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Football: What three things to watch for heading into spring practice

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The ref rules OSU freshman wide receiver Binjimen Victor’s (9) catch a touchdown during the second half of the Buckeyes 62-3 win against Maryland on Nov. 12. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

As the Ohio State football team gears up for spring practice this week, the Buckeyes look to replace some key components at multiple positions while also enshrining a new offensive coordinator. From the start of practice on March 7 to the annual spring game on April 16, the Buckeyes make their first steps toward the 2017 season that will bring the same heightened expectations of competing for a national championship, despite several players departing early for the NFL draft.

There are three particular storylines heading into spring practice that will have an integral impact on the 2017 season.

Kevin Wilson

The lack of explosion in OSU’s offensive attack last season was inexcusable to the fanbase. While an appearance in the College Football Playoff is impressive, the Buckeye offense was underwhelming on the biggest stages.

As former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson comes in to replace Tim Beck and Ed Warinner, who left for Texas and Minnesota, respectively, his effect on the young Buckeye offense during spring practice should be a wakeup call for an offense that possesses the tools necessary to average 500 yards of offense per game.

At Indiana, Wilson’s offenses continually put up commendable stats against Big Ten opponents with lesser-recruited talent. Indiana averaged 6 yards per play in 2013 and 2015.

In the final season with redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, Wilson is arriving at precisely the right time for the offense. Veterans like redshirt junior wide receiver Parris Campbell along with redshirt junior wideout Terry McLaurin could thrive with this change of system, alongside younger receivers like redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill and sophomores Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack. OSU also brings in three 6-foot-4, true freshman wide receivers who will arrive in Columbus in the summer.

The production of redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber, and possibly, sophomore Demario McCall at H-back, should supplement Wilson’s offense in OSU’s journey to recalibrate the offense back to what is was under former offensive coordinator Tom Herman in 2014.

Linebacker leader

As Raekwon McMillan prepares for the NFL draft — one of six early departures for OSU — the defense must replace its former strength and its unquestioned leader on that side of the ball.

When then-junior linebacker Dante Booker went down with a lingering injury last fall, the emergence of now-junior linebacker Jerome Baker in the latter part of the season was crucial for the Buckeye defense.

Alongside Baker and McMillan was then-redshirt junior Chris Worley, who had a formidable season with 69 tackles and 4.5 for loss.

Realistically, Booker, Baker and Worley could play each linebacker position, but the coaching staff will have to determine who the face of that unit will be.

Secondary overhaul

Following the 2016 season, the OSU secondary had several holes to fill. Eli Apple was a top-10 pick for the New York Giants, Vonn Bell went in the second round to the New Orleans Saints and Tyvis Powell joined with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.

Fast forward to this spring and the Buckeyes must replace another three first-round potential athletes from the secondary. Safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley are off pursuing their NFL dreams, as another talented group joins the fray.

Senior safety Damon Webb and junior cornerback Denzel Ward return as starters, leaving another two spots to be filled. Redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette also contributed to the secondary, amassing 21 total tackles.

Junior cornerback Eric Glover-Williams is transitioning from the secondary to the wide-receiver room.

OSU also welcomes in three of the top defensive back recruits in the country — Jeffrey Okudah, Kendall Sheffield and Shaun Wade.

Sheffield is transferring from Blinn College, a Texas junior college,  and could realistically start in his first season with the Buckeyes. Okudah and Wade could also be major contributors at those spots in the fall. Along with those three new enrollees, the Buckeyes signed four other defensive back recruits.

Sophomore safety Jordan Fuller is viewed as the most likely replacement for Hooker.

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