QB auditions take center stage in Ohio State spring practice

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two-year starter C.J. Stroud is off to the NFL in the draft next month, which means Ohio State coach Ryan Day needs to find a new quarterback for 2023.

With no obvious heir apparent to Stroud, the quarterback derby is the overarching storyline as the Buckeyes open spring practice on Tuesday.

The race pits third-year backup Kyle McCord, who has seen limited action in his first two seasons, against second-year player Devin Brown.

“I’m hoping one of them emerges and we can name a starter (after spring practice). I really do,” Day said last month. “The way our dynamic is, it would be great for our program to be able to do that.”

McCord, from suburban Philadelphia, got mop-up duty last season, completing 16 of 20 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. He got more playing time in 2021, even starting a game and throwing for 319 yards when Stroud sat out for a rest in a rout of Akron.

Brown, who was coached at his Utah high school by former Buckeye quarterback Joe Germaine, has yet to throw a collegiate pass.

“There definitely is a blank slate,” quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis said of the competition. “I think that just the difference is the guys kind of know what areas that they want to work on, they want to improve on, and they want to go on. But no, absolutely. It’s a blank slate and it’ll be a fun spring for sure.”

For depth at the position, Day picked up transfer Tristan Gebbia, who had been a backup quarterback at Oregon State. An aspiring coach, Gebbia is expected to mentor the young quarterbacks.

Day has a good track record in these situations. He faced a similar quarterback quandary entering spring practice in 2021.

Day had enjoyed the services of Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who became a standout and the starter in 2019 and ’20. When Fields left for the NFL, the candidates to succeed him, Stroud and Jack Miller, had seen little playing time, partially because the 2020 season was shortened by the pandemic.

Stroud got the nod in 2021, broke school records and became a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. Miller ended up transferring.

For all his accomplishments, Stroud couldn’t beat hated rival Michigan in two tries, so Day will be looking for someone who can. Despite the Michigan loss, Ohio State backed into the College Football Playoff last season only to lose to eventual national champion Georgia 42-41 in a wild semifinal.

Regardless of who wins the job this time, Ohio State will – as usual – be loaded with elite offensive talent.

“When you see the cast surrounding them, you couldn’t be more excited to be quarterback in college football,” Day said.

Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming will make up one of the best group of receivers in college football.

Veteran running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams both return to share the carries after both battled injuries last season. Tight end Cade Stover, a key receiver for Stroud, also returns.

Offensive line coach Justin Frye will start auditioning potential starters after losing three first-string guys from last year’s team. Victor Cutler, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, will immediately be in the mix.

Cornerback was a conspicuous weakness for the Buckeyes last season due partially to injuries. They’ll hope Denzel Burke can play like he did in 2021 when he showed so much promise as a freshman, but other veteran experience is lacking.

“What we’ve got to do now is we’ve got to create competition. We’ve got to open this thing up,” cornerbacks coach Tim Walton said. “Let guys go earn jobs and go play and go compete. That’s what it’s about.”

The Buckeyes will get a first look at Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter, who could win a starting job at safety after leading the Orangemen in turnovers last season.

The Buckeyes will have 15 practices, culminating in the annual spring game April 15.

Ex-Ohio State football players acquitted of rape, kidnapping

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two former Ohio State football players were acquitted Thursday on charges of rape and kidnapping stemming from a sexual encounter they had with a woman in an apartment the two players shared.

Amir Riep and Jahsen Wint embraced each other and both cried after the jury verdict was read. Their attorneys argued at trial that the woman had consensual sex with both men but regretted it afterward. They also accused the victim’s father of pushing her and authorities to pursue criminal charges.

Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Meyer said the woman went to the apartment expecting to hang out with Riep, but that the two men violently raped her.

The jury deliberated for less than four hours between Wednesday and Thursday morning before finding Riep and Wint both innocent of two counts of rape and a kidnapping charge. Each man could have faced more than 30 years in prison and registration as sex offenders if convicted.

The two players were kicked off the team in February 2020 after their arrests.

The woman told police that she was having consensual sex with Riep before Wint came into the room and both forced her into sex. After several minutes, they stopped and Riep recorded the woman agreeing that the sex was consensual.

Riep and Lloyd McFarquhar, another former Ohio State football player, both testified on Wednesday that players had been told to get evidence that their sexual partners consented to protect themselves from prosecution.

Ohio State promotes Brian Hartline to offensive coordinator

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s Ryan Day promoted receivers coach Brian Hartline to offensive coordinator.

The six-year member of the Buckeyes coaching staff replaces Kevin Wilson, who left to become the head coach at Tulsa.

The 36-year-old Hartline played at Ohio State and had a seven-year NFL career. He had been promoted to passing game coordinator prior to the 2022 season.

Keenan Bailey, who has been on staff for the past seven years, most recently as a special assistant, was named tight ends coach, a position that Wilson had previously handled. Offensive line coach Justin Frye is getting the responsibility of run game coordinator.

Ohio State will have some important spots to fill on the field, primarily at quarterback. Two-year starter C.J. Stroud is expected to enter the NFL draft, although he hasn’t yet made a public announcement. Backups Kyle McCord and Devin Brown are expected to compete for the starting quarterback job.

Both starting offensive tackles, All-American Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, and center Luke Wypler also will leave to enter the draft.

Guard Matt Jones announced that he will return for a sixth year, giving the Buckeyes two returning starters on the offensive line with Donovan Jackson also coming back. Tight end Cade Stover, an important target for Stroud this last season, and receiver/running back Xavier Johnson also plan to return.

Running back Mayan Williams, who battled a leg injury last season, previously announced that he will return. Assuming TreVeyon Henderson‘s foot injury is fully healed, the Buckeyes will again have a proven one-two punch out in the backfield.

Linebacker Tommy Eichenberger, the leader of the Ohio State defense in 2022, plans to return for a fifth season.

Defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste announced he will transfer to Notre Dame, cornerback JK Johnson is transferring to LSU and safety Jaylen Johnson is transferring to Memphis.