COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s perhaps no greater Ohio State spring game tradition than the breakout performance that no one saw coming.
There seem to be few all-out positional battles that will continue in earnest in pre-season camp. We’ll come out of Saturday’s scrimmage with a pretty strong idea of the 22 starters for the fall. Many, especially on offense, finished last season in those top roles.
Time hasn’t passed, however, to make a lasting impression. The coaches continue to mention players who have sometimes “flashed” this spring. The full-contact scenario at Ohio Stadium gives them a chance to sustain that performance through a practice or quarter and prove they can raise the level of play in their positional group.
Five particular questions still linger for me as spring draws to a close.
Is Evan Pryor more than the No. 3 running back?
Two running backs finish the spring at the top of the depth chart. TreVeyon Henderson is expected to be featured even more this fall than in his impressive freshman season. Miyan Williams looks like a perfectly suited spell who would have a bigger role in many Big Ten teams.
Pryor came to OSU as part of the 2021 class with no illusions of getting ahead of Henderson. However, he also brings the top 100 potential talents to the backfield and a more varied skill set with his potential as a receiver.
A year ago, judging the performance of the ball carriers in the spring game proved difficult due to the lack of tackles. Saturday should provide more clarity on what Pryor can do between tackles and when he meets linebackers in the gaps.
Is CJ Hicks already pushing for stardom?
The nation’s top linebacker prospect arrived in Columbus at the exact time the position was under heavy scrutiny.
Much of the spring discussion focused on the progress of veterans. Ryan Day continued to praise Tommy Eichenberg on Thursday, and he could be locked in as Mike’s starting linebacker. Steele Chambers and Chip Trayanum bring a new kind of athleticism to the Will spot. Reid Carrico and others are trying to carve out a place as Sam in three-linebacker packages.
Hicks, however, has a higher talent load than any of them. A year ago, Jack Sawyer was the top prospect that showed up to the spring game and impressed. As a national five-star top-10 prospect, what can Hicks show in a full tackle scenario on Saturday that changes anticipation for the linebacker position for the season ahead?
What is Jack Sawyer’s Spring Reminder?
How impressive was Sawyer’s performance with three sacks in last year’s game? That arguably overshadowed the quarterback battle for at least a day. It seemed fair to wonder if Sawyer could be one of the Buckeyes’ top three defensive ends — or better — in the fall?
Instead, Sawyer spent most of his first season at the bottom of the rotation. No one questions pass rush skills. His full game, however, was no more ready for the Big Ten than his teammates – or even that of schoolmate JT Tuimoloau, who arrived late in the summer.
The transition from first year to second year can be a period of major growth. We know Sawyer can get into the backfield in a spring game. Will his use of the hybrid Jack position or something else tell us he’s taken the next step?
Who is Ohio State’s eighth-best offensive lineman?
Does it look like hair in four? Well, the sixth-best offensive lineman to date is either veteran Enokk Vimahi or currently injured Josh Fryar.
After that, the Buckeyes don’t seem to know who fills their two depths on the offensive line. A year after having one of the deepest units in the country, the most advanced development prospects have apparently not progressed much. Day openly referred to the offensive line’s lack of depth as a persistent flaw in Spring.
Besides starting center Luke Wypler and Fryar (who are expected to return for the preseason), the roster includes three other third-year students. Or, are Ben Christman or Zen Michalski ready to join Donovan Jackson as second-year contributors?
OSU doesn’t need this group to get starters on Opening Day, but stability. If they can’t, Day could warn incoming freshmen that jobs may be available.
Are Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr. ready for the game?
Cade Stover appeared to reclaim the No. 1 tight end spot when he left his heart in the linebacker room and returned on offense.
Daytime and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, however, adamantly insists the offense will work best with two reliable tight ends. Quarterback CJ Stroud recently spoke about Royer. Scott has always intrigued as a former top-100 receiver looking for the size needed to stay on the field at tight end.
It won’t be about which tight ends make the most dazzling holds. Day and Wilson want those players to serve as run blockers and extra pass protection for playbreakers. Mitch Rossi is expected to return from injury to his fullback role in the fall. It’s up to one of those two guys to solidify themselves as Stover’s running mate.
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