Dienhart: 3 positions to watch at Ohio State

Anticipation continues to bubble at Ohio State. It always does, just in varying degrees each season. Urban Meyer’s third Buckeye squad has the natives excited as it will begin to take shape. And there is plenty of work to do.

Meyer’s first two seasons have been a smashing success, as OSU went 12-0 in 2013 and 12-2 last season. The downer? The team is riding a two-game losing skid after ripping off 24 victories.

The defense needs to be watched. Chris Ash was brought in from Arkansas, where he ran the Hog defense. Ash previously was DC at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema, so he knows the Big Ten. Ash’s top goal: develop the back seven on defense. Too many big plays were yielded last season.

On offense, all eyes will be on the line, which must replace four starters. Also, keep an eye on the running back spot with Carlos Hyde gone. He was a workhorse. Is Ezekiel Elliott ready to be the man?

[ MORE: Read all of Dienhart's spring football previews ]

Here’s a look at the three key areas of focus this spring for the Buckeyes.

1. Offensive line. The staff must replace four starters from what arguably was the top line in the Big Ten last season that paved the way for the No. 1 rushing offense in the league in 2013 (308.6 ypg). Tackle Jack Mewhort was the bellwether; Corey Linsley was a top center. Tackle Taylor Decker is the lone starter back. And, he’s a good starting point. Decker will move from right to left tackle. Joel Hale has move from the d-line to help. And OSU inked five linemen on signing day. Pat Elflein and Antonio Underwood look to be front-runners at guard, while Jacoby Boren may be the man at center. Kyle Dodson could be the right tackle. Stay tuned. There are lots of moving parts.

2. Linebackers. This hasn’t been a strong area in recent seasons. So, with Ryan Shazier leaving early for the NFL draft, the urgency to develop this position has hastened. Meyer loaded up on linebackers in recruiting. The headliner was Raekwon McMillan, the top linebacker in the nation according to some who already is enrolled. Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry are back after starting in 2013. Guys like Trey Johnson, Cameren Williams and Sam Hubbard, among others, will get long looks. Mike Mitchell announced he was transferring this winter. This was just the No. 7 defense in the Big Ten in 2013 (377.4 ypg).

3. Secondary. Anyone who saw Ohio State knows pass defense was an issue. And that was with stud corner Bradley Roby, who has left early. The secondary has to improve after ranking 11th in the Big Ten vs. the pass last season (268.0 ypg). Doran Grant and Armani Reeves may have beads on the corner spots. Eli Apple and Gareon Conley also are in the mix. The safety spot has been gutted with C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant gone. Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell are top options. Keep an eye on Cameron Burrows, who should forge a role for new secondary coach/defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

Key losses: K Drew Basil; SS C.J. Barnett; FS Christian Bryant; WR Corey Brown; G Marcus Hall; RB Carlos Hyde; C Corey Linsley; OT Jack Mewhort; G Andrew Norwell; CB Bradley Roby; LB Ryan Shazier

Practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 12

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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