Ohio State Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistApril 2, 2014

Ohio State Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

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    Jay LaPrete

    The Ohio State Buckeyes need 10 new starters for the 2014 season and with spring practice winding to a close, the competition is heating up.

    While the Buckeyes are fortunate to return senior quarterback Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer will need to replace Carlos Hyde (the team's leading rusher), Corey Brown (the leading receiver) and Ryan Shazier (the top tackler), along with a host of leaders from the offensive line and secondary.

    Here's a breakdown of Ohio State's spring position battles.

Backup Quarterback

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    One of the most important spring battles isn't even for a starting spot.

    The Buckeyes need to replace Kenny Guiton, the backup quarterback who became one of the most reliable safety nets in college football over the last two years. 

    With Braxton Miller's injury history, having a reliable backup is imperative for Meyer and the Buckeyes.

    Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett are the top candidates.

    Jones has the edge in experience—he played in three games last season—and that has helped him pull ahead of Barrett this spring, according to John Brandon of Eleven Warriors.

    "[Jones is] one of the most improved players on the team," Meyer said. "He's clearly the number two."

    Barrett, a former 4-star dual-threat quarterback from the 2013 class, still has time to make up some ground, but he'll need to make a move soon.

Running Back

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    Michael Conroy

    How will Ohio State replace one of the most productive running backs in school history?

    That process started on the recruiting trail years ago, and now, the Buckeyes have a stable of ball-carriers to evaluate.

    With five able and willing bodies, running backs coach Stan Drayton knows that it might be a group effort.

    "They've got big shoes to fill," Drayton said, according to Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "And if it takes more than one of them to fill that type of, to get that type of productivity we got from Carlos, then we'll do it."

    Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott entered the spring with all the momentum, but there have been times this spring when he has looked like a freshman. That has opened the door for senior Rod Smith, who is a stronger runner more comparable to Hyde.

    Behind those two are a pair of former 4-star recruits from the 2012 class in Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. But a true freshman who enrolled early for spring practice—Curtis Samuel—has impressed the coaches in practice.

    While those three are all very talented, Elliott and Smith are leading the charge.

Wide Receiver

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    Jeff Haynes

    When you take away Corey Brown's contributions, Ohio State's receiving corps faltered greatly in the final three games of the 2013 season, catching just six passes for 76 yards.

    With Brown's graduation, Ohio State will need to replace the most stabilizing presence in the unit. Urban Meyer is turning to one of the team's most electric playmakers to do just that.

    According to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts, Dontre Wilson has taken over Brown's spot in spring practice.

    Wilson flashed in a limited role as a true freshman last year, piling up 460 total yards and three touchdowns. Frequently, though, he found himself as a decoy to distract the defense rather than running away from it with his electric speed, but that should change this season.

    The former 4-star prospect has been lighting it up this spring, though, which explains his expanded role.

Offensive Line

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller grabbed the headlines last season after rushing for a combined 2,589 yards and 27 touchdowns, but it was Ohio State's offensive line, which boasted four senior starters, that paved the way for that success.

    Those four senior starters are gone, leaving the Buckeyes with a major overhaul in the trenches.

    The sole returning starter—Taylor Decker—has switched from right tackle to left tackle. Darryl Baldwin, the senior and former defensive lineman, has been penciled in at right tackle.

    With the edges taken care of, Meyer has turned to Pat Elflein to anchor the interior at right guard. Elflein shined when he was forced into the action against Michigan following Marcus Hall's fight and ejection. He went on to start against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game a week later, helping the Buckeyes rush for 273 yards against the tough Spartans defense.

    On the other side at left guard, a pair of juniors in Antonio Underwood and Chase Farris are battling. Underwood has been working with the first team, according to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.

    In the middle of it all, there's still no clear starter. Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors reported that it's a "toss-up" between Jacoby Boren and Billy Price for the center position and with spring practice nearing an end, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that competition extend to fall camp.

Outside Linebacker

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    All-American Ryan Shazier won't be back to pace Ohio State's defense, so Urban Meyer has turned to another starter to fill his shoes.

    Joshua Perry, who manned Ohio State's strong-side linebacker position last year, will move over to fill the void left by Shazier. In his new role, Perry will be able to attack the ball more, as opposed to the heavy coverage duties he had last year.

    "It's a little bit new. We're downhill, we're reacting, and in the pass game we're trying to get hands on guys," Perry said, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer. "I love it." 

    Perry has been one of the team's most improved players this spring, and he'll need to show that this fall to replace Shazier.

    When the Buckeyes need a third linebacker to play alongside Perry and middle linebacker Curtis Grant, they'll turn to Darron Lee, who has surged this spring. The redshirt freshman is new to the position after playing quarterback and safety at high school, but Meyer loves the intensity and effort he has shown in practice this spring.

Defensive Back

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Like the offensive line, Ohio State's secondary will only return one starter this season.

    Doran Grant is back at cornerback and replacing All-Big Ten performer Bradley Roby will be Armani Reeves on the other side. The Buckeyes need new safeties as well and according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, sophomores Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell emerged as the top choices.

    Bell's spring was short lived, however. The sophomore sprained his MCL during Ohio State's first spring practice, which required surgery. Cam Burrows has stepped up in Bell's absence, though, and he's playing at a high level, according to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.

    Redshirt freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are also getting a long look from the coaching staff. Both are former 4-star prospects from the 2013 class, and they have the talent to make a run at Reeves for the second cornerback spot.

    All stats via NCAA.com. All recruiting information via 247Sports.com.

    David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
    Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.