COLUMBUS — There was a lot of optimism flowing for Elyria High grads Chase Farris and Tracy Sprinkle during Ohio State’s spring game last season in Cincinnati.
Farris was competing for the right tackle position with Taylor Decker, and there was talk that Sprinkle — a true freshman — had a shot at landing on the depth chart at defensive line.
But Farris ended up moving to the defensive line and playing sparingly after Tommy Schutt was injured before the season, and Sprinkle watched from the sideline game after game before red-shirting to save a year of eligibility.
The optimism was back for the Pioneers during the 2014 spring game Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but it looks like earning a spot in the lineup may even be harder for the duo this time around.
“I can see myself getting in the rotation on the passing downs,” Sprinkle said after his Gray team downed Farris’ Scarlet team 17-7. “Right now I think I’ll see action on the pass-rushing downs and on field-goal block … that’s where I’m doing good right now.”
Sprinkle’s biggest obstacle when it comes to playing time is that all the defensive linemen he watched play last season are back — including four standout starters.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett is the only senior at the position, junior defensive end Noah Spence was an All-Big Ten selection last year and Joey Bosa was a freshman All-American. The fourth starter is 6-foot-4, 288-pound junior Adolphus Washington, considered to be the most NFL-ready of the group.
“I kept Taylor Decker out (of the spring game) because he played over a thousand snaps last year, and the same thing with our four starting D-linemen,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “That’s not what spring ball is for, to keep beating on people, so I’d be disappointed if we weren’t one of the better defensive lines in the country this season with those four guys.”
Sprinkle will be battling for rotation time with Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt, Jamal Marcus and Chris Carter — all of whom saw time in backup roles last year — as well as a handful of other players.
Sprinkle believes the year-plus he’s been in the Buckeyes program should help him find time on the field.
“I’ve progressed an awful lot,” he said. “The new coaches are teaching me a lot of new things, and that’s giving me confidence. Now I’m just out here playing as hard as I can.
“I’m just going to continue to work as hard as I can on my weaknesses and try to enhance my strengths.”
Sprinkle started at right defensive end for the Gray team and did a solid job of containing that side of the field. He then shifted over to the left end spot, worked a series as the left defensive tackle and then played another series at right defensive tackle … all before the end of the first half. He only sat out one series during the game.
Sprinkle didn’t expect to play all four defensive line spots, but changed his mind when asked if that was by design.
“No … yeah, it was, because we didn’t have enough people playing so I had to play every position,” he said. “It was (fun). I made a lot of plays.”
Farris did not get to make any plays as he was in shorts and tennis shoes on the sideline as he continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery. He is expected to be fully recovered before next season and is believed to be in the group that will compete for several starting spots.
Decker is the only returning starter from an offensive line that was considered one of the best in the nation last season.
“Offensive line, we’ve got to really go, we’ve gotta really go from here,” Meyer said.
Meyer confirmed that Decker will move from right to left tackle and that sophomore Pat Elflein, who played against Michigan in the regular-season finale and Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, has secured one of the guard positions. He said the other three spots are wide open.
Jacoby Boren has game experience at center, as does Darryl Baldwin at tackle. Antonio Underwood returns to the mix after missing the 2013 season, and Joel Hale joins Farris in moving from the defensive line to the offensive line.
If that weren’t daunting enough for the Elyrian, he will also have a couple of fresh faces to compete with for playing time.
Farris, who was unavailable after the spring game, would have liked to be on the field showing the coaches he deserves a starting spot. Sprinkle would have liked that too, if only so he could have faced his former high school teammate.
“That would have been pretty fun,” Sprinkle said. “But he’s getting healthy, getting better. He’ll be back soon.”