The Ohio State Buckeyes are once again expected to have one of the top offenses in the nation this season.
Head coach Ryan Day could have rested on the laurels of leading the nation in scoring (45.7 ppg), total offense (561.2), and yards per play (7.96) last year, but instead he has replaced offensive line coach Greg Studrawa with Justin Frye in hopes of improving a running game that finished third in the nation averaging 5.54 yards per carry in 2021.
The Buckeyes return six starters on offense and the five new starters are all experienced enough to no longer be unknown quantities. Overall, it should once again be an explosive offense, but one with a renewed focus on the running game. There are still questions to answer once fall camp gets underway on Thursday, however.
A handful of those questions are discussed below.
How many receivers can get into the rotation?
The Buckeyes will start out with a baseline of four receivers in the rotation with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison, and Emeka Egbuka. Those four alone would be enough for most schools, but it shouldn’t have to be enough for the Buckeyes. Kamryn Babb is in his fifth year and has missed three seasons due to injury. He was a captain last year and nobody inside the WHAC is being rooted for harder than he is this camp. Xavier Johnson is also in his fifth year and is looking to earn more action than just special teams. Redshirt sophomore Jayden Ballard was raw last year but can use this camp to show there is a place for him in this offense. The freshmen will be playing from behind and catching up in camp isn’t going to be easy.
Can Kyle McCord hold off Devin Brown?
The expectation is that Kyle McCord will be CJ Stroud’s backup once again this year. McCord won the job over Jack Miller last year as a true freshman and now has five games and a start under his belt as he heads to camp. Devin Brown is a talented true freshman but Ryan Day will eventually want to get McCord ready to take over should something happen during the season. Brown will probably have about two weeks to make his move before the Buckeyes move into game preparation and the jobs are settled.
What kind of move can Evan Pryor make?
There are roughly 35 carries available to the Ohio State running backs in any given game. That’s enough for a two-back attack, but is it enough for a third back like Evan Pryor? If he has the kind of camp he’s capable of having, they’ll have to find five or so touches per game for him. The Buckeye coaches love his versatility but he has to be able to run between the tackles as well. There won’t be a ton of that in camp this month, but it still won’t be much of a surprise if the early reviews are quite positive for Pryor.
What does a healthy Julian Fleming look like in camp?
Despite being Chris Olave’s backup each of the last two seasons, junior Julian Fleming hasn’t gotten the same kind of attention as sophomores Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka over the past eight or nine months. Health has been the major reason for that, but Fleming was healthy for most of spring and the outlook seems quite good for fall camp. Fleming came to Ohio State as the top receiver in the 2020 class but he still had a lot to learn about the position. Now as a veteran and with young players looking to make a move, what kind of camp is Fleming setting up to have? With his size, strength, athleticism, and overall potential, he could end up being the talk of the camp for the Buckeyes.
Will any freshmen stand out?
As everybody here knows, if a dog’s gonna bite, he’s gonna bite as a pup. That Cooperism is now decades old and still decades true. Safety Kye Stokes showed up in the spring and impressed people. In the past, receivers like Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba did the same. Will a true freshman emerge during camp and earn a spot in the two-deep? Will somebody like CJ Hicks move older players aside? This isn’t a freshman class that should be relied on all that heavily this season, but that doesn’t mean Ryan Day and his staff wouldn’t welcome some upstart performances this month.
Does Paris Johnson look like the first-round pick everybody is projecting him as?
Paris Johnson has yet to start a game at left tackle and he’s already populating most mock drafts for next year. That’s a lot to put on a true junior offensive lineman, but the real pressure starts now with Johnson actually having to do the job. There are seemingly no doubts that he can handle the position, but this month will tell us whether that carefree attitude was apt or not.
Who is the third tackle?
Offensive line coach Justin Frye still hasn’t seen his entire offensive line group on the practice field. Three incoming freshmen this summer and a handful of injuries in the spring have kept things a bit mysterious for the Buckeyes’ newest offensive coach. Last year, finding the third tackle wasn’t really a problem because Ohio State was starting four of them. This year, however, finding that reliable third tackle may be a little more difficult. It could be something as simple as sophomore left guard Donovan Jackson sliding outside if need be, but if he’s as good as expected inside, do you really want to move him around? Ohio State signs a couple of projected tackles every year, so it’s time some of them stepped up and landed in the two-deep.
Who is the third guard?
Fourth-year junior Enokk Vimahi and third-year sophomore Josh Fryar are likely your top two backups on the offensive line at the moment and both have experience playing both tackle and guard. Does one of them become the third guard and the other the third tackle? Versatility is a necessity on the offensive line because it makes you deeper than you actually are. How things go with Vimahi and Fryar during camp could be a sign of things to come overall for the offensive line.
How do the tight end roles develop?
Tom and I discussed this a bit on today’s Buckeye Weekly Podcast, but how many “complete” tight ends does Ohio State come out of camp with? Overall, it’s a bit of an eclectic crew, but how many of them can do everything that is asked? Mitch Rossi has his role as a second tight end/fullback, but can everybody else in that room be the No. 1 tight end on the line? The Buckeyes don’t want to be predictable offensively based on which tight ends are in the game, so the more that each guy can do, the more likely they are to be on the field.
Can Noah Ruggles pick up where he let off last season?
Noah Ruggles wasn’t in for the spring but he was still working on his craft. It was odd that he wasn’t around, but kickers tend to be odd. Ruggles was fantastic last year but he’s had a bit of an up-and-down career. Ryan Day doesn’t put his place-kickers in bad situations, but the pressure of playing in Ohio Stadium carries its own burdens. Fortunately for Ruggles, none of this is new.