COLUMBUS — The only way to truly get what Ohio State wants is to play actual games.
Scrimmages and simulations help. But the Buckeyes are well aware there is no substitute for the real thing when it comes to building experience, and there’s nothing that can be done about that until September.
So, there is plenty of time being spent on fundamentals and techniques during spring camp. And putting a bunch of elite talents against each other on the practice field in competitive situations can potentially help work through the learning curve in advance of a trip to Minnesota in five months. But that won’t totally put Ryan Day’s mind at ease even as he looks to squeeze as much as possible out of the last two weeks of practice before the summer offseason.
“For me he biggest concern for me is we just haven’t played a lot of football with our younger players and our development there playing the game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I’m pleased with the effort, I’m pleased with how we’re coming along technique-wise, fundamentally, I think we’re growing. I like where the defense is headed. I like where we’re headed on offense.
“But I am still just concerned that we haven’t played a lot of football with our younger guys.”
That next wave of Buckeyes certainly still appears to be growing up in a hurry right now, at least based on the couple glimpses at the progress the program provided with open-viewing periods over the last week. Lettermen Row was invited into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center twice for a chance to evaluate Ohio State, and these five players flashed as candidates to jump into the mix as contributors for the four-time defending Big Ten champions.
LB/DB Craig Young
The Buckeyes have seemingly been reluctant to fully embrace the hybrid Bullet position that was once so hyped as part of the defensive overhaul a couple years ago. That’s partly due to the fact that it had SAM linebackers who could handle the responsibility without needing to slap a fancy label on them, and as it became clear the roles were largely interchangeable, much of the Bullet buzz faded away. But Craig Young might ramp up the conversation about it again, particularly since the potential starting linebacker was working through drills with the defensive backs on Monday — a sign that maybe Ohio State is moving toward unleashing more of a hybrid athlete in that spot. The way Young has enhanced his body was one of the most eye-catching developments on the roster, and if gets comfortable with the defensive system, look out.
WR Marvin Harrison
The room is crowded with talented targets, and young wide receivers arrive knowing that some patience might be required before regular targets start coming their way. So, it’s going to be tough for any true freshmen to emerge as instant-impact types in the passing game — but Marvin Harrison is at least making his case for inclusion in the rotation. The early enrollee made an impressive touchdown grab during a red-zone drill on Monday, and while that is obviously a small sample size, the feedback about his physical ability and approach to the game had already been overwhelmingly positive before those open viewing periods. The Buckeyes backed that up by already removing his black stripe, another sign Harrison is on a fast track for the program.
LB Cody Simon
The opportunity is right there for the taking at linebacker with every starting position open during spring camp. And with two other Buckeyes dealing with injuries, there are even more reps available during the last two weeks of practice for the bulked-up, physical tackler like Cody Simon to shine. Ohio State was spending a good deal of time working out of nickel packages on Monday, but Simon was staying on the field as a first-team option alongside Teradja Mitchell in a number of situations. Simon is another guy who fits that athletic, versatile mold the Buckeyes want at linebacker. And his spring reps appear to have him on the right trajectory heading into training camp.
OG Josh Fryar
There wasn’t much live-action blocking on Monday and the window to watch practice was small, so it was hard to take much away from the work in the trenches. But the fact that Josh Fryar was continuing to do it with the first-team offensive line was certainly noticeable, as he’s clearly thrust himself into the mix as a candidate to start at guard. With Paris Johnson effectively chiseled into the lineup in stone at the other guard unless he’s needed at tackle for some reason, the battle on the other side is going to be heated. Fryar getting an extended audition for that spot now could pay major dividends for him down the road — and if nothing else, has only made the Buckeyes deeper up front.
CB Ryan Watts
A full offseason clearly treated Ryan Watts well, and now he’s building on that work to his body by adding the kind of meaningful practice reps that simply weren’t available to him during an unusual freshman season. Watts was already tall with an impressive wing span, but now he’s added some muscle to his frame that can turns those arms into weapons at the line of scrimmage in press-man coverage. Somewhat overlooked coming into the spring, the injuries to Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown have opened up first-team reps and increased the urgency of tapping into the big-time potential Watts brings to the Buckeyes. He appears to be responding to the challenge, which is a step in the right direction as Ohio State tries to make dramatic improvements in the secondary.