Five for Friday: Best Under-the-Radar Spring Position Battles So Far
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — This spring Ohio State returns just three starters on offense (not counting Braxton Miller or Evan Spencer) and seven on defense. As such, there is a significant number of position battles going on.
While the battle to be Ohio State's starting running back or middle linebacker will always garner attention and interest, there are plenty of other interesting position competitions being held as well.
One position battle that you won't see mentioned below, however, is the quarterback race going on right now between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. For one, Jones has been consistently ahead of Barrett; and for two, that's not really what I would consider "under the radar".
While not many of the position battles we'll look at will involve starters, they will all involve players who are fighting to be very involved in the on-field activities this season. Each of these battles will go a long way towards the Buckeyes achieving their goals this year.
1. Gareon Conley vs Eli Apple
If you would have asked Buckeye fans after last season who the corner opposite Doran Grant would be this year, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple would have been the two best guesses despite both of them redshirting as freshmen last year. Currently, they are now competing for the #3 cornerback spot as Armani Reeves has apparently done nothing to be moved from his current spot with the ones. Both Conley and Apple have had great moments this spring, and the winner will absolutely see the field on defense this season. The "loser", however, might be left out quite a bit. There isn't always room for a fourth cornerback to see many snaps. Last year that fourth corner was Cameron Burrows and his play came mostly due to injuries or blowouts.
2. Bri'onte Dunn vs Warren Ball
Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball came into the 2012 class together and by the time they finally exhaust their eligibility in 2016 they will have battled each other more than an old married couple. Right now they are both a bit behind the battle for number one between Rod Smith and Ezekiel Elliott. Dunn has gotten some snaps with the ones, however, so he might be a tick ahead of Ball at the moment. Regardless of where things stand now, whomever doesn't win this #3 job will be the #4 tailback, and if you think there aren't many snaps for a #3 cornerback on this team, just wait until you see the scarcity of carries for the fourth-string running back in an offense that also likes to run its quarterback and receivers.
Photo by Dan Harker
3. Tyquan Lewis vs Jamal Marcus
This battle might be under the radar right now, but it won't be this summer. With Noah Spence still serving a two-game suspension, Tyquan Lewis and Jamal Marcus will be fighting for a starting spot. When the spring started, it was a surprise to see Lewis ahead of Marcus, and as of this past Saturday that was still the case. I don't think he's way ahead of Marcus, as both have also gotten snaps with the ones. But it has to be encouraging for defensive line coach Larry Johnson that a redshirt freshman like Lewis can already be playing as well as he is to warrant being ahead of a player who is entering his junior season. With everybody having seen what Marcus was capable of in the Orange Bowl, the possibilities of what Lewis must be capable of seem quite intriguing.
4. Donovan Munger vs Chris Carter vs Michael Hill
Another surprise of camp so far has been defensive tackle Donovan Munger. Munger redshirted last year as a freshman due to a blood clot, so the expectations for him this year were pretty limited. He began the spring behind the twos, mixing in here and there. Now it seems he's consistently with the twos, and he's even getting some snaps with the ones as the defensive line rotates. That is a pretty big jump, as both Chris Carter and Michael Hill were thought to be more likely than Munger to be heading up the twos. Spring is not quite to the half-way point yet, so plenty will still happen, which is why this position will be so interesting to watch. There is quite a bit of talent here, and this contest won't be won by default.
Photo by Jim Davidson
5. Corey Smith vs Michael Thomas
With Evan Spencer out this spring, the starting receiver spot opposite Devin Smith is wide open. Even with Spencer back, it probably would have been open anyway, but at the moment there are really only two receivers fighting it out. Michael Thomas has been with the ones for most of practice, and Urban Meyer listed him as the #2 receiver just behind Devin Smith. Corey Smith has flashed some tremendous hands already this spring, but was also hampered with a slight leg injury. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said this week that Corey Smith could be the best receiver on the team if he plays consistently, though the same could be said for each of the receivers. At stake here is a chance to be a starting wide receiver in an Ohio State offense that promises to throw the ball more than it has in years. The winner here may also have a leg up on Spencer, who started most of the season a year ago.
Bonus: Camren Williams vs Raekwon McMillan
Even though Camren Williams is getting some snaps with the ones, before he can fully challenge Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, he has to fend off Raekwon McMillan. Likewise, before McMillan can get to Grant, he has to deal with Williams. The winner should be decided this spring, and then maybe the real battle will begin this summer.
Bonus: Jacoby Boren vs Billy Price
The starting center job for the Buckeyes -- or "The Apex of the Offense" as Tom Herman and Urban Meyer like to call it -- probably shouldn't fall under the descriptor of "under the radar", but such is life on the interior of the offensive line. Boren is getting the majority of the snaps with the ones, but there is a definite competition going here, and Herman said that it's too early to say one has the advantage over the other.
Bonus: Tommy Brown vs Marcelys Jones
This one is interesting because many -- including myself -- saw Marcelys Jones as a surefire redshirt this year, but he has come into camp and played pretty well in battling Tommy Brown for a backup spot at guard. The winner will probably only be the #4 guard on the depth chart, and may move to #5 once Chase Farris returns. Even if he is playing well in practice, there shouldn't be a reason to burn Jones's redshirt this season.
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