It’s been two months since the Buckeyes finished spring training. You can do a lot in these two months. One of those things is to think about football in Ohio State. Do you know what happens when you have two months to think? You tend to overthink. You look at the list and begin to convince yourself that this and that true novice has a chance to replace an experienced starter.
While TreVeyon Henderson and Denzel Burke did just that last season, it rarely happens. That doesn’t stop us from talking our way into these real-life rookie-beat-veteran scenarios every off-season.
It’s important to keep all of this in mind because when you look at the current roster, there just isn’t much room for a true newcomer to make a real run on significant playing time. Regardless, I still think there are three guys you could see on the field very early in the 2022 season.
CJ Hicks – Defenseman: There are some who believe the five-star recruit will be a starter by the end of the season. I won’t go that far, but the nation’s best linebacker recruit is certainly talented. A big factor in deciding whether he’ll be part of the regular rotation early on is his knowledge of the new defense.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said he throws a lot at the linebackers and Hicks is still figuring things out. He admits he’s impressed with the young linebacker’s ability to get from point A to point B when he’s able to break away. That’s a good thing, because last year there wasn’t nearly enough linebackers to get from point A to point B.
Kye Stokes – Safety: The Florida native was one of the lowest-ranked members of OSU’s youngest recruit class, being ranked only 351 nationally by 247Sports, but he became the first member of the class to lose his black stripe. Stokes impressed Ryan Day and Jim Knowles throughout the spring, capping it with an impressive performance in the spring game as he made nine tackles and stopped two passes (check out his spring game highlights here).
The three starting points all seem locked, but there is a lot of uncertainty after that. If his performance in the spring game is any indication, Stokes is a playmaker and the Buckeyes have had a lack of playmakers at that position in recent seasons (read my article on that here). This bodes well for him to be part of the rotation when the season starts.
Bennett Christian-Tight End: With five scholarship tight ends already on the list, you’d think the second-lowest member of his recruiting class wouldn’t feel like playing. Not so quick with that thinking. None of the other five tight ends are jacks of all trades, so there’s a good chance the guys will get situational rotation.
A skilled blocker, Christian is already as tall as any Buckeye in this position at 6’6″ and 245 pounds. He could be the greatest when training begins in August after spending time with strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti. Combine his blocking ability with that size and I can see him being used in short yardage and goal-line situations.
You want a long shot to play early? I think receiver Kyion Grayes is talented enough to play in early 2022, but I’m not sure he can climb the mountain of talent in front of him to see the field in anything other than cleanup duty. It gives me a lot of Chris Olave vibe (he wears number 17 like Olave did when he was a rookie) because it’s very smooth and fluid.
If he gets a lot of playing time this season, it will likely be later rather than sooner. Regardless of how much he plays as a true freshman, I have no doubt that he will have a stellar career for the Ohio State football team.
It won’t be easy for any true newbie to contribute early this year, but I think these three (plus one) stand the best chance of making a dent in the lineup.