Ed. note: Chat Sports has conducted interviews with five prominent Buckeye bloggers and writers from several different websites to help preview the upcoming season, which will be published in a series on our Ohio State Buckeyes news page. Next question question: what can get it the Buckeye's way this year?
Which units pose the biggest questions marks for the Buckeyes this season?
All four interviewed said wide receivers right off the bat The wideouts were a young and inconsistent group last year - especially compared to established quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Especially now that Hyde has been dismissed from the team, the wideouts need to show more dependability this season. The defensive line is also thought to be a major concern, having lost three or four starters depending on your interpretation of the depth chart.
The biggest question mark is without a doubt the defensive line, where the four- and five-star prospects are plentiful but experience is not. Ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington showed why they were five-star DE recruits last season with blips of productivity in spot duty, and carried that into spring practice. But playing full-time in a rugged league like the Big Ten is a different type of chore. Tommy Schutt, Michael Bennett and Joel Hale could form a solid rotation inside at tackle, but Schutt and Bennett must prove they can stay healthy for the duration at a physically demanding position. Freshmen such as Michael Hill or Joey Bosa will be looked up on to add more depth as well.
[caption id="attachment_544" align="alignright" width="239" caption="Curtis Grant"][/caption]
Middle linebacker is also a question. Curtis Grant came out of spring practice as the starter for the second straight year, but can he hang onto that distinction this time around? He could be pushed by incoming freshmen Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, but Grant could also turn out to be a star if he can harness his physical gifts and let his instincts take over. Depth at linebacker is a question after the offseason transfer of two sophomores.
On offense, will the Buckeyes get someone to step up at the slot receiver position? There are plenty of candidates, including senior Jordan Hall and incoming freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. If one of them can become a playmaker, a whole new dimension of the offense will be opened around Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.
[caption id="attachment_545" align="alignright" width="252" caption="Noah Spence"][/caption]
The defensive line is a particular question mark because Ohio State lost four starters from a season ago, all of whom were above average Big Ten players. Ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington showed in spring they can get to the quarterback, but how will they do on an every-down basis?
On offense, wide receiver is still a question mark: there are some good players at that unit, but pretty much everyone needs to be more consistent than they were a season ago and some young players need to show they're ready for prime time.
Right tackle is also a big concern, as Michael Bennett is a good technician but lost his 2012 season to a groin injury, Joel Hale needs to show improvement from last year's spot duty and Tommy Schutt didn't get many reps in spring as he dealt with a leg injury.
Defensive line and linebacker are the two spots people should watch. I don’t think many Buckeye fans are worried that neither position will produce, but just how quickly will that happen, and will the offense have to carry the team until then (a role-reversal from Ohio State years in the past)?
Special teams may be the big question mark, however. With the departure of punter Ben Buchanan after exhausting his eligibility, Ohio State will break in a new punter this year. It looked like after losing a punter on National Signing Day that placekicker Drew Basil was going to get double duty but Ohio State went down to Australia to land Aussie Rules Football player Cameron Johnston. His YouTube video is quite remarkable, but there is no rush, no pressure and not even a football (American) uniform involved in any of those clips, so we will all be wondering how that will go down once the heat is turned up.
Hyde’s departure hurts this team, even if the Buckeyes have a ton of talented running backs ready to take his place. Rod Smith has had fumbling issues and the others are all inexperienced. One or more of them will need to step up and fill that void. That position outlook definitely changes because you knew Hyde was a proven commodity. That may not be the case now if the backups don’t come through.
The wide receiver group needs to keep improving. They were pretty good by the end of the year, and need to continue to take that step.
On defense, it has to be the line. They lose four starters and are completely starting over. I don’t care how good Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence are or seemed to be in the spring, when they were touch-sacking OSU’s quarterbacks. They have to play a consistently high level to be impact players. You will know early whether the line has it or not. If they are good, they’ll keep rushing yards to a minimum and will exert pressure on passers. If not, opponents will be putting touchdowns on the board.
Other roundtable questions: