With just days until the Ohio State football team is scheduled to kick off its season against Navy, several starting positions remain up for grabs.
Among the open spots are the starting center and left guard positions along the offensive line, the cornerback position opposite senior Doran Grant and playing time in the logjam that is the running back and wide receiver positions.
The offensive line has three established starters in junior Taylor Decker at left tackle, redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein at right guard and redshirt-senior Darryl Baldwin at right tackle. Coach Urban Meyer said the open left guard position has three players who could fill the spot.
“Left guard is not named yet, and it’s not because of ability,” Meyer said Monday. “It’s just, one, the guy hasn’t separated himself, so in the hunt are (senior) Joel Hale, (redshirt-freshman) Billy Price, (redshirt-junior Antonio) Underwood.”
The open center spot is a bit closer, Meyer said, as he named two players who are candidates to fill the void left by Corey Linsley, now with the Green Bay Packers.
“Center is going to be, probably be (junior Jacoby Boren) and (redshirt-senior) Chad Lindsay. We haven’t named the starter on that either,” Meyer said. “But once again, its still because the battles are going on.”
The cornerback position opposite Grant is also a two-man race, Meyer said, as redshirt-freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley battle for a spot on the Buckeye defense.
“They haven’t separated themselves yet either, which is a good sign. They’ll both play,” Meyer said.
Junior cornerback Armani Reeves said he believes both players bring a special skill set to the table for OSU.
“They both bring a different type of style to their game but that’s what makes them special,” Reeves said Monday. “Gareon has really fluid hips, and he reads routes really well, and Eli is a really strong and physical guy so they both play a little bit different.”
The battle to replace former Buckeye star running back Carlos Hyde was originally led by sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, however, Meyer said, multiple running backs proved they are worthy of touches during fall camp.
When Elliott missed multiple practices because of a minor wrist surgery during fall camp, it opened the door for redshirt-sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt-senior Rod Smith to earn reps, something Meyer said they accomplished.
“Both Bri’onte and Rod Smith have made every practice and done really well,” he said. “I give credit to (Dunn) and Rod Smith, every day they have shown up and they have worked their tails off so they are in the mix.”
Meyer also mentioned freshman Curtis Samuel as a player who could see touches at running back this season.
At wide receiver, Meyer mentioned six players who are in the mix, only three of whom played last season.
The three who played last season — senior Devin Smith, senior Evan Spencer and sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson — combined for 88 catches for 1,086 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Meyer also named redshirt-sophomore Mike Thomas, redshirt-junior Corey Smith and redshirt-freshman Jalin Marshall as players who will likely see the field for the OSU offense.
“All of them could march in, and they all deserve playing time,” Meyer said. So it’s just a matter of who breaks the huddle first.”
Spencer, who has scored four touchdowns in his OSU career, said he is looking forward to seeing how the skill-position players will play during Saturday’s game.
“We have so much depth this year. We have so many playmakers at so many positions, from A to Z,” Spencer said. “It’ll be really cool and exciting to see everybody get out there and be able to make plays because we’ve got the depth to keep everybody fresh in order to do it.”
Despite senior quarterback Braxton Miller missing the season because of a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, Spencer said he is not worried about the conversion to a new starting quarterback.
“It’s definitely a change. But I mean, at the same time, all throughout camp (redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett) and (redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones) have been getting so many reps with the ones,” Spencer said. “They’ve been throwing the ball so much all throughout camp, and really all throughout the offseason that it’s not that much of a transition for us, just because that’s what we’ve been going through.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Navy Saturday at noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
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