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Six important Ohio State position battles that will play out during spring practice

As the calendar turned to February, we are getting closer to Ohio State starting its spring practices. It all culminates with the LiFEsports Spring Game, presented by Union Home Mortgage on April 15.

There are plenty of position battles head coach Ryan Day will monitor over the course of those practices and the glorified scrimmage to end the spring (rain, shine, or sleet).

There are many more question marks for the Buckeyes as they enter the 2023 season after losing multiple contributors to either the NFL Draft or the transfer portal. Here are six position battles I am looking forward to seeing shake out this spring.

Offensive tackles to separate from the pack

Why it’s important

It’s tough when a team loses one of its starting tackles, but the Buckeyes are going to be replacing both starters. [autotag]Paris Johnson Jr.[/autotag] and [autotag]Dawand Jones[/autotag] should hear their names called very early in the NFL draft, but their backups are fairly green. This offseason, the coaching staff tried to lure a transfer tackle to Columbus, but its attempts failed.

The presumed starters are [autotag]Josh Fryar[/autotag] and [autotag]Zen Michalski[/autotag] with [autotag]Tegra Tshabola[/autotag] and [autotag]George Fitzpatrick[/autotag] in the running as well. Day and offensive line coach [autotag]Justin Frye[/autotag] have to solidify these two spots. In my eyes, this battle is more important than the highly-publicized quarterback derby.

Solidify the starting safeties

Why it’s important

Gone are two contributors from this group: [autotag]Tanner McCalister[/autotag] and [autotag]Ronnie Hickman[/autotag]. McCalister, a transfer, didn’t have the impact many thought he would when he followed defensive coordinator [autotag]Jim Knowles[/autotag] from Oklahoma State.

Hickman’s shoes have a bigger fill. He was fourth on the team in tackles and picked off a pass this past fall. His departure to the NFL was a bit of a questionable move, especially after a poor showing during the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Another move many of us didn’t see was Josh Proctor returning but having his experience can help with some depth even though his play was so-so during the season.

Multiple players have the skills to step up, starting with rising sophomore [autotag]Sonny Styles[/autotag]. He played a good amount against Georgia and his performance increased expectations for him. He is expected to take over one of the starting spots. Expect Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter to make a strong push for a starting spot as well. The staff wouldn’t have added him unless they thought he could contribute immediately.

[autotag]Cameron Martinez[/autotag] should also be in the running to get some playing time, along with [autotag]Kye Stokes[/autotag] and [autotag]Kourt Williams[/autotag]. In the Knowles safety-driven defense, finding starters this spring is one of the top things that I want to see.

Who is the new starting center?

Why it matters

Back to the offensive line — and no — I’m not ignoring the quarterback battle, I’ll get to that shortly. The third early entree member of the offensive line, center [autotag]Luke Wypler[/autotag], wasn’t expected to leave but ended up doing so. The only transfer lineman the Buckeyes were able to land, [autotag]Victor Cutler[/autotag], will be in the mix for the center starting spot along with [autotag]Carson Hinzman[/autotag].

[autotag]Jakob James[/autotag] is also an option, but an injury is holding him out of spring practices. The Buckeyes need to find a quality leader of the line between the two returning guards, [autotag]Donovan Jackson[/autotag] and [autotag]Matthew Jones[/autotag].

Who takes Zach Harrison’s open spot?

Why it matters

Although the former five-star prospect never did light up the box score, he was still a solid starter and should have a successful NFL career. We know [autotag]J.T. Tuimoloau[/autotag] will start on one side, but there is a big question mark who the other starter will be.

Can rising sophomore [autotag]Kenyatta Jackson[/autotag] take the next step? Or will it be a different second-year player such as [autotag]Omari Abor[/autotag]? [autotag]Jack Sawyer[/autotag] gained plenty of experience but looked out of place playing the jack position. If he can embrace and understand the position more, he’s likely the guy. Maybe he gets his hand in the ground more often this fall.

Defensive line coach [autotag]Larry Johnson[/autotag] will have to work his magic with this group during the spring, to set them up for success during the fall.

Who emerges as quality depth at cornerback?

Why it matters

This was an area of disappointment during the 2022 season. Costly penalties, mistakes in coverage, no interceptions and overall below-par play plagued this group all season. Depth was lost when JK Johnson transferred but regained when [autotag]Davison Igbinosun[/autotag] transferred in from Ole Miss. You have to expect the freshman All-American to take over a starting spot.

[autotag]Cam Brown[/autotag] and [autotag]Denzel Burke[/autotag] were part of the group from last year, so hopefully, with another year in Knowles’ system, they improve. [autotag]Jordan Hancock[/autotag] hasn’t shown much in his first two years. There’s hope [autotag]Jyaire Brown[/autotag] makes a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year after playing sparingly this past season.

Jermaine Matthews enrolled early and he will participate this spring. He has the skill set to contribute right away. This group needs multiple players to step up, especially after what we saw last year with injuries and ineffectiveness.

A quarterback emerges

Why it matters

Honestly, I don’t think this race ends in the spring, but Day would like it to. Both candidates lack major playing experience, although Kyle McCord has a bit more than Devin Brown. Each player brings a bit of a different skill set to the table, McCord is more like [autotag]C.J. Stroud[/autotag] while Brown reminds you more of [autotag]Justin Fields[/autotag]. (I’m not comparing either of them to the former Buckeyes stars, their games each have similar aspects.)

Many of us want to see crisp play from each of them because they don’t need to do much with all the weapons on offense. Making accurate throws and moving the chains should be enough.

The main reason I had this battle at the bottom of the list is due to the need to protect these two. The returning receivers and tight ends aren’t a question at all, but the line is a big one. Whoever takes the spot will have all eyes on them and has a legit chance to put up massive numbers.

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Story originally appeared on Buckeye Wire