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Last updated: 03/21/2013 10:05 AM

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Football
10 Things We Learned from First Day in Pads
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tuesday’s practice was the first day in pads for Ohio State this spring, which is a lot different than the first two days in just shorts and helmets.

It’s a bit like going from AAU basketball to a high school varsity practice. There is just no substitute for the physicality that comes with wearing pads, even on a day when they aren’t tackling to the ground.

We were able to watch the Buckeyes practice for the third time this spring, and there was a lot to be learned as the team returned after a week off for spring break.

Noah Spence
Photo by Jim Davidson
Noah Spence

1. Noah Spence is going to be special. He was the best player on the field Tuesday, there’s no other way around it. Sure, they weren’t going completely live on the first day in pads, but it doesn’t matter if guys can’t get their hands on him. Spence has one of the quickest first steps we have seen in a while, and he is starting to develop some moves that could make him almost unblockable in the very near future. He was giving everyone on the line fits on Tuesday, whether it was Jack Mewhort in one-on-one drills or Taylor Decker during the scrimmage. There may come a point where Meyer has to hold him out of practice just so they can practice their offense without Spence invading the backfield on every play. We’ll see how he looks when they go live this spring, but right now it’s hard to think Spence is going to be anything other than special over the next three years. 

Taylor Decker
Photo by Dan Harker

2. The offensive line is going to make everyone else look good. Remember this now before we all become enamored with highlight plays from Devin Smith, Jordan Hall, Braxton Miller, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. The only reason those guys have a chance to be as good as any group in the country this year is because of the five guys up front. It starts with Jack Mewhort, but all four of those returning guys look really good right now. In the past, it would have been easy to pick on Marcus Hall or Corey Linsley, but there really isn’t a weak spot on the line right now. Even Taylor Decker looked like a guy who has been around for a while. He hasn’t. He’s only a sophomore, but Decker has something special when it comes to pass protection, especially when he’s not going against someone as quick as Noah Spence. Certainly he will see guys like that this year, but I was particularly impressed with Decker’s ability to block Adolphus Washington during 1-on-1 drills Tuesday. Not many guys can handle big Adolphus, even at his young age. They also have a couple good backups in Chase Farris and Antonio Underwood. I thought both of those guys looked pretty good Tuesday, and Darryl Baldwin actually showed some flashes as the No. 2 left tackle.

Michael Thomas
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Thomas

3. Michael Thomas is my guy this spring. It seems like every spring, or at least every offseason, there are one or two young guys who really grab my attention. It typically happens early in camp, and these guys have gone on to become some pretty big household names. In the past, it has been guys like Bradley Roby, Ryan Shazier, Carlos Hyde and Devin Smith who took me by surprise early in their careers, before they ever made much of an impact on the field. This year’s candidate is sophomore wideout Michael Thomas. OSU fans remember him as the guy who caught 12 passes in the spring game and then disappeared, but this kid has a world of talent. He’s a legit 6-3 and knows how to use every bit of his size and strength. He throws guys around when they try to jam him at the line, and he might be the best route-runner on the team. I’m actually surprised Meyer hasn’t had more good things to say about him this spring, but I think it’s coming. He has enough speed to get behind the defense and he catches everything thrown in his direction. I’m a huge, huge Michael Thomas fan right now, and I think he will make a big impact whenever he gets the chance.

Devin Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Devin Smith

4. Devin Smith can be as good as he wants to be. The only reason I can think of that Thomas is still running with the twos this spring is the fact he plays the same position as Devin Smith. The junior out of Massillon is coming off a breakout season in 2012, but he can get a lot better. He isn’t as big or physical as Thomas, but Smith can literally be as good as he wants to be. If he’s willing to put in the work, there is no reason this kid can’t leave Ohio State as one of the greats, at least in recent memory. He’s 6-1 with blazing speed, and I do mean blazing. He put a move on Bradley Roby Tuesday that had everyone holding their breath, but the most impressive part was the separation. Not many guys can get deep enough on Roby where he can’t recover to at least tip the ball away. Smith has to work on his concentration (I saw him drop at least one easy one Tuesday), but the physical talent is unquestioned.

Carlos Hyde
Photo by Jim Davidson
Carlos Hyde

5. Ohio State’s backfield is going to be loaded. This has been an ongoing theme for a few years now, but this is the first time when we can really say this team has four quality guys who are not freshmen who could be in the mix at tailback. Normally we would already be including a guy like Ezekiel Elliott, but right now it’s hard to imagine where his carries are going to come from. Carlos Hyde is Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith probably has more pure talent than anyone in that room. Bri’onte Dunn is a throwback and Warren Ball is a guy who could emerge as a real option for the Buckeyes this year. He’s 220 pounds and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He runs extremely hard and has some good wiggle.

Rod Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Rod Smith

6. It’s going to be fun if Rod Smith ever puts it all together. He’s 6-3, 235 pounds and has the body of a young Eddie George. What’s not to love about Rod Smith? He also runs the ball hard and has some moves we probably haven’t seen from a guy his size since Eddie was holding up the Heisman Trophy back in 1995. That’s a lot of high praise for a guy with four total touchdowns to his name, but Eddie didn’t have much success until his junior year either. Smith had the best run of the day during Tuesday’s practice. While it wasn’t full-contact, there was definitely some hitting going on. Smith seems to surprise defenders with his burst and power, and he was on his way to turning a 5-yard run into a 70-yard touchdown before they blew the whistle. He proceeded to flip the ball over his shoulder in celebration, which seemed to land him a spot in Stan Drayton’s doghouse the rest of the day.

7. The defense is evolving. Some people hear dime defense and immediately think it means the Buckeyes are going to come out running six defensive backs in the prevent defense every play this fall. That’s simply not true, but Luke Fickell and his staff understand that defenses are playing catch-up right now. It won’t always be that way, at least if history serves us correctly, but right now offenses are putting up yards and points at a record clip. A lot of this stems from the spread offense, which really means it stems from what guys like Scott Linehan, Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez and Chip Kelly have brought to the game over the last decade. Certainly there are others, including the late Randy Walker, but the Buckeyes were not very good against spread offenses last year. They handled the power attacks of Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, but struggled against teams like Cal, Nebraska and Indiana. This new dime defense should allow them to get more speed on the field in obvious passing situations. It will also allow them to get creative with their blitzes, assuming they can find the right guys.

Armani Reeves
Photo by Dan Harker
Armani Reeves

8. Armani Reeves is one to watch. I mentioned this in my defensive practice report on Tuesday night, but the sophomore corner out of Massachusetts appears to be coming on strong this spring. Reeves was a 4-star prospect in the class of 2012 and Scout.com rated him as the sixth-best cornerback prospect in the country. He was originally headed to play for Penn State before the Sandusky scandal, and Meyer was able to flip both Reeves and teammate Camren Williams to play for the Buckeyes. Williams was working with the second-team defense on Tuesday, but Reeves was getting a few reps here and there with the ones. After playing mostly special teams as a rookie last season, he appears to be the top choice for Kerry Coombs as the team’s No. 3 corner this spring. It’s possible he could even challenge Doran Grant for the starting spot across from Bradley Roby, but it’s too early to assume anything.

9. Drew Basil is probably going to be this team’s punter. This could certainly change by fall camp, especially if the Buckeyes are able to add another walk-on to the mix this summer, but right now it looks like Basil is the guy. Wideout Fran Epitropoulos continues to get a look at punter, but his kicks are just not on the same level as Basil. Keep in mind Epitropoulos didn’t kick at all last year, and he’s coming off a leg injury, but his punts were more line drives on Tuesday, while Basil was getting good hangtime on his.

10. A couple rookies are looking good. There aren’t many newcomers in camp this spring because of the new academic semesters at Ohio State, but a couple guys are starting to stand out. Cam Burrows has had his moments, but the two guys who impressed me the most on Tuesday were Eli Apple and Tyquan Lewis. Apple looks to be more natural in coverage than Burrows, but he has to work on his tackling form. Lewis is a lot quicker than I expected, and he appears to be gaining ground on the Leo position. He would be an ideal backup for Noah Spence if he can hold off Jamal Marcus this spring.

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