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: What position battle are you most interested in heading into 2022?
With fall camp officially underway for the Ohio State football team, the 2022 season is starting to feel real. We are finally going to see a “finished” product, and all the stars will be projected onto the screen like a blockbuster movie. The Notre Dame opener is Top Gun: Maverick or Black Adam (just kidding, nobody has enjoyed The Rock since Fast Five), and we can start watching for tickets and planning our dinner and drinks around that opening night.
The spring game, on the other hand, is more like a teaser trailer. We get a glimpse of the star or a crazy action scene, but it tells us next to nothing about the movie itself. A teaser trailer is meant to get us talking, or spark excitement, but it could ultimately be the only highlight of an otherwise terrible movie. Remember how excited you were for Red Notice? And then you watched Red Notice... I need to stop picking on The Rock, because he really does shine in most of his carefully chosen projects.
Ohio State’s spring game (and recruiting, to an extent) most definitely sparked excitement, but now it is popcorn and preview time. Let’s go! Gene and I wanted to look at a few position “battles”, which I found to be somewhat difficult. I don’t know how many intense battles there will really be — at least when it comes to the very top of the depth chart. I think many of the starters have been identified or listed as favorites, due to the Buckeyes returning a ton of depth from last season. However, there is one position battle that has intrigued me since the end of OSU’s 2021-22 season. Since Jan. 1st, 2022 to be exact. That position is wide receiver.
The 2022 Rose Bowl would have most of us believe that Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are likely to start alongside Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But I say “not so fast, my friend.” Because while Harrison Jr. and Egbuka absolutely proved themselves worthy of significant roles this season, we need to remember how inexperienced they are. The two freshmen combined for 20 catches, most of which came in the Rose Bowl when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson sat out. They both flashed all-world potential, but to pencil them in as starters would be ignoring the talent and depth the Buckeyes have at the position.
Julian Fleming, the former No. 1 receiver in his recruiting class, finally seems to be healthy. He was also recently recognized as an Iron Buckeye for his tremendous offseason. When healthy and afforded opportunity, he has done nothing to take himself out of this race. In fact, he might be the best downfield blocker Ohio State has at the WR position. Absent a truly experienced tight end, the coaching staff may want his skillset on the field.
Kamryn Babb, who this staff loves and is seemingly healthy himself (after years of terrible luck), is a fifth-year guy with leadership chops and an incredible football IQ. He was also a highly coveted recruit once upon a time, and has looked impressive in the small glimpses we’ve seen of him this offseason. If he remains healthy, maybe he gets a shot after all the hard work and time he has put in with the Buckeyes. Long shot? Sure. But who doesn't love a Cinderella story?
And let’s not forget about Jayden Ballard. Another young player from the same class as Harrison Jr. and Egbuka, he is likely the longest of long shots, but the burner possesses top-end speed and athleticism. With a strong camp, who knows how far he can rise up the depth chart.
While I ultimately think Harrison Jr. and Egbuka get first crack at running with JSN, I cannot ignore the talent in the WR room. It would be a disservice to Fleming and Babb to rule them out as starters in early August. Same goes for Ballard, even if he is a heavy underdog right now. But crazier things have happened.
I think back to when Michael Thomas was at Ohio State. After appearing in 11 games as a true freshman, he found himself in Urban Meyer’s doghouse and was redshirted as a sophomore! We rarely see that, unless it is injury-related. To Thomas’ credit, he worked his tail off and eventually became a starter in 2015 (and a star after that). I don’t think we will see that with one of the top six guys I mentioned, but his situation is what I mean when I say crazier things have happened.
Starting spots will be earned by the Buckeyes, not given. And that goes for every player at every position, even if they did score three touchdowns in a Rose Bowl. Regardless of who wins out, I have high expectations. I believe that OSU has the best WR room in the country, and iron always sharpens iron. Fall practice and the ensuing position battle will go a long way toward deciding the starters, and I will be following said battle with a watchful eye.
Heading into the 2022 season, all eyes are on Ohio State’s defense. While the position battle at wide receiver is certainly intriguing, everyone just kind of assumes the Buckeye offense will return to its elite form from a year ago regardless of whose catching passes thanks to C.J. Stroud and a strong running back tandem in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. So, I will take my position battle to the defensive side of the ball, where there is still a ton left to be sorted out before Notre Dame comes to town on Sept. 3.
Originally, I was going to talk about the battle specifically between Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau at defense end. We kind of assume it will be Jack Sawyer mostly manning, ironically, the Jack position in Jim Knowles’ defense as sort of a linebacker/edge rusher hybrid, but the other pure end spot is between Harrison and Tuimoloau. It is a real rookie versus the vet type scenario, with Harrison having been in Columbus for quite some time now without really taking that next step and Tuimoloau the fresh face who showed a glimpse of potential stardom in year one. Ultimately, I think we will see the two start in some sort of timeshare to begin the year, as Larry Johnson has always rotated his defensive lineman.
Instead, I want to focus on a position that I feel as though not all too many people are talking about, but will be exceptionally important if Ohio State is in fact going to turn around its defensive woes from 2021. I want to talk about the starting cornerbacks.
It is seemingly obvious that Denzel Burke will return as the team’s No. 1 corner after a phenomenal freshman campaign a year ago. Playing in all 12 games, Burke registered a team-high 12 pass breakups to go along with 35 tackles and an interception. We heard all the stories about how impressive he was in his very first preseason camp, and he showed that on the field all season long. While he is the clear top dog at the position right now, who else is going to join him out there?
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the cornerback room is quite thin right now — so much so that kicker Jake Seibert has been playing the position in fall camp. There are currently only six scholarship cornerbacks on the roster, and while that is a concerning number should they lose someone to injury or otherwise, they do still have talent on the roster and one other guy who I think could star in the role despite not being listed at corner, but we’ll get there.
Burke will start on the outside, which means the Buckeyes will need to find another man opposite him to lock down the other sideline. Cameron Brown returns as a starter from last season, and he has impressed thus far this offseason. He finished second on the team in pass breakups behind Burke a year ago with seven, and if he is now fully recovered from that achilles injury he could become a real force on that outside, even though I personally would like him better as a slot corner.
The other two guys in the mix for the job are Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson. Hancock, whom Ohio State flipped from Clemson during his recruitment, was the No. 5 corner in the 2021 class and a top-75 player overall. He played sparingly in 2021, but playing even less so was Johnson, whom despite being the higher-rated of the two as a No. 3 CB in 2021 and a top-50 player overall, suffered an injury that forced him to take a redshirt in his first year on campus. Both guys are supremely talented, and even if either of the two dont start I would expect to see the pair a healthy amount in 2022, and if Brown struggles either could potentially even earn a starting role.
Ohio State won’t deploy a true slot corner in Knowles’ base defense, but the nickel safety will effectively play the same role. The expected starter at the position is Tanner McCalister, who came over from Oklahoma State to continue playing under Knowles, but I'm really high on Cam Martinez. One of the best pure athletes on the team, Martinez has moved around from corner to safety during his tenure with the Buckeyes, but I think his speed and coverage abilities would make him a perfect candidate to play over the middle. Martinez is far too good a player for Ohio State not to find a job for him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the starting nickel by seasons end.
The only other names not mentioned from the cornerback room are freshmen Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner. Brown was the No. 8 player in Ohio in the 2022 recruiting cycle, while Turner was a four-star prospect by way of Florida. It would be a bit surprising to see the two crack the two-deep in year one, however with the lack of any real proven superstars outside of Burke and the lack of depth in the room as a whole, it would not be at all shocking to see either of the two on the field a bit in their freshman campaigns.