Ohio State football is back in full swing with the official start of spring practice. It's been just less than two months since the Buckeyes took the field, but the short off-season provided several interesting storylines ahead of the 2015 season. Current players have just a few months of spring workouts before the rest of the incoming class competes for some of the same starting jobs. For the third straight year, here's a look at what to know heading into Ohio State's spring practices, as the Buckeyes look to defend their title:
Can any of the early enrollees get on the field? When you bring in multiple time five recruiting classes in a row, it's going to be tough for young players to see the field, especially since the Buckeyes return a ton of starters from last season. Typically, guys who enrollee early have a better shot of cracking the rotation. Ohio State has four early enrollees taking part of spring drills now: four-star DE Jashon Cornell, four-star LB Nick Conner, four-star CB Jamel Dean, and three-star OL Grant Schmidt. Of those four, Cornell is probably most likely to see the most playing time, but Connor and Dean could make an impact on special teams, and hey, maybe Schmidt grows up quickly.
What's the update on the QB situation? Seemingly the only Ohio State storyline from mid to late-season was the quarterback competition for 2015. With three extremely different yet equally dynamic players up for the starting role, the Buckeyes will have the most skilled bench in the country. During Urban Meyer's press conference following the team's first practice, he commented on the tough decision he and his coaching staff will have to make, but is currently focusing on both Miller and Barrett recovering, and Jones steadily improving.
"Cardale is getting more reps than he's ever gotten. It's day to day. How does it play out? I don't know." - Urban Meyer
With Barrett and Miller on the shelf due to injury, don't expect the 2015 QB battle to be settled in the spring. The focus here will be the continued growth of Cardale Jones, as he becomes more comfortable with the depth of Ohio State's playbook.
How do you build another chip on your shoulder? Ohio State has been able to play with a huge chip on their shoulder over the last few years, given the negative reputation of the Big Ten, and Ohio State's near misses. But now, the Buckeyes are coming off a national championship, and since they return most of their team, they're going to be slotted near the top in every preseason conversation. How do you ward off complacency and ego? Can you create other reasons to stay motivated, especially since you're getting every team's best shot the next season? The mental growth of this team may be even more important than the physical growth over the next few weeks.
Defensive backfield: With Doran Grant likely ending up in the NFL next year and the off-season announcement that Armani Reeves is done with football due to injuries, Ohio State's secondary will be relying on underclassmen once again. Eli Apple lived up to his status as an elite recruit last season, and should continue to grow and develop next season. Gareon Conley was reportedly taking first team reps during the first spring practice, leaving Marshon Lattimore and Damon Webb as back-ups for the time being. It's still early, but somebody will need to replace Grant, and there are lots of fast, athletic players looking for playing time.
Defensive line:The Buckeyes have an animal at defensive end with Joey Bosa, and Adolphus Washington is back, but the Buckeyes will need to replace Michael Bennett, and have questions about depth on the inside. Big time recruit and early enrollee Jashon Cornell may fight for playing time, either on the outside or the inside of the line, but he'll be just one of many players vying for time. Will Michael Hill finally put things together? Will Sam Hubbard see time? Maybe Tommy Schutt? Meyer had been concerned about depth along the line, and while there is no shortage of interesting prospects here, somebody will need to step up.
Spring injury updates:
- Ezekiel Elliott - Elliott had surgery on his wrist just a few weeks ago so the coaching staff is being extra cautious with his activities. Meyer noted that anything as small as falling on it could lead to a set-back, and they are not willing to risk that with their star running back.
- Dontre Wilson - The lightning quick returner and H-back is still recovering from last season's foot injury and is still not practicing.
- Tyvis Powell - Powell injured his wrist during the Rutgers game in 2014, but continued to play through the pain. He was seen wearing a cast at spring practice, but noted it was just there to protect it while it finishes healing.
Just as this year's team motto is "The Grind", Meyer and the other coaches have changed practice and training times to the mornings; the first practice of the year started at 8:30 a.m. The team's spring practice schedule is as follows:
- Practice #1: Mar. 10
- Practice #2: Mar. 12
- Practice #3: Mar. 24
- Practice #4: Mar. 26
- Practice #5: Mar. 28
- Practice #6: Mar. 31
- Practice #7: Apr. 2
- Practice #8: Apr. 4
- Practice #9: Apr. 7
- Practice #10: Apr. 9
- Practice #11: Apr. 11
- Practice #12: Apr. 13
- Practice #13: Apr. 15
- Practice #14: Apr. 17
- Spring Game: Apr. 18
Offense: Having both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett back for the 2015 season will strengthen the position competition, but since both will still be limited during spring practices, Cardale Jones will be listed as the returning starter at quarterback. Last year's offense set an mind-blowing 17 team records; the team had 7,674 total yards for 90 touchdowns and scored 672 points. The offensive side of the ball will be a great strength for the Buckeyes come the fall.
- Cardale Jones, QB - His first three starts resulted in a Big Ten Championship shutout over Wisconsin, a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, and a win over Oregon for the rights to be called the National Champions.
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Sugar Bowl and national championship offensive MVP
- Taylor Decker, OT - Second-team all-Big Ten
- Pat Elflein, G - All-Big Ten conference guard
- Jacoby Boren, C - Academic All-American
- Billy Price, G - Freshman All-American
- Michael Thomas, WR - Honorable mention all-Big Ten
Defense: The 2014 season can all but be marked as the return of the Silver Bullets. With improvements each week, the regular season was capped off with a 59-0 win in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin and their Heisman candidate running-back. The defense didn't rest all game, and made sure to leave Indianapolis with a shutout ahead of the College Football Playoff committee making their final decision on the top four teams.
- Joey Bosa, DE - 2014 consensus All-American
- Adolphus Washington, DT - Honorable mention all-Big Ten
- Joshua Perry, LB - Ohio State's leading tackler
- Darron Lee, LB - Freshman All-American and Allstate Sugar Bowl defensive MVP
- Tyvis Powell, SAF - College Football Playoff national championship game MVP
- Vonn Bell, SAF - Honorable mention all-Big Ten and Ohio State's interception leader
- Eli Apple, CB - Freshman All-American