When it comes to the Ohio State offense, the bulk of discussion since the Buckeyes’ national title win in the College Football Playoff has centered around the quarterback competition.
But when OSU takes the Ohio Stadium field on Saturday for its annual Spring Game, redshirt-senior Braxton Miller and redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett will both be sidelined while they recover from shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Of the signal callers with a chance to start, only redshirt-junior Cardale Jones will be fully available, and OSU fans already got a taste of what he can do during the Buckeyes’ three postseason games last year.
Jones will likely play the whole game, but more can be learned from watching the five players on offense listed below than from focusing on the known players like Jones and other returning starters.
1. Redshirt-junior running back Bri’onte Dunn
Junior Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes’ undisputed starting running back, is nursing an injury of his own, and likely won’t be involved on Saturday.
Normally that would leave sophomore Curtis Samuel to take the keys in the OSU backfield, but at least two running backs will be featured prominently and Samuel will likely be playing H-back. So with Elliott’s primary backup catching passes from the slot, Dunn will have a chance to prove what he can do after seeing limited playing time early in his collegiate career.
Dunn made his mark on special teams last year after redshirting as a sophomore and playing minimally as a true freshman. Now he’s getting first-team reps in practice, and could earn a sizeable chunk of playing time with a big day at the ‘Shoe.
2. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Stephen Collier
Jones will be the focus, but the opposite side will be quarterbacked by Collier.
He redshirted last year after being named the Southwest Georgia State Player of the Year in high school, but seems to be the odd man out when it comes to potential playing time. Collier is currently behind Jones, Miller and Barrett, and was a less-heralded recruit than Torrance Gibson and Joe Burrow, who are set to join the Buckeyes this fall.
If he proves himself as a legitimate threat on Saturday, Collier still won’t be in this year’s race for playing time. But he could establish himself as a dependable backup down the line, or prove his worth as a potential starter should he decide to transfer.
3. Redshirt-senior offensive lineman Chase Farris
The OSU offensive line returns four starters from 2014, and Farris has already all but locked up the right tackle position for 2015.
The former defensive lineman played a bit last year, but is approaching his first full season as a starter in his last year with the Buckeyes. He’ll have something to prove with a few younger players behind him in the pecking order who could challenge him for that spot later in the year.
With the other four starters already established, look for Farris to make a statement as a dominant force in Saturday’s exhibition.
4. Tie: Redshirt-freshmen wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell
OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith has already said McLaurin and Campbell aren’t quite ready to be contributors on offense, but the Spring Game could be a chance to showcase their talents.
Both were four-star recruits coming out of high school, according to ESPN, and have a full year of practice with the Buckeyes under their belt. With Evan Spencer and Devin Smith both gone, OSU needs depth at receiver, and might give this young duo a look if one of them stands out.
5. Redshirt-junior running back Warren Ball
Like Dunn, Ball hasn’t had a ton of impact as a Buckeye.
A three-star recruit who came to OSU as a hometown prospect, Ball has totaled just 31 carries for 161 yards in his collegiate career. Now he’s buried behind Elliott, Samuel, Dunn and possibly incoming freshman Mike Weber on the depth chart, and shouldn’t expect an increase in playing time this year.
This spring might be his last-ditch chance to make an impact as a Buckeye, or, like Collier, he could use a big day on Saturday to springboard a transfer to a smaller program.