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You’re Nuts: What are you most looking forward to from spring practice?

The Buckeyes return to the practice in a few short weeks.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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 are you most looking forward to from spring practice?

Josh’s Take

With the beginning of spring practice surprisingly just a few weeks away, Ohio State football fans such as Gene and myself once again have something to look forward to!

It has been nearly two whole months since the Scarlet and Gray lost a heartbreaker in Atlanta, and I for one am ready to get the hype train rolling for the 2023 season. Onward and upward, baby. Let’s leave those broken hearts and dried up tears (just me?) in the past and begin our six-month countdown to the Buckeyes’ opener in... Bloomington.

Alright, so the countdown to Bloomington might be a bit much. OSU’s opener is not exactly a marquee matchup. And the atmosphere is likely to disappoint, given that Indiana was just flat-out awful last season. But here we are, Gene. Reaching for content in February, in part because we refuse to acknowledge the men’s basketball team.

Regardless of what we are counting down to, or why we are avoiding other topics, I am legitimately excited for Ryan Day’s football team to get back on the practice field. Not just because I love football, but also because we kinda/sorta/maybe have no idea what to expect in 2023! Brian Hartline as the new offensive coordinator, no proven quarterback taking snaps, 60% of the offensive line gone, and the defense! Is Jim Knowles the defensive mastermind we believed him to be, or did he simply feast on inferior opponents?

There is much to be sorted out before Sept. 2 rolls around, and spring practice seems like the first major step in attempting to do so. Ohio State has questions (or issues) on both sides of the ball, as well as on the sideline. And while I think most fans, media types, and even coaches will be dialed in on the Buckeyes’ QB battle, I am especially interested in another position battle. One where the starters are presumably already in place.

The position battle – or lack thereof – I am referring to is the one at linebacker. With Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers both returning, the top of the OSU depth chart should be pre-determined. But what if it’s not? Even if Eichenberg and Chambers are entrenched as starters, who will provide depth? And lastly, will Knowles stick with a 4-2-5 defensive alignment, or shift toward a more traditional 4-3?

Spring practice will begin to answer some or all of the questions above. And I believe that said answers will be heavily influenced by the presence and practice of a few guys we did not hear from (much) during the 2022 season: C.J. Hicks, Reid Carrico, Gabe Powers, and potentially even Sonny Styles. All of these guys should be given ample opportunity to earn playing time at LB, especially with Eichenberg sidelined due to injury. And for most, this is their first real opportunity to do so.

The potential talent infusion and expansion of the LB rotation is something Buckeye Nation should be very excited about, especially considering the way this unit had underperformed in previous seasons. But 2022 saw a semi-return to the Silver Bullet days, and even better, Day brought in an actual Silver Bullet to help take them to the next level! James Laurinaitis is back in Columbus to coach his old position group, and hopefully provide a(nother) boost to this defense in general.

I truly believe that this current collection of talent Ohio State has at LB is the best it has had since at least 2016, and I am excited to see what players can and will do under the guidance of a Buckeye legend. I mean, imagine if Laurinaitis can do with linebackers what Hartline did with wide receivers! Am I getting too ahead of myself?

Maybe. But time will tell... And the clock begins ticking (again) on March 7.

Gene’s Take

As Josh alluded to, we are really looking for any reason at this point to ignore what is happening on the hardwood for Ohio State. The mens team is in total free fall, having lost 13 of their last 14 contests without any hope remaining of evening making it to the NCAA Tournament this season. The women's team began the year 19-0, but even they have fallen on hard times as of late, dropping five of their last eight contests — albeit four of those losses came against AP Top-10 ranked teams.

So, our focus shifts back to the football team, who after seemingly just ending their season not too long ago returns to the practice field in just 15 days from now. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this team, stemming from both how last season ended to all of the personnel losses to the NFL Draft. New faces and old faces will soon make a name for themselves in Columbus, but what are we looking forward to the most once spring practice gets underway?

Personally, I and much of Buckeye Nation will be focused on how the secondary shakes out. The Ohio State defense crumbled under pressure last year, allowing 40+ points in each of the teams final two games — both losses — against Michigan and Georgia. Defense has been a huge problem for the Buckeyes during Ryan Day’s tenure, and while Jim Knowles’ defense certainly looked improved for most of the regular season, the same issues we have seen in years past returned when the competition got stiffer.

However, in year two of Knowles’ system with some new talent in the mix, maybe we will finally see some improvement in the defensive backfield in 2023.

Ohio State will only have two true returning starters among the five secondary spots this year in corner Denzel Burke and safety Lathan Ransom. Burke struggled for much of the 2022 campaign, but we know what he’s capable of after earning himself freshman All-American honors during the 2021 season. Ransom began the year as a backup behind Josh Proctor, but quickly took over the starting job and became one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players.

That leaves one starting corner and two safety positions up for grabs.

The other cornerback opposite Burke will likely be Davison Igbinosun, who transferred to Ohio State this offseason from Ole Miss. A former freshman All-American like Burke, Igbinosun was rated the No. 10 overall transfer by 247Sports. He played in all 13 games for the Rebels in 2022, making 10 starts. He brings some experience to a CB room at Ohio State that is otherwise lacking. Other candidates for the job include Jyaire Brown and Jordan Hancock, who both played sparingly for the Buckeyes in 2022, and Jermaine Mathews, who comes to Columbus as a very highly regarded freshman.

The safety spots are even more interesting, as there are a number of quality talents to join Ransom in Knowles’ three-safety system. One of the likely starters will be Ja’Had Carter, who transferred to Ohio State from Syracuse this offseason as the No. 14 overall player in the portal. The last remaining spot will presumably be former five-star safety Sonny Styles’ to lose, but guys like Kye Stokes, Cam Martinez and Kourt Williams will all be pushing for those two starting roles.

It will be fun to see who winds up coming out on top of the depth chart, but at the very least there appears to be far more depth within the defensive secondary than there was last year — which, I guess, isn’t saying a whole lot. Still, there is reason to be optimistic about the guys in this room making a real impact in 2023.