“In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be nearest.” ~ William McKinley
I have to give some props to President McKinley. Born in Niles, Ohio, McKinley was the last American President to have served in the military in The Civil War, so McKinley certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to defeats and victory.
To say that the 2016 Ohio State football season ended with a thud is an understatement. While I certainly believed Clemson was capable of defeating Ohio State in The 2016 Fiesta Bowl, I never thought Ohio State would be so thoroughly outplayed, and, let’s be honest Ohio State fans, outcoached.
As badly as I felt about that loss on New Year’s Eve, the Ohio State coaches and players felt the sting of that loss much more so. Dramatic overhauls along the coaching staff, combined with early departures of players for the 2017 NFL Draft, have Ohio State with questions to answer as spring football began in Columbus on March 7th.
For the next several weeks, I will be writing position group previews, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Football Game in Ohio Stadium on April 15th, 2017. These position groups will be ranked, from least to most concern, as I perceive them. It is entirely possible that my concerns, as well as the coaching staff’s concerns, will be reevaluated after the spring game.
5th – Special Teams
Players Lost: P Cameron Johnston, PK Tyler Durbin, PR Curtis Samuel/Dontre Wilson
Returning Players/Incoming Players: P Drue Chrisman (Redshirt Freshman), PK Sean Nuernberger (Redshirt Junior), PK Blake Haubeil (Freshman/Possible Grayshirt), KR Parris Campbell (Redshirt Junior)
A few things to keep in mind for this position group…
- Former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel famously stated that “the punt is the most important play in football”, and was ridiculed by college football fans for such a statement. After losing Cameron Johnston to a probable NFL career, Ohio State fans are going to see what kind of a dependable weapon Johnston provided over the past three seasons. The pressure is squarely upon redshirt freshman Drue Chrisman to provide the same type of steady performance that Johnston gave Ohio State from 2014-2016.
- Walk-on Tyler Durbin had a solid year at placekicker and kickoffs in 2016, until having challenges versus That Team Up North and in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. Think about how the positive momentum was completely lost after Durbin missed the field goals against Clemson in The 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Sean Nuernberger is the logical candidate to reclaim the placekicker position, but incoming freshman Blake Haubeil might be able to make this a battle in fall camp. What may swing the job to Nuernberger is the possibility of grayshirting Haubeil in an effort to save a valuable roster spot this season.
- Parris Campbell has made more of an impact as a kickoff returner than wide receiver up until this point. Campbell averaged nearly 28 yards a kickoff return, and nearly broke one for a touchdown against Indiana in 2016.
- Who will emerge as the Ohio State punt returner in 2017? Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel both manned the position in 2016, but neither return in 2017. Demario McCall is a logical candidate, after fielding three punts in 2016. Could another player possibly be in the mix?
- Coverage units for both kickoffs and punts are always worth watching, as these are the units of players who are looking to elevate their standing in the eyes of the coaching staff. Look for several redshirt freshmen, redshirt sophomores, and true freshmen to earn valuable playing time on these very important units. For all of the fans who believe special teams are overrated, these are the units where big momentum-changing plays often take place, and could impact a game either positively or negatively for the Buckeyes in 2017.
The 2016 Ohio State football season did not end on a positive note. Spring practices in 2017 can show the Ohio State coaches, players, and fans that the 2017 season will not end in a similar fashion.