Five for Friday: Redshirt Freshmen Poised for Large Roles in 2014
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes redshirted 21 players last season, and 16 of those players were freshmen. In hindsight, Ohio State could have certainly used some of the freshmen that they chose to redshirt this past season, and will definitely have roles in mind for them in 2014. But which redshirt freshmen will have the opportunities for the largest roles? I've compiled a list, but it is far from all-inclusive. Believe it or not, there will be redshirt freshmen that contribute who aren't on this list, so don't get upset. After all, I'm really only supposed to name five players here.
1.LB – Mike Mitchell
While the Ohio State linebackers technically only lose one starter in Ryan Shazier, it's not like the defense was so great that it couldn't be upgraded with new blood. Some of that new blood should come in the form of the highly-touted Mitchell, and after sitting out last season and getting more comfortable, it would be a surprise if he's not involved somewhere in the linebacker corps. Corey Linsley was singing his praises during bowl practices and fans are excited to see what he can do. He can probably play any of the three linebacker spots given his body size (6-3 222 as of last August) and speed (4.39 as of July 2012). Nicknamed the “Abusement Park” in high school, it's time for the park to open for business.
2.WR – Jalin Marshall
Marshall was expected to be a contributor last season, but a concussion in summer camp set him back. Barring any further setbacks, Marshall's time is now. Losing Philly Brown, Jordan Hall and Chris Fields means that Ohio State needs some help in the slot, and Marshall should be able to provide that. A season ago, he was expected to be the wide receiver half of the two-headed freshman monster of him and Dontre Wilson. Those expectations should carry over into this season as well, because Marshall is simply too dynamic with the football not to get involved. The Buckeyes need receivers who can make plays, and make plays is all Marshall has ever done on the football field.
3.CB – Eli Apple
Even if it's just on special teams, Ohio State needs Apple to be a productive football player next season. Even more than that, however, they could sure use him in the secondary. Apple has the length and physicality that a defensive coach wants, and after practicing for a year without playing, he'll be much better suited to make an impact this year as opposed to last year. There is a starting cornerback spot open in 2014, and Apple will certainly be in the mix. While he might not be the favorite right now, that doesn't make him a dark horse. In fact, there probably are no strong favorites to start opposite Doran Grant, so Apple has as good a chance as anybody else.
4.QB – J.T. Barrett
Even though the Buckeyes return Braxton Miller, it would be foolish to think that the backup quarterback won't be involved in the Ohio State offense this season. Barrett is one of three candidates for that spot, and given Miller's history – and the likelihood for a blowout or four – whichever quarterback wins the #2 job is going to have some very serious responsibilities. Given the year that Miller had in 2013, it's entirely possible – and bordering on likely – that the backup quarterback will be making a start next season. Barrett will be preparing to make that start in 2014, and he's been preparing for it since he arrived.
5.CB – Gareon Conley
At 6-foot-2, Conley is the tallest cornerback on the Ohio State roster. A wide receiver by trade, Conley spent last season better learning the cornerback position. Once he combines what he has learned with the natural abilities that he already has, he could be a handful for opposing wide receivers. He can cover a lot of ground, and he knows how to find the ball. He was raw a year ago, but should be ripening just in time to get into the mix in the spring. As mentioned above, there is a starting cornerback job open, and there is no shortage of candidates. Conley could very easily win the job, and if he does, expect him to only get better as he grows even more comfortable with the position.
Bonus: S – Christopher Worley
At this point, Worley is certainly a candidate to be competing for the nickel spot on the Ohio State defense. As we saw this past season, if there is trouble in the secondary, it doesn't matter what else is going on in the front seven. If Worley can win a starting spot in the nickel, he will be on the field at least half of the time. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, he has drawn comparisons to former nickel back extraordinaire Jermale Hines.
Bonus: WR – James Clark
Clark played in three of Ohio State's non-conference games last season before an injury cost him the rest of the season. Because the injury happened early in the season, he still has four more seasons in the Scarlet and Gray. The day he stepped onto campus he became one of the team's fastest players, and the staff certainly had plans for him last year. Those plans had to be put on hold, but you can expect them to be plopped onto a table and rolled out anew in 2014.
Bonus: OT – Evan Lisle
Lisle has impressive mobility and used the last season to build strength in order to ready himself to compete for a starting job in 2014. With one offensive tackle spot up for grabs, Lisle should be in the mix. If nothing else, offensive line coach Ed Warinner is hoping Lisle can fight his way into the two-deep depth chart. If he was to actually win a starting job, then he would be doing it against more experienced players, and that would be a fair sign that he's going to be pretty good.
Bonus: DT – Michael Hill
Hill actually played in three of the Buckeyes' first four games last season, but was injured and will be eligible for a medical redshirt. In those three games, as well as in fall camp, he showed an ability to get up field and penetrate an offensive line. Given new defensive line coach Larry Johnson's preference for his defensive tackles to make plays rather than occupy blockers, Hill could be in line for a nice spot in the OSU rotation next season.
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