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Needs, Key Position Battles Highlight Ohio State's Spring

Ohio State Buckeyes running out of the tunnel
© Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

There is a lot to be excited about if you are an Ohio State Buckeye fan. Coach Ryan Day and his staff worked hard to retain most of a very talented junior class. The coaching staff attacked the transfer portal and landed a great haul with their recruiting class just this past year. You can review the moves made this offseason with our article here. In this article, I will discuss the biggest positions of need, who will win key battles from various position groups, and an overall thought on the Buckeyes leading into the summer.


There are several battles on the offensive side but two are extremely important to the success of the Buckeyes in 2024. The first position battle that needs to be solved is who will be under center for Day and the Buckeyes this season. Previous starter Kyle McCord threw for 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns but decided he would be better suited for Syracuse this offseason. Four-star quarterback Devin Brown was set to start against Missouri but was pulled before anyone could blink due to a sprained ankle.

Brown is a very talented quarterback but has been unable to remain healthy throughout his time at Ohio State. Insert freshman Lincoln Kienholz. Kienholz was a four-star prospect and has great athleticism but must improve as a passer to stake his claim as the starter this season. Highly rated four-star Air Noland was also brought in this year and will look to make waves down the line. Ultimately, Day was aggressive in bringing in a quarterback to compete and improve the room. Day took advantage of Nick Saban's retirement from Alabama and was able to land five-star Julian Sayin. Day also staked his claim in the transfer portal by getting multi-year starter Will Howard from Kansas State to come in and compete for the job. So, who will be playing quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2024?

Will Howard

Howard has great size and above-average straight-line speed. I believe under Day and new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly Howard can develop into an above-average passer with traits shown that will heavily influence the run game and play-action pass. Howard was able to win the Big 12 Conference during his time at Kansas State and has a ton of experience running an offense in big-time college football.

Devin Brown

Brown will compete just as he did with McCord last year for the starting job. While many believed Brown was leading the race, he ultimately fell short of McCord when the season officially started. While I believe Brown might be more talented than Howard, he still is not ready to lead the Buckeyes. Brown has a strong arm and is a very capable passer. He has shown his athleticism in making plays when they break down. Brown also has what you want in terms of intangibles. He's a fierce competitor as shown by his commitment to Day and Ohio State in the NIL and transfer portal era. Through multiple situations, Brown has stated that he will continue to battle to be the guy at Ohio State.

The Rest

I believe the other three candidates will battle it out for the starting position in 2025. Kienholz has all the athleticism you'd want from the quarterback position but has to improve as a passer. His play against Missouri left a lot to be desired. The overall offense did not give him much help from a coaching and playing standpoint, but he did not look great either. Noland and Sayin were two of the top-four rated quarterbacks in the recruiting class this past cycle. As true freshmen, they have to continue to develop and learn the offense. I do not believe they will compete for the starting position this year because of a steep learning curve and the three talented prospects ahead of them.

The Decision

Ultimately, I believe Day will announce Howard as the starter. I do not think it will be any time soon though. This will be another season where the quarterback will be announced after the first game of the season. This allows Day to keep both Howard and Brown on the roster throughout the 2024 season. Howard's experience and running ability give him the early nod. Watching his play against the solid Big 12 will allow Day and Kelly to design and implement an offense that suits him well. The upgrade in talent with the supporting cast compared to what Kansas State had will vastly improve any quarterback's play. Ohio State has two of the nation's top five tailbacks, Quinshon Judkins and TreVeyon Henderson. Bringing in former Alabama two-year starting center Seth McLaughlin will help solidify the offensive line. The wide receivers will continue to play at a steady level with the coaching of Brian Hartline. The tight-end group has some immense talent and will look to keep steady for this upcoming season.


Trench Wars

With Ohio State only losing starting right guard Matthew Jones to the NFL draft, they should feel pretty good about their offensive line coming into the year. Unfortunately, a disastrous performance against Missouri left a lot to be desired. Returning are former five-star left guard Donovan Jackson and starting left tackle Joshua Simmons, who will join Alabama transfer McLaughlin at center. Josh Fryar looks to be the starting right guard with Luke Montgomery manning the right tackle position. Center Carson Hinzman was the starter up until the bowl game. Both Jackson and Simmons are expected to be NFL draft picks next season.

Front and Center

With McLaughlin transferring to Ohio State, there will be some competition for the center position. While I believe McLaughlin will be the starter, as a coach, you strive for as much competition as possible. It will help the development of players and the team alike. McLaughlin was a two-year starter for Saban at Alabama. A rough playoff game against Michigan made Mclaughlin look a lot worse than he is. McLaughlin was on the Rimington Trophy watchlist for the best center in college football.

Hinzman was a starter for all of last season except the bowl game against Missouri for the Buckeyes. While I believed his play was fair, the coaching staff felt the need to make changes. Hinzman was a four-star guard according to On3 Sports. With the season ending in disappointment for Hinzman, I believe he will lose the starting job to McLaughlin and slide over to right guard. Guard is the natural position for Hinzman, and he has a legitimate chance to earn that spot.

Biggest Need

With the addition of Howard, I believe the biggest hole in the offense is at right tackle. Marvin Harrison, Jr. will need to be replaced but I expect Hartline will keep things moving and grooving there. The addition of Kelly means Ohio State will also lean more on the run game. The play at right tackle was disappointing in 2023 as Fryar never looked comfortable. Another season of development may be what he needs. I am watching closely at Luke Montgomery here. There were reports last year that he was making a push for a starting job. I believe Montgomery will win the right tackle job. Montgomery is a high-level four-star recruit and if the competition is close, the Buckeyes should go with the younger player. It will be important for the offensive line to establish chemistry with each other early, so I expect a decision soon.


ALL-Time Defense

Ohio State returns everyone on the defense outside of Josh Proctor, Mike Hall, Tommie Eichenberg, and Steele Chambers. While those four boasted a ton of experience, a lot of returning players have started in the last two years. The secondary should be even better than the elite level they produced last year. Transfer Caleb Downs played as an All-Southeastern Conference member as a true freshman. His play should only get better as he gains more experience. The cornerback position will feature Denzel Burke, Jordan Hancock, Jermaine Matthews, and Davison Igbinson for the second season in a row. The safeties will be Lathan Ransom, Caleb Downs, and Malik Hartford. There has been some talk about returning safety Sonny Styles moving between levels of the defense this year as a chess piece. Expect him to play some safety but more linebacker in the upcoming season.

The middle of the defense will be a bit of a surprise. Long-time starters Chambers and Eichenberg leaving for the NFL draft left the positions up for grabs. Senior Cody Simon is expected to take over one spot, but the second linebacker will have no shortage of talent waiting to stake a claim.

Five-star recruits C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers are homegrown as they both played their high school football in the great state of Ohio. I would expect a great mix of rotation between Hicks and Styles. Hicks has shown great athleticism but hasn't put it all together. The "starter" will be Hicks with various packages and situational looks for the others to rotate in alongside Simon. With the extension of the playoffs, I would expect all four to play substantial reps.

As for the defensive line, the only starter from the group in 2023 who is gone is Hall. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson plays the guys he trusts the most. Last year, Ty Hamilton split time inside with Tyliek Williams and Hall. He will slide into starting full-time as he rotated as a starter last season. The rotational guys should also see an increase in playing time with the extended season. Kenyetta Jackson and Caden Curry should get ample opportunity to shine and showcase they can be the next great edge duo at Ohio State. I would expect to see Tywone Malone, Hero Kanu, and Kayden McDonald earn more snaps in the interior of the defense.


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