Ohio State is definitely not short on playmakers heading into the 2022 season. C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and TreVeyon Henderson are some of the big names on this Buckeye team that is looking to build off impressive performances in 2021. The expectations are high for Ohio State this year, but that’s nothing new. This year’s team feels like it could be special, though.
While the Buckeyes are heavy on experienced talent, great teams always seem to have a freshman that bursts onto the scene and makes an impact in their first year on campus. What Maurice Clarett did in 2002 is a prime example of that. Even though the seasons didn’t end with a title like Clarett was able to help Ohio State win, a couple other recent Buckeyes that impressed in their first year in the scarlet and gray were Joey Bosa in 2013, followed by J.K. Dobbins a few years later in 2017.
There is no shortage of exciting freshmen that are either already in Columbus or will be soon enrolled in classes. The good news is none of the incoming freshmen are really expected, or needed, to come in and take over at their position this year. With all of the veteran Ohio State players that will be taking the majority of the snaps this year, hopefully the freshman won’t have to play quite as tight when their number is called during the season.
Even though we shouldn’t see any true freshmen in the starting lineup when the Buckeyes take the field against Notre Dame on Sept. 3, there are a few that we could see as the season moves along. Every year there is usually a couple freshmen that raise some eyebrows and become favorites of Buckeye Nation because of the promise they show for the future.
The offensive side of the football feels like it is mostly set when it comes to starters, and even backups at most of the positions. Obviously Stroud is going to take the snaps at quarterback, Henderson is going to be the main running back, and Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. will demand a lot of touches at wide receiver. There still is one position that still feels a little in the air.
Bennett Christian is a tall tight end from Georgia that is looking to capitalize on the hole left after Jeremy Ruckert moved on to the NFL, now a member of the New York Jets. Unlike Ruckert, who was an accomplished receiver in high school that had to work on his blocking skills when he came to Ohio State, Christian was a strong blocker in high school.
A number of tight ends will be fighting for more snaps during fall practice, but none of them have the potential that Christian does. Cade Stover has been back-and-forth between linebacker, so it’s hard to get a read just what on what he can do. Gee Scott Jr. was a wide receiver in high school, so he could be a target in the passing game, but are his blocking skills at the level that is expected from Ohio State tight ends?
A scenario that feels like it could play out is Christian seeing more snaps as the season moves along. With the athleticism and talent he possesses, Christian could earn more trust of the coaching staff the more they see him in practice, resulting in some important passes being thrown his way in the red zone when teams are focusing on Smith-Njigba, Harrison, and the other Buckeye targets.
There are a couple exciting names heading to Columbus on the defensive side of the football, itching to make some plays on a defense that has struggled the last few years. One incoming freshman is a highly touted prospect, while the other was near the bottom of this year’s recruiting haul when it comes to rankings by the “experts”.
One position group that is looking for a resurgence is the linebackers. Tommy Eichenberg closed out last year with an incredible performance in the Rose Bowl, racking up 17 tackles in the victory over Utah. Steele Chambers became more confident last year as he saw more snaps at linebacker after moving over from running back.
One Buckeye who could steal some snaps from the more experienced linebackers is C.J. Hicks. The five-star linebacker from Dayton was not only Ohio’s Division III Defensive Player of the Year, Hicks was also a finalist for the High School Butkus Award. Hicks recorded 11 tackles in the spring game back in April.
Hicks can fly, running an 11.76 100 meter dash, and the 200 meters in 23.78. While at Archbishop Alter, Hickes played both running back and wide receiver. The offensive experience in high school could help Hicks get a better feel for what his opponents are thinking, allowing him to anticipate their moves better than others.
The final young Buckeye to keep an eye on is safety Kye Stokes. Much like at linebacker, there are plenty of bodies at safety. Transfer Tanner McAlister will undoubtedly play a huge role in this year’s secondary since he has a great feel for the defense Jim Knowles will want to run. Josh Proctor, Ronnie Hickman, Cameron Martinez, and Latham Ransom are a few of the other players in the mix at safety.
Kye Stokes was Ohio State’s third-lowest rated recruit, but he has been one of the most impressive this year, becoming the first true freshman to lose his black stripe. Stokes has to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, especially with five-star Pickerington product Sonny Styles on his way to Columbus. The signing of Styles feels like it has lit a fire under Stokes, who is constantly getting better.
Since Ohio State will likely be running a 4-2-5, an extra safety could be on the field more this fall, so there should be more snaps to go around. While McAlister, Proctor, Hickman, and others will see the bulk of the snaps, we could see Stokes mixed into the rotation at times. If Stokes continues to impress like he did during spring practices, he is going to make Knowles and the defensive coaching staff find a way to use him during games.