2024 Ohio State Spring Game: Position Battles to Watch – TechVerdant


Spring practice is well underway and the Ohio State Spring game is just around the corner. While it may just be a glorified scrimmage with mostly half-hearted tackling, it gives coaches and fans alike a good idea of what’s to come.

There is a lot on the line for the players as careers get kick-started with a solid Spring game performance. Jack Sawyer dominated a few years ago and Malik Hooker had a strong performance before his 2016 unanimous All-American campaign. Additionally, the losing team gets to have the honor of adding mulch to Buckeye Grove as the Urban Meyer-era tradition lives on.

Ohio State Spring Game: Position Battles

Ryan Day has continued the practice of hyping up the Ohio State Spring game and it’s resulted in Fox picking up the scrimmage for a national audience. As it has been over the last few years, the scoring will be a tad unorthodox. The offense will score as usual but the defense will be awarded points based on sacks, turnovers, three-and-outs, etc. It really makes for some interesting math.

With the Transfer Portal about to reopen and the incoming recruiting class knocking on the door, players will be jockeying for positioning up and down the roster. There will be outbound transfers after this game — and there’s a particular running back who is already rumored to be making the jump — so this could be the final chance to get some film for their new school.

Either way, there are a few position battles to watch for. Sure, it’s just like the NFL preseason in the sense that you don’t truly get a feel for the team. However, it does allow the coaching staff to show their hand a little bit and play the players who have impressed.

Will Howard vs. The Field

Heading into the Ohio State Spring game, it’s expected that Will Howard, the Kansas State transfer, will be the starting quarterback. The veteran comes in with the most experience and fits what Day and Chip Kelly are looking for in a quarterback.

However, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the depth of this quarterback room. Devin Brown has also been taking first-team reps and started the Spring as the leader. Lincoln Kienholz has been in the system and seemingly has just as high of a ceiling as any. The questions will be surrounding the freshmen.

Air Noland comes in as talented as any of the other signal-callers and Julian Sayin has been hyped up as possibly the most accurate of the bunch. Will any quarterback challenge Howard for the job?

Realistically, Howard has the job for this year. It would take an incredible performance from one of the other four to put doubt in Day’s mind. However, the stats at the Ohio State Spring game don’t matter. Case in point, Justin Fields‘ first Spring game was awful (4/13 passing with 131 yards and a score) and he ended up as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history.

Rushmen Reloaded

The Ohio State defensive line could be one of the strengths of the team with Sawyer, Jaylahn Tuimoloau, and Tyleik Williams spurning the NFL Draft. However, the issue lies with depth. Sure, having three future NFL players on the line is nice but what does Larry Johnson do when they need a breather or get dinged up?

Thus far, there have been reports that Kenyatta Jackson, Jr. and Caden Curry are impressive. If neither of those names ring bells, it’s only natural. Over the last few years, the Buckeyes have not utilized much of a rotation. Last year, of the 1,713 cumulative snaps taken by Buckeye defensive ends, only 435 were not Sawyer (605) or Tuimoloau (673).

On the interior, Williams (642) led the way and Ty Hamilton (343) had the most experience of those returning.

Dynasties and continued winning do not happen overnight. Ohio State was able to reload and reload and reload during the Meyer era because the coaches rotated players. Additionally, they pulled starters earlier in big wins. Of course, the Ohio State offense struggled to get ahead early against lesser teams last year. That contributed to the issue. However, if the Buckeyes are going to build upon what 2024 is supposed to be, the second unit on the defensive line must step up.

Trench Warfare

Aside from the quarterback question, most eyes will be on the offensive line at the Ohio State Spring game. With how good the defensive line is supposed to be, the starting five offensive linemen need to show they are ready.

This Spring, the offensive line from left to right has been Josh Simmons, Donovan Jackson, Seth McLaughlin, Luke Montgomery, and Josh Fryar. McLaughlin, an Alabama transfer, and Montgomery, a rising sophomore, are the new faces on the line.

Much has been said about last year’s offensive line. It was likely a large part of Kyle McCord‘s struggles throughout the year and it all came to a head in The Game and the subsequent Cotton Bowl. All three incumbent linemen showed flashes but also had moments of struggling. However, Ohio State benched Carson Hinzman before the bowl and saw what it had in Enokk Vimahi, so depth is currently a concern.

Kelly and offensive line coach Justin Frye worked together at UCLA and orchestrated one of the better offenses of the Kelly-UCLA era. They’ll need more of that to not squander the talent at the skill positions. If any of the starters struggle and no depth pieces step up, Ohio State could dip back into the portal.

The Underutilized Safety Valve

One of the most confusing aspects of the Ohio State offense is its utilization of the tight end position. The Buckeyes had a talented player in Jeremy Ruckert at the position and rarely used him. At the same time, they made Cade Stover the third-best tight end in program history, statistically. Stover, the converted linebacker, of course.

This year, the Buckeyes seemingly have plenty of talent. Will Kacmerek is a transfer from Ohio after spending the last two years as the Bobcats’ starting tight end. He contributed 507 yards and two touchdowns off of 42 receptions. Gee Scott, Jr. has been with the Buckeyes for four years now. He made the transition to tight end before the 2021 season. He has played sparingly and has only amounted to 140 yards and two scores off of 20 receptions.

The wild card in this battle is Jelani Thurman. The redshirt freshman was hailed as an incredibly talented four-star recruit of the 2023 class and was considered the fourth-best tight end in the nation. He sat back last year to learn and develop while contributing his two receptions for 18 yards against Michigan State. He’s learning the blocking side of the position as he is, essentially, a large wide receiver.

The Ohio State Spring game isn’t likely going to be a tight end showcase. However, the three at the top of the depth chart have an opportunity to go out and take the job. Thurman could have the highest ceiling of the trio, so it will be interesting to see if he took a step in the offseason.

The Most Important Scrimmage

There are many exciting things to watch at the Ohio State Spring game. How many true freshman early enrollees get playing time with the first team? Jeremiah Smith has already been turning heads in practice and is making a serious case to be a Week 1 starter. Ohio State could be watching the budding of a star unlike its seen before.

Even with all of the attention on Smith, don’t forget about the rest of the talent in that room. Emeka Egbuka is on-pace to shatter records and Carnell Tate looked good in his limited action last year. As for the rest, pick your poison; there are plenty of four and five-star players waiting in the wings.

Who steps up at linebacker? C.J. Hicks, Sonny Styles (transitioning from safety), and Cody Simon have been battling it out for the two linebacker spots. With the defensive line full of veterans and future NFL draftees, the Ohio State linebackers, no matter who they are, have a prime opportunity to shine.

It’s a glorified scrimmage but it’s one that Ohio State fans flock to. Barring weather, Ohio Stadium should be well-populated yet again. And, if a fan is not able to make it in town, FS1 is covering it. Just tune in at 12:00 pm EDT on April 13th for the first-ever nationally televised spring game.


Photo courtesy: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

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