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Ohio State Spring Game: What to Watch For

Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Game
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Ohio State Spring Game Offers Opportunities for Many

This Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes will hold their annual spring football game, or as it has affectionately become known, The Scarlet and Gray Game. This game provides fans with a quick football fix while also providing many players with the opportunity to put their best foot forward to impress coaches as they take their first steps in preparing for the season to come.

Between injuries to some already well established players and the graduation of others, this Saturday's intrasquad showdown will give many players who were reserves or less in 2014 a chance to shine. For the coaching staff, it will be one of their best opportunities to evaluate the current state of the roster and begin sorting out positional battles.

With that in mind, here are some of the key things to watch for this Saturday. Tickets are available from the OSU website for $5 or if you cannot attend in person, the game will air on the Big Ten Network at 1 PM.

1. The QB Battle

Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Game
Photo Credit: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer
Unfortunately, due to the lingering injuries to both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, neither will suit up for the Buckeyes on Saturday. However, reports indicate that both are progressing well from shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Miller has begun light throwing while Barrett has participated in most non-contact drills this spring.

Because of those injuries, Cardale Jones will have the opportunity to further solidify his case for the starting job. After the impressive three game stretch he went on during the Buckeye' title run, its hard to see anyone but Jones being named the starter come August. But, because each player can make a legitimate case for the job, Miller is a three time Big Ten offensive player of the year and Barrett set school records for touchdowns and considered a Heisman candidate until he broke his ankle against Michigan, Urban Meyer is forced to take a non-committal stance on the subject, at least for now.

Starting opposite Jones will be dual threat QB Stephen Collier. Collier red shirted his freshman year in 2014, but played a larger role than most probably realized. In preparation for the national championship game, Collier played the part of Oregon QB Marcus Mariota during practices. This will be Collier's first opportunity to showcase his abilities since being on campus. Given the track records of previous QBs, fans should be curious to see what he can do.

2. Replacing Devin Smith

One of the major losses the Buckeyes will need to address next season will be the recently departed Devin Smith. During his time as a Buckeye, Smith became one of the best deep ball threats in the country. His straight line speed and ability to get behind defenses was invaluable, particularly during the title run. He stretched the defense, thus allowing more space for Ezekiel Elliot and the other offensive weapons up front to do damage.

Replacing Smith, and to a lesser extent Evan Spencer (both have graduated), won't be easy. The prime candidates will be Corey Smith, a raw talent that has shown flashes of being special, and Michael Thomas, best known for catching Evan Spencer's TD pass against Alabama and being the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson.

Another player to keep an eye on will be Johnny Dixon. Dixon came to Ohio State in 2014 as an elite athlete and the #9 rated wide receiver in the country. He has turned heads in practices and has received praise from Urban Meyer. Expect to see much more from him this spring and during the 2015 season.

Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson should also get some time in at wide receiver, but as H-back players, their role will be more as weapons and not shoe horned into a defined role. Marshall should see plenty of reps during the spring game, but Wilson will sit out as he is still recovering from a broken foot.

3. Running Backs Not Named Ezekiel Elliot

Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Game
Photo Credit: Dan Harker/The O-Zone.net
Let's get one thing straight. Ezekiel Elliot will enter the 2015 season as the starting running back and will undoubtedly receive national hype as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. After putting together one of the greatest seasons ever by an OSU running back, there is no chance of him losing his job.

The real battle will be for his back up spot. With Elliot sitting out the spring game while recovering from wrist surgery, the focus will be on everyone else. With a stable or thoroughbred running backs headed to Columbus in the coming years, the time is now for the likes of Curtis Samuel, Brionte Dunn, and Warren Ball.

Out of all the running backs currently on the roster, Samuel appears to have the inside edge at more playing time in 2015. Coach Meyer has said as much in recent interviews, stating that he wants to utilize Samuel more. This was a trend that also began to emerge as the season wore on. He should get the spotlight on Saturday.

4. Who Will Clog the Middle?

Michael Bennett was, perhaps, one of the most important members of a defense that became absolutely dominant by season's end. But, like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, Bennett is graduating. That will leave a rather large hole in the middle of the Buckeyes' defensive line that will need to be filled.

At the moment, the plan appears to be for Adolphus Washington to take over the mantle as the dominant force on the defensive side of the ball. That will mean shifting back over to the defensive tackle spot from nose guard. If this plan sounds familiar, it should. During the 2014 season, Bennett went from nose guard to defensive tackle and flourished. The player he swapped spots with? You guessed it, Adolphus Washington. Now the Buckeyes hope Washington can make the same devastating impact in 2015.

If not, the Buckeyes will have options. Among the, are Tommy Schutt, Donovan Munger, Michael Hill, and Damon Webb. For now though, Washington appears to be the best option available to the Buckeyes. As for the spot now vacated by Washington at nose guard, the job is Schutt's to lose, at least for now.

5. Fortifying the Pass Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Game
Photo Credit: Jim Davidson/The O-Zone.net
Thanks to a new defensive scheme implemented by Chris Ash in 2014, Ohio State's pass defense went from shaky to borderline dominant. Yes, it took time for all of the principles to click, but once they did the Buckeyes went from being a really good team with some holes to a powerhouse. Without that transformation taking place, it's unlikely they finish the year as national champs.

But like with other areas of this team, they too are facing challenges heading into the 2015 season. Chief among them is replacing exiting senior Doran Grant. That won't be easy given the leadership and skill Grant brought to the position. However, with budding superstar in the making Eli Apple still on the roster, things will be a little easier than one might expect.

So far, Gareon Conley has emerged as the early favorite and has been taking the majority of the snaps with the first team defense. However, Damon Webb will also get some consideration for the spot opposite Apple. Redshirt freshman Marshon Lattimore will also make a strong push for the second corner spot. For those who are unaware, Lattimore missed the 2014 season due largely in part to a hamstring injury.

As for the safeties, there is no cause for concern. Both Vonn Bell and Tyvus Powell are still in the fold. 
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