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You’re Nuts: Biggest surprises out of preseason camp thus far

No, Ohio State has not replaced C.J. Stroud at quarterback or started running the wishbone offense.

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

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:

Josh’s Take

Last week, when Gene and I waxed poetic about early fall practice overreactions, I found it to be quite easy. The Buckeyes were barely a week into camp, players were ramping up, coaches were experimenting, and rotations were fast and furious. Not difficult to draw conclusions — right, wrong, or completely absurd. To a certain extent, all of those things still ring true.

But now, with less than two weeks until kickoff against Notre Dame, players are a little more dialed in, the experiments are being kept to a minimum, and the rotations are a tad bit shorter. As a result, we are beginning to get a better idea of what this Ohio State team will look like on Sept. 3, and Gene, I have to say: the surprises have been few and far between for me.

Miyan Williams has not overtaken TreVeyon Henderson for the starting running back role, Gee Scott is not suddenly projected to catch 50 balls as OSU changes the way in which they utilize the tight end, and there are few underclassmen penciled in as starters on the defense — those would be huge surprises. And we just have not seen or heard anything like that. It is probably a good thing though, because if C.J Stroud was on the bench and/or Mitch Rossi was starting at left tackle, those types of surprises would spell doom for the 2022 season.

All of that being said, certain personnel decisions being made on the defensive side have piqued my interest. I am very intrigued by all of the safety options Ohio State suddenly has. From Bryson Shaw and (thankfully) Ronnie Hickman as the only viable options, to Hickman, Proctor, McCallister, Martinez, Williams, etc. The Buckeyes are seemingly loaded at that position. And at linebacker – a position of weakness in 2021 – the staff now has more options than they do spots available. The entire back half of the defense could look different from game to game, or even quarter to quarter, but my biggest surprise has actually been up front(ish). You will see why I added the -ish.

When Jim Knowles was first announced as the new defensive coordinator and we started to learn more about his scheme and the available personnel, I just assumed that Zach Harrison and Jack Sawyer were candidates 1A and 1B for the Leo (now Jack) position. The player in this position is more or less a stand-up rusher, with the ability to drop back in certain situations — up front(ish). A check goes next to the pass-rushing element, and while it wasn’t pretty, we also Harrison and Sawyer drop into coverage a time or two last season. Decision made, right? Apparently not...

From the sounds of it, Sawyer is absolutely the top candidate to man the Jack position, but Harrison does not appear to be part of that equation. He (Harrison) seems destined for a traditional defensive end role, while Sawyer has been working with Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Palaie Gaoteote. Those two names certainly surprised me, but if variety is the spice of life, I guess it makes sense. Now we’ll get to see if Knowles’ confidence in their ability is going to pay off.

Jean-Baptiste has experienced little success as a traditional DE, but it dawned on me that he was recruited as an outside linebacker. Perhaps he will be more comfortable in a dual role, where is able to use his speed and agility as an asset, as opposed to being consistently out-muscled on the defensive line. He has the body type, and if he is able to learn the intricacies of the position, he could be the team’s rangiest option.

As for Gaoteote, his name came out of deep, deep left field. Listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, with only 2.5 career sacks, he does not fit the description of a pass rusher-type player. However, prior to being injured at USC, he did rack up 96 tackles and 7.5 TFL in 15 games for the Trojans. He has unfortunately dealt with bad luck and bad timing since then, but the talent is still there. Having a full offseason in Columbus might give him the edge as OSU’s potential 3rd down or coverage Jack.

There is still time before the showdown with Marcus Freeman and his Fighting Irish, so I assume that Ohio State will continue to tinker and rotate up until the last minute. In the end, I believe Sawyer will be the primary Jack, but I am now more intrigued that ever by the potential backups. JJB and Gaoteote were not guys I had pegged as major contributors in this new-look defense, but here’s hoping the trio of Buckeyes can bring the ruckus against ND and all season long.

Gene’s Take

As Josh said, there haven’t been all too many big surprises out of Ohio State camp this season. There have been the newsworthy stories here and there, from Evan Pryor going down with a season-ending injury to a kicker practicing at cornerback, but as we get closer and closer to Sept. 3, the Buckeyes haven't announced or showed us anything to really truly earth-shattering or game-changing. C.J. Stroud and the offense is expected to keep on rolling, Jim Knowles continues to try and put together Ohio State’s first competent defense in years, and everything is business as usual.

The one ‘surprise’ for me are a couple of the players named captains a little over a week ago. At the top, you have some obvious honorees including Stroud, Eichenberg and Babb. Stroud is entering the 2022 campaign as the Heisman Trophy favorite and the projected No 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, his captaincy was a given. Eichenberg really came on late for the Buckeyes last season in a much maligned linebacker room, and returns for a fourth year expected to be one of the anchors of that group. Babb, the recipient of this year’s “Block O” jersey, has had an unimaginable stretch of poor injury luck, but has remained a phenomenal teammate and leader from the sidelines.

Cade Stover is another guy whose name isn’t a huge surprise to see on the list of captains. A player whose truly done it all for Ohio State, Stover has moved back and forth from offense to defense without a single complaint to fill whatever role the Buckeyes need of him. After some time at defensive end and linebacker, Stover this year will be expected to lead Ohio State’s group of tight ends. The fourth-year man made five catches for 76 yards in 2021, and Ryan Day singled him out as someone who had an “unbelievable summer” heading into the new campaign.

The two biggest surprises to me are Tyler Friday and Kourt Williams, both for different reasons.

Kourt Williams is a player I’ve always liked, and one whose skillset really interests me. Recruited as a linebacker back in the 2020 class, Williams — listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds — is an incredible athlete, and has actually been working out with the safeties. He is someone who could play a valuable role as a safety in the box or at the ‘bullet’ position. Williams has also reportedly been one of the hardest working players on the team, and for a defense that could really use a spark, maybe he could pay dividends for the unit in 2022. His being named a captain leads me to believe we will see way more of Williams on the field this season, which would be a great thing for Knowles’ group.

Friday is the bigger surprise of the two. Despite heading into his fifth year with the program, the defensive end has started only five games in Columbus while appear in 26 games total. His best season came in 2019, wherein he totaled eight total tackles with three for loss and a pair of sacks — including a sack of Trevor Lawrence in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. Friday missed all of the 2021 season with a torn ACL, but clearly he is a guy the coaching staff believes can make an impact this year even coming off a major injury. We haven’t quite seen all that much from Friday on the field, but I am intrigued by what he can possibly bring to the table as one of the team’s six captains.