A pep in their step and seemingly playing with more zip. That was the hard-to-quantify description of the Ohio State wide receivers in practice last week from several onlookers, including Urban Meyer.
"You haven’t seen football in a while, and I saw the same thing, I guess you’d use the word 'zip,'" Meyer said. "It’s because they haven’t practiced in a while and have been getting their brains kicked in in the weight room. So they’re really excited to be out there running around. I hope we have that same zip for practice 12 or in the middle of August."
Production was lacking from the wideouts a season ago, but there are some possibilities on this roster -- and some arriving this summer -- that have Meyer intrigued.
"Oh, I thought it was outstanding," he said of the first week of practice for his receivers.
"Absolutely. There’s good talented guys. We have two more guys coming in with Jaylen Harris and Trevon Grimes, and then Ellijah (Gardiner), the young guy out of Texas. So there’s a lot. Right now we’re very fluid, that means we’re getting three-year windows from some guys. The young guys have got to step up and go. So to answer your question, we have not had the production, but for a good first day, I’d put it as a great first day. But there’s a lot of great first days out there."
Standing across from those receivers have been some very young defensive backs, including true freshmen Marcus Williamson, Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade, and Isaiah Pryor. While they have all been playing in the secondary for years, none of them have done it quite like they're doing it now, and that's always going to be an adjustment.
What's the toughest challenge for freshmen defensive backs?
"Well there’s two things, I think," said defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. "The volume of football is much different than high school; all of the details that go into playing. It’s not, ‘Go cover him.’ And then the other thing is the speed of the game. The tempo of the game and the speed of the players they’re trying to defend. But I can tell you -- it’s early, it’s really early -- but those are some special players."
It's not just the skill players who have enrolled early and gotten a chance to get their cleats wet, as offensive lineman Josh Myers has also been experiencing the life of spring camp. Myers was one of the most-coveted offensive linemen in the 2017 class, and now he has begun the process of working his way back up the football totem pole.
How's he doing so far?
"I told him today don’t let anybody take your reps," center Billy Price said on Thursday. "Josh Myers, he’s just got to push. He’s that freshman right now, he’s only been here what, three months? Just keep going. Right now it’s the first two days of practice, everybody looks good. Come two weeks when the pads come on it will be a little bit different for him."
The team is now on spring break, but once they return next week, business is going to pick up quite a bit for the players like Myers who need the reps.
"It’s just the first two days and we’re working on the ones and twos and he’s fighting into the twos right now," Price said. "Come next week when we put some pads on I might take a step back and he actually gets to get more reps in and some other guys get put into some positions to grow, I think he’s going to be exceptional."
As has been mentioned, the Ohio State offense literally hit the ground running with tempo this spring, which has been a change from the past where they would ease into it a bit. There are several reasons for this. First, there isn't a lot of practice time, so tempo gives you more reps. Secondly, it gets the defense accustomed to what they'll be seeing during the season. Thirdly, the Buckeyes are going to be an up-tempo team this coming season, which isn't something that they haven't been able to say since Tom Herman left following the 2015 season, so they need to practice it.
Just as there are reasons for running tempo in practice, there are also several reasons for running it in games, and it's not just about simply getting more plays called. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has exactly the kind of offensive history that Meyer is looking for.
"I think he’s got a lot of experience calling plays, so when you say ‘tempo’, it’s not just the quantity of plays, it’s the rhythm," he explained. "That’s where Tom Herman brought so much to our offense. When we were at Florida we weren’t a big tempo team, so I wanted to have someone with that experience, I personally do not. It’s just calling plays, practicing faster, calling plays, and getting it to the line of scrimmage much faster, and that’s one of his strengths. We don’t look at number of plays, it’s just trying to cause defensive problems."