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: Which young player impressed you the most during Ohio State’s spring game?
Ohio State held its annual spring game Saturday and uh, I think it’s fair to say that this year’s version was a bit of a snoozer — at least if you’re a fan of points and offense, which have typically been the Buckeyes’ calling card(s) under Ryan Day.
But Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage featured a ton of new faces playing pivotal positions, while most proven commodities observed from the sideline, so the end result and general lack of fireworks should not have come as some huge surprise. OSU also kept everything very vanilla and frankly, very boring.
While there were not a ton of explosive plays during this game, fans still got to see a number of explosive playERs. Specifically, Scarlet and Gray stars of the future, many of whom were suiting up in The Shoe for the first time. And those are the guys we decided to write about for this edition of You’re Nuts — the “youngins” or true breakout candidates.
You, the reader, are probably thinking of a few names right now, which puts you in the same company as Gene and I, the writers (of just this piece, nothing special). My former co-host and I wanted to weigh in with our standout freshman or sophomore from Saturday, and it honestly took me more than one viewing of the spring game to narrow it down. Because despite the sometimes-ugly play and rhythm of the game, I feel like a handful of young guys really did show out. But rules is rules. And you know me, Gene... I had to go with a deep cut.
The young gun who really stood out to me is not even likely to play a ton of meaningful minutes this season. Not if last year’s pecking order remains the same. But depth is a necessity, injuries happen, and Jim Knowles and Larry Johnson love to rotate on the defensive line. So step right up, Hero Kanu!
This second year defensive lineman from California was pushing the pile Saturday, and reminded me of Cam Heyward on more than one occasion. Granted, the latter plays outside and is a bit longer than Kanu, but just from a body composition standpoint, they pop off the screen in a similar manner. At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Kanu appeared to be in great physical condition and quite literally stood out among the other, shorter interior defenders.
Kanu was credited with five total tackles on Saturday, with two TFL and one sack. Whether he was going against backups or not, he displayed impressive gap penetration and plenty of speed for a player his size. And I don’t want to keep harping on size, but Kanu is just a monster out there, Gene! At least compared to most of his DL brethren. Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams are both listed at 6-foot-2, 290ish. Ty Hamilton is 6-foot-3, 295. Kanu has them all beat, and for at least one scrimmage, showed the same sort of versatility those other guys have.
When I say versatility, I am referring to the size, skill and movement required to defend against both the run and the pass. And in Kanu’s case, I believe he’s got “it”. I don’t think he will be reduced to a run-stuffer, which tends to happen to 300+ pounders. But my guy was movin’ during the spring game. He displayed legit speed and/or quickness. Certainly more than I thought he had in him.
Which means I am all-in on the concept of what Kanu could theoretically be: a massive space eater with pass-rushing chops. I know it’s early, and I know he (likely) has a ways to go before he even cracks the gameday rotation, but we’re essentially talking first impressions here — first real playing time in The Shoe for many of these guys. And based solely off Saturday’s spring game, Hero Kanu has all the makings of a future stud.
Like Josh said, this year’s Ohio State spring game was certainly nothing special. Of course, it was great to see the Buckeyes back on the football field for the first time since New Year’s Eve, but there really wasn’t a whole bunch to gleam from it. One of the two quarterbacks in contention did not play, the scheme was very basic on both sides, and the two-hand touch aspect of it makes it feel much less like an actual football game than the scrimmage it truly is.
However, that is not to say there is nothing to take away from the game. I still think it was nice to see a bunch of the young guys making plays on both sides of the ball. On defense, I was excited to see a newcomer like Davison Igbinosun out there as well as of course the former five-stars C.J. Hicks and Sonny Styles. I expect all three of those guys to make a significant impact for Ohio State this upcoming season, but my biggest takeaway came on the offense.
We pretty much know what the starting offense will look like outside of the offensive line, who will almost certainly need to add a transfer tackle when the portal re-opens. Kyle McCord will likely get the nod at quarterback, the same three starters at wide receiver from last year all return, headlined of course by Marvin Harrison Jr., and a hopefully healthy stable of running backs will include all the familiar faces from last season — including Chip Trayanum, who balled out in the spring game after functioning as the Buckeyes’ lead back against Michigan.
Wide receiver is far and away the toughest room to earn playing time in, with Harrison Jr. leading the group alongside Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson as the four players who will see the most snaps, and Jayden Ballard certainly in the mix as well. I think this is a pivotal year for the guys from the 2022 recruiting class to make a move or risk being passed up. That stems from what I've heard of and now seen from Carnell Tate.
Tate came to Ohio State as the No. 9 WR prospect in the 2023 class. He was one of the premier players in a stellar recruiting cycle for Brian Hartline that also includes five-star Brandon Inniss (who is not yet on campus), Noah Rogers and Bryson Rodgers. The 6-foot-2 Tate has reportedly been putting on a show during the Buckeyes’ spring practices, and he did so again with three catches for 45 yards — including a long 37-yard TD catch — in the spring game. The aforementioned Rogers had a day as well, with three catches for 64 yards and a long TD of his own.
All this is to say that time is ticking for the receivers from the 2022 cycle. None of the four players at the position among that group are slouches by any means, with Kaleb Brown, Kyion Grayes, Caleb Burton and Kojo Antwi all being four-star prospects and top-150 overall recruits. However, with Tate and Rogers already making a name for themselves and Inniss still to come, they have to make a move on the depth chart soon or risk being passed over entirely — especially with five-stars Jeremiah Smith, who is by all accounts one of the best WR prospects in quiet some time, as well as Mylan Graham coming to town in 2024.
Ohio State will likely need to replace all three starters going into the 2024 season, with Harrison Jr. and Egbuka virtually locks to be first round draft picks and Fleming with a chance to enter that conversation this year. Inniss, Tate and Smith are going to be eyeing those spots, and with the recruiting profiles those three players possess, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them as the three starting receivers for the Buckeyes in a year if the 2022 guys don’t make some sort of significant impact soon.