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Get to know Ohio State football’s six early enrollees

Between Justin Fields and six true freshman, the Buckeyes are getting an infusion of talent for spring practice.

Graphic via Patrick Mayhorn
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As Ohio State kicked off its 2019 spring football practice, most of the attention focused on a single player joining the Scarlet and Gray for the first time, former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields. With the former five-star prospect’s transfer and immediate eligibility, there is little doubt that he will be the most impactful newcomer to the Buckeyes’ roster in 2019, should he remain healthy.

However, in addition to the new, presumed starting signal-caller, there is another half-dozen fresh faces participating in OSU’s spring practices. These prospects all rank in the nation’s top 371 recruits from the 2019 class, including two in the top 20. Whether or not any of these newcomers will make an impact on the field this fall or not is yet to be seen, but, by getting a jump on learning the new coaching staff’s systems and working out with Assistant AD for Football Sports Performance Mickey Marotti, they should be giving themselves the best opportunity to hit the ground running.

Marcus Crowley | Jacksonville, Florida

Running back | 6’1, 200 pounds
Four-star prospect | Florida rank: 44, National rank: 371

Marcus Crowley was Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year, having run for 2,325 yards and 28 touchdowns. However, despite being the only running back in Ohio State’s 2019 class, he faces a logjam in front of him for playing time. With Mike Weber off to the NFL and Brian Snead leaving the program, J.K. Dobbins will be the Buckeyes’ main runner, with Demario McCall presumably being his backup. From there, Crowley will also have to compete for reps with Master Teague.

However, with Dobbins entering his third season in Columbus, and McCall going into his fourth year with the Buckeyes — depending on whether or not they return for their final years of eligibility — there could be opportunities in the near future for Crowley to step up in the rotation. So, any time that he gets to prove himself — be it in practice, or in a game — will be valuable for 2019, and the future as well.

Zach Harrison | Lewis Center, Ohio

Defensive end | 6’5”, 253 pounds
Five-star prospect | Ohio rank: 1, National rank: 12

Very rarely is a recruitment process so completely satisfying. As you can see by the rankings above, obviously however OSU landed Zach Harrison it is a good thing. However, when you consider that defensive line coach Larry Johnson and new head coach Ryan Day secured the commitment over late pushes from Big Ten rivals Penn State and Michigan, it becomes even that much sweeter.

But, friends, the sweetness doesn’t stop there, because the recruiter who led Michigan’s efforts to secure Harrison — and the main reason why the Ohio native was considering defecting to the state up north — was Al Washington, who just so happened to leave Ann Arbor and join Day’s staff as the new linebackers coach shortly after Harrison’s commitment. Who’s got it better than us?

Now, despite Harrison’s high school dominance, he does still have a ways to go before he can contribute significantly for the Buckeyes. While I would expect him to see the field as a backup in 2019, he will still be behind at least Chase Young, Tyreke Smith, and Jonathon Cooper. But, like with the running backs and Crowley, there is a significant chance that two of the three players in front of Harrison could be gone following the season; in fact, I think it’s even more likely with the ends than with the RBs.

Cooper will exhaust his eligibility this season, and if Young can capitalize on being the leader on the defensive line during his junior season, there is a distinct chance that he could follow Nick Bosa to being a top pick in the NFL Draft.

So for Harrison, 2019 will be about adapting his game and body to the additional skill and physicality that he will face at the college level, while preparing himself mentally to be the focal point of offensive blocking schemes in 2020.

Harrison has an imposing frame with long arms and elite strength. He also has freak-level athleticism, already being clocked at a 4.6 second 40-yard dash time.

Ronnie Hickman | Wayne, New Jersey

Safety | 6’1, 200 pounds
Four-star prospect | New Jersey rank: 3, National rank: 115

Ronnie Hickman comes to Columbus this spring looking to break into a safety rotation that is very much in flux. With the entire defensive staff from last season gone — save Johnson, the best D-line coach in the country — predicting what the 2019 staff will do is little more than guessing at this point.

But, if we are assuming that the new coaches that Day brought in are competent at their jobs, Jordan Fuller and Brendon White should be the safeties (although, our Patrick Mayhorn thinks that the new staff could move to a 4-2-5 scheme, which would put White as a potential nickelback).

No matter what packages that the new Buckeye defense runs, Hickman figures to at least get a look, mainly because the players in front of him are either almost equally as inexperienced, or did little to distinguish themselves as reserves in 2018. In addition to the two presumed starters, Hickman will need to compete with Josh Proctor, Isaiah Pryor, Amir Riep, Jahsen Wint, and Marcus Hooker.

While there is certainly plenty of talent in that group, if Hickman adapts well in the spring, there’s no reason to think that he won’t have an opportunity to fight for a spot in the rotation come fall.

Hickman’s senior season ended early due to an injury, but all reports are that he is back to 100 percent, and ready to compete.

Ryan Jacoby | Mentor, Ohio

Offensive tackle | 6’5, 270 pounds
Four-star prospect | Ohio rank: 7, National rank: 283

If there is one position group most in doubt for the Buckeyes, it would be the offensive line. Between graduations and departures for the NFL, the front that will presumably be blocking for Fields is going to look significantly different than the one that kept Dwayne Haskins pretty darn clean in 2018.

Despite that, by virtue of the complexities of collegiate offensive-line play, Jacoby is likely to redshirt this season. However, given the the change in the eligibility rule last year, if he develops both mentally and physically in the spring and fall, he could be called upon in late-game or injury situations, while still preserving his redshirt.

Noah Potter | Mentor, Ohio

Defensive end | 6’5.5, 250 pounds
Four-star prospect | Ohio rank: 9, National rank: 334

Noah Potter — the brother of former Ohio State basketball player Micah Potter — obviously isn’t going to get the same buzz as fellow defensive end Harrison, and because he’s entering the OSU program with Harrison, he’s going to have an even more difficult time seeing the field.

However, unlike his high school teammate Jacoby, Potter will likely have the opportunity to at least get some semi-regular reps in 2019, even if it is just in mop-up duty. In addition to Harrison, Young, Cooper, and Smith, Potter will also be in contention for playing time with Jashon Cornell and Tyler Friday.

While the latter two haven’t done much to distinguish themselves, they have been working with Johnson for longer than Potter, presumably giving them a leg up; Cornell is entering his senior season, while Friday is a rising-sophomore.

However, as we’ve seen during Johnson’s tenure coaching the group, he likes to rotate in as many defensive lineman as possible. So, it stands to reason that whatever Buckeyes are ready to play, probably will.

Garrett Wilson | Austin, Texas

Wide receiver | 5’11.5, 175 pounds
Five-star prospect | Texas rank: 2, National rank: 20

Amongst all six true-freshman, early-enrollees, Garrett Wilson likely has the best opportunity to make an immediate impact. On one hand, he is a ridiculously skilled and talented receiver, and on the other, he plays a position that will likely get a lot of opportunities under Day and new passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich’s pass-first game-plan.

The Buckeyes said goodbye to Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon in the offseason, leaving massive production hole for new players to fill. While there is certainly plenty of returning talent to step up in the likes of Austin Mack, Chris Olave, and K.J. Hill, if Fields is going to be asked to throw as often as we expect him to be this fall, OSU is going to need a lot of capable receivers.

The second-rated WR nationally in the 2019 class, Wilson is more than just an elite athlete, he has also widely been praised for his technical route running and ability to complete difficult catches.

While he is still a bit slight at 175 pounds, he would fit in perfectly with Yurcich’s air-raid inspired offense.