Ohio State Practice Insider - Defense Making Its Mark
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Buckeyes hit the practice fields again on Tuesday morning, and day by day, things are beginning to take shape.
Photo by Dan Harker
Defensively, names are being made and positions are being solidified. Currently, the only starter's job that appears to yet be decided is the cornerback battle between Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke.
Young players are making their push, most notably freshman defensive lineman Michael Bennett from Centerville, who appears to be establishing himself as part of this year's rotation up front.
Photo by Jim Davidson
There were a few interesting developments in the perceived depth chart today. The first string didn't change, although with Tyler Moeller and Nathan Williams being held out with injuries, those playing the Star and Leo positions all moved up one spot. J.T. Moore took Williams spot as the edge rusher, and Christian Bryant moved up to the first line at Star. Regarding the injuries, Fickell said the injuries were "nothing I'm concerned about." Bradley Roby was with the first-team initially, as he and Dominic Clarke continue their battle for the spot opposite Travis Howard. Howard had a little bit of an ankle issue today, so there were times when both Clarke and Roby were on the field together. Roby, however, seems to have a little bit of an edge over Clarke in the overall battle.
The second-team defense is where some of the changes started taking place. Freshman defensive lineman Michael Bennett was at strongside defensive end. Freshman cornerback Doran Grant was with the twos for much of the day, switching back and forth with Dionte Allen with the threes. Corey Brown was working with the second-team at safety, pushing Zach Domicone to the third team where he worked alongside Jamie Wood.
A lot of other players rotated in and out with the first and second units as the coaches looked to give younger players opportunities, and also to see how the older players respond to being challenged.
Freshman strongside linebacker Ryan Shazier was one of those players to get some run with the twos, as was freshman defensive end Steve Miller. Though Miller was one of the Leos who moved up the picking order because of Nathan Williams' injury. Bennett actually saw a little bit of time with the first-team at defensive tackle.
Joel Hale and Evan Blankenship were the second-team defensive tackles, and Melvin Fellows also got some reps there. There was movement throughout, and there are still jobs very up for grabs.
Greed is Good When You're a Defensive Back
During one portion of the scrimmaging, safety C.J. Barnett yelled to the offense, "Come to the zone, so I can get me one." A play or two later, after yet another play wasn't directed his way, safety Orhian Johnson said, "There ain't no love over here." Clearly, they wanted more work.
Though he was playing with the third string, safety Zach Domicone has made a ton of plays so far in summer practice. He made another on Tuesday when he stepped in front of a receiver down the middle of the field and picked off a Kenny Guiton pass that was late and lofted.
Towards the end of practice, the scrimmaging focused on the red zone and started at the 25-yard line. Bradley Roby had an interception on Joe Bauserman when he threw the ball to Philly Brown at the goal line, but Brown slipped down right on Bauserman's release leaving Roby as the only receiver in the area.
Braxton Miller tried to drop a pass in to Devin Smith over a cornerback, but safety Christian Bryant jumped the corner route and intercepted the pass as the defensive sideline exploded.
Cornerback Adam Griffin also had an interception working with the third-team when freshman defensive end Kenny Hayes tipped a Kenny Guiton pass into Griffin's arms. No matter how many times I see it, I'll never get used to seeing Kenny on Kenny crime.
It wasn't just interceptions, though. Orhian Johnson had a great pass breakup in the red zone when Bauserman targeted Verlon Reed over the middle. Johnson came up, reached around Reed's body, and knocked the ball to the ground. It was another example of Johnson's strong showing this summer.
Roby also had a tremendous pass breakup prior to the red zone drills when he was covering the flats, then dropped back into the deeper zone to break up a pass from Bauserman intended for Philly Brown.
Mike Vrabel's New Toy
One of the more entertaining things to watch during these summer practices is the interaction between linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and freshman middle linebacker Curtis Grant.
Vrabel, stationed about 15 yards behind his young pupil, is talking to Grant before, during and after plays, constantly giving him feedback, telling him where to line up, how to attack, anything that will help him get to where he needs to be.
It's almost seems that since Vrabel retired, he is going to focus his time on fighting robots, and right now he is training Grant to be that robot.
One one particular sequence, Grant had a job to do and hesitated in doing it. After that play was over, Vrabel told him, "Let it go, Curtis. Trust yourself. Trust your body." On the very next snap, Grant shot through the line of scrimmage and made a tackle in the backfield.
When a freshman can see results from coaching that immediately, it only makes them hungrier to learn more.
Tyler Moeller, Jeremy Cash, Solomon Thomas, Nathan Williams and Chad Hagan were all out today with injuries. As mentioned above, Fickell said that none of the injuries concerned him.
Your Almost Daily Big Hank Update
Currently weighing in at around 330 pounds, Johnathan Hankins had another good day from what we got to see. He gets off the ball so quickly and occupies blockers like trains occupy tracks. He's constantly double-teamed, and is pushing two blockers back consistently. It's not only collapsing the pocket, but is also freeing up linemates to stunt or run through the vacated areas.
Co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said that their plan is to make Hankins an every-down player, as opposed to the "two-snap" player he was last season.
Odds and Ends
Second-team Leo J.T. Moore was working with the first team for most of the day because of Nathan Williams' absence and he more than held his own. Quarterbacks aren't really supposed to be sacked, but you can see Moore's determination in defending running plays and getting off of blocks. He never stops moving. I jotted down that he was "pesterous". I don't know if that's actually a word, but it perfectly described Moore's play on the day.
There was one particular play where freshmen defensive linemen Joel Hale and Michael Bennett both bested their opposing blockers. Hale went through Mike Adams and Bennett blasted Tommy Brown as both met up in the backfield. Bennett continues to impress, and there is little doubt that he will be part of the defense's plans this season. There has been some discussion that only one of Hale and Bennett will play significant minutes this year, but Hale doesn't seem ready to give in to that line of thinking just yet.
Offensive Practice Report by Brandon Castel
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