Evaluating Ryan Day’s Six Biggest Positional Question Marks for 2024 Ohio State Football

By Dan Hope on June 21, 2024 at 8:35 am
Josh Fryar and Tegra Tshabola

Ryan Day knows his 2024 Ohio State football team has the potential to be an all-time great team. But there’s still several question marks the Buckeyes need to find answers to if they’re going to perform up to their potential this fall.

Echoing comments from former Ohio State coaches Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel – who both told 10TV earlier this week that this year’s Ohio State roster is one of the most talented they’ve ever seen – Day said Tuesday that he thinks this year’s roster has the best combination of talent and experience of any team the Buckeyes have had since he started at OSU.

“We've been talented. There's been times in the past we've been talented. I don't know, since I've been here, if we've been this talented and this experienced together with guys that have played a lot of football, fourth- and fifth-year guys,” Day said. “And that does matter.”

With all that talent and experience, most of Ohio State’s starting lineup already looks to be determined before preseason camp.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have four established starters on the defensive line (Jack Sawyer, JT Tuimoloau, Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton) and five in the secondary (Denzel Burke, Davison Igbinosun, Jordan Hancock, Caleb Downs and Lathan Ransom). Cody Simon is expected to start at Mike linebacker while Sonny Styles and C.J. Hicks are both viable candidates to start at Will linebacker.

The offensive lineup is slightly less clear-cut, but there is an established group of players who are expected to either start or play major roles this season. TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins will split carries at running back; Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, Jeremiah Smith and Brandon Inniss should all be in the rotation at wide receiver; Josh Simmons, Donovan Jackson, Seth McLaughlin and Josh Fryar are all experienced starters on the offensive line; and Gee Scott Jr. looks like the frontrunner to start at tight end.

That said, Day identified six positional questions on Tuesday that Ohio State is still looking for answers to entering preseason camp: Who will start at quarterback, who will start on the right side of the offensive line, who they can rely on for depth at wide receiver, interior defensive line and safety and who will be the Buckeyes’ punter.

Ohio State isn’t likely to find much clarity to those questions until it returns to the practice field for preseason camp in August. In the meantime, Day and the Buckeyes are evaluating where they stand at each of those positions so they know what they need to accomplish in the weeks leading up to the season, so we’ll do the same by taking a look at why each of those positions is a question mark for Ohio State and who could ultimately emerge as the answers.

Starting Quarterback

It looked like Ohio State had found its solution at quarterback when Will Howard transferred to Columbus in January, but an uneven spring for the former Kansas State QB – particularly in the deep passing game – left some doubt about whether he’s the right guy to lead Ohio State’s offense this season.

Neither Day nor Chip Kelly was ready to name a starting quarterback after the spring game, and Day said Tuesday that not much has changed since then because the Buckeyes aren’t able to hold any actual practices until they open camp on Aug. 1. 

“To say coming out of the spring, where we are right now, there's a lot of movement in any position, wouldn't be accurate,” Day said. “We'll work hard and there'll be a lot of progress made with Mick in the weight room, but we won't really know much until we get into the preseason.”

Howard is still the likely frontrunner to start given his proven ability as a dual-threat and 27 games of starting experience at Kansas State, but he’ll need to perform well during the first few weeks of August to lock down the job. If not, Devin Brown will have a chance to seize the starting spot away from him. And the buzz around true freshman Julian Sayin suggests he has a real chance to become a factor at the position this season, too, even though he didn’t yet look ready to be the starter in the spring game.

While the Buckeyes need to find one quarterback they can rely on – ideally before the season starts – to lead the offense in their season-defining games, the good news is that they have excellent depth at the position with Howard, Brown, Sayin, Lincoln Kienholz and Air Noland all on scholarship.

“I don't think it's been any mystery that we plan on running the quarterback a little bit more this year. So I think depth is going to be critical in the room,” Day said earlier this month. “It's not going to be the number one thing we do, but we want to make sure we have that depth in our room. I think we've done that at a high level, and I'm excited about the entire group.”

Right Side of the Offensive Line

The position that’s been Ohio State’s biggest area of concern since last season remains its biggest area of concern after OSU added no help to its offensive line in the post-spring transfer window. With a hole lingering on the right side of the offensive line, Day said the Buckeyes evaluated potential transfer options up front after spring practices but ultimately did not find anyone who they thought would be an upgrade over the players they already have.

“We're not just going to bring somebody in to bring somebody in,” Day said. “Like in all positions, we'll always look to see what's out there. We did evaluate some of the guys that were out there. We felt like coming out of it as we evaluated it, there’s a couple guys that we checked on, but ultimately, based on where we were and some of the young guys that are coming up, we felt like we saw some progress in the offensive line in the spring.

“There wasn't as many folks in the portal after the spring. So we looked at it. We identified it. We did our due diligence. But we're going to go with who we have now.”

While Day said he saw progress this spring from Ohio State’s less experienced offensive linemen, he didn’t see enough from any of them yet to name a fifth starter. It also remains uncertain whether that fifth starter will line up at right guard or right tackle, as Day continued to leave the door open for Josh Fryar to play either position. It remains more likely that Fryar will stay at tackle than kick inside, though.

“We see Josh making a lot of progress,” Day said. “He's had another really good June, another good offseason. We felt like the spring, he did a nice job there. So we feel like there's just been a lot of progress made.

“I think coming off of last year, he built some confidence. And then he knows he can do it. He knows the areas he's got to improve in, in order for him to help us win the games we need to win. So we feel confident with him playing guard and tackle. We got to figure out what that right side looks like. I would say we're probably leaning towards playing him at tackle and trying to figure out who that right guard is at this time. But we do have some flexibility there.”

The three leading candidates to be the fifth starter on the offensive line are Carson Hinzman, Tegra Tshabola and Luke Montgomery, with left tackle Josh Simmons, left guard Donovan Jackson and center Seth McLaughlin expected to make up the rest of the front five.

Hinzman, who started at center last season, might enter preseason camp as the slight favorite since he already has a year of starting experience, especially after he drew praise from coaches for his improvement this spring. But Tshabola also looks like a player to watch after a strong spring game showing while taking reps at both right guard and right tackle. Montgomery might have the highest upside of that trio, but his slide out of the first-team rotation at the end of spring suggests the Buckeyes will need to see more from him in preseason camp to feel ready to put him in the starting lineup.

Wide Receiver Depth

Even with the departures of Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson and Julian Fleming from last season, Ohio State looks poised to have an elite quartet of wide receivers this season in Emeka Egbuka, Jeremiah Smith, Carnell Tate and Brandon Inniss. Egbuka is as proven as any receiver in the country, Smith looked like an immediate superstar in his first spring and Tate and Inniss are both seen as strong candidates for breakout sophomore years.

Day still has concerns about the depth behind them, however.

“I feel like we've got to build enough depth at receiver that we feel like we can put in five or six in the game and feel good about it,” Day said.

The leading candidates to round out the two-deep are likely some combination of Jayden Ballard, Mylan Graham and Bryson Rodgers. Ballard should be ready to play a bigger role this season as a redshirt junior, but Day’s comment suggests the Buckeyes are still looking for more from Ballard if he’s going to earn regular playing time. Rodgers has drawn praise for his performance in practice but could be stuck in a logjam at slot receiver behind Egbuka and Inniss. Graham has all the tools to be a future star for the Buckeyes as a five-star recruit, but Ohio State won’t know until preseason camp if he’ll be ready to play as a freshman since he didn’t enroll early.

Kojo Antwi and Damarion Witten – who was recruited as a tight end but is expected to start his Ohio State career at wide receiver – give the Buckeyes additional depth options along with a quality group of walk-ons that includes David Adolph, Brennen Schramm, Reis Stocksdale and Shawn Lodge, among others. Day also suggested Tuesday that cornerback Lorenzo Styles Jr. could be an additional depth option if needed after playing receiver at Notre Dame.

However, Brian Hartline has said in the past that he will only take his starting receivers off the field for backups if they can perform at the same level as the starters. Day’s comment suggests Ohio State is still looking for more of its receivers to ascend to that level.

Interior Defensive Line Depth

After relying heavily on a three-man rotation of Tyleik Williams, Mike Hall and Ty Hamilton at defensive tackle last season, Larry Johnson said this spring that he would like to rotate more on the defensive line this season. With only Hamilton and Williams returning from that trio, however, Ohio State is still determining who it can count on to be a rotational regular behind them.

“I think we're still looking to figure out who are going to be the guys inside. The third, the fourth, the fifth defensive interior lineman that we're going to put in the game,” Day said.

Ohio State explored the option of adding a veteran defensive tackle to the rotation this offseason by hosting Michigan State transfer Derrick Harmon on an official visit, but didn’t end up adding one after Harmon transferred to Oregon. The Buckeyes’ decision to pursue Harmon suggests they would like to have another defensive tackle with more experience than their current backups.

That said, there are plenty of intriguing candidates to fill out the depth chart behind Williams and Hamilton. Hero Kanu and Kayden McDonald both flashed in limited action last season while Johnson said this spring that Jason Moore was “making a jump” at 3-technique. Tywone Malone could also be an option to play a bigger role in his second year at Ohio State after transferring from Ole Miss, as could redshirt freshman Will Smith Jr.

Kayden McDonald
Kayden McDonald is among the defensive tackles looking to prove they should be on the field more for Ohio State this season.

Ohio State will have to know it can consistently rely on at least two or three of those players if it’s going to deploy a deeper interior defensive line rotation in big games than it did last year, but there’s reason to believe they should have enough defensive tackle talent to make that happen.

Safety Depth

Although Ohio State addressed this need during the post-spring transfer window with the addition of former South Carolina safety Keenan Nelson Jr., Day said Tuesday that safety depth remains “a little bit” of a concern “just to kind of see who those next guys are that are going to step up.”

Malik Hartford is the top candidate to be the first safety off the bench behind Caleb Downs and Lathan Ransom considering he saw significant playing time as a freshman, including two starts. He was sidelined by an injury all spring, however, preventing him from shoring up his standing as the third safety.

Outside of Downs, the only other scholarship safeties who went through spring practice that are still on the roster are redshirt freshman Jayden Bonsu and true freshman Jaylen McClain. While both of them showed promise this spring, OSU might not want to have to count on them to play in a key spot early, considering neither has played a collegiate snap.

Nelson made three starts at South Carolina last season, but how quickly he acclimates to Jim Knowles’ defensive scheme in preseason camp could determine how much playing time he sees this season. While his addition gives the Buckeyes enough numbers to fill out their safety depth chart, it doesn’t eliminate the question of how much Ohio State will be able to trust its depth at the position.


After going through spring practices without any punters on scholarship, Ohio State is set to have a three-way position battle for punting duties in preseason camp.

Returning walk-on Joe McGuire will compete with new scholarship freshman and fellow Australian Nick McLarty along with Buffalo transfer Anthony Venneri, a preferred walk-on, to be Ohio State’s starting punter this year. The emergence of at least one of them as a punter the Buckeyes can count on will be important to the team’s special teams efforts this season.

“Special teams-wise, punter is going to be – that is significant,” Day said Tuesday while addressing his personnel questions entering preseason camp. “We just brought in Nick. So there'll be a battle there.”

McLarty being on scholarship and the only punter Day referenced by name on Tuesday might be an indicator of who the frontrunner in that competition will be, but he’s never played in an American football game before. McGuire has the advantage of having already been at Ohio State for a year and gone through spring practices. Venneri has the advantage of already having been a starting punter for two years, breaking Buffalo’s school record for punting average in back-to-back seasons and earning Freshman All-American honors in 2022.

Between the three of them, Ohio State should be in good shape to have an effective punter this season. But picking the right one during preseason camp will be an important step toward improving on special teams in 2024.

View 33 Comments