Everybody knows senior quarterback Braxton Miller, and now everyone the name of redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. The 2014 Ohio State football roster is speckled with big-name players and former five-star recruits.
But while some of those players will still be key to OSU this season, some previously lesser-known players could become household names for the Buckeye faithful this season.
Here are five previously lesser-known and lightly-used players to watch on the OSU roster heading into the new season:
1. Steve Miller, senior defensive lineman
Even though some have dubbed OSU’s defensive line the best in the nation, that doesn’t mean the starting four will be the only players to see the field along the defensive front.
In fact, one of those starters — junior defensive lineman Noah Spence — won’t see the field at all for the first two games of the season because of a three-game suspension. That’s where Steve Miller comes in.
While he isn’t necessarily expected to start in place of Spence — coach Urban Meyer is expected to release the week one depth chart on Tuesday — he is one of the most experienced reserves on the defensive line. Steve Miller played in 11 games last season and totaled 12 tackles, three of which were sacks. Those three sacks caused the opposition to lose a total of 21 yards.
Look for Steve Miller to be a key contributor not only while Spence is out, but for the rest of his senior season.
2. Darryl Baldwin, redshirt-senior offensive lineman
Baldwin came to OSU as a standout defensive lineman, but he’ll be leaving as the starter at right tackle along the Buckeyes’ offensive line.
The Solon, Ohio, native redshirted in 2010 before playing in seven games as a backup defensive lineman the following season. In 2012, he switched over to offense but played mainly on special teams and backed up All-American Jack Mewhort at left tackle the last two seasons.
While two offensive line spots are still up for grabs, Meyer named Baldwin the starter on Barrett’s strong side going into his final season. Baldwin and his position-mates will be tasked with attempting to replicate the success of the 2013 offensive line, which graduated four starters — two of whom were selected in the NFL Draft in Mewhort and Corey Linsley while the other two, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall, were signed as undrafted free agents.
If the Buckeyes want to replicate their success running the ball from 2013, Baldwin will need to have a big season on the offensive front.
3. Nick Vannett, redshirt-junior tight end
Meyer has called senior tight end Jeff Heuerman one of the best in the country, but the OSU coach had praise for Vannett on Monday as well.
“Nick Vannett has had as good of camp at tight end that I’ve seen, which is great for him to see him do that,” Meyer said.
That’s pretty big praise, especially coming from a coach like Meyer, who has coached some extremely talented tight ends in his career. Heuerman, though, happens to be working through an injury heading into week one.
Meyer said Heuerman isn’t 100 percent healthy yet, but he expects the tight end to play against Navy on Saturday.
For Vannett, that could be the chance of a lifetime as he had eight receptions for 80 yards and one touchdown last season. Heuerman tallied 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns in comparison.
No matter how much Heuerman plays Saturday, look for Vannett to be a key contributor on offense, especially as a safety blanket for Barrett.
If he plays well, Vannett could push Heuerman for touches all season.
4. Tommy Schutt, junior defensive lineman
Along with Vannett, Meyer named Schutt as one of the most improved players on this Buckeye roster, even though he’s not expected to start with players such as senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington ahead of him on the defensive line.
What Schutt does bring to the table is depth, and if he’s getting praise like that from Meyer, he would probably be much more than a role player at most other schools.
Schutt struggled with injuries in 2013 as he tallied just three tackles and 0.5 sacks in six games. The Glen Ellyn, Ill., native might have been limited last season, but he proved his talent as a true freshman in 2012 when he played in 10 games for the 12-0 Buckeyes.
Barring injury, Schutt won’t get a starting nod this season, but he’ll see his fair share of the field and make an impact every time he’s out there.
5. Rashad Frazier, redshirt-senior defensive lineman
Another defensive lineman you ask? Yes, another defensive lineman.
Of course Bennett, Spence, Washington and sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa will be the headline players, but they can’t play every snap.
Going back to Spence’s suspension, Frazier could be the man to gain the most as he has been named as a potential replacement for the first two games of the season.
After transferring to OSU from Purdue University in 2012, Frazier played in just one game last season while battling through injuries. He had a strong showing in the spring, capped off by a headline-stealing performance in OSU’s annual Spring Game on April 12.
In the Spring Game, Frazier recovered a fumble in the end-zone for the first points of the game and totaled two sacks and a forced fumble. It might have been a practice game, but he was probably the most dominant defensive player for much of the day.
If Frazier does in fact get the nod in Spence’s slot early this season, look for him to be playing with a chip on his shoulder as he gets his first and last shot at playing time.
OSU’s season opener against Navy on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is set to kickoff at noon.
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