- Austin Ward, College Football
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The long wait until football returns is only beginning, but spring practice is at least another day closer. To help pass the time until Big Ten teams are back in pads, we're looking around the entire league at key position battles that could help sort out the race for a championship by the time fall eventually arrives.
Next up: The reigning national champs.
1. Defensive end: Perhaps the most feared pass rusher in the nation is returning, so Ohio State obviously won't have to worry about one side of the line with Joey Bosa preparing for his junior season, one that will almost surely be his last season with the program. But the Buckeyes are going to need to find a new bookend to partner with the star junior with Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier both out of eligibility, and that will put a lot of attention on a handful of fresh faces anxious to break into the lineup. Ohio State always makes a concerted effort to recruit up front, and guys such as Tyquan Lewis, Darius Slade or Dylan Thompson could use the practices in March and April as a springboard into a prominent role in the title defense in the fall. Early enrollee Jashon Cornell could potentially make an early impression as well for the only unit on the roster that must replace multiple starters.
2. Cornerback: Doran Grant never received much acclaim outside of the program, but the veteran cornerback was a significant factor in Ohio State's dramatic improvement in the secondary last season and will be difficult to replace. Just like on the defensive line, though, the Buckeyes have recruited and planned accordingly for life without him, and they've got some athletic options. Eli Apple will slide over and become the top dog at cornerback, but rising sophomores Gareon Conley and Damon Webb figure to have a spirited battle for the other starting spot in the back end.
3. Right tackle: After dealing with some growing pains up front early last season, the Buckeyes have gone right back to being loaded with experience on the offensive line and will return four starters. The only newcomer to the unit will be at right tackle, where sophomore Jamarco Jones might be at the front of the line when camp opens and offensive line guru Ed Warinner gets his hands on the Buckeyes again. At 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds, Kyle Trout also possesses the kind of size Ohio State covets on the edge. After a redshirt season, he might also become a factor in what could be a heated competition for playing time with only one job available on the line.
Among relatively few openings, the reigning national champions are looking for help at defensive line, cornerback and at right tackle.