Spring Practice Insider: Defense Closing Strong Despite Injuries
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's almost easier to list the healthy players on defense at this point in Spring practice than rattle off those Buckeyes who are battling various dings, tweaks and sprains.
Urban Meyer said after practice that this is the norm around the country, showing that he wasn't too concerned with the number of walking wounded on his team.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were so thin today that there were various walk-ons mixing in with the second team defense. In fact, two of them weren't even on the initial Spring roster, and one of them still isn't.
Middle linebacker Curtis Grant was sporting a green jersey today, meaning that he was limited in what he could do. He wasn't participating in any of the heavy scrimmaging. He's still recovering from a stinger that he suffered on Saturday.
Safety Christian Bryant was also in green as he is still recovering from an injury suffered on Saturday as well.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier was absent, and Meyer later informed us that he was sick. Linebacker Storm Klein and defensive lineman Kenny Hayes were also absent again.
Safety C.J. Barnett was still out as well.
Sporting the yellow jerseys, which signified that they are too injured to practice were safeties Jamie Wood and Zach Domicone, linebacker Josh Perry and defensive end Se'Von Pittman.
Simon Says 'Abandon All Hope'
As we were watching practice on Wednesday, I turned to Brandon Castel and said, "You know, I'm not sure I've seen John Simon blocked yet this Spring." To which he concurred.
Now, it's not a surprise that Simon has dominated April, after all, he's a pretty good player. He's also going against two offensive tackles who weren't offensive tackles last year.
But there's just something special about him this Spring. He certainly looks faster, and has gotten leaner as well. He has only been working about half of the first-team reps over the last couple of weeks because he doesn't really need the work.
However, another reason why he may not be out there all the time is because the Ohio State quarterbacks DO need the work. When he's out there, they just aren't given enough time to throw the ball.
His presence is disruptive, but it at least prepares offensive tackles Jack Mewhort and Reid Fragel for the regular season. Buckeye fans just better hope they're not demoralized by the time September finally gets here.
I watched Simon get by Fragel twice in a row in one-on-one drills, and then watched two-on-two drills featuring Simon and Adam Bellamy against Mewhort and Andrew Norwell. Simon flew by Mewhort on consecutive snaps to record "sacks". The third time Mewhort kept Simon from reaching his goal, but you'll take Simon batting .667 on quarterback sacks all season long.
During scrimmaging, Simon was again lined up over Fragel, and at the snap he instantly slapped Fragel's hands down and went right by him on the outside. One snap later he bested Fragel again. It was at that point that the coaches pulled Fragel for freshman Taylor Decker.
It's good for the linemen to see a guy like Simon every day in practice, but it also raises some questions. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there is plenty of time to answer those questions.
John Simon 2.0
A few people have nicknamed 2013 commit Billy Price "John Simon 2.0" because he's from Youngstown and likes to lift weights. However, "John Simon 2.0" is already on the team and his name is Michael Bennett.
No, Bennett doesn't have Simon's versatility—he'll never play defensive tackle for an entire season and then play the leo spot the next year. However, Bennett's production could very well mirror Simon's production at similar points in their careers.
As a sophomore, Simon finished with 41 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. I might be inclined to take the over on both of those numbers with Bennett this season. While he's not as athletic as Simon, he can still move around the line and play a few different spots.
Bennett showed plenty of that ability today, particularly in defending a shovel pass to Zach Boren that was read and deleted by Bennett almost instantly. It's one thing to be difficult to block, it's another when a defender reads the play in a split second and breaks away before he can be engaged by the guy who is supposed to block him.
Emptying the Notebook
- I thought linebacker Etienne Sabino had a good day. He absolutely blasted Jordan Hall backwards in one-on-one drills, and was seen more than once chasing Braxton Miller into a throw away.
- Former walk-on quarterback Ross Oltorik turned current walk-on quarterback Ross Oltorik is apparently now current walk-on linebacker Ross Oltorik.
- Cornerback Travis Howard recorded an interception when he stepped in front of a Braxton Miller pass and snatched the football away from its intended receiver. He did take a bit of grief, however, when he fumbled the ball on his return.
- Defensive lineman Chase Farris continues to play well. He battled Taylor Decker in one-on-ones, going untouched around him at one point. Decker won his share as well, but Farris has shown a unique burst this Spring. He also chased down receiver Chris Fields on a flare pass into the flats during the scrimmage portion.
- Defensive end Steve Miller against offensive lineman Tommy Brown was a bad matchup for Brown today, as Miller went 2-0 against him in one-on-one drills while I was watching. With John Simon doing limited work in the Spring, Miller has gotten quite a few snaps with the first team defense, and that will only help him as he gets ready for the Fall.
- It was good to have former defensive line coach Jim Heacock on hand at practice today, and as you might expect, he had his eyes on the defensive line drills for a good while.
- Redshirt freshman Conner Crowell was again working as the first team middle linebacker with Curtis Grant sidelined. He really doesn't look out of place. He had a two-hand touch sack on Braxton Miller in the endzone, though the play was kept alive by "The Powers That Be".
- On two consecutive plays, defensive tackle Chris Carter collapsed the middle of the line of scrimmage. On the first play, he showed as quick a first step as I've ever seen from him, and blew up the play before it could get started. Fellow defensive lineman Joel Hale couldn't contain his excitement for Carter's play. The next play Carter took out center Brian Bobek and the left guard, making short work of the offense's interior. Unfortunately at this point, it's hard to get more than a couple of all-out plays from Carter at a time.
- It's always a good sign for a defense's tackling ability when there aren't many yards after the catch, and that was the case for the Buckeyes today. Meyer would cite a lack of playmakers as the reason why. He's such a hater.
- I thought defensive end J.T. Moore had the best day we've seen him have all Spring. He was in the backfield a few times, and even notched a quarterback sack or two. There are going to be two new defensive ends on the roster come August, and Moore has to make sure he makes his name known now, or else he could be lost in the wash.
- Likely due to the four injured safeties, when the Buckeyes went to the nickel, they brought in cornerback Doran Grant as the star. I think it's an interesting look, but at this point we have to assume it was only done because of injuries.
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