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What We Learned as Ohio State captains gear up for fall camp

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Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper is motivated as ever for the season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned as Ohio State captains gear up for fall camp

COLUMBUS — Everything Ohio State wanted to play for this fall is back to being a reality.

Big Ten title. National title. Undefeated season. Even playing a season in general. All of them are attainable again after the Big Ten reinstated the fall football season earlier this week.

The Buckeyes have one of, if not the most, talented rosters in the country. They didn’t need any added incentive heading into this unprecedented year. But a little bit of extra motivation should make the thought of facing the Buckeyes on Oct. 24 even scarier.

“I don’t think there are words to describe how determined I am, but really I think it just shows with the stuff I do, how I carried myself in the facility, how I worked on and off the field,” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday morning. “I don’t think there are words to describe how determined I am, I think it’s just going to have to show itself.”

The Heisman Trophy favorite leads a stacked Ohio State offense into the nine-game season that was implemented by the league Wednesday. The Buckeyes offense returns six starters from a team that was nearly impossible to stop last season. And it could be even better in Year Two under Fields.

Of course, the Silver Bullets defense is preparing for another shot at a national title, too. And that side of the ball doesn’t lack motivation, either.

“I would say [motivation is] higher than ever,” defensive end and captain Jonathon Cooper said. “Just to be the best player I can be, the best leader and be everything that my teammates need.”

The Buckeyes are back to preparing for another run at the College Football Playoff, and Lettermen Row is breaking down What We Learned from the two Ohio State captains who met with the media Friday.

Chemistry between Justin Fields, Ryan Day continues to grow

Justin Fields showed incredible skills last year in his first season with Buckeyes coach Ryan Day. And it appears that the pandemic and lack of practice this offseason didn’t hinder the coach and quarterback from growing closer together in the last few months. The offensive duo had plenty of time to break film down and improve their chemistry as they prepare for an explosive season.

“I definitely got a lot done when our season got postponed before,” Fields said. “Me and Coach Day would meet every day, we would go out there on the field and throw, we went through film and fixed up my mechanics. So we were kind of just one-on-one.

“I think I learned a lot from him. Just seeing the way he thinks and the way he watches film and just sitting down with him and communicating with him. Just learning from him. He’s had experience in the NFL. It was great.”

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and coach Ryan Day fought for their season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Defensive line seeing no drop off without Chase Young

Now that the petitions, protests and clamoring for a season are over, the Buckeyes can focus their attention on prepping for a season and replacing what they lost on a top-four team from last season, including one of the best players in program history.

The Ohio State defensive line has a tall task in front of it: Finding a replacement for Chase Young. But if there’s one unit that can find another dominant player to slide in and make an impact, it’s the defensive line. Cooper isn’t worried about a drop-off in production up front.

“Chase was an amazing player and replacing him isn’t going to be easy. but I am very confident in our guys and the way they’re stepping up,” Cooper said. “You’ve got Tyreke [Smith], Zach [Harrison], Javontae [Jean-Baptiste], Tyler Friday. that’s just the defensive ends on the outside who have really stepped up their games from what I’ve seen.”

Of course, Ohio State has plenty of talent on the interior of the defensive line, too. Together the ends and tackles will form one of the best defensive fronts in the Big Ten. They’re already preparing to dominate the line of scrimmage like last year — even if it’s without Chase Young.

“We’re not just one player. We’re the Rushmen, so we rush together.”

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Ohio State making small sacrifices for football

With the protocols in place, Ohio State has to be careful with its players, who they are around and how they go an entire season without an outbreak of COVID-19.

But the sacrifices the Buckeyes make — no parties, limited contact with non-athletes and other precautions — are worth it to the players who fought for a season and now have a chance to go out and compete for a national title.

They can handle staying away traditional college socialization for a while. It’s worth it.

“This isn’t a challenge at all for us,” Fields said. “We’re here first to graduate with a degree and play football. So this small sacrifice, not going to parties and hanging out with people, that’s a small sacrifice to what we want to accomplish. That’s a small sacrifice for a big reward. With the COVID protocols, if you test positive, you’re out at least 21 days. Of course, you don’t want that to happen. That’s three games. You might as well sit the rest of the season out.

“We know what’s at risk. We know what we have to do to stay safe.”

Buckeyes receivers ready to dominate

The 2020 recruiting class featured four of the most talented wide receiver prospects the Buckeyes have ever had. Now with the season back in place, those four weapons have a chance to play their first season with an all-time great quarterback in Fields.

It’s safe to say Fields is excited to play with the young talents.

“The freshmen, they’ve been phenomenal,” Fields said. “Just the talent between Jaxon Smith, Julian [Fleming], Gee [Scott], Mookie [Cooper], those guys are just really probably the most polished freshmen I’ve seen with my own eyes. Just seeing what they can do on the field, what plays they can make and how talented they are, that gets me excited. Coach Day knows that. [Wide receivers coach Brian] Hartline knows how great of players they are.”

Fields obviously has weapons coming back. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson form as dangerous of a duo as there in college football. Fields is certainly going to have fun with the offensive weapons around him for the Buckeyes.

“Those guys are talented as can be,” Fields said. “The things that they’ve shown in practice, our chemistry, we’re getting better every day in practice. Hopefully we see a lot of touchdowns this fall and a lot of wins on the board.”

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Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his second year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.