Ohio begins its 2019 season on Aug. 2 when it holds its first practice of fall camp, the first step toward what the Bobcats hope will be a trip to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game.
The Bobcats bring a strong core of talent and experienced players on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean their fall camp won’t be full of competition for players hoping to earn roles atop the depth chart.
Here’s where some of those battles take place:
Over the course of the last three seasons, the Bobcats have enjoyed the consistency of their running back core. Former star A.J. Ouellette was one of the key pieces of Ohio’s recent success, and he left Ohio with 3,784 career rushing yards, third-best in program history and 32 rushing touchdowns, fourth-best.
Former running back Maleek Irons will be missed, too, after he totaled 831 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
With two marquee players gone, the running back room is led by redshirt sophomore Julian Ross, redshirt sophomore Jake Neatherton and redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison.
Ross is the most experienced back of the trio with a career total 264 rushing yards and three touchdowns. While he is the most experienced, Ross has missed a considerable amount of time because of a shoulder injury that sidelined for five games last season and all of spring practice earlier this year.
Neatherton is in a similar situation with Ross. Though the Miamisburg native appeared in all 13 games last season – primarily as a special teams’ player – he also received 19 touches from the backfield. Neatherton’s 81 yards aren’t much with the small sample size, but expect Neatherton’s workload to increase this season. Along with Ross, Neatherton missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury.
Allison showed promise with the abundance of reps he received in spring camp. Though the spring reps were critical, Allison is still behind in terms of in-game experience. The Norristown, Pennsylvania, native only appeared in one game last season where he had seven carries for 24 yards.
Ohio should have three of its five linemen squared away in now-left tackle Austen Pleasants, left guard Brett Kitrell and center Steven Hayes. Pleasants, who started all 13 games last season at right tackle, made the switch to the left for Rourke’s blindside protection. In his two seasons at Ohio, Kitrell has gone back and forth between guard and center, but will fill out the guard spot in year three. Hayes started three games last season at center and worked well in spring at the same spot.
The reason for the switch of Pleasants and Kitrell, however, is because the Bobcats lost two All-Mid-American Conference linemen with the departures of Joe Anderson and Joe Lowery.
Figuring out the right side shouldn’t be the most daunting task for new offensive line coach Allen Rudolph as junior Hagen Meservy started 11 games at right guard his freshman year. The tackle position might pose more competition, though. Redshirt senior Marques Grimes is the current frontrunner, but he has little in-game experience and has battled shoulder injuries over his two years with the program.
Interior defensive line
The Bobcats interior defensive line took a hit at the end of last season when redshirt seniors Kent Berger and Andrew Payne finished their careers. Berger, a captain who finished with 34 tackles and five sacks, was one of Ohio’s anchors in the trenches.
Left to replace the duo are a mix of inexperienced players, but there are a few that should provide promise, and among the best is Cole Baker.
In his first year as a Bobcat last season, Baker appeared in all 13 games and totaled 20 tackles. He has the potential to have a breakout season in his final season so long as he can continue the production he had a year ago. A group of other formidable players round out the interior, including freshman Denzel Daxon, the Bobcats’ highest-rated recruit of their 2019 class.
Daxon, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle from Nassau, Bahamas, originally committed to Louisville, but announced his switch to Ohio in December and brings plenty of potential to the Bobcats’ defensive front.
Last season, this position was anchored by redshirt senior Connor Brown who started all 13 games, but only hauled in eight receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown.
The Bobcats will replace Brown with second highest-rated member of its 2019 recruiting class, Tyler Foster.
Foster, who played at Pickerington North High School near Columbus, has a 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame and totaled 495 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 32 receptions in his senior year. He could be the heavy tight end asset coach Frank Solich, offensive coordinator Tim Albin and Rourke have been looking for.
Though a talented and hyped-up recruit, Foster will have to battle it out among the other tight ends on the roster – including Athens natives Adam and Ryan Luehrman.
This is arguably the biggest competition heading int camp. Who will replace Papi White — recently signed by the Tennessee Titans — and Andrew Meyer? Cam Odom will likely fill one of those hole after serving as the No. 3 wide receiver last year, and the Bobcats will also likely turn to Jerome Buckner.
A redshirt freshman from Columbus, Buckner had an adequate performance last year with 104 yards and a touchdown. Now with a whole 12 game schedule ahead of him, his opportunity to become a breakout player is his for the taking.
Along with Buckner, redshirt sophomore Isiah Cox returns with 309 yards and three touchdowns from a season ago. The Bobcats also have Shane Hooks, who redshirted his freshman season but could produce in the redzone with his 6-foot-4, 184-pound frame.