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Buckeyes visit Queen City

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The trip isn't purely business for Ohio State.

The short trek down to Cincinnati will include an educational stop at the Reds Museum, a taste of the town with stops at a couple of landmark restaurants and a chat with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on tap as well.

But despite taking its annual spring show on the road to Paul Brown Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Ohio State does have some serious matters to attend to before it closes out camp and heads into the offseason program. And while there is time set aside for a bit of fun, for more than a few Buckeyes, the game itself could well determine how much fun they have in the fall.

"We're going to evaluate," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "We have a built-in advantage that we can see our kids perform in a spotlight. ... It's really important to play in that environment, and I hope we have a great crowd and find out who can make some plays in that big environment.

"A lot of times, the spring game makes or breaks [players] as far as having enough trust for us to play them in a game."

The Buckeyes already have faith in the veterans returning from a perfect season a year ago, particularly with an offense that is missing just two starters and a defensive secondary loaded with experienced talent.

But there are plenty of young players and position groups that will command Meyer's attention in his last chance to view them up close before August. And given the urgency he places on spring ball, the guys that catch his eye could be rewarded with more than just ribs at Montgomery Inn.

"I always tell these guys, the spring depth chart, it's set now," Meyer said. "When we're done with spring, that's the way it's going to be in the fall. Of course, things change at times, but very rarely.

"In the fall, we're trying to go win a game and in the spring we're trying to identify the depth chart."

Half the roster will get to win a game this weekend. All of it is up for inspection, though.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Curtis Grant: The reviews have been increasingly more positive for the junior throughout spring, including some praise from Meyer this week that he was finally playing like a middle linebacker at Ohio State should. The Buckeyes have been waiting for that for two years, and he's got a chance to show he's ready on a big stage.

Michael Thomas: The sophomore wideout already has a productive spring game on his resume, but it didn't carry over all that well in the fall. A year later, his knowledge of the offense is improved, his body is stronger, and Thomas has made head-turning plays in live work throughout camp as he pushes his way into the receiver rotation.

Doran Grant: All-American cornerback Bradley Roby will be held out of the game due to a shoulder injury, which will put the spotlight on Grant as the top returner at the position. The coaching staff has been grinding hard to maximize Grant's potential in the secondary given his impressive athleticism, and how he fares against Ohio State's receivers could provide a good gauge of how far he has come.

Braxton Miller: The Heisman Trophy candidate doesn't really have anything to prove, and with a black, non-contact jersey on, he won't exactly get the chance to do what he does best as a runner either. Meyer indicated the game would lean heavily on the passing attack, though, which could give Miller a chance to flash his improved fundamentals and show off his accuracy.

Noah Spence: The sophomore has been almost unblockable throughout camp, even against veterans such as left tackle Jack Mewhort. The Buckeyes already have a good idea what they have in the speedy, disruptive defensive end, but they surely won't mind seeing it in a more competitive situation after Spence spent last season coming off the bench.

THREE POSITION BATTLES

Right tackle: No spot might be giving Meyer more concern as spring comes to a close, especially because he gave the offensive line so much credit for the team's perfect season last fall. The rest of the group has returned intact, but Meyer hasn't been able to make a call yet between Taylor Decker and Chase Farris. This competition will be monitored closely and might stick in Meyer's mind heading into summer.

Running back: The starter doesn't have anything to prove, so Carlos Hyde might not be called on much this weekend. The backup suffered a concussion recently, so Rod Smith likely won't play at all. So Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn will be in the spotlight, and while both have done encouraging things and caught the eye of coaches in the spring, there figures to be a significant difference between pulling ahead to No. 3 on the depth chart and leaving spring as No. 4.

Nickel and dime: Tyvis Powell has been a revelation in the secondary after redshirting last season, but the competition in the defensive backfield is fierce -- and it's only going to get more heated when a signing class loaded with athletes arrives in June. Vonn Bell hasn't stepped foot on campus yet and he could make a push for early playing time when he does in the nickel or dime, but for now Powell, Armani Reeves, Adam Griffin and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown are still jockeying for position.