COLUMBUS — The work is only just beginning at Ohio State.
The complete squad wasn’t even together on Day One of training camp. The full pads aren’t on yet, and there is almost a full month of practices to go before the Buckeyes play a game.
So, yes, it’s a bit early to be evaluating breakout players or awarding starting jobs. On the other hand, thanks to the unique ramp-up period of workouts, Ohio State also reported for the first official practices of the season with a decent idea of just who those guys might be already.
That doesn’t mean Ryan Day is going to spill the details about all of them. But between the captains speaking early in the week and his post-workout comments on Thursday, there are a couple Buckeyes who seemed to have quickly caught the eye and embraced Day’s challenge for August.
“The message for the team has been something that I feel like it’s been a broken record here for the last few years, but when we say focus on right now and win the moment, this is the ultimate situation for that,” Day said. “We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. Certainly anything is possible, and we all know that. We’re not really focused on that. From that summer stretch on since we got here in June, it’s been about focusing on becoming a better football player and staying healthy. Now that’s the same thing, but we’ve added become a great football team.
” … We’re off to a great start, but certainly we have a long road ahead of us.”
Plenty can change between now and Sept. 3 at Illinois, including the way Big Ten teams are even allowed to practice. But Lettermen Row took note of these five names from the early conversations with the Buckeyes and will be watching them heading into the season.
RB Trey Sermon
A comparison between an offensive guard and a running back might not make a lot of sense on paper. But when Ohio State is mentioning Trey Sermon in the same breath as Jonah Jackson, that’s high praise when it comes to the kind of impact performance a graduate transfer can make for the Buckeyes.
Jackson fit in seamlessly last season, becoming a Day One starter, a respected leader and an NFL Draft pick despite only being in the program for one year. Sermon has that same potential across the board, and the early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
“Trey has been a great addition so far,” Day said. “He’s got a great way about him, he’s got a great work ethic and our guys have kind of embraced him. When you bring in a fifth-year senior like that or somebody who is a transfer in one of those settings, you have to find the right guy. Jonah Jackson was the right guy, and we think Trey Sermon is the same way.”
OL Harry Miller
Casually slipped into a conversation about the right-tackle battle was perhaps an accidental confirmation of what has been expected even before spring camp was abandoned: Harry Miller is almost certainly going to be the starter at left guard.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a competition for that role up front, and Ohio State has quality depth and other candidates who could emerge into solid starters. It can also be dangerous to read too much into early comments in camp, but there didn’t seem to be much doubt about where Miller is heading when Day was evaluating his offensive line.
“When you return Thayer Munford, Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis, and then you supplement Harry Miller with Nick [Petit-Frere] or Paris [Johnson] or Dawand [Jones] … it has potential,” Day said. “They haven’t done anything yet. But I’ll tell you: This offensive line could be one of the best I’ve been around.”
WR Kamryn Babb
The Buckeyes have been quietly optimistic that Kamryn Babb would finally be ready to flash his dynamic skills at wide receiver this year, and it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to speak too loudly and jinx the progress after his almost-unthinkable run of bad injury luck.
But just one picture of Babb soaring through the air to make a catch on Thursday morning spoke volumes, offering an early sign that he could really be on the brink of a breakout for the Buckeyes. With Ohio State needing to replace three receivers on the depth chart for the second season in a row, the emergence of Babb given his familiarity with the offense and the maturity that was needed to persevere could be a huge boost.
RT Nicholas Petit-Frere
Patience is a necessity on the offensive line, even with former top-ranked recruits at the position. The potential of Nicholas Petit-Frere has never been in doubt thanks to his big frame and athleticism, but bulking up physically was always going to be a necessity for him to become a frontline starter.
After a couple years in the weight room and hundreds of thousands of calories devoured, Petit-Frere is up to 310 pounds and carrying himself like a potential All-Big Ten tackle.
“Nick had a tremendous offseason,” Day said. “His body weight is as strong as it’s ever been. I think he had a great offseason — he’s strong, really looks like a different person.”
CB Marcus Williamson
Somewhat overlooked outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center despite the intense spotlight on the secondary, Marcus Williamson appears to be much more of a factor in the reload for that unit than might have been projected.
Starting with Kerry Coombs mentioning him in the spring and continuing with Shaun Wade pointing to his improvement this week, the veteran defensive back could blossom into a candidate to fill the vacant job in the slot. Certainly it’s taken some time for Williamson to find a way to make an impact for the Buckeyes, but reuniting with Coombs could be the key to unlock that potential.