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Ohio State’s Under-the-Radar Moves Will Pay Dividends

Ohio State has made some massive moves this offseason. However, it will be the under-the-radar moves that will make or break the saseon.

This offseason, Ohio State has been in the news for several reasons. From starting quarterback Kyle McCord transferring out to Syracuse to getting a haul in the portal in return, Ohio State has been making big moves. Ryan Day is setting himself up for success in 2024. However, Ohio State’s under-the-radar moves will be what makes or breaks the season.

Sure, getting two of the SEC’s top players to transfer in is massive. Naturally, Chip Kelly leaving a head coaching job to call plays in Columbus is going to be exciting. However, addition by subtraction, a local promotion, and finding a coach with an NFL pedigree will pay dividends for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s Under-the-Radar Moves Will Make 2024

Not-So-Special Teams

Ohio State’s special teams were bad in 2023, as they were in the years prior. Missing field goals or shanking punts can be coached. Or, they could be if there was a decent coach. The Buckeyes, however, did not have a decent coach.

Full-time special teams coach, Parker Fleming, headed the unit since 2021 and has been with the program since 2018. The issue with his special teams was not a lack of talent. Sure, the Noah Ruggles miss at the end of the Peach Bowl against Georgia stung. However, the unit was considerably unprepared at every turn.

For 2023, the Buckeyes fielded one of the worst units at the FBS level. They were 100th in punt return yardage and managed just 4.4 yards per return. The unit hasn’t returned a punt for a touchdown since Jalin Marshall‘s massive game against Indiana in 2014. It finished 65th in the nation in kick return yardage and, again, did not score a touchdown. It has been 13 seasons since a kickoff return went for a touchdown.

Starting punter Jesse Mirco elected to transfer out after the Cotton Bowl. While the move to fire Fleming may not make the special times unit top-five in the nation. However, the hope is that they can just minimize the simple procedural mistakes.

A Familiar Face Returns

Having a former player in the coaching ranks seems like an under-the-radar move for Ohio State. When that former player is James Laurinaitis, the impact will be felt.

Laurinaitis played at Ohio State from 2005-2008 and ranked up three First-Team All-Big Ten honors, three consensus First-Team All-Americans, and two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. His awards include the Nagurski Trophy in 2006, two Jack Lambert Trophies in 2007 and 2008, the Butkus Award in 2007, and the Lott Trophy in 2008.

In the NFL, Laurinaitis spent seven years with the St. Louis Rams as a second-round pick and then one year with the New Orleans Saints.

As a graduate assistant in 2023, Laurinaitis was just learning the ropes. Now as the full-time linebackers coach, Laurinaitis gets to fully utilize the recruiting chops he learned last year. In a short time, Laurinaitis’ impact has been felt. Recruits respect him because he’s played the position at an elite level and was able to make a career in the NFL. He has been an impressive ambassador for the program.

Ohio State’s defensive recruiting has only strengthened since Laurinaitis stepped back on campus.

Succession Plan in Place?

There have been all kinds of rumblings about the future of Larry Johnson, Ohio State’s defensive line coach. It’s an issue that has been used against the Buckeyes and has likely been the reason Ohio State has missed out on some elite defensive line recruits. Although he is certainly going to coach in 2024 at the very least, Ohio State went out and signed Brandon Jordan as a defensive analyst.

This is likely the most under-the-radar move Ohio State made this offseason but it could have a ripple effect. One defensive area where Ohio State has struggled is the pass rush, oddly enough. Despite having four and five-star athletes up and down the depth chart, Ohio State was tied for 60th in the nation with just 2.2 sacks per game last year.

In his lone season with Michigan State in 2022 as a pass rush specialist, the Spartans forced 2.4 sacks per game, good for 40th in FBS. Additionally, he coached a pair of players who ended up with over 10 tackles for loss, a feat the Buckeyes managed last year with Tyleik Williams and Jack Sawyer.

For the 2023 season, Jordan was a pass rush specialist with the Seattle Seahawks. With 47 sacks, the Seahawks finished 11th in the NFL, up from 45 in 2022. With 75 tackles for loss, Seattle ranked 21st in the NFL in 2022. Then, with Jordan, that number rocketed up to 99, good for fourth-best in the league.

By adding Jordan and his NFL pass-rushing expertise, expect the defensive line to make massive improvements. This is the most under-the-radar move by Ohio State but it’s going to pay off during the 2024 season.

Big Things Coming

With as much talent as the Buckeyes have, there is no reason for Ohio State to not be among the elites. There are too many returning players who have made impacts and could have been drafted for Ohio State to not be expected to win.

By parting ways with a less-than-good special teams coach, the unit should take even a small step forward. Laurinaitis is a force on the coaching staff that hasn’t been felt since the days of Mike Vrabel. His linebackers are set to look better with the defensive line in front of them working more efficiently.

2024 is set to be a special year for Ohio State. With a new era of college football being ushered in, the Buckeyes have a chance to take over.

Photo Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

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