The Ohio State football team took to the field Tuesday to begin spring practice less than two months after winning the first College Football Playoff National Championship.
While there will be a plethora of focus on the quarterback battle, the Buckeyes also have to find replacements for eight departed starters.
That means position battles across the board will be underway throughout spring practice and into the summer, with one of the key battles coming at defensive line.
With defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Steve Miller graduating, the Buckeyes will need to fill two spots on the defensive front. Coach Urban Meyer said he is counting on the young defensive linemen on the roster to step up, but at the moment, there seems to be an issue with that.
“I’m very disappointed in the young defensive linemen we brought in here,” Meyer said. “Not with the kind of people that they are, just with their performance.”
The Buckeyes will have All-American Joey Bosa back for his junior season, as well as senior Adolphus Washington. They are expected to anchor the line once again, but Meyer said he fears the team could take a step back if the holes created by Bennett and Miller’s departure aren’t filled.
“If Mike Bennett leaves and you’re not as good as Mike Bennett, our team is not as good,” he said.
Although the shoes left to fill are large, there will be plenty of players competing for those spots. On the national championship roster, there were four junior defensive linemen, two sophomores and eight freshmen.
Tommy Schutt, one of the four juniors on the 2014 roster and a potential replacement for Bennett, needs to be better, Meyer said. Schutt has started just two games in his career, the last of which came in 2013 against Illinois.
Senior linebacker Joshua Perry said Schutt has been good in the past “in flashes,” but consistency has been an issue.
“Tommy Schutt is an older guy, but he’s been really good in the past,” Perry said. “So we’re hoping for some consistency with him.”
If Schutt struggles to be more consistent, Donovan Munger and Michael Hill, two redshirt-sophomores, might get the start on the interior opposite Washington come Sept. 7, when the Buckeyes are set to open their season against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Munger rotated in on the line last season and recorded five total tackles. Hill appeared in three games early in the 2013 season before getting hurt and earning a medical redshirt.
To replace Miller on the end, Meyer said he is looking at three players: Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis.
Hubbard redshirted last season, his first in Columbus, but Meyer was positive about his efforts.
“We almost pulled his redshirt last year because he came on so hard,” Meyer said.
Holmes, a sophomore from Virginia, rotated in on the defensive line last season and totaled five tackles during OSU’s blowout win against Kent State and four in a win over Illinois.
Lewis, a redshirt-sophomore, had nine tackles in 2014, including one in the national title game.
With all the different players battling for the two starting positions, Meyer said he plans to watch “very closely” and added that the young guys “have to get better.”
Perry, who tallied 124 tackles last season, has more positive projections when it comes to the younger guys.
“Across the board, we’ve just got a lot of guys that we wanna develop and make sure that we can have some depth but also so they can step in and be really good players for us,” Perry said.
Perry added he expects the defense, with the new guys, to be “really good” next season, with the help of spring practice.
“It’s a great time to get in and actually learn the game of football, really learn what we’re doing and also develop players so we can have some depth, some experience and be ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.