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Opinion: 5 players on defense to watch in 2015 Ohio State Spring Game

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Then-freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan (2) attempts to make a tackle during a game against Wisconsin on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. OSU won, 59-0. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Then-freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan (2) attempts to make a tackle during a game against Wisconsin on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. OSU won, 59-0.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo Editor

With the Ohio State Spring Game just days away, there are still a few positions with vacancies.

Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Steve Miller join linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant as members of the OSU defense who will not return after the title run in 2014.

With that in mind, I took a look at five players you should watch in Saturday’s game to either replace the former Buckeyes or at least get some playing time in 2015 on the defensive side of the ball.

1. Redshirt-sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley

The Massillon, Ohio, native was the first person mentioned by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs as the likely cornerback counterpart next to returning starter redshirt-sophomore Eli Apple.

Conley earned one start in 2014 against the Michigan State Spartans, but after giving up big plays and a touchdown on the first drive of the game, was quickly replaced by a less-than-healthy Apple.

With a spot open after Doran Grant’s departure, it is likely that the spot will be filled by either Conley or sophomore Damon Webb.

Conley seemingly has the upper hand and a good showing in the Spring Game can only help his chances.

2. Sophomore cornerback Damon Webb

While Webb is behind Conley for the corner spot, there is a good chance he will still see significant playing time in 2015 at the nickel position.

With Armani Reeves not returning because of health issues related to concussions, the nickel spot, which is usually reserved for passing downs, is wide open and it’s Webb’s job for the taking.

Webb must have the skill to play, as he did not redshirt last season behind players like Doran Grant, Reeves, Apple and Conley.

He appeared in nine games in 2014, and is sure to make an impact in 2015.

3. Sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan

McMillan made an instant impact last season as a true freshman, collecting 54 total tackles and playing in all but one game in 2014.

He is the odds-on favorite to take over for Curtis Grant at the middle linebacker position and could possibly be even better than the graduating senior.

McMillan was constantly subbed in for Curtis Grant on passing downs last season and was clearly the better athlete. Don’t expect him to get too much playing time on Saturday, but watch to see how he communicates with his teammates as the new signal caller on defense.

4. Senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt

Coach Urban Meyer said Monday that Schutt is currently the favorite to replace Bennett on the interior defensive line.

Not quite yet the starter, Schutt has struggled throughout his OSU career battling injuries along with a lack of playing time. He has accumulated just 17 total tackles in his first three years as a Buckeye.

The reason to watch him is not because he is going to be an impact player in the Spring Game, but rather to see how he reacts to being on the cusp of earning a starting job.

5. Sophomore defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes

Meyer said Monday that redshirt-sophomore Tyquan Lewis is the front-runner to replace Miller at defensive end, but Lewis will not play in the Spring Game because of a shoulder injury.

That opens the door for a player like Holmes, who came to OSU as a four-star prospect out of Norfolk, Va.

Holmes played in nine games last season, including the national title win over Oregon, and accumulated 11 tackles in those appearances.

There is a good chance Holmes will play most of the game on Saturday, and a good showing could put make him a dark horse to unseat Lewis from the starting lineup.

Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m., and is set to follow the OSU lacrosse game against Maryland, which is set to start at 11 a.m. at Ohio Stadium.

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