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Five things to watch for in the 2021 Ohio State spring game

From QBs to DBs to finally freeing Demario, what are you most looking forward to?

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, Ohio State has a football game tomorrow. Well, kind of. It’s more of a “football” “game.” With the return of the spring game — after a COVID-mandated hiatus in 2020 — Ryan Day’s young squad will wrap up their spring session with the 15th and final practice. The only difference from the previous 14 will be that this one will be in the Horseshoe, broadcast on the Big Ten Network, and — for the first time since the Buckeyes beat the Penn State Nits in November 2019 — in front of a ravenous home crowd; albeit one that is considerably smaller than normal games.

The scrimmage will kick off at 12:05 p.m. ET on BTN, which is normal for an OSU spring game, but basically nothing else will be traditional about it. Gone is the traditional Scarlet and Gray team identifications. Instead, we will have Team Brutus vs. Team Buckeye in the first half, and simple offense vs. defense in the second half.

I will get more into the teams and the specifics of this particular exhibition shortly, but as we do with every OSU football game, I’m going to run through five things that I will be watching for when the 2021 Buckeyes take to the field for their final intra-squad scrimmage of the spring on Saturday.

1) Quarterback play

Let’s be honest, this is the most important thing that Buckeye Nation is interested in for Saturday’s spring game. As fans, we have been insanely spoiled over the past decade in terms of quarterback play; from Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller to J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones to Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields, that’s a pretty insane run of QBs.

Now it’s time to see what the next crop of Buckeye signal-callers have in store for the program. Since the day he arrived on campus, the consensus has been that C.J. Stroud would eventually replace Fields; and based on reports from practice, he is the guy going first in the majority of the drills, despite the fact that he is splitting first team reps with fellow second-year QB Jack Miller and true-freshman Kyle McCord.

According to the Team Brutus Roster Stroud and McCord will be on the same team, so presumably C.J. will be starting for one team and Jack will be starting for the other. This makes sense as they have both been on campus for a full year — adjusting to the offense and learning the playbook — while Jack has only been in Columbus for a few months and probably is still trying to figure out which tower is Lincoln and which one is Morrill. Based on everything that we’ve heard, I feel pretty confident in assuming that Day and company know what they’ve got in Stroud and McCord, but that Miller — partially because of his high school injury history — is still a bit of an unknown, even a year into his time as a Buckeye.

Having him take the reins on Team Buckeye could give the coaching staff a better idea as to where he falls in the pecking order. I also think that this could be about keeping McCord in Columbus through the season. Yes, OSU has three QBs in the room right now, but they are all exceptionally young; nary a collegiate pass has been thrown between them. So, having as many options available to you, should you need them, might be the best case scenario for the Ohio State offense. Because, I would imagine that if Miller thought that he was buried behind both Stroud and McCord, he would be using this summer to explore his options via the portal.

As I said in my article last week (and linked above), I feel pretty confident in the fact that whomever ends up being the Buckeye starter will be ready to compete at the Big Ten level. So, I’m less worried or nervous about how they look, and more just excited to see what the future holds for the position at Ohio State.

2) Secondary progression

Anyone who tells you that the defensive backfield was not Ohio State’s biggest problem in the 2020 season either a) doesn’t know anything about football, b) is related to someone in Ohio State’s defensive backfield, or c) is as dumb as the people who are saying that Justin Fields is the fifth or sixth best quarterback in the NFL Draft.

Now, unfortunately, we aren’t really going to see the top-line defenders in OSU’s secondary on Saturday, as both presumed starting corners, Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown, won’t play due to injury. The Buckeyes are also without (most likely permanently) last year’s some-time starter at safety Marcus Hooker.

So, we will likely only see a single secondary starter in safety Josh Proctor on Saturday, but what I am most interested in is seeing what the young guys look like. Ohio State is in desperate need of a talent infusion following a few years of subpar recruiting while Kerry Coombs was in the NFL.

And, if guys like Cameron Martinez, Bryson Shaw, and Ryan Watts can flash for Team Brutus and Denzel Burke, Lejond Cavazos, Jantzen Dunn, and Lathan Ransom can do the same for Team Buckeye, it could give us a good insight into the future of the position group. Of course, there are some veterans that will likely get a lot of run on Saturday as well in Tyreke Johnson and Marcus Williamson; not to mention Demario McCall’s position change (which we will get into shortly).

In addition to Banks and Brown, Kourt Williams is still out with the knee injury that he suffered in 2020’s fall camp, but will almost certainly factor into the rotation at safety and/or the bullet (more on that in a minute) when the season rolls around.

There have been a lot of reports that the Buckeyes will be transitioning to a 4-2-5 defense this year, but I am not anticipating seeing too much of that tomorrow. Between having a large number of starters/contributors out for the scrimmage and not wanting to put too much on film just yet, I figure we’ll see a pretty vanilla secondary scheme. But, as long as we get to see what some of the youngsters can do, that will be good enough for me.

3) How awesome is TreVeyon Henderson?

Notice how I didn’t ask, “Will TreVeyon Henderson be awesome?” If you have watched his high school footage, you already know that he already is definitively awesome. The only question that remains is how quickly will his awesomeness acclimate to the college game.

Henderson will presumably be the featured back on Team Buckeye, while Master Teague will anchor Team Brutus. Now, the particulars of tomorrow’s game mean that we won’t really get to see Henderson (or any of the backs) in their true form, because the game will be played under “thud tempo,” which is essentially two-hand touch.

So, we won’t see any RBs breaking tackles, and that will certainly limit how much we can really learn about Henderson tomorrow, but if he is still able to show out, that will be a very good sign for the OSU backfield.

While I think that it is possible (if not probable) that Day defers to Master Teague as the starter come September, I am fully expecting Henderson to be the better of the two backs and to get the bulk of the carries. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the real deal and the Buckeyes next great tailback.

4) Wait, the bullet position is finally real?

When Greg Mattison came to Columbus from the Mitten State Weasels in 2019, there was a lot of talk — from both the coaching staff and the media — about him adapting TTUN’s “viper” position into the “bullet” at Ohio State.

This position is essentially a hybrid safety and Sam linebacker. The expectation was that this position would be manned by someone who had safety skills, but perhaps a body more approaching that of a linebacker. However, due to injuries, it ended up that Pete Werner essentially played Sam full-time, which included absorbing what were expected to be the bullet’s responsibilities.

Again in 2020, there was neither hide nor hair of the bullet in the Buckeyes’ defense, and with Mattison’s retirement earlier this year, many assumed that the dream of this fabled hybrid position went to Boca Raton to play shuffleboard along with him.

But not so fast my friends, on Teams Brutus and Buckeye’s rosters, we actually have players specifically listed as bullets for the first time in program history. For Brutus, that is sophomore Ronnie Hickman and for Buckeye it’s his classmate Craig Young. Interestingly enough, Hickman had previously been designated as a safety, while Young was a linebacker.

As the team transitions to the 4-2-5 defensive scheme (which means four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs), it makes sense that you would want one of your DBs to be able to cover tight ends and running backs, this is likely where the bullet will come in.

Like I said before, I am not expecting to see a ton from the defense on Saturday, so I don’t know if we will get much insight into how the bullet is going to be deployed, but I really hope that I am wrong, because both Hickman and Young have a ton of juice on them coming out of camp, and I’d love to see what they can do in this hybrid position.

Also, don’t forget that the guy who was recruited more or less specifically to play the bullet, Kourt Williams, is still out; although he is expected to be ready to go in the fall. Williams had a lot of buzz last fall before an injury required ACL surgery, ending his breakout season before it even began. So, if he is back and better than ever come camp time, that could make for a really interesting opportunity to have the bullet finally become a real, honest to goodness position at Ohio State this season.

5) Will Demario finally be freed (and other position change stuff)?

If you know me (or this site) at all, you know that we are 100% on the Demario McCall train. We have long championed the #FreeDemario cause, so we were thrilled — if not a little bit surprised — that the oft neglected, yet utterly dynamic playmaker returned to Columbus for a sixth season, thanks to the NCAA’s COVID bonus year.

So, if we were a little bit surprised by that, imagine how shocked we were when it was reported that he would be making yet another a position change, this time going from wide receiver to cornerback?!?!?!

My thoughts exactly, George. I mean, look, Demario was never going to factor into the Buckeyes’ plans as either a wide receiver or a running back, so if moving him to DB gives him a chance to get on the field (without the chance of him muffing a punt), I’m all for it. I just have no idea what to make of this move.

McCall is listed as a WR/CB on the Team Buckeye roster, so we will see what position(s) he plays on Saturday. But, as someone who called him the Ohio State equivalent of Spider-Man four and a half years ago, I am all for anything that gives him the chance to be the athletic freak that he is.

The other major position change from this spring comes as former four-star wide receiver recruit Gee Scott Jr. apparently is transitioning to tight end. He is listed as WR/TE on the Team Brutus roster, so I could see him having a bit of a hybrid role, at least in this game. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he’s in the ballpark of typical TE height, but has a ways to go on the weight.

So, while he works on bulking up and learning how to block, I don’t see Scott being a major weapon as a tight end, but the idea of adding a guy as talented as he is to a position group that has been underutilized by OSU for decades is extremely compelling.

Jeremy Ruckert is the tight end for the Buckeyes this season — full stop. But there is no heir apparent just yet, so I am eager to see what Scott can do at his new position on Saturday, but I’m down right giddy about what he could do as a tight end a year from now.

What are you most excited about seeing in the two-hand touch scrimmage in The ‘Shoe on Saturday? Let us know in the comments.