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Column: Ohio State’s new defense, other exciting things to watch in the annual glorified scrimmage

Glorified scrimmage or not, Ohio State is playing football and we will get our first look on Saturday.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State is hosting their annual Spring Game this weekend, and we will be getting our first look at the Buckeyes since Ryan Day made significant offseason changes. The main change was the hiring of Jim Knowles to replace Kerry Coombs as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator. He will be coaching in his first spring game, as well as his two new position coaches in Perry Eliano and Tim Walton. This will be the first look at this new defense, and this will have the eyes of every Ohio State fan watching.

The other thing that might catch attention is seeing some of the most recent recruits get their first opportunity in the Horseshoe. In the spring game young guys often steal the show, just like Jack Sawyer and Marvin Harrison Jr. did last spring. Despite this being a glorified scrimmage, there is a lot to gain from viewing the spring game and we’re going take a look at a few more.

Defensive Alignment

Jim Knowles brings the same base defense the Buckeyes ran last season with a “4-2-5” defense. The base shell will look the similar to what Ohio State was in, but where it gets different is Knowles’ defenses have had much looser structures. For the Buckeyes landmarks, alignment, and positions were incredibly stiff in structure with little pre-snap movement. This week, Tanner McAlister talked about how much of the defense they were able to install.

In the game, we will see Jim Knowles’ initial vision for the Buckeyes on defense and how the new positions will look for the Buckeyes. The new names of the safety positions are the “Adjuster” (Free Safety), “Bandit” (Strong Safety), and Nickel Safety. We will also see if they utilize the “Leo” position in the spring game or hold off on that until the season. Overall, the defensive alignment will tell us how Knowles wants the Buckeyes to look defensively.

Receiver Room

The Buckeyes are replacing two of the best receivers in school history in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who accounted for a combined 135 catches, 1,994 yards, and 25 touchdowns. Replacing this level of production is no easy task, but if any receiver room is built to replace that type of player, it’s the Buckeyes’ receiver room. Brian Hartline’s accumulation of talent will be on full display, and players like Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, and Marvin Harrison Jr. will be looking to show they’re looking to take the room to another level.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba has already led Ohio State in receptions and yards, and will be looking to build on a successful 2021 season. We will also be taking our first look at the young receivers who will be looking to make a solid impression on the coaching staff and the fan base. Jayden Ballard has had a full offseason and will be looking to take that next step in the process. Then the new recruits Caleb Burton and Kyion Grayes will get their first action in front of Ohio State fans. This room has a lot to live up to, but the talent in the room should make for an exciting spring game.

Quarterback’s playing crisp

The quarterback position will not have the same level of interest as last season due to C.J. Stroud being an incumbent starter. Stroud impressed in last year’s spring game, then went on to light up the box scores throughout the 2021 season. This year all eyes will be on back up quarterback Kyle McCord and first year Ohio State quarterback Devin Brown. With the pecking order being clear, we will be looking for the quarterbacks to be a crisp, confident group.

Stroud and McCord will want to be stout with the ball, confident in their reads, and decisive when they make their decisions. Even with a new defense across from them, they should be comfortable enough in the system that they should play error free football. Getting our first look at Brown should be exciting. The freshman early enrollee from Arizona will get to show off his arm, and we will get to see how far along he is in his development as a quarterback.

The quarterback room is drama free, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be high expectations. This game won’t raise any long term causes for concern, but you want to see this group look sharp.

Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line

In last year’s spring game, Jack Sawyer had his coming out party for Ohio State fans with four sacks in the game. This Ohio State team will have two new starters on the offensive line going against an extremely talented defensive line. The offensive line of Paris Johnson Jr., Donovan Jackson, Luke Wypler, Matt Jones, and Dawand Jones will be tested by the talented group across from them.

On the other side Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Tyleik Williams will be looking to make a statement. Depending on health, we will also get to see if any of the veterans like Zach Harrison, Taron Vincent and Javontae Jean-Baptiste took steps forward in the offseason. This will be a battle to watch, and both sides will have a lot to prove after underwhelming on both sides in 2021.

Young players making plays

In every spring game ,Ohio State has a a few young guys explode onto the scene. Last year Jack Sawyer, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka all made noise. Egbuka with 13 catches and 131 yards stole the show, as well as Jack Sawyer with his quartet of sacks. This year some young players will have the same opportunity to storm onto the scene and gain fans immediately. Caden Curry will be one name to watch, looking to show why he might be the next great edge player for the Buckeyes.

The receivers in Caleb Burton and Kyion Grayes should see extended action for their respective team, giving them ample opportunity to do something amazing. We will also get to look at the young linemen on both sides of the to see where they are at in the development. Brown being the third quarterback will see a lot of snaps and could make the quarterback room a lot more interesting with a big time performance. Every year one young player wows, setting extremely high expectations for years to come, and this year there are quite a few names to watch.


Spring games might as well be held in private because the coaches do not want to give away anything when it comes scheme. We will get basic defensive play calls and a watered down offense, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a list of exciting things to watch for. There are some position battles to watch, a list of young players getting their first action, and a new defensive coaching staff that will provide interesting details to watch for.

With everything that goes into the spring practice, it’s an incredibly fun checkpoint on the way to Week 1. Despite this game being a glorified scrimmage, there will still be a lot to learn once this game starts.