"Ezekiel Elliott was only the Big Ten offensive player of the year in 2015, a guy who ran for more than 1,800 yards in each of the past two years and for 41 touchdowns the last two seasons combined. He was kind of a big deal."
- Brian Bennett, ESPN
There are several important players that Ohio State lost to the NFL draft, but perhaps the most key losses were running back Ezekiel Elliott and defensive end Joey Bosa. This offseason, the Buckeyes are tasked with trying to replace the two All-Americans at their respective positions. That means several current players are going to be fighting for those spots and for playing time in 2016. At defensive end, the obvious replacement appears to be Sam Hubbard who, as a true freshman, filled in at times for Bosa when he was off the field. Hubbard showed why he earned playing time, stepping up impressively in the times Bosa wasn't able to play. He also had several sacks over the course of the season and set himself up nicely for a potential breakout sophomore campaign.
The real position battle will come at running back. For now, it's assumed that senior running back Bri'onte Dunn will finally have his shot at the starting position, having backed up both Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott. Dunn had been in and out of the doghouse for Urban Meyer early on but has resolved any of those issues. Other than Dunn, freshman Mike Weber could make some noise if he plays well in spring and fall practices as one of the top recruits in Ohio State's 2016 class. And of course, it's already been well documented that Curtis Samuel will likely see some action at running back in addition to some H-back or wide receiver duties.
"You know what, in the secondary it might be [a benefit]. If we're going to introduce some new things, if a guy has been doing the same thing for three or four years, he might be like, ‘Why do we have to change it now? Why are we changing this thing?' Whereas guys who haven't had a lot of experience, they're just ready and fighting for a job and wanting to please and do everything they can."
- Greg Schiano via Austin Ward, ESPN
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano made quite a splash when the Buckeyes hired him. Now in his first season in Columbus, Schiano went to work right away and has the task of preparing a young secondary to get up to speed to the college level. The Buckeyes only return one starter - cornerback Gareon Conley - from last season's secondary, leaving several spots open for the taking. Among the potential candidates for the opposite cornerback spot are Marshon Lattimore, Damon Webb, and Denzel Ward. But whoever doesn't win that spot may just end up seeing time at safety. The safety positions were left by Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, and with Cam Burrows and Erick Smith on the sideline with injuries, Schiano has some decisions to make.
Malik Hooker and Eric Glover-Williams seem to be two of the popular names at safety with the injuries mentioned above, with Damon Webb also getting some playing time at the position. There likely won't be a clear-cut depth chart until the fall, but for now, the positions seem to be up for grabs. With a lot of those names without much experience, it will be crucial for Schiano to coach and teach these players in order to have them ready for 2016.
"He's truly grateful that he's the type of kid Ohio State took a chance on. He wasn't a blue chipper. He's a kid that I think is developing for sure, with his body size and his feel for the game. I think redshirting really helped him. I think the future is bright."
- Sonny Johnson via Bill Landis, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Ohio State center David Bell entered this season as a redshirt freshman and saw limited playing time. Bell played in 23 games and served as a third-string center of sorts in case Trevor Thompson or Daniel Giddens found themselves in foul trouble. He only averaged 1.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, and blocked six shots over the course of the season, but more importantly, he spent time developing and working to put himself in a good position for future seasons. Bell knows he could very well be a four-year player at Ohio State, considering the amount of centers both on the roster now and how many Thad Matta and the staff are bringing in the next couple of seasons.
After all, Bell only started taking basketball seriously in the eighth grade and was recruited as a project of sorts. But Bell is fully aware of his position on the team and is focused solely on improving his game in his time with the Buckeyes. It's up to him how much he can improve during his stay in Columbus and the coaching staff will surely work with him if the effort is always there. If Bell can make steady improvements consistently, there's no reason he won't earn more playing time or have a significant role on Ohio State in the future.
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