Spring Practice Insider: Defense Keeping Things Aggressive
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes' press man coverage was paying dividends during Saturday's scrimmage as every single quick screen pass was immediately met by a defender, ending in very little gain.
On a quick hitch from Cardale Jones to Devin Smith early on, backup linebacker Chris Worley fought through a Dontre Wilson block to tackle Smith for virtually no gain. It was just one of many routine tackles made by the secondary in these situations.
Another aspect of the tight coverage was the fact that the wideouts didn't really make many plays on the day. Most of the plays came out of the slot and tight end, and these receivers weren't being redirected probably as well as they should have been in those instances.
An Apple a Day Will Make Receivers Pay
Redshirt freshman cornerback Eli Apple was one of the stars of the day. Working with the twos for most of the afternoon, Apple was equally impressive against the run and the pass.
Early on he brought down Dontre Wilson for no gain on a reverse, and then one play later locked up Corey Smith on a slant in the endzone.
On a J.T. Barrett scramble, Apple fought his way out of a Johnnie Dixon block out wide to make the stop for minimal gain. A couple of series later, linebacker Joe Burger tipped a Barrett pass and Apple snatched it out of the air for an interception.
He may have returned it for a touchdown had the whistle not blown dead because the return was heading directly for the thousands of students planted at the 20-yard thanks to OSU's Student Appreciation Day.
A couple of series after that, Apple absolutely leveled wide receiver Jeff Greene, breaking up what would have been a seven or eight-yard gain. The hit even had running back Ezekiel Elliott shaking his head.
One play after that Barrett threw an interception. My view was obscured, but there's every chance that Apple came away with that one as well.
After practice Apple had the black stripe on his helmet removed, signifying that he is now officially a Buckeye.
Circle Drill Updates
Urban Meyer kicked off practice by holding a half-dozen circle drills right in front of the students amassed on the field. If you're not familiar with the circle drill, it basically pits one player against another, a whistle is blown, then the two players come crashing together, each trying to drive the other backward.
The first matchup featured safety Tyvis Powell against receiver Michael Thomas, with Powell barely edging Thomas out for the win. Up next was a brutal contest between tailback Ezekiel Elliott and middle linebacker Curtis Grant, which was won by Elliott.
Next came Chris Worley getting a win over receiver Jeff Greene, then a stalemate between freshman guard Marcelys Jones and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Donovan Munger. Receiver Corey Smith got the best of safety Cameron Burrows, and then linebacker Trey Johnson and running back Bri'onte Dunn fought to a draw.
There wasn't much change in terms of the depth chart. Defensive end Jamal Marcus wasn't in attendance, so that's why he doesn't appear below. Cornerback Doran Grant didn't participate for the entire practice, and when he came out, Gareon Conley went in with the ones. When they went to nickel, Apple would come in and join Conley at cornerback with Grant out.
Middle linebackers Curtis Grant and Camren Williams split the reps with the ones, with Grant maybe having a few more reps overall. Raekwon McMillan was strictly with the twos.
LE - Noah Spence / Steve Miller
DT - Adolphus Washington / Tommy Schutt / Michael Hill / Tracy Sprinkle
DT - Michael Bennett / Donovan Munger / Chris Carter
RE - Joey Bosa / Tyquan Lewis / Rashad Frazier
SAM - Darron Lee / Chris Worley
MIKE - Curtis Grant / Camren Williams / Raekwon McMillan
WILL - Joshua Perry / Trey Johnson
CB - Doran Grant / Gareon Conley
CB - Armani Reeves / Eli Apple
SS - Tyvis Powell / Ron Tanner
FS - Cameron Burrows / Jayme Thompson
Emptying the Notebook
Defensive end Noah Spence again showed the speed that everybody has seen before. He got the better of right tackle Darryl Baldwin, and also scooped up a botched snap that barely hit the ground before he was on it.
Cornerback Gareon Conley also had a fantastic day as he and Eli Apple (who are also roommates) continue to have a heck of a competition for the #3 corner spot. Conley stepped in front of a Cardale Jones out route and returned it 30 yards or so for a touchdown.
Defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington both made a few plays in the backfield, and did it against both the first and second team offensive line. Bennett blasted tailback Ezekiel Elliott for no gain, sidestepping center Billy Price before meeting up with Elliott in what used to be "the hole". Washington, meanwhile, got the best of guard Joel Hale on a sack of J.T. Barrett.
Backup tackles Michael Hill and Chris Carter also made some plays. Hill threw Barrett down on a keeper and Carter sacked Barrett on a looping pass rush from the blind side.
Linebacker Joshua Perry was busy in both run support as well as chasing tight ends to the short side flats. He made several solid tackles on the day.
Tyvis Powell was probably one of the three most-impressive players on the day. He picked off a pass when he stepped in front of a throw from Cardale Jones that was intended for Michael Thomas. A few plays later, the offense tried to go with a throw back screen to the tight end near the goal line. Powell stayed home the entire time, and in a one-on-one battle he went over top of tight end Marcus Baugh and spiked the pass down incomplete.
Raekwon McMillan had a nice stop of receiver Johnnie Dixon on a jet sweep for no gain, chasing him down in the process. Then in goal line, he shot upfield, tripping up Warren Ball for no gain. He was upset with the play, however, because it should have been a decleater five yards deep.
Related Article: Practice Report Offense
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