COLUMBUS — There are many standouts on Ohio State’s talented roster, but here are five players to watch because they are new, are playing new positions or look capable of reaching new heights this season:
1. Zach Harrison. The sophomore defensive end had a short internship before becoming a regular contributor and then a starter as a freshman.
He was good as a freshman. He could become great this season.
He’s good enough that it’s a fair question to ask if he is the next Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa or Chase Young.
When legendary Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson was asked that question, he said, “He sure has the potential to be that.
“Zach has done a great job maturing as a young player. He listens well and is very coachable. He has all of the attributes we look for in a young player, and, if we tell him to do something, he does it. His ceiling is very high, and I’m pleased with where he’s at right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson says he tells his young star to just be the best Zach Harrison he can be.
It appears that message is being well received on Harrison’s end.
“Those guys that came before me are great,” Harrison said on the same Zoom call on which Johnson spoke. “There might be a lot of expectations to post whatever numbers or get certain accolades, but I just go out every day trying to get better and work on my technique.”
Harrison, who is 6-6 and weighs 265 pounds, has run the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds.
Statistically, his freshman season was most similar to Young’s. Harrison had 24 tackles and 3.5 quarterback sacks last year. Young had 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman. Joey Bosa had 42 tackles and 7.5 sacks his first year, and Nick Bosa had 29 tackles and 5 sacks.
2. Trey Sermon. The senior running back left Oklahoma to play his final season at Ohio State.
His 2019 season trended downhill as he watched other running backs get most of the carries for the Sooners and then a knee injury ended his season.
Presumably Sermon did not leave Oklahoma to be someone’s backup. So the competition between him and Master Teague for carries should be interesting.
Sermon gained 744 yards in 2017 and had 947 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in 2018. He had five 100-yard rushing games with a high of 206 yards while at Oklahoma.
OSU running backs coach Tony Alford says Sermon has deceptive speed.
“It doesn’t look like he’s really going, and all of a sudden you look up and he’s covering a lot of ground and space,” he said.
“He presents a lot of issues. He’s very good at coming out of the backfield and running routes. He’s a more-than-willing and able blocker. He’s a tough guy.”
Sermon says he is fully recovered from his knee injury. “This is the best I ever felt in my entire career,” he said.
3. Master Teague. The junior running back gained 789 yards last season as J.K. Dobbins’ backup. That total ranked seventh in the Big Ten.
He is a powerful straight-ahead runner who got much of his yardage in the second half of blowouts last season. If he is healthy as he says he is, he and Sermon could be a challenging combination for opposing defenses.
OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has suggested that there could be a 50-50 split in carries between Teague and Sermon.
Health is a question mark because he suffered an Achilles tendon injury on the first day of spring practice.
“I’ve been feeling good. No worries,” Teague said on a recent Zoom call.
Teague says his rehab process gave him a chance to rebuild himself and become a better running back than he was before.
“Last year, I wasn’t my full self as a running back, I don’t think, even though I did decent,” Teague said. “I didn’t get the agility that I would like to have got and have gotten in offseason because I dealt with some things during that time too, as far as my body.”
Alford said, “When everybody else went home (when Ohio State went to all online classes), he stayed here in Columbus. He stayed in his one-bedroom apartment and went to work. He never complained, whatever he could do and plus some is what he did.”
4. Garrett Wilson. The 5-star wide receiver will be moved inside to the slot receiver position K.J. Hill played last season.
Considering his speed and ability to go up and get the ball, it might be a little surprising to see Wilson moved.
He is among the people who were surprised.
“It wasn’t something I was looking forward to. It was just whatever coach wanted me to do, whatever is best for the team and I was able to do that,” Wilson said. “I’m definitely excited to be in the slot and get a little bit more balls.”
Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline said, “I view Garrett as a dynamic player who can do dynamic things. I think that position, more than anything, is developing more and more into a wide receiver position.
“It’s really that you need to be a great wide receiver first, and I think that Garrett, being a smart, savvy guy who has a good wiggle to him when it comes to releases and operating space, I think he’s a great fit for that space.”
It will be interesting to watch if Wilson and his new position are a good fit for each other. He caught 30 passes for 432 yards and five touchdowns last season. It’s possible he could double those numbers this season.
5. Pete Werner. If there were a prize for the most underestimated player on OSU’s defense last season, Werner would have been a leading contender.
He played the run well, he could defend against the pass and knew the playbook backward and forward. He was certainly one of the most versatile players on the 2019 defense.
That led Ohio State’s defensive coaches to move him to a new position this year, the “will” linebacker instead of the “sam” linebacker. To oversimplify it, he will probably be doing more tackling and less pass coverage.
His fellow linebacker Tuf Borland says it’s a good fit.
“He’s 245 pounds and can bring it,” Borland said.
“It is a good feeling, a good transition,” Werner said about the move. “I feel like I have the opportunity to make maybe a little bit more plays. It’s just an opportunity to show more of my versatility.”