Ohio State football: What questions remain after spring practice?

Ohio State football wrapped up spring football with the usual good feelings found anywhere this time of year when there are no games to lose.

The passing game looks strong. The running backs room is deep. A majority of starters return on the offensive line, and the defense appears energized by new management.

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Of course, not every issue has been squared away.

Roster churn has always been a major part of college football, and that has only increased since the introduction of the transfer portal — especially with the addition of a provision allowing players to transfer one time and be eligible immediately.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he prefers to build with the players he has, but adding talent via the portal is always going to be a consideration.

With all that in mind, here is a look at the issues Day and his staff still need to work out before Notre Dame comes to Columbus to open the season Sept. 3.

1. Offensive line depth

The Buckeyes are set as far as a top five — probably.

Dawand Jones, Paris Johnson Jr. and Luke Wypler were all at least solid starters last year, and their development arrows are pointing up heading into 2022.

Matt Jones has shown enough in relief the last two seasons to assume he will be a strong addition to the starting lineup at guard, and new left guard Donovan Jackson is a five-star talent who found his way into the two-deep last season despite not arriving until summer so there is reason to be bullish on him.

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Johnson was a five-star recruit, too, so it is generally being assumed he will excel at left tackle after starting at right guard last season.

Will he? That remains to be seen, but a bigger question is who steps in if someone is injured.

The line was short on numbers at the end of the spring, but that is not unusual.

Incoming freshmen Tegra Tshabola (of Lakota West), Carson Hinzman and Avery Henry will give new line coach Justin Frye more to work with, but he will be challenged to get older backups Josh Fryar, Enokk Vimahi, Ben Christman, Trey Leroux and Grant Toutant ready to play if they are called upon.

2. Safety

While having a reliable offensive line has always been a key part of winning football games, the importance of safety play has grown in recent years with the rise of the passing game.

New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles needs three full-time safeties for his base defense, but does he have that many?

Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister look ready to go at “Adjuster” (middle/free safety) and Nickel, respectively, but the third spot is more of a question. The hope appears to be Josh Proctor can fill the Bandit (boundary or weak-side safety), but he is a fifth-year senior who has yet to be a stater for a full season and is coming off a nasty broken leg. Pre-injury, the question with Proctor was also consistency, not talent.

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Who will back them up is an even bigger question.

Day confirmed Ohio State does not lack bodies at the position, but there are few players he would classify as “game ready.” Candidates Kourt Williams, Jantzen Dunn and Lathan Ransom (who has played a fair amount of snaps but is less than four months removed from a Rose Bowl leg injury) were not full-go at the end of spring so what they can do remains somewhat of a mystery.

The top reserve candidates at Bandit and Adjuster could be true freshmen Kye Stokes, who looked good in the spring game, and Sonny Styles, a five-star prospect who will enroll this summer but is on the very young side after deciding to skip his senior season at Pickerington Central.

Cam Martinez, McCalister’s backup at nickel, looked good at times last year, so that spot could be more fortified than the others.

3. Cornerback depth

Previous cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs liked to have a three-man rotation at the position.

As a long-time NFL coach, Tim Walton may not have the same philosophy, but his options get very young and inexperienced behind returning starters Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown.

There are only four other scholarship corners on the roster, and all of them are first- or second-year players with little or no college playing time.

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4. Defensive front seven depth chart

The situation up front is a little like safety, but coach Larry Johnson has many more big bodies to choose from.

He will be able to go eight-deep with players who saw at least 100 snaps last season, and half of those players are seniors in eligibility.

Who will be the playmakers, though? That has been lacking over the last two seasons, and potential not turning into production has held back the Ohio State defense.

The answers could come from the sophomore class in the form of five-star ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau along with tackle Tyleik Williams.

Similarly, linebacker is a position that has lots of veterans but few sure things. The rotation there was never really sorted out last season, and the defense suffered as a result so that is something Knowles will want to avoid this fall.

5. Receiver depth

This is a first-world problem for sure as Ohio State has a receiving room that is the envy of most, if not all, of the country.

Coach Brian Hartline’s top three of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are all mega-talented and have shown what they can do on the field, at least in glimpses in the case of the latter two.

Sophomore Jayden Ballard had the type of spring that appears to have put him solidly in line to get more playing time, but the rest of the room is made up of older players who have had a hard time staying healthy (Kam Babb, Julian Fleming) or are true freshmen.

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