Ohio State Buckeyes: 4 takeaways from spring practice

With spring football in the rearview mirror at Ohio State, the four-month wait for preseason practice to begin is officially underway.

To kick that off, here are four major takeaways from the way coach Ryan Day’s team finished up spring ball:

1. At quarterback, the leader still appears to be the leader.

Although Day was careful not to give away much about how he views the race to replace Justin Fields, most of the available evidence points to C.J. Stroud being the favorite.

He finished last season as the No. 2 quarterback and was first in line for most of the activities reporters were allowed to view prior to the spring game.

Stroud, a late-bloomer who rose up the recruiting rankings his senior year at Rancho Cucamonga High School in California, did nothing to hurt himself in the spring game. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.

Classmate Jack Miller III had some shaky moments as he completed 17 of 30 passes for 128 yards while true freshman Kyle McCord was 12-for-17 with a pair of touchdowns.

Stroud and McCord both hit deep balls, but big-play ability may not factor into the decision as much as steadiness.

“I think the focus for a lot of people is who is going to be the starter,” Day said. “Well, you can be the starter, but if you’re not ready to go, it’s not going to last for very long, so the race is to get them ready to play.

“If we feel like someone has taken that big of a step ahead and they are ready to play against Minnesota that first week, then we’ll name a starter at that point. If it’s not going to be until the week before, then it’s not going to be until the week before.

2. The receiver room really is that deep.

Veterans Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both caught deep balls, but they were just part of the show.

True freshmen Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. caught seven passes apiece (for 123 and 49 years, respectively) while sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba added five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

With junior speedster Jameson Williams also returning and sophomore Julian Fleming (who missed the spring game) on the mend, coach Brian Hartline should not have any trouble filling out his preferred six-man rotation this fall.

On the flip side…

3. We still don’t know much about the secondary.

The receivers are mostly prospects who were highly regarded in high school.

The same can be said of the cornerbacks and safeties, though, and the jury is still out on them.

It’s just one of 15 days of work, but the defense collectively was credited with five pass breakups in 75 chances in the spring game.

Roen McCullough, a long snapper moonlighting at linebacker, had 20 percent of those (one) while two more were by linemen.

Promising slot safety Lathan Ransom had one while the other went to Craig Young, leaving none for the outside cornerbacks or deep safeties.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Watts had an interception on the opening drive, but he was also beaten on a long pass from McCord to Wilson.

Of course, having a short memory is part of playing cornerback, and Watts will be in the mix when the team reconvenes for preseason camp. Veterans Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks should also be back to full-go at that time, so there are plenty of options, but this will remain a question mark until the pass defense shows improvement in games.

4. The Bullet position could really be a thing this year.

An “athlete” recruit from the class of 2019, Young has the body of a linebacker but was playing in the secondary this spring.

When the spring game roster was published, it had “BLT” next to his name. No, that’s not a sandwich. It stands for “Bullet,” a hybrid position that has been more legend than reality over the past two seasons.

This time there appears to be no doubt it will be a big part of the plans as the 6-3, 228-pound Young has displayed a unique blend of skills that could make that possible.

Joining him at the position is Ronnie Hickman, a safety by trade who is listed at 6-1, 205.

Two years ago, Ohio State had Pete Werner (a linebacker) and Brendon White (a safety) working at the position. While White played only sparingly, Werner’s forays in coverage seemed more like a gimmick or a change of pace to keep the offense honest than a real strategy prong.

This season, that might not be the case.

While it remains to be seen if the Buckeyes can play as much press-man coverage as coordinator Kerry Coombs prefers, the Bullet position could allow him to change coverages without changing personnel.

That makes determining where to go with the ball before the snap more difficult for the opposing quarterback.

The linebacker/safety hybrid position could be even more effective when paired with the slot or cover safety position that has been a big part of the defense since Day became head coach and overhauled the staff in 2019.

Ransom, Cameron Martinez and Marcus Williamson provide at least three intriguing options at the latter position, which calls for a player who can play man coverage, blitz and provide run support.

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