COLUMBUS — For Ohio State coach Ryan Day, it’s just one practice of many to evaluate.
But it’s still going to look like a real game, it’s still going to be played in the Horseshoe and there will still be a huge crowd watching and learning about the next wave of Buckeyes.
So, yes, it’s going to count for something. And the value is particularly meaningful for some young players who have had limited opportunities to suit up in Ohio Stadium — or for freshmen who have never done it at all yet.
“We play guys here early,” Day said. “Guys come here and they get on the field early, and it’s one thing to be out there on the indoor [practice field] — but once you get in front of 70, 80, 90,000 people in that game, it matters.
“Even just punting the ball and seeing if the returners can catch the ball in that kind of crowd. What kind of reaction are they going to get? It’s good for the young guys to get out there and have the experience.”
Which of those emerging Buckeyes are going to steal the show on Saturday afternoon? Here are the Lettermen Row picks of players to watch in the Horseshoe.
DE Zach Harrison
If nothing else, it’s impressive just by itself to see a 6-foot-6, 255-pounder move around as quickly, powerfully and athletically as Zach Harrison can. But combine that with what can occasionally be favorable matchups against backup offensive linemen and Harrison has already proven that he can disrupt the Ohio State offense in a scrimmage setting. There was no official count during last week’s open practice, but Harrison was involved in the backfield with at least three sacks — and there will be opportunities just like that for him again in the spring exhibition. The Olentangy Orange product is still raw, and there’s a lot of work ahead of him before he can crack the rotation for the Rushmen. But Harrison is showing signs of living up to the hype already, and closing out his first camp on a high note could ramp up the expectations even more.
SAF Josh Proctor
The defensive back from Oklahoma had a taste of experience last year during his first season with the program, but Josh Proctor is clearly pushing for much more meaningful work as a sophomore. There probably hasn’t been any defensive player who has generated more discussion about his improvement and potential than Proctor during camp. And with Ohio State likely to ignore the rushing attack and throw the football around all afternoon, there should be plenty of chances for him to show off his ball-hawking ability in the secondary. Coming off a season where the Buckeyes came up a bit short of the program’s sky-high standards in the defensive backfield and didn’t come up with as many interceptions as they’d like, the rise of Proctor alongside Jordan Fuller and Brendon White will go down as a clear sign of progress.
WR Garrett Wilson
The black stripe is already off for the early enrollee, which should come as no surprise given the effusive praise Garrett Wilson has earned since making the move up from Texas in January. From winter workouts all the way through spring camp, Wilson has caught the attention of Ohio State with his work ethic, attention to detail — and freaky athleticism. The Buckeyes are still deep at wide receiver, and position coach Brian Hartline will again deploy a rotation of probably six guys in the unit. But it’s already nearly unthinkable to picture that group not including Wilson, and he’ll have a chance to show why on Saturday afternoon in the Shoe.