Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts. This week’s topic is a little bit different, as its much less of a head-to-head and more a pair of fond memories of a Buckeye legend.
This week’s topic: Who stood out the most in Ohio State’s spring game?
Josh’s Take: Joe Royer/Gee Scott Jr.
Ohio State’s 2022 Spring Game was... actually good? And worth watching? Gene, I wrote a piece last week in which I basically called out the annual spring tradition as a fraud. That was because, in recent years, this “game” had been nothing more than a glorified walkthrough. Palpable competitive spirit (and, you know, tackling) was missing, we learned very little about the team, I think they learned even less about themselves, and it just seemed like a very... “blah” way to close out the spring session.
But I have to eat crow here, and say that this past weekend’s version was incredibly fulfilling! Maybe it was my appetite for football and the fact that we haven’t seen the Buckeyes in over three months, but I enjoyed this scrimmage exponentially more than I thought I was going to. Most guys seemed to give real effort, coaches appeared to be fully engaged, and there was some real excitement out there on the field.
Last year especially, I didn’t feel like this game was played with much purpose. Sure, Ryan Day and his staff were trying to settle on a new quarterback, but they had so many returning vets from a CFP team that it was almost as if the spring game was held out of obligation. This year, I sensed a new energy. The whole program feels reinvigorated. And I don’t want to get too caught up in the results of a scrimmage, but I will lump it together with everything we’ve seen post-New Year’s Day: disappointment from the end of the 2021 season is definitely fueling the Buckeyes.
Before I get to the player or position group that stood out the most, I also want to give credit to – and recognize – all those involved in putting together the Dwayne Haskins tribute(s). From his initials on the field, to the helmet decals, to C.J. Stroud wearing his jersey, and obviously the video, the whole thing was very touching and well done. I’ll admit that it got a little dusty in my living room at halftime, if you know what I mean. Once again, RIP No. 7.
As for the play on the field, a number of players and position groups stood out to me. TreVeyon Henderson did not see a ton of action at running back, but Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor both appear ready to help carry the load at that position. The new starting offensive line looked solid, and same goes for the defensive side — despite us not getting to see Zach Harrison and others. And the revamped secondary made a number of plays in the passing game.
But speaking of the passing game: the players that really stood out to me were two guys from the same position group. A position group that I think we have some questions about, and rightfully so. I am talking about tight ends Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr.
With Jeremy Ruckert off to the NFL, the Buckeyes have a big hole to fill at tight end, and few proven options with which to do it. Cult hero Mitch Rossi is back, but he is more of an H-Back. Cade Stover is returning to the TE room, but I still say he’s a better linebacker than he is a pass catcher. That leaves guys like Royer and Scott Jr. to provide depth... and Gene, I think they looked pretty good!
We know that Ohio State does not utilize the tight end as much as we would probably like them to. You and I were both big Ruckert fans, and his skillset was not taken advantage of on many occasions. The recent results of the passing game are hard to argue with, but it still feels like the Buckeyes left meat on the bone with Ruckert. Now OSU needs to replace his production and blocking, and they might have a a few options in Royer and Scott Jr.
Royer played very little as a freshman, and Scott Jr. has been working his body into shape as he transitions from wide receiver. Both looked ready to step in. Royer surprised me with his athleticism, and showed it off on a beautiful touchdown pass from Kyle McCord. He high-pointed the ball in the endzone, brought it down between two defenders, and most importantly, held on. Again, I’m not going to over-react to one play in a spring game, but we’re used to seeing Buckeye wide receivers bring down jump balls — not tight ends.
Scott Jr. was even more involved in the game, pulling in five catches for 40 yards. But I could care less about the stats in this case. I was more impressed that he looked like a tight end. Converting from WR to TE is not easy, but Scott Jr. appears to have found the right balance between athletic pass catcher and able-body blocker. He didn’t find himself one-on-one with Jack Sawyer or J.T. Tuimoloau, but Ohio State is not going to expect peak Gronk-level blocking from him. He is a former top-12 wideout. As long as he can hold his own at the point of attack, Scott Jr. has the potential to be a real weapon. He was a regular release valve for whoever was playing QB on Saturday, but I could see him being a threat on those patented TE seam routes.
I feel like I keep repeating myself, but I’ll do it one more time: I don’t want to overreact to a scrimmage. Certain Buckeyes looked great, others barely broke a sweat (all by design). But I will allow myself to feel better about the state of the tight end position. Rossi and Stover are back; they have good experience. And now Royer and Scott Jr. appear to have the makings of a talented pass-catching duo, which will come in handy when they see 12 totals balls thrown their way. Almost, Gene! Almost made it through the entire thing without being negative about TE usage. I’ll stick the landing next time.
Gene’s Take: Evan Pryor/Kye Stokes
Echoing many of Josh’s sentiments, I thought the spring game was a good time. Obviously we are all itching for some Ohio State football after the disappointing end to last season, so any sort of action going on in Ohio Stadium would’ve been appreciated, but there does seem to be a new sort of excitement about this team after all of the coaching changes from the end of the 2021 campaign. Also like Josh touched on, the Dwayne Haskins tributes from the helmet stickers to C.J. Stroud donning his jersey were all incredibly heartwarming and a really great way to show some extra remembrance to a Buckeye legend.
Turning our attention to the play on the field, there isn’t usually a whole lot that can be learning from a team scrimmage, especially when it isn’t entirely full-tackle throughout and nobody is looking to really lay out their fellow teammates. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited about a few standout performances here and there. I was only going to pick one player that stood out to me from Saturday’s action, but since Josh chose two then I am going to pick out a duo as well. While his pair were from the same position group, mine are on opposite sides of the ball.
The first guy who really stood out to me was Evan Pryor. Despite being a top-100 player and the No. 6 running back in the country in the 2021 class, Pryor has been perhaps lost in the shuffle behind TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. Henderson rushed for over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns last season behind an offensive line that wasn’t exactly the most stout in the run blocking department, and so he returns as the clear No. 1 back on Ohio State’s depth chart. That being said it does seem like both Williams and Pryor have a lot to offer to help spell Henderson this season, which is super important given Henderson’s propensity to get banged up in games at times last year.
I’ve been on the record as a big Miyan Williams guy, and his spring game performance was also impressive as 36-yard scamper in the second quarter was the longest play from scrimmage of the day. The Buckeyes’ leading rusher, Williams finished with 101 yards on 15 carries, and looked darn good in that new No. 3 jersey. But while Williams was penciled in as Ohio State’s No. 2 running back already, it certainly looks like Ryan Day and Tony Alford need to find a role for Pryor as well.
Pryor redshirted last season in a crowded running back room, but comes into the 2022 campaign looking to make a name for himself. On his nine carries in the spring game, he rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in four catches for 44 yards as he showed off his ability to make plays out of the backfield both on the ground and through the air. While Henderson proved his abilities as a receiving threat last year, Pryor may be Ohio State’s most talented pass-catching running back. With Henderson as your lead guy and Williams a more bowling ball type of runner, Pryor could find a role as a more shifty back with some wheel routes thrown his way in this year's offense.
On the flip side, everyone was excited to see Ohio State’s new-look defense under Jim Knowles. Not looking to give anything away before the season starts, the Buckeyes ran a pretty vanilla defensive scheme by design on Saturday, but that didn’t stop a handful of guys on that side of the ball from sticking out.
The player that I keyed in on this weekend was Kye Stokes. If you haven’t already purchased your stock in the freshman Ohio State safety, you should probably get in right now because the price is skyrocketing.
One of the more overlooked prospects in the Buckeyes’ loaded 2022 class, Stokes came to Columbus by way of Florida as the No. 358 player in the country and the nation’s No. 16 safety. However, all of the reports out of spring practice have been that Stokes has really been turning heads, and this was even more evidenced by him being the first of the Ohio State freshman to lose their black stripe. Of the 11 early enrollees in this freshman class, it appears as though Stokes is surging towards the head of the pack.
With Knowles’ defense being very safety heavy, there will be three of them on the field this season all in varying roles. Stokes likely fits into the ‘adjuster’ role, the spot which will likely be manned by Ronnie Hickman to begin the year. However, Stokes is certainly making a strong bid to push for playing time, as he looked fantastic in relief of Hickman during the spring game. He finished the afternoon tied for second on the team in tackles with nine and made a pair of pass breakups, including a really impressive play coming across the middle to knock down a ball at the end of the second quarter.
The safety room is loaded with talent for Ohio State this season, with Hickman, Josh Proctor and Tanner McCalister as your leading candidates to start at the three spots plus Kourt Williams and Cam Martinez waiting in the wings. However, if Stokes really is the type of player he showed he is capable of being this spring, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him as the first guy off the bench to spell Hickman this season, and with continued improvement could even push for some really significant playing time as the year goes on. There is a lot ahead of him at the position, but it wouldn’t be shocking at this point to see him turn into this year’s Denzel Burke as an unheralded four-star guy who becomes a starter by year's end.