Ohio State football coach Ryan Day identified three ares of concern for him as the Buckeyes concluded spring football Saturday.
“I think the offensive line, we have four guys to replace there, so that’s somewhere we’ll probably be the least experienced,” he said after watching the Gray beat the Scarlet in the annual spring game at Ohio Stadium. “That and quarterback are the two for me.”
Then, perhaps remembering he is the head coach now rather than just offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, he added a position group from the other side of the ball.
"I think that our linebackers have to really produce this year, so that will be an emphasis point,’ he said, “but when you look at it, those guys have played a lot of football, so I think they’re embracing the scheme. I think we have good depth there, and we’re going to have to play well and play veteran.”
The challenges for each group are unique.
Thayer Munford, who started at left tackle as a sophomore last season and missed spring ball because of an undisclosed injury, is the only returning starter on the offensive front.
However, Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis finished last year strong as redshirt freshmen and carried that momentum into the spring, when Myers ascended to starting center and Davis grabbed the right guard job.
Josh Alabi, last year’s No. 3 tackle as a junior, also moved up while being pushed by Nicholas Petit-Frere, a five-star prospect in the class of 2018.
Another senior-to-be, Branden Bowen, has starting experience at guard but could end up being the starting right tackle this fall.
So while the offensive line will look much different than last season, coach Greg Studrawa has five options he has coached for at least two years with the highly-regarded Petit-Frere wild card. He also gets Jonah Jackson, a senior grad transfer who earned All-Big Ten recognition last year at Rutgers, to work into the mix this fall.
The linebackers have even more experience but also perhaps more uncertainty.
While all three starters — Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner — plus key reserve Barron Browning return, they are under new management following an inconsistent season overall for the unit.
Coach Al Washington brings fresh eyes (and teachings) to a position group that includes three highly regarded players from the 2018 class — Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughn Pope — eager to earn playing time, so the incumbents likely aren’t as safe as they typically would be.
Complicating matters more is a move to a new scheme that might rely on only two linebackers most of the time, leaving Washington with less playing time to divvy up than his predecessor.
And yet all the experience available to Studrawa and Washington has to leave Day and new quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich envious.
Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin not only have no starting experience, the two members of the class of 2018 have limited worthwhile practice time at Ohio State.
Fields is learning a new scheme after transferring from Georgia in January, and Baldwin is trying to catch up after recovery from a high school knee injury limited him as a true freshman at Ohio State last fall.
“The guys we have here should have been in high school this time last year, so they don’t have that body of work,” Day said. “They’re still growing. They’re still making mistakes, so to say we know who they are in terms of a finished product, they still have a long way to go.”