Football

Five Practices In — Running Down the Ohio State Offense

Jaelen Gill Ohio State Football Buckeyes H-Back

Saturday was the fifth of Ohio State’s 15 spring practices, meaning they are now one-third of the way done with spring camp.

The media has now seen an hour of two separate practices, as well as Saturday’s entire session, so while it’s not a lot, it’s still enough to talk about what has been seen.

The Buckeye defense will be covered tomorrow, but for today, here is a position-by-position rundown of what has been seen and the thoughts that have come watching portions of the first five spring practices for OSU.

Quarterback

I’ll write about this more on Monday, but Justin Fields took the reps with the ones on Saturday, and Ryan Day says Matthew Baldwin has also been with the ones plenty, and will be again. We saw Baldwin with the ones in previous practices through early drills.

There is no need for Day to start establishing a hierarchy at this point when so much of the offense is still yet to be installed. It is clear that Fields has the strongest arm on the team. You don’t always need to see who threw the ball to know who threw it.

I was struck by how much zone read they were running with Fields after seeing it shelved a year ago. Fields looked very comfortable running the ball.

Running Back

Demario McCall has yet to be full-go in practice, which has been disappointing for everybody. It is clear that Ryan Day and Tony Alford have plans for him if he can get healthy and stay healthy.

JK Dobbins seems to have gotten his mind right, and we’ll have more about that this week. He looked decisive and fast on Saturday and is showing his old cutting ability.

One of the things Day talked about on Saturday was getting Dobbins to stay grounded when doing a jump cut so that he can make a move as the defense reacts. You can see an example of that here.

Freshman Marcus Crowley had some nice strong runs on Saturday. Running backs coach Tony Alford said redshirt freshman Master Teague is grittier and grimier this year and much more comfortable than he was last year.

Receiver

Austin Mack is working mostly at the Z this spring after being at X during his career. Moving him to Z allows the Buckeyes to have Mack on the field with Binjimen Victor and KJ Hill, which Ryan Day deemed their best three receivers.

The move also lessens the burden on freshman Garrett Wilson or redshirt freshman Kamryn Babb or any other unproven options behind Chris Olave. The move is also made possible by what appears to be growth and improvement from junior Jaylen Harris at the X. Harris again flashed on Saturday, as he did many times last year in limited views during spring practice. It didn’t lead to much playing time during the season, but that should change this year.

Day confirmed the voluntary departure of redshirt freshman L’Christian “Blue” Smith, who was also in the mix at X.

Babb is not yet practicing. We will speak with receivers coach Brian Hartline on Thursday and seek an update at that time.

Getting back to Garrett Wilson, who had the catch of the day on Saturday, he just doesn’t look like a normal freshman. Or even normal. Everything he does is smooth. No friction. He’s fun to watch.

Also fun to watch is redshirt freshman H-back Jaelen Gill. I’ve seen him drop more jocks than passes so far. He’s caught everything. He made a defender miss so bad on Saturday that the high school teams in attendance let out some oohs.

And then you still have proven veterans like KJ Hill and Binjimen Victor and CJ Saunders.

Tight End

Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry are proven and known, which has allowed fourth-year junior Jake Hausmann to get some good reps. The most interesting thing I’ve seen with the tight ends, however, is the way they were using sophomore Jeremy Ruckert on Saturday. He was often flexed out in the slot, but in “12” personnel (one back, two tight ends) he could be found in the backfield a bit, like an NFL H-back.

And wherever they moved him, he was effective in getting open.

Based on everything I’ve seen to this point, it’s clear that this is the year Ohio State throws to the tight end.*

Offensive Line

Junior left tackle Thayer Munford still dealing with a back issue is not good news for this Buckeye offensive line. That, along with Josh Alabi’s stomach bug on Saturday, allowed Branden Bowen some time at left tackle. He’s been with the ones at right tackle so far this spring. In his place on the right side was redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere.

I’m mentioned this before on the Buckeye Weekly podcast, but I find it interesting that Petit-Frere is staying at right tackle rather than moving around and getting in the mix at left tackle, like both Alabi and Bowen have. My thought is that they want Petit-Frere getting as comfortable as possible at right tackle in order to provide the best competition for Bowen in the fall.

Fourth-year junior Gavin Cupp continues to be with the ones at left guard. Ryan Day said on Saturday that Cupp is a tough veteran who does his job. More reps will make him better as the competition for the interior spots gets even tougher when Jonah Jackson arrives this summer.

Redshirt freshman center Matthew Jones was not on hand Saturday as he was one of many Buckeyes nursing various dings and nicks. The snapping behind Josh Myers had some issues, but that position is mostly manned by walk-ons. Redshirt freshman Max Wray was working with the twos at tackle.

Day said on Saturday that it’s time for the 2018 class to start leaving their respective marks on this team, and the three redshirt freshman offensive linemen know it.


*Offer void in Ohio.

12 Responses

  1. I’ve had to play catch up on Justin Fields’ ability. Yep, he has a strong Troy Smith like cannon. Probably more accurate than Troy. Matt Baldwin doesn’t have anything close to the same velocity on his passes, but, he makes up for it with timing accuracy and ball placement.

    Loving it that Coach Day is making it a real competition. Either one could earn the start, and either one can lead this team.

    That’s what JK was missing. I should say, adding. That HOP, plant and go, HAD to go. Plant the foot and leave the defender looking foolish for his efforts. That extra hop allowed defenders time to react and get to the spot to make a play. With the hop gone, JK won’t be AT that spot by the time the defender gets there. Kinda reminds me of a younger and slightly bigger Ray Rice, ability wise. He’s pretty obviously gotten better upper body development since he arrived. Be interested to see if that will help him once he hits the open field.

    As usual, everything flows from the offensive line. It’s hard to imagine it being any worse than last years version in run blocking.

    The receiver room is just ridiculous. The 3 I’m watching for the most “fun”cination” are Jaelen Gill, Chris Olave and the human vacuum cleaner KJ Hill. Not that any of the others aren’t just as lethal, it’s just that these 3 have psychic abilities on the football field.

    IF that offensive line improves in their run blocking while maintaining dominance in pass blocking, this will be the most feared offense in all of College Football.BUT…………….not ready to agree that TE’s will be more utilized in the passing game. We’ll see, but, until we DO see it………..it’s a pipe dream!

    Good article Tony.

  2. I’m not the least bit concerned about over reliance on the zone read. Although only one data point (last year), I believe Ryan Day and the offensive staff have no real desire to make that a staple play in the offense. However, having it in the offense gives defenses something to consider. I recall last year when most were begging Haskins to pull it down and pick up an easy first down. So, having a QB who – can – pull it down and run will make the running back that much more of a threat. Plus, lets be real, with the lack of depth at QB there is zero chance Coach Day wants to run his starter more than 5 times a game.

  3. I don’t mind the zone read per se if the QB absolutely needs it to be effective (although I would prefer to not have it). However, what I don’t want to go back to is an offense where the QB Power Dive is the base play of the offense. Where literally we line up and everyone in the entire stadium KNOWS we are getting ready to run the QB Power Dive. Its an elementary offense and concept (at best).

    1. More thoroughly and clearly put, Christopher. That stuff works against opponents who OSU overmatches in skill- when skill level is comparable, not so much…

  4. please, NO! do not got back the jt barrett-style zone read – i don’t want the qb runnning the ball 25 times a game and our offense becoming stagnant and predictable.

    1. I’m with you all the way, Dan- our RBs need to run and WRs/TEs need the ball MUCH more than a QB needs to run it.

    2. JT didn’t carry it 25 times a game. Say 4-7 read keepers by Fields or Baldwin is effective in keeping a defense honest. And productive.

      1. Problem is, we have no idea if read keepers will be “productive”- and 7 is too many. Lots of fans merely don’t want it to be the “go to” play, especially from the pistol with no blockers, on 3rd and 1. QB needs to distribute the ball to the skill players. I hold great hope that any QB reads will be few and far between, and the last rather than the first option on short yardage. Fingers crossed…

  5. Do not understand why so many players are banged up, injured, or recovering from last falll, or problems from a year ago? Coming off winter conditioning we should be as healthy as ca be.

    1. Every staff is always over-precautious in the spring because there is no reason not to be. Most guys would still play with what they’re dealing with, but there’s no need to push through right now.

  6. Sad to hear McCall is having such a tough time getting healthy.

  7. 50 throwing TD’s is the target, I believe. This gang might push it.

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