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Ohio State Football: Spring Winners and Losers
By John Porentas

The public scrimmage also known as "the Spring Game" is in the books. Those subscribing to the charade will tell you that the score was 38-31 and that the Scarlet team won.

You might detect a note of sarcasm in that first paragraph, but ask yourself this: when was the last time the people you know weren’t upset about an OSU football loss? The OSU Gray lost, people should be upset. They aren’t, because it’s not a game, it’s just a scrimmage.

While the outcome of the scrimmage isn’t any big deal, there are winners and losers every spring. That’s as it should be. OSU strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti is obsessed with declaring winners and losers. Urban Meyer loves competition and keeps track of outcomes. Winning and losing are a part of daily life in the OSU football program, and you can bet your bottom dollar (win or lose) that they have a list of players who were winners and another list who were losers this spring.

As much as we’d like to, we don’t get to look at their list, and for some strange reason they don’t seem to want to share it with us when we ask them about it. Certainly there was a winner and loser in the backup quarterback competition this spring, but nobody was talking when asked about it after the spring game/scrimmage.

Coaches (and players) aren’t talking, but the public wants to know. That leaves just one thing to do.

We’ll guess.

That’s right, we’ll make some guesses about the winners and losers this spring. You can bet we’ll lose on some of our guesses, but we’ll  win on some too. This is, after all, about winners and losers. Nobody wins them all, but we’re going to try to win more than we lose.

For the sake of clarity, we should probably define what a spring winner is and what a spring loser is. We see spring ball as a time for development of players and a time when players begin earning or losing playing time for the upcoming season. So, a winner will be a player whose chances for playing time next fall improved during spring ball, a loser will be a player whose chances for playing time diminished over spring ball.

One final note -- not every player will be on this list, just the ones whose chances for playing time next fall were impacted by spring performances.

Position by position, here’s our spring winners and losers.

Defensive End

Winners: 

Jonathon Cooper: Cooper actually had some injury issues this spring which limited his participation, but when he was out there he drew raves from coaches and teammates for what he was able to do even while limited. 

Nick Bosa: Last spring he was still in high school and recovering from a torn ACL. This spring he is full go and  showing why he should play exclusively at end and not inside.

Sam Hubbard: Hubbard is on this list because of the notion of using him as a standup linebacker/defensive end in passing situations. That kind of versatility is going to get him more minutes, as if he weren't going to get a bunch already. That's a spring practice win.

Losers:

Rashod Berry: Berry didn’t have a bad spring, it’s just that there is so much defensive end talent that his chances of seeing the field in any significant amount of time actually went down. Jonathan Cooper is one of the reasons Berry is on this list. Any playing time Cooper gets will probably come at the expense of Berry.

Defensive Interior

Winners:

Malik Barrow: Barrow is coming back from injury and has impressed. He gives the Buckeye defensive line a real pass rush threat in the middle of the defensive line, something they can use.

Jashon Cornell: Got extra reps because Tracy Sprinkle was still out with injury. Made the most of it.

Rob Landers: Picked up where he left off last year when he was a pleasant surprise. He is no longer a surprise but kept getting better this spring.

Dre'Mont Jones: When the coaches a talk about you as having gone from good to potentially elite you’ve had a good spring. All you need to know is that they are trying to find room for him in an already-crowded rushmen package.

Losers:  

Dylan Thompson: Injuries have kept him out of drills throughout his career, and new injuries this spring aren’t doing him any favors. There’s so much defensive line talent and the less he practices the further down the list he moves.

Tracy Sprinkle: The defensive staff is hoping he will be the player they thought he could be, but lack of practice time this spring has them getting other guys ready just in case. Lack of practice reps is never a good thing.

Michael Hill: Rob Landers is getting more snaps with the ones than Hill right now.

Linebackers

Winners:

Justin Hilliard: Hilliard finally looks healthy and it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. He has speed, toughness and a nose for the football. OSU is loaded at linebacker, and Hilliard makes the load that much heavier.

Dante Booker: After an injury-plagued season last year he is back and won’t be denied. He was so impressive that he was moved to the walk-out linebacker spot where he can showcase his athleticism. Let this sink in. He is playing the same position that Darron Lee and Chris Worley have played.

Malik Harrison: We didn’t get to see much of him first hand, but when the head coach raves about you and says you have to play this season, something is up. Harrison impressed Urban Meyer and that will get him on the field.

Chris Worley: Everybody was all “oh woe is me” about the middle linebacker spot when Raekwon McMillan exited for the NFL draft. Worley’s performance this spring put an immediate stop to the hand-wringing.

Baron Browning: His spring was cut short by a shoulder injury but coaches saw enough of Browning to be convinced that he has to play this fall.

Losers:

Keandre Jones: Jones wasn’t mentioned much this spring, and while that isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t good either. If Harrison and Hilliard are backups seeing the field, the minutes have to come from somebody, and right how that’s Jones. There will only be so many snaps for backup linebackers.

Nick Conner: Injuries have plagued his career and continue to do so. Spring left him behind a lot of people on the depth chart.

Corners

Winners:

Damon Arnette, Shaun Wade, Jeffery Okudah, Kendall Sheffield, Marcus Williamson.

Arnette made good use of the spring to rise to the top of a long list of candidates at corner. Wade, Okudah, Sheffield and Williamson are all early enrollees who got a jump on showing the OSU catching staff what they can do.

Losers:

Joshua Norwood, Rodjay Burns.

These are veterans that are in danger of being passed by the younger players mentioned above. Any minute earned by a newcomer is a minute lost to this list of players.

Safeties

Winners:

Damon Webb: Every indication is that he is a better, faster version of what he was last season. He definitely has picked up his game this spring.

Isaiah Pryor: Early enrollment gives him a leg up on earning playing time early in his career.

Losers:

Wayne Davis: Moving to safety from a crowded corner position is going to require more time for his adjustment.

Offensive Line

         Winners:

Matt Burrell: Whenever anyone was asked who has made a move on the offensive line, the name of Matt Burrell was the first mentioned. He’s in serious competition to earn the starting right guard spot. He’ll no-doubt be in the two-deep even if he isn’t a starter.

Josh Alabi: He has finally found a home at offensive tackle after starting his career on defense. He was good enough to be the backup left tackle after just one spring camp. Remember Daryl Baldwin?

Kevin Feder: He’s finally healthy and getting some snaps. The coaches are looking to him to provide depth at tackle.

Josh Myers: The freshman has made a solid impression from day one in the weight room and all through spring ball. He’ll provide depth somewhere on the offensive line.

Losers:

Demetrius Knox: Academic issues caused him to miss entire practices this spring. That’s not the kind of reliability the coaches are looking for in a player being considered for the starting right guard spot. This could be a very costly spring for him.

Malcolm Pridgeon: Was thought to be a candidate for the right guard position but has not picked up the playbook as quickly as needed. Probably has fallen behind Matt Burrell.

Tight Ends

Winners:

A.J. Alexander: Has definitely made a move. Got extra reps with Marcus Baugh out of spring practice and has made the most of them. Probably the number two tight end coming out of spring.

Losers:

Kierre Hawkins: Grades have kept him off the practice field which has put him behind a lot of other talent.

Wide Receivers

Winners: 

Johnnie Dixon: After an injury-plagued career he finally looks healthy this spring. His name came up constantly all spring and strong showing in the spring game showed why.

Terry McLaurin: Urban Meyer called him one of the best on the team. He has a knack for the deep ball which is something the Buckeyes are really looking for.

Brendon White: Nobody knew where he would play so they threw him in at receiver. He might be raw, but he makes plays, and that will get him on the field.

Losers:

Austin Mack: Just has not emerged as the play maker everyone thought he would be. Probably lost minutes to Dixon this spring and maybe even White.

H-Back

Winners:

Parris Campbell: Seems to have found a comfortable home at the H. Has all the tools to play that position. Now it looks like he has the maturity to go with them.

K.J. Hill: Like Campbell, had a great spring at H. He’s a very effective receiver but don’t sleep on him as a ball carrier either.

Running Backs

Winners:

Demario McCall: Used the spring to remind everyone how electric he is. At a time when he might have been forgotten behind Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins, he didn’t let that happen and remains firmly in the mix at running back.

J.K. Dobbins: Came in early and impressed everyone.  Showed he can run inside and out, block and catch. His spring performance will get him minutes next fall.

Losers:

Antonio Williams: Injuries kept him off the practice field for much of spring and that opened the door for reps for McCall and Dobbins. That will cost Williams heading into fall.

Quarterbacks

Winner:

Dwayne Haskins: He came into spring as the third-team QB and exited spring in a tight race for the backup position. That can only be interpreted as a winning spring.

Loser:

Joe Burrow: It isn’t like he had a bad spring, but clearly Haskins closed the gap on him. He had to be considered the backup headed into spring, now that’s in doubt. He can still turn it around in the fall, but just evaluating the spring, he gave up ground to Haskins.

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