- Austin Ward, College Football
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There will be the briefest of glimpses at the recognizable stars who led Ohio State to a national title Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but that’s largely for the fans' benefit.
After that, the Buckeyes will get down to business, though after Joey Bosa or Taylor Decker leave the field, they will certainly still want the crowd to stick around to accomplish what they’re hoping in the spring game.
Expecting again one of the largest turnouts in the nation as camp comes to a close for the reigning champs, Urban Meyer’s attention will be locked on young guys who haven’t performed in front of stages as large or loud as the Horseshoe. And while there will be two series to start the scrimmage that will feature the familiar faces in the starting lineup, Meyer already knows how they can handle that situation and will quickly clear the deck for more serious evaluations.
“The one advantage we have is there should be a great crowd, and there are a bunch of players who have not performed in the arena in front of a big crowd,” Meyer said. “It does impact people; it impacts the way they play, the nerves, the ability to show up when everybody is watching. I’ve had great players in practice who can’t play in games or needed time to develop.
“I think the fans deserve to watch the Joey Bosas and Taylor Deckers of the world play. Then we’ll take those guys out and continue on with the scrimmage.”
At that point, both Meyer and the fans will effectively be peering into the future because there doesn’t appear to be all that much playing time available on a roster loaded with veteran, talented returners.
There are a couple first-team roles to fill, and the Buckeyes were a prime example last season of the importance of building depth when injuries popped up, most famously at quarterback. But out of the guys stepping into the spotlight on Saturday, Meyer figures to have his eyes on these three the most in what figures to be a pass-heavy scrimmage.
WR Noah Brown: Both the coaching staff and the players have been almost unanimous in singing the praises of the sophomore wideout, who has been penciled into the starting rotation for a unit that must replace both Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Brown had to slim down in the offseason, and playing at a lighter weight at 222 pounds seems to have done wonders for his speed and route-running, and he’s become a consistent target in the passing game this spring because of it. The football will be in the air often on Saturday, and Brown has a chance to stamp himself as a potential factor in the fall with a big performance.
CB Gareon Conley: The volume of passes will give just as many opportunities for defensive backs to shine as the wideouts, and Conley will be under the microscope as another potential starter at one of the few positions that must fill a void. Eli Apple will slide over to replace Doran Grant as the primary cornerback, but the Buckeyes are hoping Conley is ready to start delivering on all the promise that surrounded his recruitment as he heads into his redshirt sophomore campaign as the favorite to take over the No. 2 slot. There is competition at cornerback with Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore pushing for action, but if Conley can hold some targets in check this weekend, he could hold off those guys as well.
RB Bri'onte Dunn: The rushing attack won’t be the highest priority for Meyer in the spring game, and he also has no uncertainty about the top of his depth chart once Ezekiel Elliott returns to full strength following offseason wrist surgery. Dunn also doesn’t quite qualify as completely unproven on a big stage given his contributions as a freshman, but after unexpectedly taking a redshirt as a sophomore and only getting nine carries last season, this might be one of his last chances to prove he can be a factor in the backfield. Elliott's presence has already forced Ohio State to get creative with Curtis Samuel, moving him to H-back in the spring, and Elliott has proved he can handle as many carries as necessary. But Dunn is a bruiser with some speed and he figures to get the most work on Saturday. Those carries might be one of his final opportunities to make a case to take some of the load off Elliott.
Urban Meyer is eager to see how some younger players perform in front of an expected big crowd at The Horseshoe.