The first week of spring practice is in the books for the Ohio State Buckeyes and now they head off to spring break for a week of rest and relaxation.
Reporters were granted access for the first hour of each of the two practices this week, which featured mostly positional drills and some one-on-ones between receivers and defensive backs.
It is dangerous to draw too many conclusions based on two practices, let alone just an hour of each practice, but there were still some things we can takeaway from what was seen.
Let us begin.
1. There is a lot of defensive depth.
When freshman Zach Harrison is running with the fours at defensive end, that means you have a lot of defensive ends. And that’s even with moving Jashon Cornell back to defensive tackle. The first unit features returning starters Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper. The second unit is sophomores Tyler Friday and Tyreke Smith. And the third unit is redshirt freshman Javontae Jean-Baptiste and true freshman Noah Potter. The same can be said of sophomore Teradja Mitchell running with the threes at middle linebacker behind Tuf Borland and Baron Browning. And even without nose tackle Robert Landers on Wednesday, there was still plenty of options at tackle for the Buckeyes. The secondary, however, may be a bit thin — or at least they don’t go three deep like the front seven does.
2. There is not as much depth on the offensive line.
With left tackle Thayer Munford out this spring, the depth chart on the offensive line is a bit alarming. And when you consider that Munford is dealing with a back injury, this isn’t necessarily one of those things that will be taken care of by this summer. The second unit features former walk-on Kevin Woidke at left guard and true freshman Ryan Jacoby at right guard. Jacoby told me in the winter that he was told he would be playing tackle, which is all he ever played in high school. There is clearly a need at guard right now. That will change a bit when Jonah Jackson transfers in this summer, but he won’t magically fix everything. Yes, this group could be very good this year, but they’ll need to stay healthy — very much including Thayer Munford — because depth continues to be an issue.
3. Matthew Baldwin won’t be backing down.
Make sure you check out what Matthew Baldwin had to say on Friday. When talking about the battle at quarterback, he reiterated what he said in January — he isn’t afraid of competition. He threw better on Friday than he did on Wednesday, citing fewer nerves on day two. Baldwin also said that sometimes he thinks too much at times and performs better when he’s just out there slinging it. Considering how much time he had to think about his first practice, you can understand why day two was better than day one. He and Fields have been switching off between the ones and twos. Mike Yurcich said he likes how cerebral Baldwin is and how much he loves football. Even if Fields does win the job, Baldwin has seen other quarterbacks sit for a couple of years and then start for one year and make a huge name for themselves. He cited Dwayne Haskins and former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as two examples. Trubisky was the No. 2 overall draft pick a few years ago and Haskins is setting up to be a Top 10 pick next month.
4. Jaelen Gill was impressive.
Redshirt freshman H-back Jaelen Gill was outstanding in one-on-ones Wednesday. Several times he made defensive backs look foolish. On Friday, he was again beating his man, and several times he was targeted deep down the field. This is an area where the H-backs haven’t been used enough, but maybe that will be changing this season. Gill has shown tremendous hands and great ball awareness, but it all begins with his route running, which is creating room for him to make a clean play on the ball and then go upfield after the catch. It will be interesting to see how effective he is on the jet sweep this season. Parris Campbell was outstanding running the sweep. If Gill can contribute there and also be a deep threat, Ryan Day’s offense will have one more stresser for defenses to worry about.
5. Under center is the new shotgun.
On Wednesday, Ryan Day said the Buckeyes would be working on some plays from under center this spring. The quarterbacks took some direct snaps on Friday. After practice, passing game coordinator and co-offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said one of the positives of running some plays under center is that it freezes a defense for a little bit longer as they wait to see what the quarterback is doing. It also allows running backs to get some forward momentum going when they get the ball. It won’t be all under center for the Buckeyes this year, however. As Day said on Wednesday, they are always trying to advance the offense and keep it on the cutting edge. If there is something that can make this offense better, they will look at it.