10 Biggest Questions I have as OSU enters fall camp
Tuesday, Aug. 3 starts the daily grind for Ohio State. And while no team has quite the extent of questions in preseason 2021 as it did back in preseason 2020, this year certainly presents its fair share for the Buckeyes. Here’s a few things on our mind as OSU gets down to business — and our preliminary attempt at answering the big questions.
1) Who’s the QB?
It’s always a question, but especially so for an OSU team looking to replace Justin Fields and returning zero career passing attempts for the first time since 1952. Who’s triggering the offense? Redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller each saw a handful of snaps in 2020, while true frosh Kyle McCord might have the highest upside of the group.
Stroud seems to have the inside track, but the starter in game one might not be the man all season.
2) Are we going to see more 4-2-5 on defense?
Ohio State basically replaces its entire linebacker corps, which led to plenty of 4-2-5 alignment in the spring game due to depth issues. That said, given that the Buckeyes allowed 307 passing yards per game last year, seeing that fifth DB/hybrid player on the field more frequently feels like a natural. Ronnie Hickman and Craig Young both played well there in the spring game, and yes, both will see more action at the “Buckeye” position in the fall.
3) Who’s in the slot?
With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson slated to play outside, the Buckeyes have to replace Wilson’s reps in the slot from 2020. There are plenty of talented pass catchers who could fit the role (true freshman Emeka Egbuka, for one), but sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba looked the most ready for immediate playing time in the spring. Smith-Njigba seems like he’s good for 40-50 catches and a half-dozen touchdowns in 2021.
4) What will the running back rotation look like?
Returning veteran Master Teague has battled his share of injuries, but he’s the experienced guy of this group. Freshman TreVeyon Henderson (feature photo, spring game) could be the best OSU frosh RB since at least J.K. Dobbins, and perhaps some guy named Clarett. Punishing runner Miyan Williams could also be big in power situations. Henderson looks like the guy by the end of the year, but it’ll probably be plenty of running-back-by-committee, especially early. September could see all three of these backs put up 100-yard efforts.
5) How much improvement should we expect from Kerry Coombs’s second defense?
After a season when pass defense was noticeably OSU’s weakest link, 2nd-year coordinator Kerry Coombs might not be the most popular man in Columbus. That said, it was a perfect storm for Coombs’s secondary, which was short on experience and then, due to COVID, short on practice time. Things will be better. How much better? How about a move from over 300 passing yards allowed per game to more like 220 and an uptick in interceptions from 7 (just under 1 per game) to 20ish (or around 2 per game)?
6) Who will lead the unknown linebacker corps?
If anybody recently at OSU ever thought about playing linebacker, they graduated, went pro, or otherwise left the team. OK, that’s not QUITE true, but when your numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 tacklers are gone — and all from the linebacking group — it feels that way. The good news is that junior Dallas Gant has stepped up and looks to have assumed the middle linebacker role. There’s plenty of depth, but especially with more of the 4-2-5, look for Gant to be the man at linebacker … and for the group as a whole to perform just fine.
7) Who’s the second corner playing across from Sevyn Banks?
Coming into the spring, Cameron Brown might have been the likely suspect to fill the other spot. But he’s still coming back to healthy after a late 2020 Achilles tear, and that might be a little optimistic. Senior Ryan Watts might be the safe pick, but freshman Cameron Martinez might just sneak into the starting role. If he’s not the second corner, he might well be the third safety. Guy’s just too athletic to keep off the field.
8) Are the new kickers ready for prime time?
OSU has been lucky enough to not need many big field goals lately, and 2020 was no exception. Starter Blake Haubeil was 5-for-7 in his final collegiate season.
RS freshman Jake Seibert is now the lone scholarship kicker at OSU, but his consistency has been a concern. He was 1-for-2 last year, and missed a pair of field goal tries in the OSU spring game. Meanwhile, frosh punter Jesse Mirco, likewise the only scholarship recipient at his position, punted like a fish out of water in the spring game, whacking two sub-30 yard punts. That can’t continue.
There’s no real competition for either guy long term, but OSU can be forgiven for hoping they’ll not be relying on a big kick, particularly early in the season. Because out of the gate, these kickers aren’t game-changers yet — at least not in a good way.
9) Can the Buckeyes open up the kick return game in 2021?
It seems so simple. With a devastating mix of elite athletes, OSU should be able to plug in one of many and simply wait for big plays in the kick return game. Right? Well, actually, past evidence suggests otherwise. OSU totaled under 100 yards in kick returns and had just 62 punt return yards, but again, extra practice and reps allows more time for special teams to improve, and State should be better in the return game this season. In particular, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba stand out as a couple of potential stars who could take a kick or three to the house.
10) Which true freshmen will be ready for Week 1 action?
OSU tends not to rely too heavily on true freshmen. Given some of the gaps on this team (and some of the crazy talent in this recruiting class), that feels hard to avoid. It would not be surprising to see as many as 8-10 true freshmen in the initial two-deep depth chart before the opener at Minnesota. A few guys who will see the field from day one and perhaps from snap one are defensive end Jack Sawyer, aforementioned running back Henderson, and impressive receiver Egbuka (7 catches for 123 yards in the spring game), who will see plenty of action in the slot. Linebacker Reid Carrico is yet another new face who won’t be new for very long.