COLUMBUS — Ohio State is a third of the way through spring practice.
After five practices, the Buckeyes are digging into an array of things, and plenty of high-profile recruits were on hand to watch Saturday. It was also Student Appreciation Day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and it was the first day media was allowed to watch a full practice in years.
So what did we learn about the Buckeyes on Day Five? Lettermen Row saw plenty, and here’s what stood out.
Buckeyes still working quarterback under center
Other than the victory formation, the Buckeyes rarely went under center in seven years under Urban Meyer. But through five practices, it seems like Ryan Day wants to change that.
Day had Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin take a series of snaps from under center for the first half of practice — rolling out, working on footwork and handoffs. The transformation from entirely a shotgun offense to some reps under center hasn’t been complete, and the Buckeyes will obviously take most of their snaps from the normal spread shotgun. But as long as Day is running the show, the option to go under center will be on the table.
Nicholas Petit-Frere jumping in with starters
The five-star tackle redshirted a season ago, but now he’s starting to show flashes of why he was rated so highly. Day is beginning to expect a lot of the 2018 recruiting class that finished No. 2 nationally. Petit-Frere seems to be leading the pack in that class.
Petit-Frere took reps with the first-team offense at right tackle, and he appeared dominant at times during one-on-one drills. He’s starting to grow physically into his massive 6-foot-6 frame. Day has taken notice.
The Buckeyes lost talent up front with the graduation of Isaiah Prince and Malcolm Pridgeon, along with the departure of Michael Jordan to the NFL. Three guys need replaced, and that won’t be easy at all. But Petit-Frere might be able to bridge that, making the new offensive line easier to mold together.
Buckeyes weighing punt-return options
It’s not a secret that Ohio State struggled with punt returners in the past. The Buckeyes know that, and they worked with punt returners for a while Saturday.
Ohio State has a strong cast of punt returners for now; C.J. Saunders, K.J. Hill, Jaelen Gill and Demario McCall all took reps catching and returning punts. Hill and Saunders did it last season, but inserting McCall and Gill into that role could be a way for Day and the Buckeyes to get the speedy weapons the ball more often. The Buckeyes have playmakers across the board on offense, and punt returning seems like it’s returning to good hands.
Baron Browning limited in Ohio State practice
Jordan Fuller isn’t practicing much this spring, but he’s a solidified all-Big Ten defender at safety who doesn’t need the reps. One guy who is trying to make his name well-known on the defensive side is Baron Browing, and he was also limited in practice on Saturday.
The linebacking group is currently in flux. Questions surround starters Pete Werner and Tuf Borland. Teradja Mitchell’s rise has coaches talking quite a bit. Browning is a former five-star prospect who could have a breakout season alongside Mitchell, but that’s only if Browning can stay healthy.
Browning has shown spurts of playing at a high level at linebacker. This could be a make-or-break spring for him, and the tweak of the hamstring could be a poor sign. Fortunately for Browning, it sounds like limiting him in practice was just precautionary.
Marcus Crowley making impression for Buckeyes
Crowley might have just come into the Ohio State backfield at the right time. With the departure of Mike Weber, the dismissal of Brian Snead and the need for a backup behind J.K. Dobbins, the early-enrollee freshman could find his name sniffing around the two-deep in the fall.
Crowley’s big body and explosiveness make him a weapon right away. He stepped on campus and began competing, and he took reps with the second-team offense Saturday. Master Teague and Crowley will likely battle for the backup running back role, though finding a way to unleash McCall remains a priority.