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Analysis: Taking an early position-by-position look at the 2018 Ohio State offense

Freshman quarterback Tate Martell (10) warms up prior to the 2017 season opener against Indiana. Credit: Jack Westerhide | Photo Editor

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Ohio State’s offense in 2018.

The years provided by the players indicates grade in the 2017 season.

Quarterback

Graduating: J.T. Barrett

Returners: Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow, Tate Martell

Additions: Matthew Baldwin

The situation: In 2018, Ohio State will have to replace redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, the most productive quarterback, statistically speaking, in program history. Luckily, it has an ample amount of potentially fruitful options in two quarterbacks with game experience and a former top recruit who redshirted. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins appears to be the frontrunner since he served as Barrett’s primary backup this fall. The strong-armed pocket-passer played in eight games and passed for 565 yards. Haskins also helped the Buckeyes come back and defeat Michigan, giving him valuable end-of-game experience.

Redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow suffered a broken hand days before the season opener and has played sparingly. But he was Barrett’s backup in 2016 and passed for 226 yards and rushed for 58 yards in the role. Freshman Tate Martell, who has not taken a collegiate snap — his role has been limited to the scout team — and redshirted, entered Ohio State as a highly regarded dual-threat prospect from high-school powerhouse Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). Ohio State will have to prepare for the possibility one of the three transfers after not winning the starting spot.

Projected starter: Tate Martell

The Reasoning: It will not be easy for Martell to earn the opening game nod. Head coach Urban Meyer greatly values the snaps Haskins and Burrow have played over the past two seasons. But Martell offers the potential to be a dynamic, potentially game-changing playmaker on the ground and in the passing game. Meyer and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day have talked glowingly of his improved work ethic from when he first joined the program. Martell’s teammates have laughed in awe of his runs at practice. Would it be a surprise if Haskins or Burrow won the job? Absolutely not. Haskins possesses the strongest arm and quickest release of any Ohio State quarterback and won the backup job this year, albeit due to the timing of Burrow’s injury. Burrow provides the Buckeyes with the most familiarity, having been with the program the longest and drawing the most comparisons to Barrett. But both have drawbacks. Haskins would not offer the Ohio State offense a dynamic running ability, which Meyer prefers his quarterbacks to have, and Burrow does not possess a standout trait. Martell has the potential to be Ohio State’s next great dual-threat playmaking quarterback and will have ample opportunity to earn the starting spot in the offseason.

Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (2) runs past defenders in the of the B1G Championship game against Wisconsin on Dec. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ohio State won 27-21. Credit: James King II | Sports Director

Running back

Graduating: N/A

Returners: Mike Weber, J.K. Dobbins, Antonio Williams, Demario McCall

Additions: Jaelen Gill, Brian Snead, Master Teague

The situation: Not much changes at running back if Mike Weber returns another season. He declined after the Cotton Bowl Friday to expound on whether he will leave early for the NFL. But he might after an injury-filled season and freshman J.K. Dobbins’ ascendance, which would result in a continued decrease of touches for the 2016 starter. Sophomore Antonio Williams has a similar build to Weber and could slide into the co-starter’s role if he left for the draft. But Williams likely will return as Ohio State’s third-string running back. Redshirt freshman Demario McCall has dealt with a nagging groin injury, which kept him from a larger role in the Buckeyes’ offense in 2017. When healthy, McCall has the potential to be one of Ohio State’s top playmakers. Whether as a running back or H-back, he should be more involved in the offense in next year. A trio of incoming freshmen — Jaelen Gill, Brian Snead and Master Teague — will enter a crowded backfield and likely will spend most of their freshman seasons on special teams. Snead and Teague are pure running backs, but Gill’s future will likely be as an H-back in Meyer’s offense.

Projected starters: J.K. Dobbins

The Reasoning: If Weber were to return to Ohio State, Dobbins would again split carries. Dobbins’ quick, game-breaking style combined with Weber’s power would once again give Ohio State an intriguing combination of speed and power. But Weber will likely declare early for the NFL draft, leaving Dobbins as the unquestioned starter. Given another year of physical development and mental maturity, Dobbins will become a bellcow starting running back.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore receiver K.J. Hill (14) runs the ball in the fourth quarter of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against University of Southern California on Dec. 29 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Ohio State won 24-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Wide receiver

Graduating: Elijah Goins

Returners: Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, Jaylen Harris, Ellijah Gardiner

Additions: L’Christian Smith, Kamryn Babb, Cameron Brown

The situation: A crowded receiver room this year will remain crowded next year, and also could become even more jam-packed. Ohio State lists six receivers — Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack — as starters, and all six might return next year. Dixon could declare for the NFL draft due to his injury history and Campbell might decide to leave early, but the rest of the group will likely be back in 2018. A similar challenge to this year’s will arise. Ohio State’s offensive staff must decide whether to use them similarly to this season — with more than two or three starters and all wideouts playing similar snap counts — or to shrink the rotation. The Buckeyes’ duo of 6-foot-4-plus freshmen — Harris and Gardiner — also could push for more reps given the natural physical and mental maturity of a year in a collegiate offense. L’Christian Smith, Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown will join Ohio State, but are unlikely to factor much into the Buckeyes’ plans next year.

Projected starters: Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill

The Reasoning: With most wideouts likely to return in 2018, the group will likely have a similar composition to last season, which means Ohio State will likely use multiple starters for the second year in a row. Hill proved to be the Buckeyes’ most reliable pass-catching option and finished the season with the most catches on the team. Even if Campbell returns, he would have a large role. McLaurin and Mack both offer impressive blocking skill, which Ohio State values, and grew into larger receiving roles as the season progressed. The Buckeyes need one of them, or Victor, to take a step forward and become a downfield threat.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore tight end Rashod Berry (13) celebrates after running the ball in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Ohio State- UNLV game on Sep. 23. Ohio State won 54- 21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Tight end

Graduating: Marcus Baugh

Returners: Rashod Berry, Luke Farrell, Jake Hausmann

Additions: Jeremy Ruckert

The situation: For the first time since 2015, Ohio State will have a new starting tight end, since redshirt senior Marcus Baugh will graduate. Redshirt sophomore Rashod Berry has served as Baugh’s backup this season, but he will have to battle a bevy of tight ends to earn the starting spot in 2018. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Berry caught six passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns this year. Redshirt freshman Luke Farrell played sparingly, but is listed third on the depth chart and will have a chance to earn the starting gig. Redshirt freshmen Jake Hausmann is unlikely to be featured prominently in Ohio State’s 2018 plans. Though he will be a true freshman, Jeremy Ruckert has a chance to break into the Buckeyes’ rotation and earn playing time, if not the starting spot. The 6-foot-5, 238-pound tight end is the top-ranked tight end in his class.

Projected starter: Rashod Berry

The Reasoning: Since he has worked with co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who is in his first season as Ohio State tight ends coach, Berry holds the edge to become the next starter. Wilson gushed about Berry’s athleticism earlier in the season. The tight end won an offseason dunk contest and is built like a defensive end, but runs like a receiver. In fact, Berry played tight end when he arrived at Ohio State, but was moved to defensive end before returning to the offense. Ruckert, Alexander and Farrell will push for playing time alongside Berry.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore right guard Branden Bowen and junior right tackle Isaiah Prince (59) embrace prior to the Buckeyes’ 62-14 victory against Maryland on Oct. 7. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Offensive tackles

Graduating: Jamarco Jones

Returners: Isaiah Prince, Thayer Munford, Kevin Feder, Joshua Alabi

Additions: Max Wray

The situation: For the second year in a row, senior Jamarco Jones served Ohio State well protecting Barrett’s blind side and serving as a grader in the run game. His loss presents the Buckeyes with a difficult predicament. Junior Isaiah Prince could remain at right tackle for his third and final season as a starter instead of moving to the left side due to his lack of consistency in pass blocking, but he might get a chance to protect to blind-side on the left side of the line. Freshman Thayer Munford was listed behind Jones and earned consistent praise from coaches and teammates. Redshirt sophomore Joshua Alabi, a defensive lineman before being moved to offense in the preseason, offers an intriguing option, for he will be in his fourth year at Ohio State and rose on the depth chart recently. Redshirt sophomore Kevin Feder did not play a snap in 2017 and is not expected to contribute much next year.

Projected starter: Branden Bowen (left tackle), Isaiah Prince (right tackle)

The Reasoning: Without many eye-catching options, redshirt sophomore Branden Bowen could slide from right guard back to his original position and become Ohio State’s next left tackle. Though he is a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle, Bowen impressed the coaches with his consistency and physicality and earned a starting right guard spot. With an open slot at starting left tackle, moving Bowen back to his original position — one that suits his body type better — might be the Buckeyes’ best option.

Ohio State sophomore offensive lineman Michael Jordan (73) sets up prior to a play in the second quarter of the B1G Championship game against Wisconsin on Dec. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ohio State won 27-21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Offensive guards and center

Graduating: Billy Price

Returners: Michael Jordan, Branden Bowen, Matt Burrell, Brady Taylor, Demetrius Knox, Malcolm Pridgeon, Josh Myers, Jack Wohlabaugh, Gavin Cupp, Wyatt Davis

Additions: Matthew Jones

The situation: For the second year in a row, Ohio State must replace a multiple-year starter and first-team All-American at center. And unlike last year, it will not be able to slide an All-American from guard to center to fix the issue. Sophomore Michael Jordan will return as starting left guard, but who will join him on Ohio State’s interior line remains a mystery. Brady Taylor, a center, will be in his fifth season as a Buckeye and earned praise from Meyer and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa earlier in the season. He backed up redshirt senior Billy Price this season and will have the inside track to replace him.

Redshirt junior Demetrius Knox played well in the latter half of the season, but will have to fight to keep the starting job in 2018. Knox, Bowen, redshirt sophomore Matt Burrell and redshirt junior Malcolm Pridgeon are among the primary options at right guard, as they were this season. But with a year of collegiate experience, freshmen and former highly regarded prospects Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis also will also for playing time. Redshirt freshmen Jack Wohlabaugh and Gavin Cupp have not played and are unlikely to compete for the starting spots.

Projected starters: Michael Jordan (left guard), Brady Taylor (center), Demetrius Knox (right guard)

The Reasoning: Considering his experience as the primary backup, Taylor likely will have the first opportunity to replace Price as Ohio State’s next center and join Jordan on the interior of the line. Burrell has snapped with the centers before games and might battle Taylor for the starting position, but he has not earned a starting spot yet, despite partaking in three position battles. The right guard spot remains a mystery. Myriad candidates could earn the starting spot. But if Bowen moves to tackle, Knox will have the best shot at retaining his position.

Check out the preview of Ohio State’s defense.

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