Five for Friday: Practice Thoughts

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Last updated: 08/09/2013 2:25 AM
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Football
Five for Friday: Thoughts from the First Week of Practice
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Football is in the air and Buckeye practice is finally under way. Having spoken to coaches three times in the last week, and spending time at two practices, there are plenty of thoughts floating around in my head that I wanted to get down on virtual paper.

All of this is being done with the caveat thatit is so early that what may mean something now may not mean anything in two weeks. There are so many practices over these next 12-13 days that some things could change completely. But for now, here are a few things that have caught my eyes and ears.

Devin Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Devin Smith

1. The veteran receivers shouldn't be forgotten.
While much of the talk surrounding the Ohio State offense has been focused on freshmen like Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, it can't be noted enough that Philly Brown and Devin Smith will still be the focal point of this passing game.

Smith is one of the best deep threats in the conference, if not the best. He's more well-rounded and a better receiver now than he was last November. Brown caught 60 passes last season, and 80 is a possibility this season. Evan Spencer isn't far behind those guys, and Michael Thomas is the most physical of the group. While the freshmen will have their moments, the chains will move via the veterans.

2. Get excited about the freshman defenders.
At each level of the defense, there are freshman defenders to like on this roster.

Michael Hill
Photo by Jim Davidson
Michael Hill

Defensive tackle Michael Hill had a standout day on Wednesday, and defensive end Joey Bosa is already getting snaps with the twos. Both look like they can play right now.

Linebacker Mike Mitchell was fantastic in blitz pickup drills, as the running backs had to resort to holding him to keep him from getting to "the quarterback". The surprise, however, was Gareon Conley with the ones at cornerback.

Now, obviously, that was in part because Bradley Roby has been demoted to the second-team as punishment. Armani Reeves wasn't out there much, if at all, so my assumption is that Reeves would have been in the mix with the ones had he been out there. The real story in this Conley situation, however, is that he was ahead of fellow freshman Eli Apple, who enrolled early. Of course, it's very early and things may have changed first thing Thursday morning. Also, with Vonn Bell getting all of his snaps at nickel and none at safety, it tells me that Everett Withers wants Bell on the field this year, and I wonder if he'll even get much work at safety as they try to get him up to speed on star. Chris Worley also brought some bad intentions at safety.

Curtis Grant
Photo by Jim Davidson
Curtis Grant

3. Let's relax about the Curtis Grant situation until we know more.
Once it was reported that Curtis Grant didn't get many, if any, snaps on Wednesday, the panic hit the internet like a tsunami. I contacted Ohio State to see if perhaps Grant was injured, but was told that he was fine.

What we need to keep in mind is that the Buckeye defense was in nickel and dime defenses most of the morning, and right now, the two linebackers playing in the nickel are Ryan Shazier and Josh Perry. It's pretty doubtful that Grant has been simply tossed aside after three practices given how much the staff raved about him over the summer, and how much he played in the spring. Basically, let's wait to draw conclusions until we see the Buckeyes in their base defense for more than one or two snaps.

Taylor Decker
Photo by Jim Davidson
Taylor Decker

4. Taylor Decker may be ahead of Reid Fragel's pace last year.
At this point last season, there was still a competition at right tackle between senior Reid Fragel and true freshman Taylor Decker. Right now, there is no such competition. Decker battled with Chase Farris in the spring, but Farris has been moved back to guard, which is where he was last year as well. Decker has performed well in each practice to this point and seems to be fitting in very well by doing what he is asked. However, while Decker may be ahead of last year's pace by Fragel, Fragel closed incredibly strong and ran away with the right tackle job. Right now, Decker isn't battling with anybody, so who knows if he'll be driven to improve the way Fragel was last year. Though Fragel was basically playing in a contract year, so he had a lot more to play for than Decker does this season.

Ryan Shazier
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ryan Shazier

5. Ryan Shazier looks faster and quicker than last year.
I know, I know, you're saying, "How can Shazier be faster and quicker than last year?" But guess what, Ryan Shazier is also bigger than he was last year too. He was absolutely toying with blockers in the blitz pickup drills on Wednesday. He was faster, quicker and stronger than the backs trying to block him. To pair with his physical improvements, he worked all offseason on his understanding of the game, as well as an understanding of his opponents. So not only is he physically faster, but he's mentally faster as well. However, as he showed last year, he needs somebody reliable standing next to him at middle linebacker in order to perform to his full capabilities.

Bonus: Don't get too upset by offensive struggles.
If, over these next few weeks, you read that the Ohio State running game isn't having much success, take that as very positive news. The OSU running game should always struggle against its defense. When it doesn't, then there are probably going to be some issues.

Bonus: You knew Dontre Wilson would be mentioned.
It was mentioned by a member of the media on Wednesday that Ohio State hasn't had anybody as fast as Dontre Wilson since Ted Ginn. I may agree with this, though I can't imagine anybody being faster than Ginn. That being said, in a 10-yard race, I'm taking Wilson. His start is just incredible.

Bonus: Don't forget about Jordan Hall
I know you won't believe me, I just thought it needed to be said one more time.

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