Coming off back-to-back losses to end the 2013 season, the Ohio State football team is looking for a fresh start, a renewed focus and another run at a national title. That starts in less than two weeks when the team officially reports for fall camp.
Urban Meyer has one of the most loaded rosters in college football, and he has one of the most lethal playmakers in Braxton Miller to trigger his explosive offense. With all that talent, there are bound to be a few players who break out and surprise the coaching staff.
Last year, players such as Dontre Wilson, Joey Bosa and Taylor Decker exceeded expectations and solidified their roles during fall camp. Who will be the surprise standouts in 2014?
Wide receiver Jalin Marshall came to Ohio State with high expectations, but a string of injuries prevented him from making an impact on the field.
The coaching staff took a cautious approach with Marshall after he suffered a concussion in fall camp last year. That delayed his development, so the Buckeyes gave him a redshirt to preserve a year. Midway through an impressive spring camp this year, he suffered another setback when he tore his meniscus—an injury that required surgery.
The recovery process was quick, however, and he spent the summer building chemistry with Miller to recover some of the ground he lost in the spring.
Marshall, a 4-star prospect and the No. 35 overall player in 2013, is expected to back Dontre Wilson up at H-back. If he can stay healthy, he has the size (5'11", 205 pounds) to be more effective motioning into Ohio State's interior rushing attack.
After allowing 268 passing yards per game in 2013, the Buckeyes are retooling for a big turnaround this season.
That started with a change in leadership. Meyer brought in Chris Ash, a pass-defense specialist, to be co-defensive coordinator alongside Luke Fickell.
Infusing the secondary with top-level talent was step two in that process, and Meyer did just that with his 2014 class. The Buckeyes signed Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore—the No. 5- and No. 6-ranked cornerbacks, respectively—alongside 4-star safety Erick Smith this February.
The Buckeyes are deep at cornerback, with redshirt freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley backing up the starters, but Meyer doesn't have that same luxury at safety. He knows that Smith is talented enough to come in and contribute right away.
“Erick Smith, he’s a guy I'm really excited to get here,” Meyer said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. "He played corner in the [U.S. Army All-American Bowl], but we plan on putting him at safety. And, once again, immediately [on the depth chart].”
Ohio State has to replace Carlos Hyde, who piled up 1,668 total yards and 18 touchdowns in just 11 games last year.
Ezekiel Elliott is in line for the starting role, according to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, but Bri'onte Dunn has the opportunity to solidify himself as the No. 2 option. He can do that by offering a different running style than Elliott—the tough, hard-nosed style that Hyde used to gash defenses over the last two years.
Dunn is working hard to provide that same toughness, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer.
Carlos, last year, he taught me a lot. He was like a brother to me. All that backs know we have a big gap to fill. Carlos was really good last year, and everybody is working hard to get to that point.
But (my size) helps me a lot. This offseason I have been getting really strong and working hard on my speed and my footwork. That all should carry into next season.
Ohio State has a deep stable of running backs, so Dunn will have to be at his best this fall to avoid being passed on the depth chart.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.