Ohio State Football position previews 2024: Special Teams

Questions are abundant for a critical and underperforming unit from last season and the Ohio state football team is prepared to be better.
Ohio State PK Jayden Fielding
Ohio State PK Jayden Fielding / Ben Jackson/GettyImages

Before I get into the main content of this article, I want to add my thoughts on the hiring of Chip Kelly as Ohio State's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. I realize that Ohio State football fans have yet to see any of the results of Kelly's contributions to the 2024 Ohio State offense, but Kelly's introductory press conference that was held on March 5th, after Ohio State's first spring football practice, could not have gone any better.

Any coach who could colorfully and humorously interject John Lennon, Al Haig, and the annexation of Puerto Rico in a football press conference is someone that I am looking forward to listening to in future press conferences.

This is the fourth in a series of articles that I will be submitting as position group rankings of the 2024 Ohio State Buckeyes, from least concerning to most, based on my perceptions. These articles will conclude the week of the 2024 Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for 1 pm ET on April 13th. As always, I encourage you to let me know what you think and let me know if you believe I have missed anything key in my analysis.

9th - Wide Receivers

8th - Defensive Backs

7th - Running Backs

6th - Special Teams

Players Lost - P Jesse Mirco (via transfer portal to Vanderbilt)

Players Returning - LS John Ferlmann, PK Jayden Fielding. I realize that there are other players involved in kick coverage, punt returns, kickoff returns, etc., but I figured that I would identify the key players associated with the special teams units in this segment.

Why This Ranking? To be charitable about Ohio State's special teams units over the last few seasons, I will simply borrow a phrase from my friend Scott and say that they were "ungood". I am not here to debate and discuss the grammatical practicalities of that phrase, but here are some examples of what I am talking about, and you can see below in the inserted clips - Ohio State would attempt fake punts, and not have them work.

Ohio State would not communicate about running a fake punt that would have worked. Punt returners would field punts while within their own ten-yard line. I am guessing that you can pick up on the general theme here.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day recognized that the special teams were "ungood", and relieved Parker Fleming of his duties as Ohio State's special teams coordinator in January. Ohio State football fans were happy with the decision, as well as exasperated as to why it took so long to make a change.

Who Is In Charge?

To piggyback off the Al Haig theme from up above, who will be responsible for coaching and coordinating the special teams, now that there is no designated individual with that title? Will it be Ryan Day? With the (seemingly) lessened responsibilities of the offensive game plan, play calling, and quarterback coaching now being handled by Chip Kelly, could Day take over this area?

How about Matt Guerrieri? When hired by Ryan Day as Ohio State's new safeties coach on January 10th, 2024, the press release included, "has been hired as the program's new safeties coach with additional responsibilities to be assigned.". Could those additional responsibilities include special teams?

Will James Laurinaitis be involved? After all, the new Ohio State linebackers coach has several players in his position group room who may be called upon to help with kickoff and punt coverage units.

Who Is Going To Punt?

On the recently released Ohio State football roster, Ohio State lists two players as punters on its roster - Hadi Jawad, a walk-on from Wayne State, and Joe McGuire, another walk-on from Melbourne, Australia. Of the two, only Jawad has punted in a collegiate game, and that was two seasons ago when Jawad averaged 40.1 yards per kick.

Help could be on the way. Ohio State hosted another Australian punter by the name of Nick McLarty on March 5th. Listed at 6'7", 255 pounds, (!) McLarty had multiple offers but eventually chose Ohio State. He's the favorite to land the punting job now but Day gives no guarantees to anyone.

How About Some Better News Regarding Special Teams?

Long Snapper John Ferlmann and Placekicker Jayden Fielding both return. Fielding is coming off a solid 2023 season, where he made 16 of 20 field goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards versus Minnesota. Both players will be heavily involved in the special teams in 2024.

What About The Kickoff And Punt Returners?

There certainly is no shortage of capable players. Kickoffs have become somewhat obsolete throughout college football, with teams either booming kicks out of the end zone, or fielding teams choosing to fair catch on a kick, with no return involved. Ohio State may opt for any number of players as kickoff returners in 2024.

WR Jayden Ballard seems to have emerged as a likely punt returner for the Buckeyes, having fielded 9 punts for 49 yards in 2023. Emeka Egbuka has also served as a punt returner, having fielded 7 punts for 23 yards in 2023.

Could Caleb Downs enter into the mix? Downs played on special teams for Alabama, and this would be an opportunity to see what the talented player could do for the Buckeyes.

Next story. Star DB shares why he returned to the Ohio State football team. dark. Next

Special teams are important. Let's hope Day makes them more of a focus in 2024.