After the departure of four starters from the 2013 Ohio State football team’s offensive line, coach Urban Meyer has his eye on one slot in particular.
“The left guard on offense, that’s the one,” Meyer said Monday after the team’s first practice of fall camp. “If I had to say where is all the focus, to me it’s at left guard.”
Meyer went on to compliment a few different position groups, including the defensive line, linebackers, safeties and running backs, but went back to the importance of the battle for left guard duties.
He said four players, including two in senior Joel Hale and redshirt-junior Chase Farris who have spent time as defensive linemen for OSU, have a chance to start. Meyer said the other contenders are redshirt-junior Antonio Underwood and redshirt-freshman Billy Price.
Outside of left guard, Meyer touched on position battles at safety and punt return for the Buckeyes heading into the 2014 season. He said the battle for the two starting spots at safety is still up in the air, with three returning players and a true freshman fighting for playing time.
“All three, that’s a three-man race right now, and all three of them think they’re going to play,” Meyer said of redshirt-sophomore Tyvis Powell, sophomore Cam Burrows and sophomore Vonn Bell. “And you throw (freshman) Erick Smith chomping at the bit, too — you’ve just got to keep them healthy.”
Powell totaled 48 tackles in 2013 to lead that group, while Burrows and Bell combined for 30 tackles. Powell had a game-sealing interception on a 2-point try against Michigan, and Bell recorded a pick in OSU’s Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.
According to Meyer, sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson is the front-runner at punt return, but there are a handful of players vying for a chance. He named off redshirt-junior wide receiver Corey Smith, redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall and freshman cornerback Marshon Lattimore as potential competition for Wilson.
“You got some really talented guys,” Meyer said of the group.
Smith and Marshall both redshirted last season, while Wilson was the team’s leading kick returner but has not returned a punt in his Buckeye career.
While many of those position battles were on display during the evening session of Monday’s practice, the majority of the OSU freshmen took part in a practice session in the morning.
“Really good first day with the young guys,” Meyer said of the early practice.
The Buckeye coach said it’s still early but added he was “really impressed” with how the freshmen performed. He saved special praise for a handful of the newcomers, including Lattimore and Smith.
At least two true freshmen had a chance to practice with the returnees in the evening, which Meyer attributed to their maturity. Both freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan and freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon could be seen on the field throughout practice.
“They’re just guys that are over 3.0 students, take care of their business,” Meyer said. “They act like pros, they act like grown men, so we let them practice with the grown men today.”
One addition to the OSU roster for fall camp was redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle, who had previously been dismissed from the team following an arrest. Meyer said Sprinkle lost his summer scholarship and will be suspended for OSU’s first game.
“He’s got, every week, community service and a multitude of other things to take care of business before he’ll ever see the field,” he said.
Among other notes from Monday’s press conference, Meyer confirmed offensive lineman Tommy Brown had decided to transfer away from OSU. He also said senior quarterback Braxton Miller is “100 percent” but added that he wasn’t at his sharpest in his first practice after missing the entire spring due to shoulder surgery.
According to a Monday OSU press release, Brown isn’t the only Buckeye no longer playing for the team. Senior tight end J.T. Moore had to end his career due to continuing knee issues, but the release said he will still graduate from OSU in December.
The release also said defensive lineman Michael Hill was granted a medical redshirt for the 2013 season and will therefore have four years of eligibility remaining. Additionally, freshman Sam Hubbard is currently listed as a linebacker after originally being slated to play tight end for the Buckeyes.
OSU is scheduled to return to practice Tuesday for the second of 18 practice days before the season kicks off.
The Buckeyes’ 2014 schedule is set to kick off Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore. The game is scheduled to start at noon.