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Big spring for returning trio

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Enough time already has slipped away.

After missing out on bowl practices and valuable chances to build for the future, don't expect Urban Meyer to waste the 15 workouts he and the Buckeyes have ahead of them this spring.

The Ohio State coach always has put a premium on competition in spring practice and makes sure his players approach it with a sense of urgency by treating the pecking order he settles on after the spring game as his two-deep for the season opener in the fall. And while incoming freshmen, players taking big strides over the summer or injuries can change things around in August, everything that happens now and through the middle of April counts plenty in Meyer's book.

"I don't want people taking the mentality in spring practice that if I don't get it done, I'll get it done in [training camp]," Meyer said last year. "Now, that certainly might happen. It usually doesn't.

"The best players are going to play. If someone beats someone out, go get it."

The Buckeyes have plenty of battles to judge now that they're back on the field for the first time since clinching an unbeaten season with a win over Michigan at the end of November, with the overwhelming majority of those battles coming on the defensive side.

Aside from returning outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, the entire front seven must be rebuilt and the Buckeyes also have a vacancy at cornerback. On offense, the Buckeyes lost a key starter at right tackle and also have a hole to fill at a receiver spot.

And while most of the No. 3 recruiting class in the country won't be on campus during the spring and could fill a few spots in the rotation, that's an issue for a later date. Right now, the guys already on hand can put themselves in line for work, starting with these three candidates looking to make a big impact this spring.

DL Adolphus Washington

The physically imposing, versatile defensive lineman already has filled in more than admirably for John Simon, stepping in after Simon's injury and closing his freshman season with an unforgettable sack and forced fumble in the win over Michigan.

But if the call to replace the two-time captain had come at the start of the season instead of the end, Washington is the first to admit the results probably wouldn't have been the same.

"I think I needed the time," Washington said after the game. "Since Day 1, I've been learning since I got here. Every day I'm learning something new."

Washington has had even more of them to keep soaking in the expectations and developing a body that looked ready for the Big Ten from the moment he arrived at Ohio State carrying 289 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

With Simon now gone for good, it's up to Washington and classmate Noah Spence to supply the pressure up front for a retooled unit.

RB/WR Jordan Hall

The senior was supposed to be prepping for his pro day this week instead of returning for another camp with the Buckeyes. But the injuries that doomed Hall's season before it started -- and ultimately ended it after three appearances – earned him a medical redshirt and one more crack at a fairytale ending.

He left spring practice a year ago as the projected starter at running back, and while that job now solidly belongs to Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes certainly can use the speed and elusiveness a healthy Hall can provide as he tries to fill a different role in the offense moving forward.

Meyer essentially left the hybrid Pivot position -- famously occupied by Percy Harvin at Florida -- empty a year ago, but Hall has the ability to play that dual-threat role as a receiver and rusher and will focus his energy there as he gets back in the flow of practice.

Competition will be arriving in August in the form of signees Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, but for now Hall has a head-start and surely no lack of motivation.

LB Curtis Grant

The same athleticism that made the junior linebacker such a coveted recruit two years ago is still there, which is why he still remains a potential difference-maker in the heart of the defense.

For whatever reason, Grant hasn't been able to tap into his vast potential yet, most notably losing a starting job early last season and eventually watching a converted fullback thrive at middle linebacker while he was relegated to a reserve role.

Zach Boren has moved on, though, along with fellow senior Storm Klein. Grant is again in position to slide into the crucial spot quarterbacking the defense, and he's starting to run out of chances with two largely underwhelming seasons now behind him.

Camren Williams will be there to push Grant for playing time, and the Buckeyes have two highly regarded signees at linebacker on the way in August. For the players already in the fold and working out, there might not be anybody with more on the line than Grant -- or anybody who could provide a bigger lift with a productive spring.