Ohio State Football: 3 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices
Ohio State has to reload after losing 16 starters from last year's team, and with spring practice on the horizon, running back Mike Weber, wide receiver Austin Mack and linebacker Dante Booker have a golden opportunity to lock down a big role for the 2016 season.
The Buckeyes need to identify eight new starters on each side of the ball, and while the roster doesn't need to be set until the first week of September, Urban Meyer and the coaching staff want to enter the summer with a good idea of what their two-deep rotation will look like this fall.
That's why spring drills are so important for underclassmen and players hoping to earn a starting nod.
Here are the three Buckeyes with the most to gain this spring.
The Buckeyes have a tall order in replacing Ezekiel Elliott, the superstar running back who amassed 4,125 total yards and 41 touchdowns as a two-year starter.
With Elliott off to the NFL, Urban Meyer will turn to a deep stable of backs to see if anyone can emerge to carry the load.
Redshirt freshman Mike Weber has a rare opportunity to steal the spotlight.
The 5'10", 215-pound bruiser was shooting up the depth chart in his first fall camp at Ohio State. He was absolutely shredding Ohio State's defense in practice, highlighted by a scrimmage during which he carried the ball about 15 times for nearly 200 yards and "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.
But a torn meniscus suffered two weeks before the season started derailed his momentum, and with Elliott's ability to shoulder the brunt of the work, the Buckeyes redshirted Weber.
The bulldozing ball-carrier is ready to take over, and an unfortunate injury to Curtis Samuel will give the coaches a better chance to evaluate Weber. If he can regain the form he had last fall, he could seal his spot next to J.T. Barrett in Ohio State's backfield.
Ohio State's linebacker unit was hit hard by the graduation of senior leader Joshua Perry and the early defection of Darron Lee, but Urban Meyer has stocked the linebacker cupboard with 4- and 5-star talent.
While Lee's role in the defense as a spread-busting, rush-attacking linebacker will be the hardest to replace, there's also a big void at Perry's former position. Dante Booker has the tools to replace him admirably.
The former 4-star out of Akron, Ohio, has waited his turn behind Perry, and now he's primed to showcase an athleticism that will bring a sharper edge to the Buckeyes defense.
"Dante’s a good athlete, man," returning middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said, via Tony Gerdeman of TheOzone.net. "When he gets on the field, he does some stuff that you all haven’t even seen yet in practice. It’s amazing. One of the fastest guys on defense regardless of position. He just brings that pop."
Booker will battle with former 5-star Justin Hilliard for the spot, but with the speed and seniority he brings to the defense, it's easy to imagine him locking down the spot.
With all three of Ohio State's starting receivers from 2015 currently in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, Ohio State will have to remake its entire perimeter attack in 2016.
One of the biggest pieces to that attack could be true freshman Austin Mack.
The rangy 6'2", 205-pound ball-catcher graduated early to enroll at Ohio State and take part in winter conditioning and spring practice. Even though he hasn't set foot on a practice field for any official reps yet, Urban Meyer already sees something special in his young playmaker.
"Austin Mack is a guy that’s already made an impact in this program," Meyer said, according to Tim Moody of BuckeyeSports.com. "He should probably play this year."
Mack's quarterback had similar praise.
"We have a young freshman, Austin Mack, I think he's going to get some reps. He came in early. He's been grinding out here in the offseason," Barrett said, via Moody. "He's got a little fight in him. That's the thing, when things are hard in our workouts, those are the times you see you're like all right, he's got a little dog in him."
Ohio State has a pair of upperclassmen in Noah Brown and Corey Smith who are coming off leg injuries. Neither will be at full capacity in spring, but both will be big players when they're fully healthy in the fall, so Mack will need to make the most of his opportunities this spring.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.