Buckeye Brief What we learned from the first Ohio State football depth

Ohio State redshirt sophomore tackle Branden Bowen hits a pad at the first practice of fall camp on July 27. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor.Just three days prior to Thursday’s season opener against Indiana in Bloomington, Ohio State’s football team released its first depth chart of the 2017 season. Offensive tackle Branden Bowen will start … at right guardWhen coach Urban Meyer spoke at Big Ten Media Days prior to fall camp, he named seven players as potential candidates to win the starting right guard spot: Malcolm Pridgeon and Demetrius Knox, Matt Burrell and Branden Bowen and Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford.Burrell started in the spring game, which seemingly gave him an edge in the wide-open position battle. Though Meyer said Burrell put forth his best effort to win the job, he noted that one player — Bowen — rose above the competition and deserved to be named the starter. “He’s the most improved guy, one of the most improved players on our team,” Meyer said of Bowen. “Something clicked with him in early summer. I heard it from [strength and conditioning] coach Mick [Marotti]. I saw it. It really wasn’t that close, to be honest with you.”Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa coaches his unit at a fall practice on Aug. 5. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor.As the position battle has raged over the past few months, Meyer and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa preached that the eventual starter at right guard would be the most consistent lineman. “When you look at Bowen, you just think, like, ‘That’s a huge guy.’ You see the potential there. You see what you can be,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said of the 6-foot-7, 312-pound offensive lineman. “He just looks like he’s motivated more. He’s like ready to go play now.”Of the four upperclassmen in the mix at right guard, Bowen is the only one who didn’t play guard last season. The former offensive tackle provided insurance to right tackle Isaiah Prince and left tackle Jamarco Jones as their backups.. He was expected to play the same role this year. Just three weeks ago, Meyer said the battle to win the job was between Pridgeon, Burrell and Knox. He noted that Bowen was playing well enough to earn playing time, but he felt unsure about moving the offensive tackle inside to guard because it would diminish the depth outside. During Monday’s press conference, Meyer made it clear he simply couldn’t keep Bowen off the field.“[Top backup offensive tackle] Munford has done a nice job, but those concerns are there,” Meyer said. “But you’ve also got to get your first five in there.”On the opening-week depth chart, Munford is listed as backup right tackle and Joshua Alabi is slotted to back up Jones at left tackle. Meyer does not and should not have much confidence though, as Munford has spent less than a year in the program and Alabi switched from the defensive line to the offensive side of the ball in the spring.But given Bowen’s ascendance, Meyer assumed he could sacrifice the depth the former tackle would bring on the outside to improve the interior of the line. Even the linemen on the other side of the ball who compete against him in practice have noticed Bowen’s growth.“During the summer, you could start to see that he would train with a purpose,” defensive end Jalyn Holmes said. “Even when he messes up, he’s with coach Stud asking what he could do better. He’s carrying himself as a professional, and that’s why he’s a starter.”Mike Weber’s health remains a questionFive weeks after running back Mike Weber injured his hamstring in a practice, Meyer acknowledged the tweak was still hampering him. “He’s very close [to being 100 percent]. I’ll know more today, but he’s close,” Meyer said.OSU redshirt sophmore running back Mike Weber (25) throws the ball out of the endzone during the 2017 Spring Game at Ohio Stadium on April 15, 2017. Credit: Mason Swires | Former Assistant Photo EditorThis lack of clarity comes after many players and coaches had confidently said the second-year starter will play in Thursday’s season-opener against Indiana. Two weeks ago, running backs coach Tony Alford said Weber would “absolutely” be the starter in Week 1. At the end of July, Meyer said Weber was dealing with a “little tight hamstring.”But on the opening depth chart, Weber was not listed as the sole starter. Instead, he and freshman running back J.K. Dobbins are dual starters. At Monday’s press conference, Meyer didn’t specify whether the reasoning for having both as starters was due to Weber’s health.The coach said he doesn’t feel like the first-year running back will start, but left open the possibility of starting Dobbins in his first career game.Weber didn’t have much competition last year. The first-year starter rushed 182 times for 1,096 yards, finding the end zone on nine occasions. Behind him, Demario McCall took just 42 carries 273 yards and did much of his damage during garbage time in the Buckeyes’ blowout wins.This year, Dobbins figures to take a decent portion of Weber’s carries. He has been heralded as one of the most impressive Ohio State freshmen in recent years. Alford said Dobbins picked up the offense faster than any first-year player he has ever coached.Starting safety battle ongoingSince the spring, Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller have been locked in a battle to be named the starter at strong safety alongside Damon Webb. According to Monday’s depth chart, the battle continues despite the first game of the season being only three days away.Though defensive coordinator and safeties coach Greg Schiano and Meyer have effusively praised Webb’s development as the only returning starter in the secondary, they have been largely silent and coy about the Smith-Fuller battle.Smith is entering his fifth season at Ohio State, but he has dealt with numerous injuries, including an ACL tear in 2015. Though Fuller has only played for the Buckeyes for one season, the former four-star prospect is a lanky 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete whose potential might be enticing enough to win him a starting position.