COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State will host its annual spring football game Saturday at noon, which will include tackling.
Below are five things to watch for during a head-to-head battle between the offense and defense.
#1 Honoring Dwayne Haskins
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes will hold a moment of silence for former quarterback Dwayne Haskins who tragically died last Saturday.
Day said OSU will hold a moment of silence prior to the national anthem and show a video tribute of Haskins just before halftime. The team will also wear “DH” decals on their helmets.
#2 First look at Jim Knowles’ defense
It’s not a secret how much Ohio State’s defense struggled last year. As a result, Day overhauled the unit. Only defensive line coach Larry Johnson returned while Kerry Coombs was replaced at defensive coordinator by Jim Knowles. Day said he wanted a head coach for the defense, and he believes Knowles can do just that in Columbus after spending four years as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator.
During a press conference Thursday, Day said the defense will focus on fundamentals without showing too much of what Knowles has installed throughout spring camp. A few weeks ago, Knowles said he expects 75% of his defensive schemes will be installed by the spring game.
Knowles is also the linebackers’ coach, but has said it will be a safety-driven team with four safeties on the field at once more often than not. That means only two players will play a traditional linebacker role.
Only Steele Chambers appears to be a lock-at-will linebacker because of his size and versatility. That leaves one spot up for grabs, which will be a competition between Teradja Mitchell, Tommy Eichenberg, Cody Simon, Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum and true freshman C.J. Hicks.
Knowles and Day have both raved about Eichenberg’s development since his impressive Rose Bowl game, so keep an eye out to see who starts the spring game and which player stands out in a crowded field.
The other open position is a “Jack” — a crossover between defensive end and linebacker. That role could be filled by any number of players including, but not limited to, Mitchell Melton, Jack Sawyer and Palaie Gaoteote.
#3 Lack of depth at offensive line
Day has repeatedly said this spring that his biggest concern has been a lack of depth at offensive line. The starting five is already in place, which will look like this:
Starters: OT Dawand Jones, OG Donovan Jackson, C Luke Wypler, OG Matt Jones, OT Paris Johnson.
Four out of five of those players saw regular playing time last season, including three returning starters. But Day said he thinks only six players are capable of playing on Saturdays right now, so look to see if any young Bucks or hungry veterans stand out against Johnson’s talented defensive line.
#4 Defensive line should dominate
The defensive line may be the most talented position group at Ohio State and Day believes it can rotate players three-deep.
The unit was fairly criticized for an inability to stop the run and rush the passer in big games, but how much of that should be blamed on Coombs? We’ll find out this season because OSU returns all but two regular players: defensive end Tyreke Smith and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
At defensive end, captain Zach Harrison returns as the leader along with senior Javontae Jean-Baptiste. They’ll rotate in and out plenty with Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau who saw the field a good bit as true freshman last year. Tyler Friday also returns this season after missing all of last year due to injury.
The Buckeyes are equally scary at defensive tackle with the return of senior leaders Jerron Cage and Taron Vincent. The rotation also includes second-year players Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall as well as third-year rushman Ty Hamilton and true freshman Caden Curry who’s already lost his black stripe.
#5 Open position battles
There are two positions with the most competition this season: tight end and safety. Even though OSU will play four safeties, two have already transferred, including Bryson Shaw who was OSU’s starting free safety when Josh Proctor went down with a season-ending injury in week 2.
Two starting safety spots should already be locked in: Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister. Ronnie “Rocket” Hickman exploded onto the scene last year and finished 2021 as OSU’s leading tackler. He has a knack for making plays and being around the football, which is required in Jim Knowles’ defense.
McCalister is new to Ohio State but a veteran on the field. He spent four years with Knowles at Oklahoma State and his talent, along with understanding of what Knowles wants, makes him well equipped to start.
So who does that leave for the other two spots? Josh Proctor will play Saturday but will not be able to participate when Ohio State starts tackling. Lathan Ransom suffered a gruesome leg injury in the Rose Bowl and won’t be available until the summer, which is giving other players a chance to stand out. That includes quarterback turned safety Cam Martinez who played regularly last season, veteran Kourt Williams III and true freshmen Kye Stokes and Sonny Styles, the latter of which will join the team in the summer.
The other position group worth noting is tight end. It’s the most inexperienced unit on the team after losing Jeremy Ruckert to the NFL. Last week, C.J. Stroud said one player to watch for is tight end Joe Royer who’s competing with Mitch Rossi, Gee Scott, Cade Stover and Bennett Christian. Scott, Royer and Christian are the best pass catchers among the five while Stover and Rossi are the superior blockers. OSU uses 12 personnel a fair amount (2 tight ends), so it could be any combination of those five players on the field this season.
Tickets for the Ohio State spring game cost $7 each and are available at this link.