Ohio State Football: 3 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014
Urban Meyer has secured three consecutive top-five recruiting classes, giving the Ohio State football team one of the most loaded rosters in all of college football.
With the Buckeyes replacing 10 starters from last year's 12-2 squad, there are bound to be a few breakout stars.
Last year, defensive end Joey Bosa and right tackle Taylor Decker emerged as pleasant surprises for Meyer and Ohio State. Bosa earned a starting spot midway through the year and earned first-team freshman All-American honors, while Decker surged down the stretch of the season.
Who will be the breakout stars for Ohio State in 2014?
Ohio State is replacing its leading passer (Braxton Miller), rusher (Carlos Hyde) and receiver (Corey Brown) in 2014, so there's a big need for playmakers on offense.
Dontre Wilson is primed to fill that role.
Speed has never been an issue for Wilson, who enrolled at Ohio State last fall and instantly became one of the fastest players on the team. As a dangerous all-purpose back coming out of high school, Buckeyes fans envisioned Wilson making a Percy Harvin-like impact in 2013.
That never materialized.
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
With Hyde and Miller forming one of the most devastating and effective one-two punches in college football, Wilson was used primarily as a decoy in Ohio State's offense. He still managed to pile up 460 total yards and three touchdowns, but those results fell short of his preseason expectations.
The Buckeyes should get much more from him this year. Wilson was named the starting H-back in March, and he's expecting big things for his sophomore season.
"I just wanted to come in and play, but last year didn't turn out the way I wanted to," Wilson said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "But now I am starting at the H position, which is the most prolific position on offense and I am getting a lot more touches. It feels way better."
Linebacker has been a consistent weakness for Ohio State since 2012—a deficiency that Meyer identified during the home stretch of the Buckeyes' 2013 campaign.
"The linebacker position is still my biggest concern on our team," Meyer said last November, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. "The depth is a major concern."
Depth is no longer an issue after Meyer secured four blue-chip linebackers in his 2014 recruiting class, headlined by 5-star Raekwon McMillan. But replacing first-team All American Ryan Shazier, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a tall order.
That's where Joshua Perry comes in.
Perry started alongside Shazier last year, recording 64 total tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, according to Ohio State's official website. He was shifted to Shazier's vacated spot this spring, and if the Buckeyes want better results from their linebackers, Perry will need to have a big year.
"There are a couple of areas where guys have got to step up," Meyer said, according to Rusty Miller of the AP. "Josh Perry has to step up and play big."
Perry is taking that challenge seriously.
Evidence of that came when a picture of Perry's growth over the years made the rounds last month.
Perry certainly has the look of an All-Big Ten linebacker, and he'll showcase that this season.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance for a breakout season this year.
That wasn't the case just two weeks ago, when Miller was expected to lead an offense that primarily used bubble screens and quick passes to attack the perimeter. On top of that, a fractured wrist in the opening week of fall camp (which required minor surgery) nearly derailed Elliott's season before it started.
The rising sophomore bounced back quickly, though, and is already back at full capacity after two weeks of rehab. And with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett now at quarterback, the Buckeyes could rely more on the steady production of the running back position.
That could mean big things for Elliott, who rushed for 262 yards on 30 carries a season ago. He showcased the strength to run between the tackles and the speed to run away from the secondary—traits that made Hyde such an effective running back in Meyer's spread offense.
"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," Elliott said, according to ESPN's Brian Bennett. "So think [sic] it helps a lot that I'm versatile."
The Buckeyes should utilize that versatility to help ease the loss of Miller.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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