Ohio State football analysis: 3 big questions facing the Buckeyes this spring

Spring football is set to begin at Ohio State this week.

The Buckeyes have many small questions to answer between now and the spring game April 16, but those can be boiled down to three big ones for head coach Ryan Day and his staff.

1. How much progress can be made toward fixing the defense?

New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles might be changing the culture more than anything as his overall structure is not drastically different from what the Buckeyes had been doing for most of the past three seasons.

However, numerous little changes could add up to something big.

A major appeal of Knowles’ system when Day was shopping for a new DC was it having an answer to everything an offense might want to do, but learning all the different aspects of the scheme is expected to take time.

How quickly the basics are absorbed and fits are found at various positions this spring could determine how soon Knowles is able to bring the defense fully online.

That took multiple years at Oklahoma State, but Knowles acknowledged he does not have that much time at his new job.

New secondary coaches Tim Walton and Perry Eliano will also be charged with sorting out who can be relied upon beyond sophomore sensation Denzel Burke at cornerback and safety/tackling machine Ronnie Hickman.

2. What is the next step for the offense?

After another record-setting year, the Ohio State offense looks poised to be as good as ever — if not better.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud, receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, running back TreVeyon Henderson and three starting offensive linemen give Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson building blocks any coach in the country would love to have.

On top of that, all three of those skill players mentioned have room to grow after breakout seasons, and the offensive line could benefit from a new approach under position coach Justin Frye.

Tight end is a question mark with Jeremy Ruckert gone and Cade Stover potentially playing defense, but “super senior” Mitch Rossi and a handful of youngsters give Wilson something to work with.

The bigger question is if Ohio State remains a pass-happy outfit or attempts to regain some of the balance Day has claimed he values.

The Buckeyes only ran the ball about 44 of the time last year, the lowest percentage since 2001 and most likely ever for an Ohio State team, and Day did not seem comfortable relying on that part of the attack in the second half of the season.

No one expects a return of “three yards and a cloud of dust” or even “Tresselball,” but figuring out how to force defenses to respect the run threat without Ohio State sacrificing too many chances for Stroud and his receivers to roast secondaries could be key to determining this team’s ceiling.

3. Who will still be around in August?

Ohio State is over the 85-man scholarship limit by at least a handful, so not everyone who practices with the Buckeyes this spring will be wearing scarlet and gray in the fall.

Speculating specifically about who might be a transfer candidate is irresponsible, but it is hard to ignore the glut of players at multiple positions.

That is especially true on defense, where a two-year search for replacements to some of the stalwarts of a tough 2019 unit has still yielded more questions than answers.

The new scheme will likely require some different skillsets, especially at safety, while there are likely to be fewer snaps for traditional linebackers and defensive ends.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line being under new management means some reshuffling would not be surprising, and those who are not in the two-deep at the end of spring could decide to look elsewhere for the chance to earn playing time.

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