By David Heasley

Next Man Up

J.K. Dobbins No. 2
Running Back, Freshman
Look, I know it’s a popular—borderline irritating—notion to get excited about the back-up ’back when there’s already a capable starter in place. And look, no offense to Mike Weber: the sophomore, if healthy, is going to be one of the best in the Big 10 once again. But, Dobbins, since becoming the first to lose his black stripe (the way the team onboards freshmen who “get it” the quickest) was the talk of fall camp. He’s No. 2 (with a silver bullet) and given the success of OSU’s last two backups (Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel), the coaches seem to know something we don’t—and we can’t wait to see them unleash another new weapon.

Kendall Sheffield, No. 8
Cornerback, Redshirt Sophomore
Ohio State enjoys a rare position in the college football world. After a mass exodus of talent from last year’s secondary—including first-year-starter phenoms: Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore—they not only get to turn to program players and top high school talent, but also one who was both. Sheffield, a five-star player out of high school, only lasted one season at Alabama before spending a year in junior college, and the Buckeyes get to scoop up a young seasoned player ready to step in right away, if needed.

Johnnie Dixon, No. 1
H-Back/Receiver, Redshirt Senior
Fifth-year classmate J.T. Barrett averaged more total yards per game than Dixon has tallied in his entire career. In fact, Dixon topped his own career yardage in this year’s Spring Game, which makes us glad he persevered and stayed with the program despite coming back from a career nearly snuffed out by knee issues. Even in a sea of athletic position players on the 2017 offense, Dixon represents an old face in (hopefully) in a new body.

Dante Booker, No. 33
Linebacker, Redshirt Senior
Last year, we felt for Booker. Not only did he see his season slowly slip away to a “he’s-gonna-be-out-for-awhile-wait-a-long-while” diagnosis, but watched as his replacement, Jerome Baker raced into the endzone at Oklahoma and filled out just about every highlight reel from last year. The best part? He’s healthy in his final year, and now, he and Baker get to play at the same time—anchoring the outside for a somewhat underrated linebacking corps. One more silver bullet in the the chamber for an already talented, deep front seven.

Isaiah Prince, No. 59
Right Tackle, Junior
There were plenty of folks up in Barrett’s face last year: defensive linemen, the media, fans. And unfortunately, as protector of the strong side, Prince got dished a heap of the blame. Fair or not, he’s shouldered up for his junior season (literally), getting his feet under him with a full range of improved technique. With two runnings backs itching to see the back 40, and a new coordinator wanting to play with all of his new toys, such offseason improvement should go a long way toward alleviating pressure—for everyone.

Next Man Up
2016 (results)

Michael Jordan
started at left guard all season; already a young “veteran”

Joe Burrow
luckily the Bucks didn’t need him during a healthy year for Barrett, but when called upon did his job; maintains backup QB slot even with charge of incoming freshman talent

Chris Worley
fourth on the team in tackles from the outside linebacker position; moving to middle to replace departed Raekwon McMillan

Parris Campbell
wasn’t many balls to go around on a talented, yet struggling offense, but did manage a touchdown rushing and returning; steps out of Curtis Samuel’s H-back shadow

Tracy Sprinkle
only played a few plays before tearing his patellar tendon, but back to bolster depth on insanely good defensive line