The Ohio State Buckeyes football team is officially heading into the 2022 season with the start of fall camp. Despite going 11-2 and winning the Rose Bowl, OSU still fell short of its three main goals of beating “That Team Up North,” winning the Big Ten Championship, and winning a national title. What could have been a program-defining year for the Buckeyes was the first step back in the Ryan Day Era.
As the Buckeyes prepare for their season — and more specifically their Sept. 3 match-up against Notre Dame — they will be looking to get the sour taste of last year out of their collective mouth. To do that, some significant questions will need to be answered on both sides of the ball.
Day made wholesale changes to the staff with four new coaches coming to Columbus and the Buckeyes are coming off their worst statistical defensive season since 2018.
Looking into the fall camp, there are some question marks that will need to be answered even before the games start, as well as some aspects of the team the Buckeye faithful should be really excited about.
With all that being said, here are five questions for the Buckeyes heading into fall camp and five things that everyone should be excited about.
Question: How will Jim Knowles’ defense look immediately?
Time is of the essence, and it is not a luxury that new Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has. Ohio State opens up against Notre Dame in Week 1 and despite ND not being an offensive juggernaut, there will be expectations for the Buckeye defense that need to be met in order to get the job done.
In camp, the burning questions will all surround the physicality and organization of the defense.
Luckily for Knowles, he returns quite a bit of production and experience. Both corner positions are filled by fifth-year senior Cam Brown and All-Big Ten caliber sophomore Denzel Burke.
The safeties provide a lot of experience on the back end, and due to injury last season there is a lot of depth in those spots. The defensive line has a young core group in J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Tyliek Williams that pairs well with a group of experienced players who can be of value.
Lastly, there is a lot of experience at linebacker, and if Knowles can get the most out of this group, the defense could look significantly more dangerous than it did last year almost immediately.
Question: What will the offensive line depth look like heading into the season?
This has been one of Day’s biggest concerns for the offense, having brought it up in multiple press conferences. Looking at the starting five, there is an immediate excitement with Paris Johnson Jr., Donovan Jackson, Luke Wypler, Matt Jones, and Dawand Jones across the line; but behind them are a lot of question marks.
Despite a number of high-profile wins, the offensive line recruiting has not been great in recent years, and former offensive line coach Greg Studrawa left quite a few developmental prospects that his replacement Justin Frye will need to maximize.
Josh Fryar was unable to participate in spring practice, so this will be his first opportunity to truly impress Frye. Players like Enokk Vimahi and Zen Michalski will look to push for playing time while also solidifying their spots in next year’s offensive line.
Behind them, it’s a lot of young guys that you just don’t know enough about yet. Carson Hinzmann and Tegra Tshabola bring a lot of potential to the room as true freshmen. George Fitzpatrick played a lot in the spring game, but outside of the starting five, there is not a sure-fire group of players that Day and Frye can trust.
Question: Can the young defensive linemen take the necessary steps forward?
Heading into camp, the success of the defense can almost assuredly be linked to how well Ohio State can pressure the passer. Last season, OSU did not have a player with double-digit sacks for the second consecutive season. In an article I wrote earlier this offseason, I discussed the returning production numbers, and in another one, I asked about what happens if an elite pass rusher doesn’t emerge for the Buckeyes this fall. The answers to both of these questions likely won’t come from the older players in the defensive line room.
We have seen Zach Harrison for three years, Taron Vincent as well, and despite having talent, until they prove otherwise, I don’t believe that they can be relied upon to supply what is needed consistently.
When talking about an elite pass rusher emerging, Tuimoloau and Jck Sawyer have the talent to make the second-year leap that Ohio State edge rushers have taken in the past. Joey Bosa, Chase Young, and Nick Bosa all stepped over the 10-sack total in their second seasons, and if Tuimoloau and Sawyer can make the necessary improvements, the defense should take significant steps forward in 2022.
Question: Will Ohio State bring a physical edge that hasn’t been there in recent years?
This is a subjective question without a doubt, and it is not an easy oneto answer. Over the last two seasons, Ohio State’s physicality has come into question on both sides of the football.
On offense, it felt as if the Buckeyes got stopped on third-and-short whenever they needed to pick up a first down. The memories of those plays against Oregon, Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan, and even Utah defined a lot of the failures in 2021 for the Buckeyes. Defensively, the Bucks gave up over 200 rushing yards in four games last season — two of those four games were losses.
Ohio State’s cultural identity has always been built upon physicality. Of course, C.J. Stroud, the receivers, and running backs will guarantee some fireworks, but there needs to be a toughness to help round out the offense’s attack.
Defensively, Ohio State got pushed around by the three teams that they played that had a pulse last year. That fact showed its ugliness too many times and the explosiveness was not enough, so a focus in camp this year will need to be on physicality up front. Last season, Michigan made this their focus for the entire offseason.
On both sides of the ball, Ohio State needs to establish this identity and make it a focus leading up to what should be a physical match up against Notre Dame. But for now, we shouldn’t talk about this team having a physicality advantage until we see it in action.
Question: What does the linebacker room look like under Jim Knowles?
Last year, the Buckeyes were plagued with problems in this room. Ohio State literally had a player take his pads off, leave the field and never return during a game against Akron. The Buckeyes saw 11 linebackers get snaps last season, and for most of the year, the roles were undefined.
Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are projected to lead the way in 2022 with Cody Simon, Teradja Mitchell, and Reid Carrico looking to expand their roles this fall. The additions of freshmen C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers add some excitement to the mix, and the addition of another former Arizona State running back Deamonte “Chip” Trayanum brings some athleticism to the room.
Knowles has a lot of talent in the LB room, but overall the group was a problem for much of last season. There will be a big focus on this unit heading into the season, bringing physicality and an ability to move east-to-west are necessary. Knowles did not bring in a linebacker's coach because he wants his hands on this room. His linebackers were a strength for Oklahoma State, and the defense at Ohio State will rise with the success of this group.
Now the room has a variety and that is a good thing, especially with a defensive mind like Knowles. In camp, we’re going to learn who fits into his system and how far this unit has come.
The questions heading into camp obviously won’t be completely answered in one month. Ohio State’s true form won’t be seen until Sept. 3 — and even that will change as the season progresses. But, for the Buckeyes, finally getting some answers about Knowles’ defense and all of the position groups that have undergone significant changes, this is exciting. Ohio State has some significant question marks heading into camp, and it’s time to get at least some of them answered.
Learning about the 2022 team officially starts now, and the positions that are entering the season with questions should get some clarity in camp. The rest of the unknowns will be determined on a week-by-week basis throughout the season. Can Ohio State be tough? Can the offense get that third-and-short when they need it? Will Jim Knowles lead the necessary turnaround to win a national championship?
If Ohio State can answer those questions in a positive way, then the Buckeyes should be playing for championships again very soon. But for now, let’s rejoice that the offseason is coming to an end, the crazy chatter is simmering down, and now it is time to see what Ohio State will be in 2022.