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Football: Tuesday Take: A look at the top 2017 position battles

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OSU sophomore offensive lineman Isaiah Prince (59) walks off the field following the Buckeyes 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

The 2016 Fiesta Bowl highlighted major needs for Ohio State’s coaching staff. OSU coach Urban Meyer made those changes. But because of Meyer, the Buckeyes will have to make more difficult alterations to its starting roster.

When a program has a coach with the national prowess Meyer possesses, that program is blessed with four- and five-star recruits continually flooding into its facilities. In the same breath, those recruits can develop more rapidly than others and leave the program early, creating a hole to be filled before next fall. Meyer had this problem in 2016 and has it once again in 2017. But, per usual, he has the class to replace standouts.

Either generated from early departures or under development, here are three positions to keep an eye on heading into spring practice on March 7.

Cornerback

Each year at OSU, Meyer has had to replace at least one starter at cornerback. This year, he will have to replace both starters. However, the way he and the defensive coaches treated the cornerback position last year and on the recruiting trail has set the Buckeyes up for success.

One-year starter Marshon Lattimore and two-year starter Gareon Conley were menacing throughout the season defending opposing wide receivers — there’s no denying that. But what many casual observers of the Buckeyes might forget from 2016 is that the rotation at cornerback included now-junior cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward played in several crucial moments for the Buckeyes, including overtime against Michigan and Wisconsin.

He had 23 tackles and nine pass break-ups.

Aside from Ward, the 2017 cornerback class will make an impact, likely having at least one starter. Former junior college and Alabama transfer Kendall Sheffield is expected to be the leader of the pack, having experience already at a Division I school. The top-two cornerback recruits in the country, freshmen Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade, also will be in major contention for the starting gig opposite Ward.

Right tackle

2016 was perhaps the most underwhelming season the offensive line has had with Meyer as head coach. There was plenty of finger-pointing to go around, and much of that went to junior Isaiah Prince at right tackle.

The OSU offensive line struggled in games that trotted out NFL talent on the defensive front. Against Penn State, Michigan and Clemson, the OSU offensive line allowed a combined average of more than 5.5 sacks and more than 11.5 tackles for loss per game. Prince had difficulties in all those games and opponents noticed.

Prince and freshman right guard Michael Jordan won their respective jobs on the offensive line not because of excellent performance, but out of necessity because of a lack of development.

In 2017, Meyer has more depth on the offensive line with the arrivals of prestigious offensive line recruits Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford.

Davis and Myers are the more likely of the three freshman to play immediately, but junior college redshirt junior lineman Malcolm Pridgeon will certainly be in front of those two, given he might have started at right tackle before suffering a knee injury in fall camp.

Pridgeon, Davis and Myers are three among others who are in contention for the opening at right tackle (and right guard), however don’t count out Prince as the incumbent despite his lackluster performances. Even the harshest of Buckeye critics would likely agree that camaraderie on the offensive line is more valuable than any other position.

Wide receiver

OSU wanted to be better in the passing game in 2016 even without now-New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas. The passing offense was likely the complete opposite of what the coaching staff envisioned at the beginning of the season. Now it’s the vision of a new offensive staff that will have to adjust without Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown, the team’s top two receivers.

Redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill and sophomore Binjimen Victor are likely the lead candidates to start on the outside and receive the majority of passes from redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett with sophomore Demario McCall, who will likely replace Samuel at H-back. But after that, the competition is fierce, intensified by top freshman wideouts Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris, who are listed at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively.

New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has proved at his other positions that he likes to throw the football downfield — something OSU hasn’t done much the last two seasons. In 2017, wide receivers will prove their worth on receptions 40-plus yards from the line of scrimmage.

Redshirt junior Terry McLaurin, redshirt senior James Clark, sophomore Austin Mack and redshirt junior Parris Campbell also will be in the mix for a by-committee approach at receiver for the Buckeyes.

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