We were back at ye olde virtual water cooler today for some nice, cool, sips of some pristine agua when I turned to Tom and said, “Tom, which position group on the Ohio State football team has been affected most by having spring ball cancelled?”
“Hmm,” he thought as he took an introspective pull from the white paper cup.
“That’s a good question.”
He then finished the last of his water, crushed the cup like he was angry with it for cutting him off in traffic, and threw it in the direction of the trash can, missing the receptacle completely.
“To answer that question,” he began, “I would have to ask you the following four questions. One, when you say ‘affected,’ do you mean positive or negative? Second, why are you the arbiter of what is positive and what is negative? Third, are you going to tell anybody how badly I missed the trash can? And fourth —”
“You know what?” I cut him before he could finish, “I don’t really have time for all of that. I’m just out here for a drink and a snack.”
I then drank my entire cup of water in one gulp, crushed the cup way cooler than Tom did, and effortlessly flipped the spent chalice into the trash can from at least 25 feet away.
“Just type it up and email me,” I said as I walked to the kitchenette for a cherry Pop-Tart.
When I look at the Ohio State position groups and think about who was most affected by not having spring, I immediately latch on to the quarterbacks because of freshmen CJ Stroud and Jack Miller. Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and for half of the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks to head into 2020 without a spring is a concern.
But they still have Justin Fields and Gunnar Hoak, who are upperclassmen and plenty experienced.
Cornerback is also a concern and it would have been nice to get the freshmen some work there, as well as more action for Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown.
In the end, however, cornerback should be fine without a spring, which is why I am going with the Buckeye receivers.
Senior Jaylen Harris was emerging as a leader, which would be welcomed by both head coach Ryan Day and position coach Brian Hartline. Now that leadership has to be done at arm’s length.
Which leads us to the four highly-touted freshmen. They got to take part in three whole practices before spring break came and everything eventually got shut down.
On signing day, Day said all four of the freshmen — Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott, and Mookie Cooper — could be in the two-deep because of the lack of experience coming back.
Those four will no longer have the same opportunity that Garrett Wilson had the year before. Spring ball propelled him into the rotation last year as a true freshman. (His talent didn’t hurt.)
Spring ball isn’t a prerequisite for making it into the rotation, as Chris Olave showed in 2018. Olave didn’t enroll early and he was still in there at the end of the season. He wasn’t, however, in there at the start of the season. He needed injuries and time to make it happen.
This coming season, these four freshmen won’t have the same luxury regarding time, and yet some of them will be counted on immediately, just as Olave and Wilson were down the stretch.
It’s not an ideal situation, but it would be impossible to say the Buckeyes haven’t tried to prepare as much as they could.
The general rule for spring football is that the earlier you are in your career, the more important it is.
Ohio State is fortunate to be a in position where a big chunk of their starters from 2019 are returning for 2020.
The lack of spring ball likely won’t have a major impact on the linebackers or the offensive line or the starting quarterback for this fall because they have pretty clear-cut starters back for the most part at those spots.
Running back would normally have been a good answer, but without Marcus Crowley, Master Teague, or Miyan Williams available, that’s not really the case, either.
Instead, the real answer is the defensive backfield in general, and the cornerback position to be specific.
Here’s a list of the sure things in the 2020 Ohio State defensive backfield: Shaun Wade is going to be a very, very good cornerback. End of list.
Who’s going to be the other outside corner? Who’s going to be the slot corner? Who’s going to be the nickel? Will they be able to play the one-high style that Ryan Day wants, or will the personnel force them into a different style? Will Josh Proctor (or whoever plays that deep safety spot) be as automatic a backstop as Jordan Fuller was for the last three years?
Those are the questions that we thought we were going to start getting answers to this spring.
There are possible answers out there. Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown played plenty in 2019, and both could slide right in to the outside and slot corner roles. Tyreke Johnson could as well, if he’s healthy. Proctor has flashed signs of greatness in the past.
Marcus Hooker or Marcus Williamson or Bryson Shaw could be potential difference-makers. Ronnie Hickman came in with a lot of hype, but never saw the field in 2019 due to injury. Kourt Williams, Ryan Watts, and Lejond Cavazos come in with a lot of hype this year.
Spring was the time we expected to start matching up those possible answers with those looming questions. Instead, it’s now looking like they might have to get answered during fall camp instead.