COLUMBUS — Ryan Day took one more gut punch during the Ohio State offseason.
But it turned out to be a relatively glancing blow and just a brief pause for his program as winter workouts wound down and preparations for spring ball ramped up. And while there is still no room to get truly comfortable, Day is clearly starting to see the possibility for a return to normalcy creeping closer.
The Buckeyes will return to the practice field on Friday. He’s relaxed enough to have played some pickup basketball with a couple players this week. And there’s a possibility that the Buckeyes could begin having the roster vaccinated at the end of the month.
All of that added up to a return of a lighter, looser Day during his spring-preview press conference on Wednesday — before diving back into business at the end of the week in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“I’m getting there,” Day said. “It was like taking a punch last week when we had to shut down for a little while because we were starting to get more cases, and it was like: Oh, my gosh, here we go again.
“But we got back in here this week, we’re starting to get going again, got practice on Friday, good news about the vaccines here by the end of the month. Because of that, yeah, starting to see the end of the light of the tunnel and getting some excitement again. Our guys have been into it, and I think they’ve had a really good seven weeks of training. The attitudes have been excellent. Nothing is perfect. We have a great group, great culture, and there are still things we need to work on, mistakes that people make. But we’re in a good place right now, and it’s exciting moving into the future.”
The next major step forward comes on Friday morning. And ahead of the first of 15 workouts in March and April, Lettermen Row is breaking down some key takeaways after Ryan Day spent time updating the media on Wednesday afternoon.
Ohio State future for Marcus Hooker remains unclear
Ohio State isn’t going to rush to a final decision, but the future for veteran safety Marcus Hooker with the program remains in jeopardy following his second OVI charge after being stopped by police on Saturday.
Instead of looking to reclaim the starting job he lost at the end of last season, Hooker will be spending Friday morning at his arraignment. He’s currently indefinitely suspended with no guarantee he will be allowed to return to the Buckeyes.
“We’re very disappointed and take what happened very, very seriously,” Day said. “We’re going to let the process play out, but he is suspended right now indefinitely. We’ll kind of see as things move forward, we’ll make the decisions as we go. We want to get all the information first before we do anything.”
Buckeyes look for balance in quarterback battle
Ohio State has more bodies on the roster than is typical at this time of year, and that’s a huge benefit in staging a competition at the most important position on the roster.
Day wants to balance the reps as evenly as possible during the three-man battle to replace Justin Fields at quarterback. And having the ability to potentially roll through three complete units could help ensure that C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord all get the same shot at the top job during spring camp — although that competition isn’t likely to end until August.
“We’re going to try to get as equal an amount of reps as we can,” Day said. “We’re going to rotate the guys the best we can. We’ve kind of been through this before when we’ve had several guys in there, and I think we do as good of a job as anybody in making sure that guys get reps and compete. That’s going to happen. There are going to be a lot of reps to go around. … I see these guys getting a lot of reps, splitting them up as evenly as possible and letting them compete.
“But the way I look at it is you have 15 practices in the spring and then you have preseason, and Preseason No. 1 is just the next practice of spring. They’re not two separate entities, they’re all a lead-up to the season. We’ll know when the time is right, like we have in the past. But they all have a lot of learning to do.”
Ohio State making vaccination plans
Ryan Day has his vaccination scheduled on Friday. Plenty more Buckeyes figure to be joining him in about two weeks now that the state of Ohio is allowing everybody over the age of 16 to get the shot starting near the end of March.
Ohio State obviously had its share of COVID issues dating back to the rise in positive tests in November that led to a game cancellation at Illinois and weekly roster chaos all the way through the national title game. And it briefly had to pause team activities last week to err on the side of caution before additional tests confirmed it was safe for socially-distanced, small-group workouts to resume on Friday.
So, getting the vaccines for everybody who wants one could be a game-changer and critical on the path back to a normal football season.
“Certainly won’t be required, but we’re going to have a plan in place,” Day said. “All that information came out [Tuesday] about March 29, and that’s exciting for everybody. I’m excited that I’m available to get it, I think I’m schedule for it on Friday, which is exciting. This is a huge step for us moving forward, and we’re really fired up about that.
“We’re going to have a great plan for that. It’s all kind of happening fast, but I know our medical people are working on it and how we’re going to get it organized.”
Buckeyes expect mostly healthy roster in spring
Ohio State won’t be completely full strength when it reports for practice on Friday morning. But by the end of camp, the Buckeyes expect just about everybody on the roster to have participated in at least some capacity — even if full-contact drills aren’t an option for at least a couple key players.
The program policy is to not reveal specifics of injuries, so Day didn’t reveal exactly who might be limited or how much during March and April. But with the spotlight on the secondary, the Buckeyes do know that cornerback Cameron Brown and safety Kourt Williams won’t be able to do live-action reps until training camp after coming off an Achilles and knee injuries, respectively.
“There’s a pretty good list of guys that are coming off some surgeries that will be able to do most things throughout the spring,” Day said. “There are going to be guys in limited fashion, but I think for the most part everybody will be able to do something. Some guys might not be able to go full contact, some might not be able to do team stuff.
“But for the most part, guys will be able to participate in some way, shape or form.”