March 5, 2018
Ohio State football’s 2018 spring drills start tomorrow (Tuesday, March 6) with an early morning workout at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and will continue through the LiFE Sports Spring Game, presented by Nationwide, April 14 at Ohio Stadium. This represents spring No. 7 for coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State and No. 17 overall in a head coaching career that has seen him ascend to the top of the coaching ranks with an .851 career winning percentage that is topped by only two coaches in major college history: Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy. Meyer has a 177-31 career record — an average of over 11 wins a season — and a 73-8 mark with Ohio State.
49 returning lettermen
Meyer and his staff will welcome this spring the return of 49 lettermen — 23 on offense, 22 on defense and four specialists — and 13 starters from the 2017 team that went 12-2 overall, finished No. 5 in the nation in both final polls and won Big Ten Conference and Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic championships.
On offense, the Buckeyes return 10 lettermen along the offensive line, including two-year starters in senior tackle Isaiah Prince and junior guard Michael Jordan. Two additional starters who split time at guard also return: Demetrius Knox, a fifth-year senior, and Branden Bowen, a fourth-year junior. The pair started eight and six games, respectively, last year with Knox taking over after Bowen was injured. Returning lettermen on the line include fifth-year seniors Brady Taylor and Malcolm Pridgeon, fourth-year juniors Joshua Alabi and Matthew Burrell, and sophomore Thayer Munford.
Seven lettermen and all the starters return at receiver, including fifth-year performers Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin, and the leading returning receiver, junior K.J. Hill (56 receptions in 2017). Dixon led the team with eight touchdown catches. Campbell was second with 40 receptions and McLaurin was third in both receptions (29) and touchdowns (six).
Two 1,000-yard rushers
Running back is also a position of strength that boasts two 1,000-yard rushers: J.K. Dobbins, who started every game in 2017 as a true freshman and set the school record for a freshman with 1,403 yards; and Mike Weber, the every-game starter as a true freshman in 2016 when he rushed for 1,096 yards. He added 626 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017.
At quarterback, there promises to be a superabundance of interest on the development of, and competition among, three vying to start: junior Joe Burrow, sophomore Dwayne Haskins and freshman Tate Martell.
Bosa, Jones & Co.
The defense figures to be led for a second consecutive year by a talented defensive line that loses some depth at end but may be even better inside with three top tackles coming into the program this year, two of whom are already on board. Nick Bosa, a first-team AFCA All-American in 2017 and the Big Ten Conference’s Smith-Brown defensive lineman of the year, is the leader of this unit that returns eight lettermen, including two-year starting tackle Dre’Mont Jones, and that combined for 43 tackles-for-loss totaling 178 yards.
A pair of considerably talented defensive ends — junior Jonathan Cooper and sophomore Chase Young — will gang up with Bosa for an enviable trio on the outside. Meanwhile, plenty of depth and talent returns (and arrives) at tackle in support of Jones. Juniors Robert Landers, Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton all played extensively in 2017 with sophomores Haskell Garrett and Malik Barrow, and red-shirt freshman Jerron Cage also returning. This group will be joined by three highly touted players from the 2018 recruiting class: juco transfer and early enrollee Antwuan Jackson, early enrollee Tommy Togiai and the No. 1 DT recruit in the nation form the 2018 class: Taron Vincent.
The linebacker position is intriguing. The unit loses two key starters, but sophomore Tuf Borland earned nine starts in the middle last year and fifth-year senior Dante Booker has seven career starts on the outside. Junior Malik Harrison had over 300 snaps on defense last year, including 73 vs. Penn State, and he starred in his first career start with six tackles vs. Michigan State. Juniors Keandre Jones and Justin Hilliard, and sophomores Baron Browning and Pete Werner, have all been sharpened on special teams and will make this a position group to watch this spring and fall.
The secondary, which has produced four first-round NFL Draft picks the last two drafts with a fifth first-rounder a near certainty this year, remains talented. Two starters return — juniors Jordan Fuller at safety and Damon Arnette at cornerback — and second-year Buckeyes Kendall Sheffield and Jeffrey Okudah are two talented Texans returning at cornerback. Safety Isaiah Pryor lettered as a true freshman and Shaun Wade, injured last year but highly regarded out of high school, is healthy once again, and two more early enrollees will get right to work: Sevyn Banks and Tyreke Johnson.
Ohio State returns all four of its primary specialists: punter Drue Chrisman, kicker Sean Nuernberger, kickoff man Blake Haubeil and long snapper Liam McCullum. Parris Campbell and Mike Weber (kickoffs) and K.J. Hill (punts) handled the majority of all returns last year.
The losses from last year, unfortunately, are considerable with multi-year captains and legends such as quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Billy Price and defensive end Tyquan Lewis all having graduated and three talented juniors electing to forego their senior seasons: defensive end Sam Hubbard, linebacker Jerome Baker and Denzel Ward, the likely No. 1 cornerback pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Ohio State loses a total of 16 letterman from last season, five on offense and 11 on defense.