring in terms of how the first-team reps were divvied out. Cameron Martinez held down the spot admirably and will go into the summer with a leg up on any competition for the starting job.
But the fiercest challenger for the role wasn’t on the field to battle it out with Martinez in the latter half of the spring. When Syracuse transfer safety Ja’Had Carter committed to the Buckeyes this offseason, many assumed he would take over the reins from Tanner McCalister as a plug-and-play starter at nickel. Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered during a mid-spring practice relegated Carter to the sidelines before he could begin stealing first-team reps from Martinez.
Carter is expected to be back for the summer, though, at which point he may take further strides toward a starting role.
Beyond those two, both Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner have spent time at nickel this offseason, and perhaps Brown would be the Buckeyes’ top choice if they elect to put three more traditional cornerbacks on the field in lieu of a third safety.
Candidates: Jayden Fielding, Parker Lewis
One position battle that’s likely flown under the radar for many fans is at kicker, where second-year walk-on Jayden Fielding and USC transfer Parker Lewis will continue to compete to replace Noah Ruggles. Neither player has attempted a field goal or extra point in scarlet and gray, but both attempted a field goal in the spring game. Fielding got the first crack but missed a 40-yarder, and Lewis hit a 38-yard kick in his only attempt.
Walk-on transfer Casey Magyar also hit an extra point on the day, although it seems more likely that Fielding and Lewis will contend for the role of starting placekicker over the course of the forthcoming preseason. Fielding handled kickoff duties for Ohio State last season while Lewis was USC’s field goal kicker in 2020 and 2021.