Urban Meyer and his coaching staff are going to have some tough decisions to make before the Ohio State football team runs onto the Ohio Stadium field on August 31.
There are several position battles that will continue well into fall camp. With camp having just started on August 5, Meyer and company will have plenty time to evaluate and find suitable replacements for departed talents like offensive tackle Reid Fragel, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, linebacker Zach Boren and defensive end John Simon.
Running back will also be a position to monitor as pegged starter Carlos Hyde will serve a three-game suspension to begin the season.
Let’s take a look at who will be competing and what to expect over the next few weeks while everything is being decided.
Candidates: Curtis Grant, Camren Williams, Trey Johnson, Mike Mitchell
Zach Boren wasn’t supposed to be the starting middle linebacker for the 2012 Buckeyes. Curtis Grant began the season in that spot, only to lose the job after poor showings to begin the season. From the look of things, Grant is refocused and prepared to earn the job this fall, but it’s hard to count on him after he disappeared last season.
Camren Williams initially will be his biggest challenger, but hasn’t done very much to date to prove he can handle the task.
Freshmen Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell have high upside, entering the mix as two of the six linebackers on scholarship in the program. If things don’t go as planned with Grant and Williams, one of these two have an outside shot to win the job with an impressive showing in August.
Candidates: Tommy Schutt, Michael Bennett, Chris Carter, Joel Hale
Replacing the production of a player like Hankins won’t be easy. The massive man in the middle was more than just a gap filler for Meyer’s defense last season, he was a disruptive force in the middle who opposing teams had to gameplan for.
If Michael Bennett can stay healthy, there’s a chance his athleticism and quickness would be too appealing for Meyer to pass up. While not as big of a presence as Hankins physically, he plays quick and could prove to be a disruptive force in that mold.
"We need Michael Bennett," defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett needs some confidence in himself and he's gaining it...He has to stay healthy and take care of his body."
Tommy Schutt has shown some promise and will be expected to step up after contributing as a freshman. Likewise, veteran Joel Hale will also be relied on for minutes, but neither project well as the team’s starter.
Chris Carter is another intriguing option for the Bucks. The redshirt sophomore is a big presence at 6’4”, 341 pounds, and could see some time in the defensive line rotation after a good showing during spring camp.
Candidates: Taylor Decker, Chase Farris
Fragel, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round of April’s NFL draft, started all 12 games for the Buckeyes at right tackle last season. The team’s offensive line will return four starters who played 827 of the team’s 837 offensive snaps last season, according to David Briggs of The Blade.
Continuity among those veterans will be important to help in the transition from Fragel to either Taylor Decker or Chase Farris, both sophomores.
Decker seems to have a leg up in the competition heading into camp, but don’t count Farris out quite yet. Meyer lauded him for his work on the practice field while serving as a second-team offensive tackle last season, according to Ben Axelrod of BuckeyeGrove.com.
Candidates: Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn
Carlos Hyde may very well bounce back from his suspension to recapture the starting running back position, but someone needs to tote the ball out of the backfield in his absence.
Jordan Hall is the real X-factor of the group of potential candidates. Meyer has utilized him in the H-back role when healthy, and that’s likely where he’ll stay. Hall was utilized throughout spring practices in that role, but could see some action at running back in the fall if necessary.
Of the others, junior Rod Smith appears to be the front runner to take over the duties until Hyde can return. Despite some ball-security issues, Smith has proven to be a well-rounded threat out of the backfield. He ended the spring practices as the No. 2 back behind Hyde, so it makes sense he will step in during his absence.
Bri’onte Dunn is a highly-touted sophomore who brings a little bit of a different skill-set to the table. At 6'0", 222 pounds, Dunn is more of a plodder than the others of the group. He can make plays, but he’s better between the tackles. That alone gives him the potential to see some action early on with Hyde gone.