Spring Practice Insider: Defense Dominates Scrimmage
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thunderstorms washed away the end of Ohio State’s scrimmage Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but not before the defense had its way with the offense.
Picking up where last week’s scrimmage left off, the final scoreboard read 87-72 when the first bolt of lightning sent everyone running for the locker rooms, but even Jim Tressel would have had a hard time evening things up with the way the Buckeyes looked offensively.
With Terrelle Pryor watching closely, Ohio State rotated all four scholarship quarterbacks Saturday hoping to get a good look at whoever will be their opening-day starter in the fall.
Instead, no one completed a pass during the scrimmage portion of practice until the fourth series when Braxton Miller connected with Corey “Philly” Brown on a 5-yard slant pass. Prior to that, Brown had dropped a pass from Kenny Guiton that was intercepted by cornerback Bradley Roby.
None of the quarterbacks looked especially sharp during the scrimmage, with no one completing more than three passes, but they certainly weren’t helped by their receivers. Outside of DeVier Posey and James Louis, who actually had a nice day catching the ball, no one else could hold on to the football.
Roby Making a Move
That interception on Guiton was one of two picks by Roby, who also intercepted Joe Bauserman after his pass hit running back Jaamal Berry in the chest.
Teammate Travis Howard Tweeted recently that Roby was making a push for the other starting corner spot across from Howard, and it certainly looked like Saturday. He was alternating with Dominic Clarke on the first-team defense, but seemed to have really progressed in his ability to cover receivers.
Along with his two picks, which showed off the good hands that made him a standout receiver in high school, Roby also had a pass break-up in the red zone during 7-on-7 drills.
Defensive Backs Laying the Wood
Howard also had a solid day playing opposite either Roby or Clarke, but so did his backup, Dionte Allen. Although he got torched for a touchdown by DeVier Posey on a post route in 7-on-7 drills, Allen proved during the scrimmage that he can really bring it.
A transfer from Florida State, Allen had a number of big hits in Saturday’s scrimmage, including a bone-jarring smack on Jaamal Berry during an attempted screen play. Berry looked dazed for a minute, even dropping down to one knee, but showed good toughness by staying in the game to take the next handoff.
Allen wasn’t the only one bringing it Saturday. Freshman safety Jeremy Cash had a nice hit late in the scrimmage and nearly picked off a pass from Taylor Graham. Safety Jamie Wood also had a number of big hits, which has been a trend for him this spring, but one of them knocked him out of the scrimmage with a shoulder injury. He went to the locker room and came back wearing a sling on his left arm. He is questionable for next week’s spring game.
Kick Coverage Still a Concern
The highlight of Saturday’s scrimmage may have been Jaamal Berry’s 97-yard kick return. He caught it at the three and took off up the middle. He got great blocking and then put a move on the only guy who came free. He bounced it outside and beat everyone down the sideline before diving head-first into the end zone.
It was a tremendous return by one of the fastest players on the roster, but it also has to be disturbing considering how much trouble Ohio State had on kick coverage a year ago. Berry wasn’t the only one with a big return Saturday. Jordan Hall had a nice one. DeVier Posey broke contain and nearly got out to midfield and Rod Smith even had a nice return.
In fact, the coverage team did not get a stop inside the 30-yard line all day.
Big Hank Gobbles Up
It has become a recent trend at Ohio State for the defensive line to dominate the offensive line during spring practice and into fall camp. Even with the losses of Cam Heyward and Dexter Larimore, the Buckeyes continued that trend Saturday.
Sophomore Johnathan Hankins may have been the best all-around standout of the entire scrimmage. Playing exclusively with the first-team defense, Hankins was a disruptive force in the trenches. He led the stuff of Braxton Miller’s quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches in the red zone and also had a nice sack on Joe Bauserman.
More importantly, Hankins seems to have come a long way from a conditioning standpoint. For the first time in his career, we saw Hankins staying on the field after making a play. He didn’t just stand around either. We actually saw the Big Hank make plays on consecutive snaps, and even saw him filling in down the line to make a tackle on a running back at the line of scrimmage.
Hankins was only a part of the problem for the OSU offensive line. The Buckeyes are deep and talented up front defensively again this year and it showed. With the offensive line mixing and matching guys all over, the defensive coaches showed no mercy.
Junior John Simon had a big day, blowing right past Andrew Norwell for a forced fumble on Guiton. Adam Bellamy looked good and so did Garrett Goebel, as the Buckeyes showed a five-man front that was nearly impossible to move.
Among the backups, Darryl Baldwin and J.T Moore made some nice plays, as did Melvin Fellows before suffering a minor leg injury. Fellows, who has battled injuries during the entirety of his college career, had to limp off the field during the downpour.
While Fellows and Wood were the two main injuries during Saturday’s scrimmage, the Buckeyes are dealing with some bumps and bruises across the board. Linebacker Storm Klein did not take part in Saturday’s practice and was replaced by Jordan Whiting as the second-team middle linebacker.
Freshman Ryan Shazier also did not practice, as he and Klein worked on the side with Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown, who is recovering from a knee injury. Defensive backs Christian Bryant and Adam Griffin were back in pads Saturday, but neither took part in drills or the scrimmage. Tyler Moeller did participate in position drills, but not the scrimmage. The same goes for C.J. Barnett and Chad Hagan.
With the all the injuries to the secondary, walk-on Chris Maxwell was the first-team Star, while walk-on Nate Ebner saw time at both Star and safety with the first group.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor came jogging out of the tunnel at the start of practice and seems to be moving around a lot better. He was wearing shoulder pads and sweats Saturday and did some throwing during practice but was a spectator during the scrimmage.
Fellow senior J.B. Shugarts was also a spectator as the coaches decided to rest him with what center Michael Brewster called a “sore shoulder.” With Shugarts out of the lineup, Norwell and Marcus Hall took snaps at both left and right tackle Saturday. Jack Mewhort also got reps at left tackle, but spent most of the day at his left guard spot. Norwell played both tackle spots and some left guard.
He isn’t out of Tressel’s dog house yet, but Jonathan Newsome was back at practice Saturday. The junior linebacker participated in drills and even saw some time in the scrimmage, although it was abundantly clear that his opportunities are still limited.
The linebacker rotation remained the same Saturday except for Whiting filling in for Klein. Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat worked with the first team, but redshirt sophomore Dorian Bell had a big day with the second unit.
The former 5-star prospect recovered a fumble, recorded a sack and was generally all over the field on defense. The Buckeyes liked to use him as a blitzer the way they do with Sabino on the first group. He came free right up the middle one time untouched for a sack on Guiton.
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