Will C.J. Stroud look like the next starting QB? Here are 10 players to watch in Ohio State spring football game

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) will get a long look from coaches as the team's primary slot receiver after Garrett Wilson was moved to a role as an outside receiver.

Ohio State is holding a spring football game on Saturday for the first time in two years.

Last year’s scrimmage was canceled amid the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving spectators without a peek into the offseason development of the program.

The spring game is often the best chance to get a look at underclassmen or other Buckeyes who are projected to take on larger roles in the coming season. 

Below are 10 players worth keeping an eye on when the festivities begin at noon at Ohio Stadium.

C.J. Stroud, quarterback

Although coach Ryan Day has kept tight-lipped on the status of the Buckeyes’ three-player quarterback competition, Stroud could be considered the slight favorite to take over for Justin Fields. In three practices open to reporters this spring, the redshirt freshman was first in line in drills and directed the first-team offense, appearing ahead of true freshman Kyle McCord and redshirt freshman Jack Miller. A strong showing by Stroud would only advance the idea that it’s his job to lose by the end of summer.

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TreVeyon Henderson, running back

Of all the freshmen to enroll early for this semester, Henderson could be the most intriguing. He’s the first five-star running back recruit in 15 years to sign with Ohio State, talented enough to carve out a role in the backfield alongside incumbent starter Master Teague III. With Teague limited in recent practices, additional carries are likely to go around on Saturday, putting Henderson in position to flash his potential.  

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver

Moving Garrett Wilson back to outside receiver from the slot could have a big effect on Smith-Njigba. The sophomore is the most logical candidate to step in as the primary slot receiver, and he ran with the first-team offense during an 11-man offensive drill in an open practice on Monday. With a limited freshman season, he should get some more reps and continue to audition for the role during the spring game.

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Marvin Harrison Jr., wide receiver

Debuting as a freshman in the 2019 spring game, Wilson provided a highlight-reel touchdown grab. If there’s someone on the roster primed for a similar dramatic entrance, it’s Harrison, who was the first early-enrollee to lose his black helmet stripe this month. He has received rave reviews from the coaching staff for his work ethic. Fellow receiver Jameson Williams recently described the big-bodied, 6-foot-3 target as a “ball hawk,” so it’s easy to envision Harrison snagging a jump ball.

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Cade Stover, tight end

As much as the offense has featured two tight ends during Day’s tenure, it needs depth at the position in order to continue, and there’s little experience outside Jeremy Ruckert. But coaches have praised Stover in his transition from defensive end to the offensive side of the ball that began last spring. He is the most logical option to emerge as a second tight end, and Saturday can offer a glimpse of his progress.

Luke Wypler, center

With Harry Miller limited to non-contact drills this spring, Wypler has filled in at center, splitting first-team reps with Matthew Jones. Miller ultimately could take over as the starter when the team reconvenes for preseason camp in August, but Wypler, a redshirt freshman, also has an opportunity to build a case for himself.

Taron Vincent, defensive tackle

Singled out by Day as the team’s most improved defensive lineman this offseason, Vincent appears primed for a larger role, either at nose tackle in the wake of Tommy Togiai’s departure or rotating with Haskell Garrett at the other tackle spot. Vincent has been on the field for only 158 the past two seasons because of a shoulder injury sustained in 2019, so the scrimmage will offer a rare glimpse of the former five-star’s development.

Zach Harrison, defensive end

Vincent has not been the only defensive lineman to receive plaudits from the staff in recent weeks. Praise has also been heaped on Harrison, a junior who is set up to see a breakout season. He has the recruiting pedigree and the build, listed at 6 feet 6 and 268 pounds, but also the drive to step up as a premier pass rusher.

Craig Young, linebacker

Working out with the safeties at times this spring, Young could revive the “bullet” position in the Buckeyes’ defense, a hybrid linebacker-safety spot that was frequently discussed ahead of Day’s first full season in 2019, but never fully realized. How Young lines up in the spring game could provide some additional clues about the future of the position.

Tyreke Johnson, cornerback

Johnson broke up a pair of passes in Monday’s open practice, showing some growth. The former five-star recruit hasn’t played much in three seasons with the Buckeyes. But following Shaun Wade’s departure, along with Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks being sidelined by injuries this spring, Johnson has seized additional reps in recent weeks and could continue making the case that he deserves more opportunities next season with a strong spring-practice finale.

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jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman