Setting up camp
Buckeyes will begin answering five questions when practice starts today
Almost any other season, Friday would be a scarlet-letter day for the opening of preseason camp at Ohio State.
But news this week of coach Urban Meyer being put on paid administrative leave while the university investigates what he knew about domestic-abuse allegations against fired receivers coach Zach Smith will dominate the narrative for a while.
But the show goes on for the Buckeyes under acting coach Ryan Day, formerly one of the two offensive coordinators and the quarterbacks coach. The other change is that the coaches and team will be able to work without interacting with the media. Access has been cut off at least through Monday.
Ohio State is No. 3 in the coaches’ preseason poll released this week, behind defending national champion Alabama and No. 2 Clemson. Despite the recent chaos, the Buckeyes are still expected to be in the hunt for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
Will those expectations hold, though, if Meyer does not return? Or if Day, with no experience as a head coach, remains the man at the top? Those are questions that can be answered only over time.
But at the start of camp, there are several immediate questions that Day and the coaching staff must answer in the one-a-day sessions headed toward the opener Sept. 1 against Oregon State.
Let’s narrow it to five.
1. What will be the makeup of the offensive line?
Notice we didn’t start with quarterback because that has been answered, in part. Headed into the spring, the consensus for the starting line was left tackle Isaiah Prince (switched from the right side), left guard Michael Jordan, center Brady Taylor, right guard Dimitrious Knox and right tackle Thayer Munford. But it’s not far-fetched to think Munford could end up at left tackle, Prince back over at right, Michael Jordan at center, Knox at one guard and, at the other, Branden Bowen, who suffered a broken leg last season. Moving Jordan to center would be the eye-catcher, but consider the past two Rimington Award winners were Pat Elflein and Billy Price of Ohio State, and they handled the switch with aplomb.
2. Is Dwayne Haskins Jr. secure as the starting quarterback?
Last week, Meyer reiterated that Haskins was No. 1 heading into camp, replacing four-year starter J.T. Barrett. But Meyer was looking forward to seeing the progress of Tate Martell, whom the coaches expect to push Haskins. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench,” Martell has said, and it was the sometimes uninspired performances by Haskins in the spring that left the coaches still considering Joe Burrow, who has since transferred to LSU.
3. How soon will Jeremy Ruckert play?
He is the freshman tight end from Long Island who is expected to give the Buckeyes a split-the-defense, downfield threat when he’s ready. Luke Farrell emerged from spring practice as the top candidate to replace departed starter Marcus Baugh, and Jake Hausmann made strides. Last year’s backup, Rashod Berry, was injured in the spring and could switch back to defense. That leaves the door open for Ruckert.
4. Baron Browning or Justin Hilliard at middle linebacker?
And what about freshman Teradja Mitchell? His plan is to press for playing time, too. He’ll have to elbow his way in the middle, just like highly regarded freshman K’Vaughan Pope will have to do on the outside, where projected starters Malik Harrison and Keandre Jones, along with Peter Werner, reside.
5. Who is going to be the other safety?
Returning starter Jordan Fuller is expected to emerge as one of the top safeties in the Big Ten. With the other starter (Damon Webb) gone, Isaiah Pryor had been projected going into the spring as the replacement, but not after the spring. He didn’t strike the fancy of coaches, including new safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Jahsen Wint and Amir Riep have been mentioned as still being in the mix, and don’t forget freshmen Marcus Hooker (brother of former Ohio State All-American Malik Hooker) and Josh Proctor. Proctor was an early enrollee, and his video highlights revealed a field-roaming talent who isn’t reluctant to mix things up on a collision course.