Lots of questions as Day takes over Buckeyes

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Austin Mack (11) makes a catch against TCU Horned Frogs cornerback Julius Lewis (24) during the 1st quarter of their game at AT&T Stadium at Arlington, Texas on September 15, 2018. [Kyle Robertson]

A new era of Ohio State football begins on Wednesday with plenty of intriguing questions.

Ryan Day filled in as coach for Urban Meyer last summer and for the first three games of the 2018 season. Now it is really his team.

Day rose through the coaching ladder because of his acumen developing quarterbacks. In a way, he did his job too well — Day figured he would have Dwayne Haskins Jr. for two more years, but Haskins’ record-breaking season catapulted him to the NFL.

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All eyes will be on the competition to succeed him. But quarterback is just one of several positions where the competition will be intense.

Here is a look at six of the biggest questions the Buckeyes face in spring practice:

Can Justin Fields learn the offense quickly enough to win the job coming out of spring?

Fields, the transfer from Georgia, is the highest-ranked quarterback prospect the Buckeyes have ever had. But he has been on campus only two months. Before he transferred to Miami, Tate Martell said that it would be nearly impossible to learn Day’s complex offense in less than a year.

>>Video: Ohio State football: Day talks offensive line

Matthew Baldwin didn’t take a snap last year as he rehabbed from knee surgery. But he was Day’s handpicked quarterback recruit for the 2018 class and impressed in bowl practice. Day said on Monday that it will be an open competition, adding that Chris Chugunov is in the mix.

“We’re going to try to roll them as best we can and make sure they all have an opportunity,” Day said. “The good thing in the spring is there are so many more reps and so much more time. We’re going to split them up and let those guys compete for the job.”

How will the offensive line be rebuilt?

Four starters from last year have departed, and injured left tackle Thayer Munford will miss spring practice.

Day said that Joshua Alabi, who subbed for Munford in the Rose Bowl, will take Munford’s spot in the spring. Wyatt Davis impressed late last year after he took over for injured Demetrius Knox at right guard. Josh Myers replaces Michael Jordan at center, and the Buckeyes feel comfortable with the sophomore’s growth.

Right tackle and left guard are up in the air. Branden Bowen, a starter at right guard until he suffered a broken leg in 2017, and former five-star recruit Nicholas Petit-Frere will compete at the tackle spot, Day said.

At left guard, the expectation is that Rutgers graduate transfer Jonah Jackson, who made honorable mention All-Big Ten last year, will eventually take over. He won’t arrive until May.

Until then, it’s wide open. Day raved about the development of Gavin Cupp in the offseason. Matthew Jones, who also plays center, will get a crack at that job, too.

How do the Buckeyes replace three senior leaders at receiver?

Any unit would feel the departures of captains Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. But the Buckeyes are not burying their heads in their hands in despair. The receivers group remains deep and talented.

K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor are seniors, and sophomore Chris Olave exploded onto the scene late last year. Add in five-star freshman Garrett Wilson and several other promising players, and there figures to be no shortage of playmakers here.

Who will emerge on the defensive line?

Junior defensive end Chase Young is the headliner, and the Buckeyes should have the depth that has become the hallmark of Larry Johnson’s unit. Robert Landers, Jonathon Cooper and Jashon Cornell are dependable seniors.

But which players are ready to take the step to becoming stars? Day mentioned Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday as sophomores who look poised for a breakthrough. As for five-star freshman Zach Harrison, the early signs are promising.

“Very impressive what he’s done so far,” Day said. “He’s got a good energy about him. He’s smiling. His leadership skills are there. His work ethic has been really good. So far, he’s really done a nice job.”

Will there be changes at linebacker?

Starters Tuf Borland in the middle and Malik Harrison and Pete Werner on the outside return, but that unit didn’t play to Ohio State standards last year. New linebackers coach Al Washington has options if the incumbents struggle. Harrison would seem to be the most secure of the returners because of his strong play late in the season.

Borland is healthy after being slowed in 2018 by an Achilles injury, but several players will push for time. Teradja Mitchell, Baron Browning, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope and senior Justin Hilliard will be given opportunities.

Will potential finally match production in the secondary?

Ohio State’s defensive backs were seldom outrun last year, but that made their problems making plays all the more maddening. They were in position for interceptions or pass breakups, but too often didn’t make them.

Secondary coach Jeff Hafley was adamant during his introductory session with reporters that looking back for the ball would be a priority.

Day revealed that Jordan Fuller, the leader of the secondary, likely will miss spring practice due to an unspecified injury. That will give players such as Josh Proctor more opportunities. Brendon White solidified the other safety spot late last year, and he could be used in more of a hybrid safety/linebacker role.

At cornerback, junior Jeffrey Okudah will look to build on an excellent Rose Bowl performance. Damon Arnette flirted with turning pro before returning. Day said he sees a new resolve from the senior. Sophomore Shaun Wade showed flashes of his impressive talent last year and should earn a bigger role.


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