Ohio State Football: 5 Buckeyes Who Could Surprise This Spring
Exactly 100 days ago, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes were putting the finishing touches on an undefeated season with a 26-21 victory over the Michigan Wolverines.
Tomorrow, the Buckeyes will take the field for the first time since that victory with the first of 15 spring practices.
With the official start of a new season underway in Columbus, a number of Buckeyes will have the opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff and on their teammates this spring. Meyer and the Buckeyes will need to find nine new starters—7 on defense, 2 on offense—before their season-opening game against the Buffalo Bulls on August 31.
Here are five Buckeyes who could rise up and surprise with big performances this spring.
Rod Smith, Running Back
Smith was relegated mainly to spot-duty in 2012 as Carlos Hyde's primary backup, but there were times when he looked like the best running back on the team last year.
The soon-to-be junior only got 32 carries in 2012, but he made the most of them by averaging 6.7 yards per rush (the highest average on the team among players with at least 30 carries). His best rushing performance came against Penn State, where he ran the ball just four times, but for 48 yards.
If his fumbling issues can be worked out, Smith could push Hyde for some serious playing time this year.
Jeff Heuerman, Tight End
Heuerman was listed as a co-starter with Nick Vannett in 2012, but the junior tight end could have a huge year in 2013.
Not only will he (and all of Ohio State's pass catchers) benefit from having an improved passer behind center, but Heuerman is turning heads with the work he has put in this offseason.
According to former Ohio State right tackle Reid Fragel, Heuerman has been hitting the weights this winter:
Fragel later went on to tweet that Heuerman could go on to have Rob Gronkowski-like production for the Buckeyes, and while it might be a little early for a statement like that, he could have a breakout year in 2013.
Curtis Grant, Linebacker
With the number of young linebackers hungry for playing time behind him, it could be now or never for Grant in 2013.
The former 5-star linebacker (according to Rivals) won the middle linebacker spot last year, but lost his place on the defense after a lackluster start to the season in 2012. With his replacement (Zach Boren) graduated, he'll have one more chance to prove to the coaches he's ready.
Grant has all the physical tools to be an outstanding linebacker, but he hasn't figured out how to pair it with the mental side of the game.
Tommy Schutt, Defensive Tackle
The Buckeyes lost all four starters along the defensive line to graduation and the NFL draft, so it will be imperative for Meyer to rebuild his defensive front.
While the highly-touted sophomore defensive ends like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington get the attention, Tommy Schutt is just as important to the unit.
Schutt was scarcely used in Ohio State's d-line rotation last year, but he played well when he saw the field. Schutt could be paired inside with Michael Bennett on the defensive line, and if he can build on the flashes he showed last year, the Buckeyes won't have as hard of a time replacing Johnathan Hankins.
Eli Apple, Cornerback
Outside of Bradley Roby and Doran Grant, the Buckeyes have no one with legitimate game experience at corner.
That's why incoming freshman Eli Apple, who graduated high school early to enroll in college this winter, has a golden opportunity this spring.
With the rise of the spread offense in college football, teams need fast corners who excel in man-to-man coverage. Apple is the kind of player who can thrive on an island, with coverage skills that should earn him a serious look from the coaching staff this spring.
If Apple can pick up on the playbook and adjust to the speed of the game at this level, he could make an early mark for a Buckeyes team that desperately needs depth at the position.
Who else could have a breakout spring in 2013? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or continue the conversation with me on Twitter.
David is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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