Spring Practice Insider: Interesting Developments at Linebacker
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes opened with the same trio of linebackers on Thursday, with Curtis Grant in the middle and Joshua Perry and Darron Lee on either side of him. Where they lined up, however, was the interesting part.
Rather than Lee sticking to just the weak side and Perry to just the strong side, Lee mostly played the wide (field) side and Perry played the short (boundary) side. However, this is not an uncommon tweak to the "Quarters" defense that Ohio State is now employing.
Photo by Jim Davidson
On Tuesday, Meyer called Lee a "walk out" linebacker, meaning they would walk him out from his normal position and have him cover the slot if need be. He was very solid on Thursday doing this. With the offense working on a lot of passes into the flats, Lee was around the ball quite a bit. Even when he didn't make the tackle, he would force it back inside. He would then also recover to assist on the tackle.
Lee had an interception late in the scrimmage portion of practice, catching a pass that went off of tight end Marcus Baugh's hands. He returned it 15 yards or so inside the 10-yard line.
Also of note, true freshman Raekwon McMillan and Camren Williams both got reps in the middle with the first team, though Grant received considerably more. Sophomore Trey Johnson also got some snaps with the ones, teaming with Williams and Lee.
A Good Day for the Cornerbacks
Prior to leaving towards the end of practice for undisclosed reasons, cornerback Doran Grant was a very tough matchup for every receiver on the Buckeye roster.
Early in one-on-ones Grant was locked onto Devin Smith, but Cardale Jones's throw was long, so neither player could make a play on the ball. A few throws later, he picked Jones off while defending Michael Thomas. A few throws after that, he locked down Dontre Wilson for an incompletion.
Redshirt freshman Eli Apple, who joined fellow redshirt freshman Gareon Conley with the twos, had a pair of interceptions, one against each quarterback. His interception of Barrett came when he jumped an out route. His interception of Jones came on a pass intended for freshman Johnnie Dixon.
When Grant left practice, Conley stepped in with the first team, joining Armani Reeves.
The Simple Things
Ohio State stayed in a base defense yet again, and we have yet to see any nickel or dime looks. This could mean that they plan on playing more base defense, given the ability of Darron Lee to "walk out" and cover receivers or tight ends.
It could also just mean that Chris Ash and Luke Fickell are keeping things extremely simple right now. In fact, I asked safety Tyvis Powell what the most difficult aspect of this defense has been to grasp, and he said there isn't one because of how basic things are right now.
Ash stated after practice that things won't stay this simple, but he acknowledged that they need to understand the basics before they add to what this defense can do.
The Line of Scrimmage
As was expected before spring practice ever started, the defensive line has certainly had its moments against the offensive line. It's a little unfair to mention how the first team has done because they are matched up against the second team offense. Suffice it to say that #2 quarterback J.T. Barrett didn't have as much time to stand in the pocket as #1 quarterback Cardale Jones.
In one-on-ones sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa had some nice moments. In one of his first battles against left tackle Taylor Decker, Decker held him at bay on a pass rush. The next two times they went against each other, however, went Bosa's way. The first saw Bosa beat Decker with an inside swim move, and the second was a bull rush that echoed in the practice facility when Bosa collided with Decker and drove him back into the "quarterback".
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle also had a couple of good battles with true freshman offensive guard Marcelys Jones. They split their run-ins. Redshirt freshman viper Tyquan Lewis beat Tommy Brown twice, once very badly.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Donovan Munger, who was working with the twos, bested Joel Hale twice. Sophomore defensive tackle Michael Hill was stoned by redshirt freshman center Billy Price twice. Price also got the better of tackle Michael Bennett once.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Junior tackle Adolphus Washington had two nice reps against guards Patrick Elflein and Antonio Underwood, blowing by Underwood in the latter rep. Washington also had a sack of Barrett while scrimmaging.
Emptying the Notebook
Former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano was in attendance again. He spent much of the afternoon right next to Urban Meyer as both looked on at the defense. After practice Chris Ash said that it's been great having Schiano around, as he is offering critiques on practice habits and the like.
Tyvis Powell had an interception on J.T. Barrett on a roll out. Barrett was under pressure and didn't see Powell sitting on a sideline route.
Overall, I thought the defense did a pretty good job defending the quick passes to the sideline. Granted, they knew it was coming, but they still have to get around blocks, which they did a nice job of.
Ash said that he likes the effort that his defense is playing with. Several players noted that the defense is playing with more effort this spring, even on things like scooping up fumbles or drops and racing for the endzone. A year ago those were usually dead balls. Now they want to keep their defense in the mode of running and finishing.
Ash also said that Tyvis Powell and Cameron Burrows are prototype safeties for the "Quarters" or cover-4 defense they will play because both are former cornerbacks and it requires a lot of one-on-one coverage against talented receivers.
There were a few changes from two weeks ago, mostly due to Vonn Bell's injury, as well as Eli Apple's return. Donovan Munger has moved to the second unit, however, dropping Chris Carter to the threes at times.
Jamal Marcus and Tyquan Lewis both repped with the second team, and Marcus even got a couple of snaps with the ones, replacing Joey Bosa. This was perhaps something they will look to do to get Noah Spence and Marcus on the pass rush together on sure passing downs.
Viper - Noah Spence / Tyquan Lewis / Jamal Marcus
DT - Adolphus Washington / Tommy Schutt / Michael Hill / Tracy Sprinkle
DT - Michael Bennett / Donovan Munger / Chris Carter
DE - Joey Bosa / Steve Miller / Rashad Frazier
WLB - Darron Lee / Trey Johnson
MLB - Curtis Grant / Camren Williams / Raekwon McMillan
SLB - Joshua Perry / Chris Worley
CB - Doran Grant / Gareon Conley
CB - Armani Reeves / Eli Apple
FS - Tyvis Powell / Ron Tanner
SS - Cameron Burrows / Jayme Thompson
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