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Football: Spring Game offers Ohio State glimpse at next pillars of the program

Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Bosa (97) takes down USC’s quarterback in the third 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

For the past several years, Ohio State has counted on J.T. Barrett, Billy Price, Tyquan Lewis and Chris Worley to be the pillars of the team.

Those players were not exactly the foundation of the football program itself, but they were the next step of the support system for the team.

None of those players will be on the team in 2018, and the Buckeyes do not have an easy answer to who will fill those positions. There is no one who perfectly mixes talent, starting experience and leadership that can be counted on to be one of the true pillars of the team.

At least, no one who has made that jump yet.

Head coach Urban Meyer always says that when there is no clear leader on the team, someone needs to step up. A cliche for sure, but also correct. There are talented players on the team at every position, and most are very young with an opportunity to take on a starting role currently vacant.

On the offensive side, the lack of a starting quarterback means someone else will need to take the mantle as keystone offensive player. The most obvious choice seems to be running back J.K. Dobbins, who was the most dynamic offensive player last season but is only a sophomore. Though he will be competing with redshirt junior Mike Weber for touches in the fall, he has at least two more years left in the program and is in a position to be a leader.

It appears, too, that after an inconsistent sophomore season and a much improved junior year, senior left tackle Isaiah Prince is poised to become the premier lineman — in both leadership and performance.

The defensive line lost nearly all of its veteran starters from last season. However, a pair will return in redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones and junior defensive end Nick Bosa, with exciting former five-star sophomore defensive end Chase Young joining them. Behind them, the linebacking corps has only one starter lined up and is still waiting for a pair of answers.

Safety Jordan Fuller has the chance to step up and be the leader of the secondary, but there does not appear to be any clear “pillars” among the cornerbacks — unless sophomore Jeffrey Okudah takes a drastic step forward.

These players are not necessarily going to be captains. Though Meyer hinted on April 2 that Jones and Fuller might both be captains, the leaders on the team might be fifth-year players like wide receiver Terry McLaurin and H-back Parris Campbell, and redshirt sophomore linebacker Tuf Borland.

But all those players are going to be counted on to support the rest of the team with a mixture of talent and leadership — even if it is more of a lead-by-example style.

This group of players is going to be different than the last. There is still no clear group of players that combine vocal leadership and talent similar to Barrett and Price. There is not the same large group of redshirt seniors in prominent roles.

Instead, it is a young group composed of members of the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes. Without necessarily being viewed as vocal leaders of the team, these players are going to be the ones that carry the team to success.

If the offense starts slowing down, it will hand the ball off to Dobbins. If the defense needs a big play, it will try and rush with its star-studded defensive line.

The team will be put in a position where there aren’t many veterans to lean on —at least, certainly not as many as in the past.

The Spring Game will not be the debut for any of these players mentioned. They’ve all played impact minutes in the past and will be expected to do so again. But what the Spring Game will be is the first glimpse of those players as the true leaders of the team.

When people think of Ohio State, they will no longer see Barrett, Price, Lewis or Worley. Those four have graduated and passed the team on to other hands — the hands of Dobbins, Prince, Bosa, Young, Jones and Fuller.

There’s plenty of potential future leaders of the team, but that is exactly as it should be. Ohio State again enters 2018 in position to make a national championship run and it will come on the backs of a much younger core of players.

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