Ohio State Practice Insider: Buckeyes Break Camp
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a chill day in Columbus Thursday as Ohio State took the field for the first time since their Sugar Bowl-win over Arkansas.
The cold wind chased the Buckeyes inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the first of what should be 15 interesting spring practices. They were only in shorts and helmets for their first day, but there was plenty to be seen as Jim Tressel and his staff looks to replace 10 starters from last year’s Big Ten championship team.
We got inside the WHAC for our first look at the 2011 Buckeyes.
Posey Leading the Way
One big question heading into the spring was how Tressel would handle the five suspended players given the fact they would not be on the field until week six of the season. It turns out, Tressel decided to handle them the same way he is handling himself. Although he will also miss the first five games, Tressel was out there running practice Thursday and all of the suspended players were in their usual spots.
That doesn’t include quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was sidelined because of the foot injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl, but DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and Mike Adams all worked with the first-team offense, while Solomon Thomas spent time backing up Nathan Williams at the Leo position.
The one guy who really seems to be leading the way in that group is Posey, who looked polished and focused during Thursday’s practice. The senior wideout is responsible for leading a young group of receivers, and he was catching everything that was thrown his way, often in tight spaces.
Joe Baseball Leading Off?
Though he was out of his walking boot, Pryor spent the day watching practice in his sweats while charting plays and talking with the other quarterbacks. That includes fellow senior Joe Bauserman, who appears to be the front-runner to replace Pryor under center in the season-opener. It was only day one, which means there are still 43 more practices during the off-season, but Bauserman spent most of the day working with the first-team offense.
Redshirt sophomore Kenny Guiton got a series or two with the first group, but spent most of practice with the twos. He was the most consistent of the group, although no one really did anything to make us forget about Pryor. Bauserman probably had the three best throws of the day, at least during the half hour that was open to the media. The problem is he also had the three or four worst throws of the day.
Braxton Gets His Feet Wet
Along with the start of practice, Thursday was also the much-anticipated debut of freshman Braxton Miller. Wearing his scarlet No. 5 practice jersey for the first time, Miller spent most of the day working with the third-team offense. He split time with redshirt freshman Taylor Graham, who seems to have recovered from the knee injury.
Running Back By Committee
Joining Miller on the third-team offense was Rod Smith, the second-most talked about player this spring. The redshirt freshman has been raved about by his teammates since bowl prep back in December, but he was switching back and forth between the second and third team, along with fellow redshirt freshman Carlos Hyde.
There was a clear divide right now between those two and the other three scholarship running backs. While Herron got most of his reps with the first team, Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry also had time with the first group. In fact, Berry probably had the best day of the three. That doesn’t say a lot for a running back when they aren’t wearing pads, but he had a couple runs where he got outside and just turned on the after-burners. On one, he took the handoff up the middle and then bounced outside to his right after the defense collapsed. Only Travis Howard stood between Berry and a 60+ yard touchdown run.
Speaking of Travis Howard, the junior cornerback may have been the single biggest standout performer of the opening spring practice. The top candidate to replace Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence at corner, Howard looked a like a No. 1 guy Thursday.
He picked off a pass from Bauserman early in the scrimmage on a ball that wasn’t well thrown, but Howard did a nice job closing on it. He also swatted down a pass from Guiton that was intended for Posey. Maybe the best sign was the way he stuck with Posey and the other receivers. He is not afraid to get physical.
Across from Howard on the other side was redshirt sophomore Dominic Clarke, who seems to be out in front for the other starting corner spot. Behind them were Dionte Allen and Bradley Roby, while Donnie Evege and Adam Griffin got most of their work with the third group. Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, who was wearing a boot on his left foot, did a lot of teaching with Allen and Roby.
Finding a Place for Bryant
One of the more interesting things to keep an eye on this spring will be where Ohio State fins a place for Christian Bryant. The sophomore defensive back is clearly one of the best 11 players on the defense, and the Buckeyes are looking for somewhere to play him. He was working as the first-team Star (nickel back) on Thursday, but only because Tyler Moeller (pectoral) did not practice. Bryant also worked as a deep safety with the second group during 7-on-7, but spent some time playing safety with the first group during the 11-on-11 scrimmage.
That’s because the first team safeties had been Orhian Johnson and C.J Barnett, who is coming of a season-ending knee injury. Barnett was wearing a blue jersey Thursday, which meant he could practice but not take part in the scrimmage.
When Bryant was at safety, senior Nate Oliver and redshirt freshman Chad Hagan both got time at the Star position. It was good to see Hagan out there after rumors his career might be in jeopardy. The same goes for Scott McVey, who worked at the Sam linebacker spot with the second and third teams.
Battle at the Mike
Senior Andrew Sweat is clearly solidified as the starting Will linebacker heading into the season, replacing Ross Homan, but the battle to replace Brian Rolle inside is only heating up. Both Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino saw time in the middle with the first group, and Jordan Whiting got some reps inside with the second team.
Sabino also played some Sam linebacker with the second group, but it looks like they want him to compete at Mike because the Sam backers won't be on the field much with a healthy Moeller or Bryant playing star. Senior walk-on Tony Jackson was the top Sam linebacker Thursday because Jon Newsome did not practice. He was seen leaving the WHAC in street clothes before practice was over.
Redshirt sophomore Dorian Bell was behind Sweat at the Will linebacker spot with the second team defense.
Mixing and Matching on the O-line
Because they only have 10 guys to work with, the Buckeyes are going to do a lot of mixing and matching on the offensive line this spring. That was obvious during the first practice, as Jack Mewhort played left guard, left tackle and center at different times. The redshirt sophomore started off as the left guard between seniors Mike Adams and Michael Brewster. Corey Linsley was the first-team right guard next to J.B. Shugarts, who of course managed to have a false-start during practice.
Behind that group is where it got interesting. After backing up Shugarts at right tackle last season, sophomore Andrew Norwell spent most of the day inside playing left guard. Linsley was the second-team center and if the season-opener were tomorrow, it looks like Marcus Hall would be the starting left tackle. He worked almost exclusively as the second team guy behind Adams, although he did get a series at left guard with the first team.
True freshman Tommy Brown worked as the backup right tackle, and was wearing No. 55, his high school number, after being listed as 72 on the official roster.
Along with Pryor and Moeller, there were a handful of other Buckeyes who did not participate in Thursday’s practice. That included sophomore defensive back Corey Brown, who is coming off a torn ACL. Senior tight end Spencer Smith also did not practice along with freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is one of the seven early enrollees this spring. Shazier will likely play the Sam linebacker spot.
One player who seems to be healthy for the first time in a long time is defensive end Melvin Fellows. He did a nice job getting around Tommy Brown a few times when the third groups faced off against each other, and was not wearing protection on his knees.
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