What to Watch For: Saturday's Open Practice for Students, Faculty and Staff
By Tony Gerdeman
Saturday begins a new Ohio State tradition as Urban Meyer has invited students, staff and faculty to watch a closed practice in Ohio Stadium seven days before the Buckeyes' annual Spring Game.
After the practice, the invited guests will also get to "hang out" with the football team and be given a tour of the Horseshoe.
"When I first went to Florida I visited almost every student organization on campus," Meyer said. "This place is too darn big and I'm a little older, so I can't do that.
"Sometimes we keep forgetting what this is all about. It's about the student-athletes, and it's about the student body and making a collegiate experience a positive thing. So what does every student want? They want ownership and access, so we're going to give it to them this Saturday. It's their stadium and their football team."
Practice will start at 10:45 a.m. Faculty and staff with valid BuckID cards can also bring their families, which should provide many with a memory that very few get to experience.
"They're going to go through the locker room and see things that most people can't see, because it's their team," Meyer said.
"I can't wait. I think it's a great tradition that we're going to start here and our players are fired up for it."
Quick as a Whippet
Operating under the assumption that this practice will be like the three that the media has already seen this Spring, the team will break into various positional drills early on for several five-minute periods.
Each period is fast-paced, and there is no lollygagging permitted, even for the coaches.
Given the open nature of the venue, sound may not carry as much as would be ideal, but it's always a good idea to watch the cornerbacks, and specifically cornerback coach Kerry Coombs.
Coombs is constant energy, and usually good for a chuckle or two—as long as you're not the one he's yelling at. The defensive line isn't much different, with Mike Vrabel giving orders that don't need to be heard to be loud.
Business will start to pick up when position groups begin to work together. That means quarterbacks and receivers against defensive backs, offensive lines against defensive lines, and linebackers against running backs.
There will also be some drills with various parts of the defense working against scout team offenses, and vice versa.
Business will really begin to pick up in the second half of practice when the scrimmaging begins. Everything is live, and you'll finally get a glimpse of what the Ohio State offense will bring to the table this year. You'll also get a look at a defense that doesn't much cotton to things being brought to tables of any kind.
With more eyes on the scene, and with a tilt towards entertainment, perhaps Meyer will want to have more scrimmaging than in a normal practice. But don't get your hopes up.
Four Point Oh No
One-on-one drills and scrimmaging are always entertaining to watch, but you might want to keep an eye on the front four when you get a chance.
If you're going to bring a pen and a notepad, feel free to keep track of the number of times that somebody gets the best of John Simon. Actually, you probably won't need a pen and a notepad for that.
It's also a good idea to watch sophomore Michael Bennett. You'll get a very good idea of why he is running with the first unit. He gets low, and he gets fast, and he does both very quickly.
It will also give you a chance to watch defensive linemen that you really didn't get to see last year, like Steve Miller, Chase Farris and Joel Hale.
Oh, and there's always Johnathan Hankins, if you are the type that enjoys watching wrecking balls smash into buildings.
If you're looking for one more bit of intrigue on the defensive line, you can also form your own opinion on the recent move of redshirt freshman Chris Carter to the front four.
Don't Forget Protection
It's a timeless question—if your defensive line has success against your offensive line, does it mean that the defensive line is great or that the offensive line is terrible.
On Saturday, you'll be able to judge for yourself. (Just don't make any negative judgments to the face of the player that you are negatively judging.)
This will be your first chance to see Reid Fragel at right tackle after his move from tight end. You will also get a look at Corey Linsley at center. Will they meet your satisfaction? Will you still lament the lack of blocking sleds?
One thing that might be difficult to grasp is that the offensive line now employs only five offensive linemen, as opposed to the seven that they have used for the last decade plus.
Those two extra linemen (the fullback and tight end) are now eligible receivers!
The Century Club
In football, the number "100" holds special meaning. It's an accomplishment in terms of yards gained in a game for running backs and receivers, as well as number of tackles in a season for defensive players.
The Buckeyes are loaded with tailbacks who could rush for 100 yards in any given game, all they would need is an adequate amount of carries. The same can be said for quarterback Braxton Miller as well.
While you have already seen Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith in action, they are all one year better, and in a very different offensive system. There is also true freshman Bri'onte Dunn, who was last seen in high school.
Be sure to pick your favorite and then complain all season long when he isn't getting as many carries as you think he should.
Defensively, the 100-tackle mark is difficult to come by of late at Ohio State. For one, the defense has simply forced too many three-and-outs for any one player to rack up enough tackles. For two, the defensive line is stealing tackles from the back four like thieves in the night; thunderous, belligerent thieves in the night.
The three most likely candidates for the Buckeyes to hit that century mark are linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier, as well as safety C.J. Barnett. Barnett was dinged up in Wednesday's practice, so his availability will be in question, but make sure to watch Grant and Shazier, because they will likely be the face of this defense in 2013.
Now that you'll get to see a live practice, you'll also get to see the first and second teams roll in and out, and certain players mingle between the two.
One thing you will also notice is that there is only a first and second team. There really is no third team or fourth team, therefore reps in scrimmages are hard to come by for those who aren't on the first two teams.
Now that we are approaching the last week of Spring practice, keep an eye on the quarterback position to see if true freshman Cardale Jones has earned a snap or two during scrimmaging, because I don't believe we have seen him take a single snap in live action.
Don't expect him to get in there, but if he does, it's news.
You'll also want to watch the receiver position to see where freshman receiver Mike Thomas is playing. He got time with the first unit earlier in the week due to Evan Spencer's injury, but if he continues to excel, his being on the first team may not be related to anybody's injury.
Keep an eye on receiver Tyrone Williams as well. He's just a freak of nature who is fun to watch.
It's Miller Time
And, of course, make sure not to miss your opportunity to watch Braxton Miller's gamebreaking ability against an imposing defense.
This offense is fast-paced with tons of misdirection, which also describes Miller. Watch him read defenders, and watch how well the defenders read him.
If you see Curtis Grant taking Miller to the turf, don't be upset with Miller, be excited for Grant. Likewise, if you see Miller make John Simon look like Paul Simon, don't be upset with Simon, be excited for Miller.
There will be a lot to watch on Saturday, and a lot to process—just don't forget to enjoy it.
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