Every year the Ohio State Buckeyes welcome a new class of players, which includes both incoming freshman and players from the transfer portal. In these classes of newcomers there are players expected to contribute immediately, players who will crack the rotation, special team contributors, and players who will be biding their time for the future. The biggest contributors of this group are still not fully clear, but after the first few media availabilities, this picture is beginning to take shape.
There have been a number of notable first year contributors for the program, including the Bosa brothers, Trey Sermon, and most recently Denzel Burke last season. The list is much longer, but projecting these players is never as clear as you’d think. The Buckeyes brought in only three transfers — all of whom will be looking to contribute immediately — and the freshman class has a few players in positions with the talent to play early.
The transfer portal has opened up a new era of newcomers to football programs, and has created a path for teams to fill roster holes with experienced players in the immediate. Ohio State has brought in a small group of transfers this season, including kicker Parker Lewis from USC, nickel safety Tanner McAlister from Oklahoma State, and linebacker Chip Trayanum from Arizona State.
Lewis has ran into eligibility issues, which seems to be a common theme of USC transfers trying to come to Ohio State. With Noah Ruggles still in the fold, the Buckeyes are set at kicker for at least another season, giving Lewis time to get his situation resolved. The other two players in McAlister and Trayanum should both be expected to be big time contributors for the Buckeyes this season.
Tanner McAlister, Nickel Safety
The Oklahoma State transfer knows the scheme, and in a previous article I talked about how McAlister brings quite a bit to the table for the Buckeyes. McAlister was a multi-year starter at Oklahoma State in Jim Knowles’ scheme, starting in 23 games for the Cowboys. Last season, McAlister produced at a high level, recording 78 tackles, 10 pass break ups, and one interception.
The production is part of the reason McAlister will be major contributor, but the knowledge of Knowles’ scheme is a significant reason he ended up at Ohio State. McAlister will start Week 1 against Notre Dame, and his veteran savviness will bring an intensity to the defense that was missing from the nickel safety spot last season.
Deamonte “Chip” Trayanum, Linebacker
The jokes were made about Ohio State bringing in a running back to play linebacker, but Trayanum is one of the best athletes the Buckeyes will be able to put on a football field. Despite battling some injuries last season, Trayanum rushed for 5.2 yards a carry and showed flashes of being a talented FBS level running back. Trayanum recently got his black striped removed, and in a room with few players with his athleticism, he should carve out a niche for himself.
Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg have locked up the first two spots, but we know that linebackers are rotated. When asked who the best athlete in the group was, Trayanum’s name was brought up by most and he even drew comparisons to Hercules. In a group with no defined depth, he has the athleticism to make a difference in the rotation and provide a much needed spark off the bench that hasn’t been there the past few seasons.
Ohio State has had some vital true freshman contributors who have made an impact in the program immediately. Raekwon McMillan was a major contributor for the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship team, both Bosa brothers made an impact immediately when they set foot on campus, and last season the Buckeyes had four freshman on defense and one on offense contributing. This year should not be much different, and the 2022 recruiting class has quite a bit of talent that will make an effort to make a difference this season.
C.J. Hicks, Linebacker
The Ohio State linebacker room is wide open behind Chambers and Eichenberg, who were both mentioned earlier. Behind them is a group of quite a few Buckeyes who are looking to take that next step into more playing time next season. C.J. Hicks is a name that stands out due to his size, athleticism, and intensity he brings to the game of football.
Having the opportunity to watch him at The Opening, he comes in with the physical stature of linebacker ready to play. Jim Knowles is high on the freshman, and if none of the older players step up, expect a McMillan type of freshman season from Hicks.
Caden Curry, DE/LEO
Curry has much more uncertain path to playing time for the Ohio State defense, but the former four-star recruit was one of the second freshmen to get his black stripe removed in Spring. That is not necessarily an indication of early play time, but that impressive feat should get him some early opportunities to show he is capable of being a rotation player.
With Knowles bringing the “Jack (Leo)” linebacker over from Oklahoma State, this takes a special type of player. Jack Sawyer is probably the first on the depth chart at this position, but with the injury to Mitchell Melton, Curry can find his way into the two-deep at that spot. Knowing the importance of rotations on the defensive line, Curry could end up in the three-deep at either end position and play quite a few snaps this season.
Sonny Styles, “Secret Weapon”
Yes, Styles should be a senior in high school, but there are also very few human beings with the athletic profile of Styles. Knowles played coy when asked about what he expects from Styles from a positional standpoint, but from all of the observations Styles should have a role in the defense this season. The praise Knowles has heaped on him is high, and it is very rare for a coach to single out a player in such a complimentary way.
Styles athleticism and football instinct he’s shown this early on tell that he is well on his way to making an impact early. Looking at his high school film, he can rush the passer, cover receivers, and provide fill in the run game. Knowles won’t want to put all that on his plate, but expect some sub-packages to get Styles some snaps on the field in year one.
Jyaire Brown, Cornerback
Brown was the most recent Buckeye to get his black stripe removed, and was also Jim Knowles’ second “Silver Bullet of the Day” — which are both more symbolic awards than anything. Right now Ohio State has six scholarship corners, and one of those six is already banged up. Brown will still have a little bit of a mountain to climb to get consistent playing time if all players are healthy, but out of necessity he might end up playing a lot of snaps this season.
Given the lack of depth he should get playing time anyways, especially in blowouts and low pressure situations. There is plenty of time for him to close the gap in camp and get into the two-deep here. This would add to the trend of youthful contributors at the corner position, and I think the camp awards he’s received speak to a player looking to carve out a role this season.
Dallan Hayden, Running Back
Hayden was a little bit of an unheralded recruit in the 2022 class, but the running back from Tennessee has made an immediate impression. This room will have three major contributors in front of him in Treveyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Evan Pryor, but there will be a lot of time late in games where Hayden will get meaningful reps.
In a similar vein to corner position, there are not a lot of scholarship bodies in the room. With an offseason medical retirement, Hayden is now the fourth running back, and if you take the fourth and fifth backs from last year’s stats, you get 200 yards rushing. That is not a lot of contribution, but having the fourth running back who can take the clock down and keep the chains moving late is important. That can be Hayden, and if called on for a great role, he can handle it as well.
The Buckeyes will have a list of talented newcomers who can potentially contribute right away. This season the defense could see quite a few young contributors, but they will get some instant impact contributions from their transfer players. The transfers were brought in for a reason, and that reason was to provide immediate aid to positions that had some depth concerns.
For the young guys, playing time is a gift and one that is well earned. There are quite a few obstacles the freshmen need to overcome, including the physical toll of a season, the speed of the game, and understanding the scheme enough to be trusted by the coaching staff. This year the defense has quite a few potential candidates for early contributors. The players will not likely start, but there is a lot of playing time that comes with being in the rotation, and a few of the players are one play away from being thrusted into a crucial role on the team.
Overall, the list isn’t long, and that is because there are quite a few incumbents who will be looking to expand their roles further. Not every opportunity is going to be the same, but it will be up to the newcomers to make the most of any opportunities presented. There are only a few positions within the depth chart unsettled enough for opportunity, but at those positions are opportunities ripe for the taking for the fresh faces on campus.