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Predicting Ohio State football’s 2021 two-deep

I mean, everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?

Ohio State Spring Game Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Hey, have you heard? Ohio State had a spring game on Saturday, and after seeing next to nothing last offseason, we now have something — albeit nothing all that substantive — to make wild speculation about as we await September to roll around.

So, since everyone else is putting together their projected Ohio State two-deeps, I figured I’d go ahead and give it a try as well. Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments below.


OFFENSE

Quarterback

Starter: C.J. Stroud
Backup: Kyle McCord

I think most non-biased observers will admit that Kyle McCord is probably the most physically gifted athlete in Ohio State’s quarterback room, but as the school that racked up 38 wins across four seasons with J.T. Barrett as the starter, we know that there’s a lot more than athleticism that goes into being QB1.

The two specific reasons that Stroud is likely going to be starting when the Buckeyes open the season in Minnesota are:

1) Experience. While he didn’t attempt a single pass in his true-freshman season, Stroud still had an entire season to get to know the playbook and to learn behind Justin Fields. That is invaluable.

2) Ball security. Both Stroud and McCord are elite talents, no question, but Stroud brings an extra element of composure and calmness in the pocket, where McCord brings a bit of a reckless abandon. Both sets of qualities can be effective for QBs, but Ryan Day seems to value ball security from his signal-callers, especially coming off of two years in which Fields threw a grand total of nine picks.

It also bears mentioning that there is a third QB currently in the discussion as Jack Miller actually had the most pass attempts in Saturday’s spring game. However, to my untrained eye, he appeared to be a distant third, and I would not be surprised if he ended up playing this season somewhere other than Columbus.


Running back

Starter: Master Teague
Backup: TreVeyon Henderson

This is one position group where being the starter probably means the least; I also think that who is RB1 at the beginning of the season will be very different than at the end of the season. I think that Day and Tony Alford will give the benefit of the doubt to Master Teague to start things off in September, but that TreVeyon Henderson will get his shot as well — as will Miyan Williams, Marcus Crowley, Steele Chambers, and Evan Pryor.

However, I think that as the season progresses — and perhaps quickly— you will see Henderson move to the top of the depth chart and Teague take a bit of a tumble. While Teague has been a steady workhorse for the Buckeyes over the past few seasons, I think that he’s — at best — the third best running back on the roster. So, I don’t think that he’ll be iced out of the running game all together this year, but I think that he could get bumped down to the third or fourth option behind Henderson, Williams, and Crowley.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if there ends up being a transfer from this group as well, as due to no fault of his own, injuries have kind of kept Chambers buried on the depth chart for the past few years.


Wide receiver

Starters: Chris Olave (Z), Garrett Wilson (X), Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Slot)
Backups: Marvin Harrison Jr. (Z), Julian Fleming (X), Emeka Egbuka (Slot)

Look, we all know that Ohio State’s wide receiver room is a veritable smorgasbord of skill, a cornucopia of capability, a plethora of playmakers. The question is just going to be, “How many balls are there to go around?” If last year is any indication, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will be the primary weapons, and the rest of the corps will be fighting for scraps.

But I don’t think that will be the case in 2021. I think that we will be seeing far more four and five-receiver sets, much less 12-personnel, and a lot more variety in who OSU’s QBs feel comfortable getting the ball to. We know that Brian Hartline has had a legendary run of recruits, and this is the year when we start to see it pay dividends.

If my above prediction holds, four of the top six wide receivers will be (technically) freshmen. I know that we all love the potential of Jameson “Juiceman” Williams, but I think that 2020 was his chance to solidify his spot in the rotation, and he just wan’t able to do so. Therefore, I think that he could be the odd man out, and might be the one from this group to seek greener pastures elsewhere during the summer.


Tight end

Starter: Jeremy Ruckert
Backup: Cade Stover

With that glut of talent in the WR room, and no clear difference-making tight ends behind starter Jeremy Ruckert, I think we will see even less from this group than we have in recent years. Though Cade Stover is a really athletic dude, he is still transitioning from another position (linebacker), much like Gee Scott Jr. is (wide receiver). Throw in Joe Royer and Sam Hart and you’ve got some guys who could have an impact in the future, but I think it is basically Ruckert or bust for the Buckeyes this year.


Offensive Line

Starters: Thayer Munford (LT), Harry Miller (LG), Luke Wypler (C), Paris Johnson Jr. (RG), Nicholas Petit-Frere (RT)
Backups: Dawand Jones (LT), Enokk Vimahi (LG), Matthew Jones (C), Donovan Jackson (RG), Josh Fryar (RT)

All spring Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa have preached that they are going to play the best five guys on the offensive line, regardless of position. We’ve also heard (and seen) that redshirt freshman Luke Wypler has been incredibly impressive at center this spring with Harry Miller limited in practices.

So, if we take the coaches at their word, I think that they might leave Wypler at center and have Miller at guard next to Thayer Munford. If that’s the case, Matthew Jones would be the odd man out, but likely the next man up, should an interior line spot need filled at some point this season.

But also don’t forget that five-star guard Donovan Jackson isn’t on campus yet, and while it is unusual for a true-freshman (especially one that isn’t an early enrollee) to get much time on the offensive line at Ohio State, he just might be good enough to buck that trend.


DEFENSE

Defensive End

Starters: Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison
Backups: Jack Sawyer, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste

Anyone who watched the spring game knows that Jack Sawyer was the standout, and that’s not just my Pickerington pride talking. But, I still don’t have him slotted in as a starter just yet, but like with the running backs, it doesn’t really matter who is starts along the defensive line — and especially at end.

Larry Johnson is going to rotate as many guys through as he feels deserves it. Basically, if he is comfortable with you being on the field on important downs, you are in the rotation. So, while I think that the experience of upperclassmen Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison win out in the starting battle over Sawyer, he is going to be seeing the field a lot, as will the veteran pair of Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste.


Defensive Tackle

Starters: Haskell Garrett, Taron Vincent
Backups: Antwuan Jackson, Jerron Cage

Here’s what’s interesting, the way that the Buckeyes structure their defensive line is to have a traditional nose tackle and then a three-technique tackle as well. The former is the run stuffer who eats up multiple blockers in the middle of the line, while the latter is the team’s best interior rusher.

Now normally, I would have put both Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent in the three-technique category, meaning that one would be the starter, and the other the backup, but I don’t know that circumstances are going to allow one of them to be off the field that often.

We all saw how dominant that Garrett was alongside Tommy Togiai last season; so, despite a lower body injury that kept him out of spring practice, we know that Garrett (who should be getting the Block O jersey this year, imo) has to start. And then, Day has been saying that Vincent — a former five-star recruit and son of NFL great Troy Vincent — has been one of the most improved players through the spring, if not the most improved.

That’s a lot of smoke to be sending up when it comes to a guy with as much upside as Vincent has. So, assuming that he is finally healthy, I have to take what the head coach says at face value and assume that Taron is finally ready to make a difference on the defensive line.


Linebacker

Starters: Teradja Mitchell (W), Dallas Gant (M)
Backups: K’Vaughn Pope (W), Cody Simon (M)

Not gonna lie, I don’t exactly know what to think or feel about a line backing corps that a) does not include Tuf Borland or Pete Werner, and b) only has two starting spots.

For a) I will just say that one of those two now departed linebackers didn’t deserve a lot of the hate that he got in his time at Ohio State; the other one...

As for b), as the Buckeyes move to what appears to be essentially a 4-2-5 defense (even though it’s probably closer to a 4-2.5-4.5), we will only have two traditional LBs on the field. And after what seems like decades, it looks like Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant will finally get their chances to start.

The one caveat here is former All-SEC linebacker Henry To’o To’o. Following the coaching change at Tennessee, To’o To’o is reportedly down to Ohio State or Alabama for possible landing spots. While he is apparently leaning towards the Tide, the SEC’s rule requiring players to sit out a year following intra-conference transfers is not impacted by the NCAA’s new one-time transfer rule.

So, if he wants to play right away, and the folks down south don’t change the rule, I would expect To’o To’o to end up starting alongside either Mitchell or Gant.


Bullet

Starter: Craig Young
Backups: Kourt Williams, Ronnie Hickman

Folks, I never thought this day would come. I assumed after the aforementioned Pete Werner essentially ended the “Bullet Era” before it even began for the Buckeyes, but here we are more than two full years since the concept was reintroduced to the OSU defense, and we finally had players listed as “BUL” on the spring game roster.

Unlike the other positions, I think that there is a lot more fluidity to what the bullet will be asked to do this season, meaning that I think that we will end up seeing all three of the guys listed above playing significant roles for Kerry Coombs’ defense.

I think that Craig Young will be the default starter, because his linebacker experience will allow him to be most adept to filling gaps as a run stopper in addition to playing in coverage, but don’t count out Kourt Williams. Yes, he is still rehabbing from the ACL injury that he sustained a week before the 2020 season opener, but the buzz around him was almost deafening last fall. If he is able to get back to 100%, I would not be surprised if he finds a way to make a difference for the defense.


Corner Back

Starters: Sevyn Banks (outside), Cameron Brown (outside), Lathan Ransom (slot), Marcus Williamson (nickel)
Backups: Lejond Cavazos (outside), Ryan Watts (outside), Cameron Martinez (slot)

Oh, cornerbacks. What are we to do with you? After years of being the bell cow of the OSU defense, you were a major part of the problem last year. So the question is, now that Coombs has a normal offseason to implement his scheme, with the move to the 4-2-5, and a year of experience for the young talented guys, will you improve enough to not cost the team a shot at the national title?

I sure hope so, but I’m not 100% sold. The thing is, while a lot of these guys have flashed at times, none have been able to be legit studs for extended periods of time. When you factor in that a number of them are coming off of injuries, I just don’t know how much faith I want to put in this group just yet.

I assume that Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown will start due to experience, but I’m kind of at the point where I would prefer it if the Buckeyes just ran out all of the young, talented dudes and let them get experience by throwing them in the deep end.


Safety

Starter: Josh Proctor
Backup: Bryson Shaw

This one’s easy, and I don’t think that I even need to explain it, but I will. Josh Proctor is the starter and either Bryson Shaw or Jantzen Dunn will be his backup. I gave the nod to Shaw, because of his extra year of experience. See, that was simple.


Ok, where am I wrong? Let me know what you agree with, or disagree with, in the comments below.