Spring Practice Insider: Roby Steals the Show
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was an eventful first day for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, as they hit the practice field for the first time in 105 days.
This is the earliest documented start for spring practice in Columbus, so the Buckeyes were inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on day one of camp. They will almost certainly be inside again on Thursday, which will be their last practice until after spring break.
The players were in shorts on Tuesday with no pads, so it’s not always easy to get a true idea of what this team might look like on the first day. There were plenty of questions on defense heading into this spring. Not many of them were answered on Tuesday, but it was an eventful first day for Luke Fickell and his guys.
Welcome Back Roby
One of the first things Meyer mentioned about the defense on Tuesday was the fact he was pretty happy to have cornerback Bradley Roby back for another year. With Roby joining Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, the Buckeyes are pretty stable on the back end, but Roby is the one guy who always stands out.
I can remember the first time I ever saw Roby in fall camp three years ago. He was a true freshman out of Georgia who played mostly receiver in high school, but the first time I saw him match up with DeVier Posey and come away with the win was when I knew there was something special about this kid.
He showed that again on Tuesday, opening his third spring camp in Columbus with a pair of interceptions. The first one came off redshirt freshman Cardale Jones during 7-on-7 drills. The Buckeyes were not in pads today, but Roby snatched the ball, dodger an arm tackle and took it all the way to the end zone.
His second pick was even more impressive. Roby jumped a slant route by Evan Spencer and intercepted a pass from starting quarterback Braxton Miller. He ripped the ball away, put a move on Spencer and took off down the sideline. Nobody was catching him if this was a Autumn Saturday in the Horseshoe.
A New Star is Born?
Roby was easily the star of the day for the defense, but the most interesting development of the day was over at the “Star” position. It’s a hybrid safety/linebacker spot the Buckeyes use when they face more wide-open spread attacks, and last year it was very inconsistent.
They tried Orhian Johnson and Corey Brown, who is back for his senior season, but the two guys who played the position on Tuesday were Tyvis Powell and Adam Griffin. As a first reaction, both of them make sense at the Star position, despite the fact one is 6-3 and the other is 5-8.
Powell played corner last year, but he never looked like a true corner. He’s too big for the position and doesn’t turn his hips well enough to be a corner at this level. He has long arms, but tends to grab at receivers when they make their first move.
He looked much more comfortable at the Star position on Tuesday, where he was working almost exclusively with the first-team defense. Meyer said he earned that right during the offseason and that he’s a candidate for this year’s “Reid Fragel Award.”
The Griffin move also makes sense because he simply wasn’t going to hold off guys like Armani Reeves, Cam Burrows and Eli Apple at the corner position. He’s not known for being a big hitter, but he plays with passion and energy. We’ll see what happens there. The position could be wide open heading into fall, especially with Von Bell coming in and De’van Bogard coming back from a knee injury.
I think Bogard is the guy who is best suited to play the Star position if he’s healthy.
Man in the Middle
It was hard to keep my eyes off Roby Tuesday, especially any time he matched up with Devin Smith or Michael Thomas (Corey Brown missed most of practice with a minor shin injury). I made it a point to keep my eyes on the linebacker position, and on No. 14 in particular.
Meyer said Tuesday after practice that he still has a lot of hope for Curtis Grant, and they are clearly going to give him every opportunity to win a starting job on this defense. With Ryan Shazier held out of action (he had surgery for a sports hernia), Grant and sophomore David Perkins were the top two linebackers on Tuesday.
The Buckeyes played almost exclusively nickel defense, so we didn’t see who their three backers would have been, but it stands to reason it would have gone Grant at Mike, Perkins at Will (in place of Shazier) and Joshua Perry at Sam.
Meyer said Perry is also getting a look at Mike linebacker, and he was getting reps with the second team ahead of sophomore Camren Williams on Tuesday. Perry was playing middle backer with the second group, while walk-on Craig Fada saw time at the other second-team linebacker spot.
Perry got a few looks with the first-team defense, but most of the reps went to Grant. He certainly looks the part, but I still don’t see the natural instincts it takes to be a great middle linebacker.
It was the first day of camp, and they haven’t even put the pads on yet, but Grant looked about like he did the last time we saw him. When he was around the ball, he makes plays. The problem is, he plays himself out of position far too often because he’s thinking instead of reacting.
Perfect example: he chipped the H-back on a drag across the middle, but then just kind of waded around in no man’s land while the running back slipped into the flat for a 10-yard gain.
Odds and Ends
* Sophomore Jamal Marcus is no longer working with the linebackers. He was backing up Noah Spence at the Leo (drop end) position on Tuesday.
* Freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle were also playing the Leo position behind Spence and junior Steve Miller, who needs a good spring to keep himself in the mix on the defensive line.
* Freshman corner Cam Burrows was getting a lot of reps with the twos today across from Armani Reeves. Eli Apple had a few reps but not as many as Burrows. He was getting an ear full from Kerry Coombs most of the day.
* It looks like junior Joel Hale will get the first crack at replacing Garrett Goebel at the nose tackle position. He spent the entire day working with the ones, while big Chris Carter was the second-team nose tackle. Sophomore Tommy Schutt worked behind Michael Bennett at the 3-technique spot.
* No pads today, but I thought Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence all looked really good out there on the first day. All of them were with the first-team defense and I would be shocked if they weren’t in the starting lineup on opening day.
* Spence had some great battles with senior left tackle Jack Mewhort during the one-on-one drills and I saw Washington bull-rush right guard Tommy Brown about 10 yards into the backfield. It was a man vs. boy moment and I actually felt bad for the kid.
* If the Buckeyes are going to run mostly two linebacker sets, it seems like Curtis Grant and Josh Perry are the two guys fighting for the other spot next to Shazier.
* Former OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock was at practice today. He spent most of his time watching the D-line, talking to Johnathan Hankins. Of course Heacock recruited Big Hank to Ohio State.
Depth Charting the Defense
Jamal Marcus/Tyquan Lewis
J.T. Moore/Rashad Frazier
LB Ryan Shazier
DB De’van Bogard
DB Najee Murray
DE Se'Von Pittman??? (Didn't see him at all)
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