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2016 Ohio State Preview: 10 Buckeye Upperclassmen Who Must Step Up
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — Yesterday we began our week of preview pieces with 10 Buckeyes who are primed to break out, and today it is time to look at 10 upperclassmen who must step up this season.

You might notice that there are third-year players on both lists. Well, you're going to have that when you don't have many seniors and there are over 40 players with freshman eligibility who have never stepped on the field before.

Anyway, these 10 players have had varying experiences in their time at Ohio State, and each of them is about to take on the largest role in their Buckeye lives. If Ohio State is going to the playoffs, these 10 upperclassmen need to step up.

1. Left tackle Jamarco Jones
The Buckeyes haven't had a concern at left tackle for a pretty long time. Fortunately for J.T. Barrett, they don't plan on having any concerns this season either. Jamarco Jones stepped into this role, which has been his since the spring, and he has shown no signs of losing it. In fact, there have only been positives from the coaches on how Jones is doing. A true junior, this is Jones' first starting opportunity and it appears he has done everything he has been asked to do to get ready for a vital role in what should be a great offense.

2. Safety Damon Webb
Urban Meyer said on Monday that right now it is Malik Hooker and Damon Webb at the safeties. Webb is a true junior who has played here and there, but has never been in a position like this. At free safety he is going to have to be just as good at pass coverage as he is run stopping. He is a hard-hitting defender who doesn't shy from contact, so he is exactly what the Buckeyes are looking for at the position. Now he just has show it once the season begins. If he can't, then there are going to be issues. The 2006 and 2013 Buckeyes showed what can happen when you have a defense that is short one safety.

3. Will linebacker Dante Booker
Dante Booker has spent his entire Buckeye career behind Joshua Perry. He certainly learned a lot from Perry, but now he will have to show his work on every single down. Booker is a guy who has let the moments get the best of him in the past, but that can't happen anymore. Perhaps with the amount of experience he is going to gain here pretty quickly, that will no longer be a concern.

4. H-back Dontre Wilson
If Dontre Wilson can live up to the hype that he received as a freshman, then the Buckeyes are going to be thrilled as they watch him hoist the 2016 Heisman Trophy. He doesn't have to match that hype to step up and be a key player for the Buckeyes, but it wouldn't hurt. This is his final go-round, so it is customary to expect his best.

5. Tight end Marcus Baugh
If Marcus Baugh doesn't step up this season, then the tight end position at Ohio State is going to be reliant upon some form of an underperforming Baugh and four freshman-eligible players who can't yet be relied upon to be everything that a Buckeye tight end needs to be. To this point, however, tight ends coach Ed Warinner has been very pleased with what Baugh has given him. And freshman Jake Hausmann seems to be ahead of the curve.

6. Kicker Sean Nuernberger
Even though Urban Meyer is not a fan of field goals, there really is no known quantity at placekicker other than Sean Nuernberger. As a junior, Nuernberger has had enough experience that he is no longer a young kicker, and once you are no longer a young kicker, you need to be consistent. If the Buckeyes don't have consistency here, it will alter Meyer's thinking quite a bit when the Buckeyes are in field goal territory.

7. Defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle
Replacing guys like Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington is a tall order, but Tracy Sprinkle is in his fourth year now at Ohio State, so he needs to be ready to go. It was assumed that when the Buckeyes signed Sprinkle they may have to wait a few years, but then when it finally came time, he would be worth the wait. We will find out this year if that is the case. If he can't handle what is asked of him, the Buckeyes will have to turn to one of the six freshman defensive tackles behind him. Obviously, they don't want to have to do that full time.

8. Wide receiver Corey Smith
Corey Smith was one of Zach Smith's six starters two seasons ago, but has essentially been missing ever since. That needs to end this season, which everybody totally expects to happen. He can do too many things with the football and there is no better time than the present to showcase those abilities. As one of the few seniors on the team he needs to provide an example for the multitude of young receivers to follow.

9. Sam linebacker Chris Worley
You can't replace a first-round pick and not have everybody looking at you to step up. This is Chris Worley's fourth season at Ohio State and his first opportunity to start since he was beaten out by Darron Lee in 2014. Nobody should be expecting him to be Darron Lee, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't expect a lot. There is quite a bit of pressure on Worley given the demands of his position, but the staff loves his leadership and approach to the game. There aren't many doubts about him from his coaches.

10. Nose tackle Michael Hill
Michael Hill was quietly impressive for the Buckeyes as the season went on last year. He got better each week. He will need to do the same thing this year. They can't have him tiring out late in the season, which means a rotation is extremely important. Hill needs to stay fresh and strong to help defend the run for the Buckeyes. A lot of the defense will start with him. He needs to hold up at the point of attack in order to allow this young defense to age gracefully.

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