The Ohio State football team isn’t even two months removed from its victory over Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship, but it’s already time to hit the field once again.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to begin practice Tuesday morning, kicking off a string of 14 sessions, set to conclude with the Spring Game at Ohio Stadium on April 18.
Spring practice brings the first glimpse at a new Buckeye squad, including a few freshmen who have enrolled early, some players rehabbing injuries, and others battling for playing time in 2015. With a few guarantees mixed in with a number of question marks, these are the top storylines heading into practice.
It’s the most talked-about position in all of football, and easily the most discussed when it comes to OSU.
Redshirt-junior Cardale Jones is expected to be the only fully healthy signal caller at spring practice who could earn significant playing time next season. Redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett is still recovering from a fractured ankle and redshirt-senior Braxton Miller is rehabbing a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
While Barrett was the starter most of last season, and Miller is a former two-year undisputed starter, Jones has a chance to get a leg up on the competition if he performs well this spring.
Of course, he had that same chance last year when Miller was initially ruled out after a minor shoulder surgery. Jones earned the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but was eventually beaten out by Barrett in fall camp before Miller went down with his season-ending injury.
So Jones can make his mark while getting plenty of reps in practice, but he should still be wary whenever Barrett and Miller return to full strength, because all three are supremely talented.
While the Buckeyes don’t have to replace anyone at quarterback, it’ll be the most watched position battle.
Beyond that, though, OSU has to find a new right tackle, at least one new starting wide receiver, a new starting defensive tackle, one more linebacker and another cornerback.
Linebacker is probably the position most set in stone already, with sophomore Raekwon McMillan looking like a clear replacement for the departed Curtis Grant. At receiver, redshirt-freshman Johnnie Dixon might have an opportunity to take over one of the spots left vacant by Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, but he’ll face stiff competition.
Other returning names, such as redshirt-seniors Corey Smith and Jeff Greene, should have a chance to earn playing time alongside redshirt-junior Michael Thomas as well.
At cornerback, sophomore Damon Webb and redshirt-sophomore Gareon Conley will be going head-to-head, while sophomore Sam Hubbard, redshirt-sophomore Michael Hill and sophomore Jalyn Holmes, along with senior Tommy Schutt, will all get looks at defensive line.
Along the offensive front, numerous players could earn playing time, but redshirt-senior Chase Farris is the most likely candidate to replace Darryl Baldwin.
Fresh faces on the coaching staff
Along with a few new players, the Buckeyes have two new assistant coaches in the fold.
With Tom Herman off to Houston and Stan Drayton off to the Chicago Bears in the NFL, Tim Beck and Tony Alford will be working with the OSU quarterbacks and running backs, respectively.
Beck earned the opportunity to choose between three potential Heisman Trophy candidates, while Alford inherited one clear-cut Heisman front runner in junior Ezekiel Elliott.
While both the quarterbacks and running backs performed extremely well last season, Beck and Alford have a chance to improve their position groups to a completely dominating level, and leave their mark on the OSU program.
After the Spring Game, the Buckeyes are scheduled to return to the field on Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., to kick off the 2015 regular season.