Position change could bolster Buckeyes’ defense against physical Utes

LOS ANGELES -- The Ohio State defense’s efforts to stop Utah in the Rose Bowl could get a boost from the other side of the ball.

When reporters were allowed to watch practice, Cade Stover was spotted practicing with the linebackers instead of the tight ends.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said that move was made in the short term because of a lack numbers at linebacker, but it could become permanent.

“We just thought the defensive guys were a little shy of some body types with the injuries,” said Wilson, who also coaches the tight ends.

He expects Joe Royer, a redshirt freshman from Cincinnati, to step up at tight end.

He will be the No. 2 tight end behind senior Jeremy Ruckert while senior Mitch Rossi will continue to play a hybrid role as a fullback or H-back in various sets.

Gee Scott Jr., a converted wide receiver, also figures to get some time as he continues to grow into his new position.

“So we thought we’ve got enough guys to manage a one-week deal, and then with recruiting we’ll decide what to do,” Wilson said of Stover’s future.

“My opinion, personally I’ve had a a lot of fun with him because I love him. So I do everything I can to give him grief because when I love you, I do everything I can to grief you a little bit.”

Stover was Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2019 as a senior at Mansfield Lexington High School. He arrived as a four-star linebacker prospect but soon moved to defensive end. He switched sides last year and has proven to be a stout blocker while learning the finer points of running routes as a tight end.

He’s caught five passes for 76 yards this season.

At 6-foot-5 and 255pounds, he has the body-type to play in the NFL — if he can find a position.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and he’s brought a lot of energy to the defense,” Wilson said. “I think playing offense has helped him understand some offensive looks and his anticipation is better. He’s practiced well, so it will be interesting to see how the defensive guys use him.”

Ohio State is thin at linebacker after seniors K’Vaughn Pope and Dallas Gant left the team in the middle of the season. Redshirt freshman Mitchell Melton has been out all year with an injury while senior Teradja Mitchell and sophomore Cody Simon also battled nagging injuries.

Mitchell, Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers and USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote were seen practicing Tuesday. Simon was among numerous players who were not, so his status for the game is uncertain.

As for tight end, Wilson said the goal is to have five players at the position in a given season.

The Rose Bowl will be Ruckert’s last game as a Buckeye, but Rossi might take advantage of the NCAA’s granting an extra year of eligibility to players who went through the pandemic season of 2020.

Royer, Scott, freshman Sam Hart and incoming freshman Bennett Christian are set to be part of the group next season, but the team could add a player via transfer as well.

Other notable absences from practice on Tuesday were senior nickel back Marcus Williamson, cornerback Sevyn Banks and a handful of defensive linemen.

Running back Master Teague III, who was in and out of the lineup with an unidentified injury in the second half of the season, was practicing, as was freshman receiver Emeka Egbuka, who missed the last two games.

Egbuka and classmate Marvin Harrison Jr. are likely to play big roles in the Rose Bowl with top receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson opting not to play.

Wilson will also have to be replaced at punt returner. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cam Martinez and Demario McCall were seen returning punts in practice.


Utah vs. Ohio State, 5 p.m., ESPN, 1410

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