To Get On the Field, You Have to Prepare Off of It

A lot of learning went on this spring for the Buckeyes, on the field and off.

Running backs coach Tony Alford said that having veterans like Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in his room allowed freshman Master Teague to have a graduate level course in being a Buckeye running back. They gave him answers to questions that he didn’t even know he had yet, and explained the whys and hows every step of the way.

Before a player can get on the field, he needs to know what he’s supposed to be doing when he’s out there. That doesn’t mean they’ll know everything, but there are basics that have to be understood before anything else happens. From there, the more intensive learning can begin, and it doesn’t matter how long players have been around because there is no such thing as a college football player who can’t still get better.

Buckeye linebacker Pete Werner took part in his first spring this year, and even made a position switch from Sam to Will. The time spent off the field increasing his understanding of the linebacker positions allowed him to make the move somewhat painless. Now he knows multiple linebacker spots, which makes him a more valuable member of the team.

It’s not easy, however.

“My days right now are pretty busy,” he said this spring. “Spending time off the field is crucial. We’ll get a bunch of buddies and come back here later and watch some film with the guys. We’ll get one of the coaches and we’ll sit down and talk. It’s very crucial. It’s almost like you have to come back and watch film. If you don’t, you’re behind.”

If a player falls behind at a place like Ohio State, good luck catching up, because that’s not how things go. When the teaching process goes as slow as the slowest player can handle, then nobody will ever get anywhere. And if a player can’t keep up in terms of understanding the schemes, he’ll eventually find somewhere other than Ohio State more to his liking.

The Buckeye defense wants to be fast and physical. The better the players understand the defense and their respective duties, the faster that defense can play. And when you have a fast defense, the offense bears a burden that they can’t often afford.

That’s why there is so much time spent off the field in groups learning and teaching, even for a fourth-year junior like middle linebacker Justin Hilliard.

“Me, Baron (Browning), Keandre (Jones) are always in here, Pete and Malik (Harrison) are always in here in the racquetball room,” Hilliard said. “We’ve got a racquetball room set up so that we can kind of step through the visuals of it. So I would say that every day we’re in here at least two hours.”

There are NCAA-mandated limits on time that can be required, but there are no limits on the amount of time players can spend on their own improving their craft.

And in the offseason, so much of getting better doesn’t even involve stepping a single foot onto a practice field.

“We have a board in the linebacker room with just hours and hours that we’ve been in here,” Hilliard said. “This is probably one of the hungrier linebacker groups that I’ve been a part of.”


4 Responses

  1. “When the teaching process goes as slow as the slowest player can handle, then nobody will ever get anywhere.”

    You just described the current American education system.

  2. All of these guys are very good players, but, last year they looked too often like they didn’t know their positions requirements and they played flat footed. They got better by seasons end, but the season starts on opening day, not seasons end. There’s no excuse for playing catch-up at Ohio State. None of this group was starting on opening day against Indiana, but, if they weren’t good enough to beat out the starters, that position room was a mess. Looking the way they did against Oklahoma was a shame. That starts with coaching and it’s inexcusable.

    This year the linebackers have to hit the floor running because I suspect the offense is going to need all the help it can get from them. Bill Davis should be feeling like he’s under the microscope because of the crap show he fielded last year. It’s good to see that the guys are all working together on their own to preemptively prevent opening another season as the joke of the Big 10.

      1. Amen, brotha. doubt if this guy Mills gets to say much at home.

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