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Column: What we’ve already learned from Ohio State’s spring practice ahead of return from break

Ohio State is back from Spring Break, but before they start practice again let’s take a look at what we’ve already learned about the 2023 Buckeyes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: MAR 29 Ohio State Spring Practice Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ohio State had their usual short start to Spring Practice before sending their players off for Spring break this past week. In that short window of practice time, there was a ton of information given about what the 2023 football team may look like.

Over the first week, the media heard from multiple position coaches as well as players and the head coach. Each meeting with the groups gave some clarity on where each position group stands at this point in the year, and also projects how the group might look come the beginning of Fall.

There is still a long way to the end of Spring Practice, but listening to what the coaches say in these early parts should lead to some answers for the future. Without overanalyzing, we can see how the Buckeyes are shaping up. With a few coaches still waiting to speak to the media we still have a ton we’re waiting to hear about, but the coaches who have already had their availability have spoken volumes.

Looking back at the pressers, the Buckeyes' new arrivals are making noise and some players vying for their first playing time this year have started making their moves.

Freshman receivers are ready now

Brian Hartline has been the best recruiter in the country since he took over as the full-time receiver coach at Ohio State. That is why there was little drop-off at the receiver position for the Buckeyes when they lost two first-round picks in the NFL Draft as well as the leading returning receiver.

Now the loss of Jaxon Smith-Njigba did not hurt for most of the season, but the depth did get challenged late in the year. That is why the recruiting that Hartline does is important, being able to replace a first-round pick with another first-rounder is not a luxury most teams have. That is why hearing that the incoming freshman receivers showed up ready to compete right away is exciting, and should also come as no surprise.

“The truth is they’re gonna get really pushed by this freshman group. The three guys that came in have already made an impact. We’ve been very impressed with them,” Day said when asked about the incoming receivers.

Hartline also went into detail about the preparation the three freshman receivers came in with, and the Buckeyes will be watching this group closely. For Ohio State, this will either make the second-year receivers better, or they will get passed up by the incoming group who proved their talent in practice. Both coaches gave a shoutout to Noah Rogers, and that could mean he might be vying for early playing time.

Now odds are there won’t be much of a rotation again that includes the young guys, but the two-year plan is starting to get clarity for the Buckeyes at the receiver position. Any glimpses we get will be a look into the future of the position.

Defensive back transfers are impressive

Jim Knowles has a huge second year ahead of him, and one of the biggest question marks for his defense entering the offseason was the needed improvement of the secondary. To make this happen Knowles and the defensive staff brought in two defensive back transfers in All-Freshman SEC team Davison Igbinosun and All-ACC safety Ja’Had Carter. Both have brought an edge to their respective rooms, and the Buckeyes might have already found their answer to last year's problems.

Starting with Igbinosun, the Buckeyes are excited about his potential. For the Buckeyes, corner has been a problem over the past few seasons, and to the ire of the fanbase little had been done to address the struggles. Last year, the thin depth was challenged due to injuries, leading to an offseason where not making a move would be unacceptable. That is why Igbinosun has the potential to be the most impactful defensive transfer Ohio State has gotten in the portal era.

“He has real length and got his hands on a lot of balls. And he was quick to mix it up, too. I joke with him all the time, he’s got that Jersey toughness, you know? And he’s got experience in the SEC, and played a lot of football. I just think he’s gonna bring a lot of competition to the position,” Knowles said.

Igbinosun will be a starter this Fall, and if not a starter he will absolutely play a significant role in the corner rotation. Having the combination of him, Denzel Burke, as well as Jordan Hancock, coming into the Spring healthy, and the young guys in the room, the depth is looking significantly better in the corner room.

Now onto Ja’Had Carter, the Syracuse transfer is an experienced transfer, but not in the same vein as Tanner McAlister from last year. Carter comes to Ohio State as an all-conference player in a Syracuse defense that was solid. Being a legitimate starter puts less pressure on the younger players and provides Ohio State with impactful players to fill the holes left in addition to the competition it provides.

“They’re not a young guy coming in who’s kind of feeling things, these guys aren’t messing around. And it pushes everyone,” Knowles added about the transfers.

This level of competition is what the transfer portal should create at Ohio State, both players will be key contributors as we know from the glowing reviews Knowles already dulled out. Last year the two players who were mentioned in this regard were Lathan Ransom and Ronnie Hickman, both of whom played major roles last season.

Offensive line is basically set, but young offensive linemen might have something to say

This is a quick note, but Ohio State has three positions on the offensive line set three days into Spring barring any unforeseen circumstances. Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones both return to their roles at their respective guard positions. Josh Fryar has moved over to Left tackle and seems to have already taken that position over. That means there is only to positions for the taking.

“We moved Josh to left, we felt like he had enough experience,” Day continued on with the other positions. “We see Zen and Tegra on the other side, watch the film, kind of see where they’re at. (Carson Hinzman’s) at center there, (Vic Cutler’s) at center.”

The assumption at right tackle was Zen Michalski, but recent revelations show that a former fringe top-100 recruit from Lakota West has different ideas. That recruit is now in year two and named Tegra Tshabola. Tshabola has transformed his body and shown the ability to be a starting tackle early.

At center after receiving the transfer commitment from Cutler, the position was trending towards him being a shoo-in to replace Luke Wypler at center. That was until Hinzman added 10 pounds in the offseason. This shows the improved recruiting under Frye has taken a foothold on position battles.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the second-year Buckeyes will play, but they are well ahead of schedule from where many projected them. There should be no surprise if these competitions extend past spring, and not because there is no talent in the room to start.

There are a lot of stories still surrounding the Ohio State football team, these stories include the quarterback battle, Ryan Day passing the sticks, and how positional rotations will work out. With the answers to some of the offseason questions basically already decided, this gives clarity to the coaching staff to fill out the depth charts and turn their focus to the other battles at hand.

Seeing the exciting young receivers show up ready to compete tells a lot about the class that is coming in. The natural offensive line progression taking place leaves the Buckeyes in a better place than many projected. And the secondary is already being impacted by transfers from a competition and depth standpoint. Ohio State has a long way to go, but this adds to the excitement of the Spring Game and what we can learn from there.

Now that Spring Break is over the Buckeyes will hit the ground full steam ahead upon the return of the players. As the coaches and players speak there will be a lot more to learn as Spring progresses.