Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.
The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.
But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.
Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.
With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.
Position coach: Mike Yurcich (first season).
Key losses: Dwayne Haskins Jr. (third in Heisman Trophy voting, record-breaking season that included 50 touchdown passes and 4,831 passing yards), Tate Martell (82 percent completion percentage, 5.8 yards per rush before transferring to the University of Miami).
Key returnees: Matthew Baldwin (redshirted last year), Chris Chugunov (no stats, took mop-up snaps against Rutgers).
New to view: Justin Fields. The former No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class transferred from Georgia after being unable to unseat incumbent Jake Fromm. He ran for 266 yards and four touchdowns and completed 69 percent of his passes for four more scores in 39 attempts. He’s the front-runner to win the job over Baldwin.
Unit ranking (on a 1-to-5 basis, 5 being the best): 4: This is based on potential, primarily Fields’. He has shown a strong arm, though not quite at Haskins’ level, and superior mobility during spring practice. By all accounts, he has learned Ohio State’s complex offense quickly. Baldwin is a late-bloomer who has fully recovered from a knee injury sustained at the end of his college career. He has a good arm, is highly intelligent and competitive, and capable as a runner.
Stat that worked: Pick almost any of Haskins’. The one that his successor might most want to duplicate is having only eight interceptions in 533 passes. That kind of ratio will enable a team to win a lot of games.
Stat that must change: Haskins ran for only a net of 108 yards in 79 carries. Some of that is attributable to sacks (minus-116 yards), but Haskins was a pure pocket passer who ran only when necessary. Ohio State is moving away from the pure spread offense under Urban Meyer in which the quarterback run was an essential component. But the ability to run remains important and Haskins’ successor must be able to keep defenses honest with his legs.
Notable: The Buckeyes do have a fourth quarterback on the roster — walk-on sophomore Danny Vanatsky. He was a second-team All-Ohio selection as a senior at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.
Monday: Offensive line
Tuesday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Linebackers, special teams
Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers
Friday: Running backs, defensive backs