COLUMBUS — Saturday might as well be picture day for the Ohio State offense as the Buckeyes wrap up their spring drills with a quasi-Scarlet and Gray game in Ohio Stadium.
For the 20,000 or so fans lucky to be there, and perhaps a million or more watching on the Big Ten Network, they’ll get their first extended look at the three quarterbacks – C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, Kyle McCord – battling for the job to run what promises to be a potent offense chock full of running backs, receivers, tight ends and linemen. Pretty much, the players seen Saturday in first-team roles will be the same ones folks will see in the fall.
But on the back seven of the defensive side? Not so much.
Now, the line, book-ended by Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith, will be pretty much a dress rehearsal of the cast of characters expected to contribute mightily in the fall. That is, with the exception of returning decorated tackle Haskell Garrett, who has sat out the spring while recuperating from an undisclosed touch-up procedure over the winter.
But again, for a glimpse of what could be the starting back seven — three linebackers, four defensive backs; or two linebackers and five defensive backs – everybody is going to have to wait. Indeed, the secondary, the part of the team that could have used the most tuning and tightening after a forgettable finish against Alabama in the national championship game, has been working shorthanded this spring — with the exception of returning safety starter Josh Proctor.
It seems that would be troubling for Day, who watched the Buckeyes slip to an unacceptable ranking of No. 122 in the nation in pass defense in what otherwise was a banner year during the past pandemic-strained season.
“Sure, there’s a whole list of things I could be worried about at night, but that would be one of them,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But the good news is the guys that are practicing are getting better. And there’s a lot of teams in the country that play with a lot less [talent].”
Returning cornerback starter Sevyn Banks had to step out in mid-March due to an undisclosed injury, Shaun Wade left for the NFL draft, and projected other starting corner Cameron Brown has been sidelined as he recovers from the Achilles injury suffered last fall.
That’s just an example of those who have been sidelined or missing through the spring, not to mention Marcus Hooker, a part-time player last year who recently pleaded guilty to an OVI charge and has been suspended indefinitely for more than a month.
In the meantime, returning swing players Marcus Williamson, Lathan Ransom and Ronnie Hickman have been trying to prove they deserve a regular role in the lineup. And physical safety-linebacker Craig Young has flashed potential alongside journeyman corner Tyreke Johnson, Lejond Cavazos, Cameron Martinez, Ryan Watts and freshman Denzel Burke, among others.
But the idea that the secondary — now under the direction of coach Matt Barnes after Ryan Day declared Kerry Coombs to be the defensive coordinator in full – could hit pause Saturday and pose for a starting lineup photo for the fall seems out of the question. Yet, Day said, the beat goes on.
“We just have to continue to coach them better, get ‘em better, and we’ll have good enough players in the end,” Day said.
He added that the good news is Banks and Brown, for example, “have played some football. Kourt Williams [a swing safety coming back from a knee injury who is also out this spring] is one who hasn’t. But Sevyn has played, Cam has played.
“We’d certainly love to have them out there on the field right now. But again, these younger guys have got to step up. That’s the good thing, they don’t have a choice. They have to step up.”