Ohio State Football: Freshmen Looking to Shine in Buckeyes' Spring Game

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Ohio State Football: Freshmen Looking to Shine in Buckeyes' Spring Game
Credit: 247 Sports

With Urban Meyer at the helm, Ohio State has secured the Big Ten's top recruiting class for three consecutive years. Waves of talent have flooded Columbus, Ohio, and after signing back-to-back classes that ranked No. 2 nationally, the Buckeyes are loaded for another title run in 2014.

Surprisingly, though, that young talent hasn't made a strong impact on the field. Despite Meyer's eagerness to get his young players in the fold, Ohio State has kept a lot of its freshmen on the sideline.

After seeing his team finish the 2013 campaign with consecutive postseason losses, Meyer admitted during a press conference in February that the Buckeyes should have played more of their freshmen. He also vowed to correct that mistake moving forward.

That bodes well for a number of true and redshirt freshman.

Opportunity abounds at Ohio State as the Buckeyes are replacing 10 new starters and a few key reserves this spring. Saturday's spring game will serve as a proving ground for a host of first-year players looking to make an impact.

That starts with the freshmen who redshirted last year.

Cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Eli Apple were both rated 4-star prospects coming out of high school. The Buckeyes could have used that kind of talent in the back end of their defense last yearwhen they ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams in pass defensebut both rode the pine all season.

Al Behrman

This spring, they're breaking out as playmakers.

Meyer recently lamented not playing Conley, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.

Gareon Conley should have played last year. That’s Gareon’s fault and our fault, and the position coach’s fault, if we’re going to sit here and blame, which I’m not doing. But we’re counting on these guys to go play.

This spring, when Ohio State works its nickel defense, Conley is the second cornerback opposite Doran Grant, according to Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.net.

Apple is surging as well. During Ohio State's scrimmage last Saturday, he snagged two interceptions and made a number of impact plays.

Strong spring-game showings will give them momentum before summer conditioning drills.

The same goes for other redshirt freshmen such as linebacker Darron Lee, defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, center Billy Price and quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Jay LaPrete
With Braxton Miller sidelined, J.T. Barrett will get a lot of work in Ohio State's spring game.

Specifically, Leewho has impressed the coaching staff with his intensity and energy this springhas secured a spot in Ohio State's starting linebacker rotation. Barrett is battling with redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to be Braxton Miller's backup.

One lasting impression this Saturday, whether it's a positive or negative one, will have a big impact on the pecking order this fall.

That's when a majority of Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class will join the team, but seven members of that heralded group enrolled early to take part in spring drills.

It didn't take long for some of Ohio State's true freshmen to start turning heads.

Curtis Samuel, a 4-star athlete who came out of high school as an all-purpose back, has thrived in his role as a pure running back. Samuel has showcased his "electric" speed in practice, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown run during last Saturday's scrimmage.

Jay LaPrete
Johnnie Dixon could work his way into Ohio State's wide receiver rotation.

Four-star wide receiver Johnnie Dixon is another offensive weapon who is showing out. According to Eric Seger of The Lantern, senior wide receiver Devin Smith said that Dixon has "really turned some eyes."

But it's 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan—the crown jewel of Ohio State's 2014 class—that has the most to gain.

McMillan is currently working as Curtis Grant's backup at middle linebacker, but defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said that age won't be a factor if he can truly beat out the senior for the starting spot.

To McMillan's credit, he's just trying to pair his incredible physical tools with a solid knowledge of Ohio State's playbook, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer.

“I have a good chance to start, but it’s all going to be wasted if I don’t put in the work right now,” McMillan said. “I can’t be out on the field if I don’t really know what’s going on out there.”

By all accounts, McMillan has looked very good this spring. He, along with some other eager freshmen, will look to showcase that on Saturday.

 

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.

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