The 2019 Ohio State Spring Game is now just over a week away. The Buckeyes spent Friday morning practicing inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Unlike most of the team’s workouts this spring, the full practice was open to the media.
It was a chance to see which players were working with the first-team and second-team units. It also provided a head-to-head comparison of Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin as they battle for the starting quarterback job.
Here are some of the more interesting things we saw on the offensive side of the ball during Friday’s open practice.
Recruits Are Watching
Kendall Milton, a 5-star running back recruit from Fresno, Calif. was on the field watching practice. He’s considered the top player at his position in the nation.
Milton spent a lot of time carefully watching and listening to OSU running backs coach Tony Alford.
As soon as practice started, Ryan Day made a beeline over to talk to Milton, and spent several minutes with him.
Dawand Jones, an offensive tackle who signed with OSU in February, was there watching as well. He is listed at 6-foot-8 and 360 lbs.
After seeing him up close: Yup, that is an extremely large gentleman. Even on a sideline full of football players, Jones stood out.
He will be something of a development project for Greg Studrawa, but if he puts it all together, he could be a heck of a player.
Wyatt Davis, who is penciled in as the likely starter at right guard, missed practice due to illness.
Senior Branden Bowen, who has been working at right tackle this spring, slid inside to right guard.
Left tackle Thayer Munford was out again with a back injury. He will miss the entire spring.
Sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave went down partway through practice, grabbing his hamstring. Ryan Day later said it was a minor tweak, and was not expected to be a long-term issue.
In The Trenches
With Davis and Munford out, and Jones, Harry Miller, Enokk Vimahi, and Jonah Jackson not with the team yet, the offensive line was a patchwork affair.
The first-team line was Josh Alabi at left tackle, Gavin Cupp at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Bowen at right guard, and Nick Petit-Frere at right tackle.
The second-team line was Kevin Woidke, Nathan Brock, Matthew Jones, Ryan Jacoby, and Max Wray.
Myers and Petit-Frere both stood out in individual drills, stopping defensive linemen like Tommy Togiai, Davon Hamilton, Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith, and Alex Williams one-on-one.
Strength coach Mickey Marotti announced the winners over the PA system. Most players were identified just by name, but New York native Matthew Jones was “Matt Jones Brooklyn” every time.
A New Name At Quarterback
Day was very energetic throughout practice. At one point early on, he jumped into a drill where the quarterbacks were practicing a play-action handoff, and then sprinting out to make a run-pass option throw.
Day, who played quarterback for the University of New Hampshire, ran through the drill once, completing his pass.
The Good And Bad For Jaylen Harris
Redshirt sophomore Jaylen Harris got more work than normal at X receiver. Austin Mack was getting time at the Z, and Binjimen Victor was not practicing.
Harris made the most of his opportunity, making several impressive catches. One was a one-handed snag 20-30 yards down the left sideline.
However, later in practice, he got into an altercation with cornerback Damon Arnette, who threw a punch that appeared to hit Harris in the side of the head.
Harris sat out the rest of practice.
Just a few minutes earlier, Arnette and K.J. Hill got into a yelling match.
While the offensive line worked consistently with the same group, most of the skill positions were far less consistent.
Wide receivers in particular seemed to come on and off the field with almost no regard to whether the first-teamers or second-teamers were theoretically out there.
One thing that was very apparent: Justin Fields is the first-team quarterback.
For the vast majority of practice, Fields was working almost exclusively with the first-team, and Matthew Baldwin was repping almost entirely with the twos.
Fields sat out the last 20 or so minutes of practice, which gave Baldwin a chance to work with the ones.
Chris Chugunov, the third-string quarterback, made a few nice throws, including a long touchdown pass to walk-on Garyn Prater.
Which Quarterback Was Most Impressive?
It depends on who you ask. The three Ozone staffers at practice voted “Fields by a little”, “Baldwin by some”, and “too close to call.”
Fields unquestionably has a stronger arm. That’s one thing everyone in the building probably agrees on.
But both quarterbacks were somewhat inconsistent at times.
On three consecutive plays, Baldwin dropped an absolutely beautiful arcing pass into Prater’s arms down the sidelines for a big gain. On the next snap, he threw a ball behind C.J. Saunders, and at his feet. Saunders somehow managed to reel it in. The next snap, Baldwin completely air-mailed a receiver, throwing it at least five feet over his head.
Fields was also inconsistent at times, and seemed to have more trouble moving the ball on average than Baldwin did.
But of course, Baldwin was facing the second-team defense, while Fields was going against the ones.
After practice, Day said that both guys were pretty close in completion percentage this spring.
One other advantage that Fields definitely has is with his legs. The quarterbacks weren’t “live” so it’s hard to say exactly how elusive and hard to tackle Fields really is. But he has a definite burst, and had several scrambles that likely would have picked up first downs and more.
Keep An Eye On Marcus Crowley
Most of practice was two-hand touch, as the coaching staff tries to keep the roster healthy and fresh throughout the spring.
Right at the end of practice, the last few minutes were “live” meaning the defense could tackle everyone.
Freshman running back Marcus Crowley was out there for this period, and showed some flashes of promise.
He had a couple four-yard gains, and then broke one for 20 yards or so against the second-team defense.
Crowley isn’t likely to get many carries this fall, but the coaching staff should be happy with what he showed today.
The Garyn Prater Show
Sophomore walk-on wide receiver Garyn Prater had a monster day at practice.
He had the long touchdown catch from Chugunov and the nice catch down the sideline from Baldwin mentioned above.
He also made several other big plays.
Prater isn’t likely to see a ton of time this fall, but Ryan Day said the walk-on could earn his way on the field if he keeps flashing like he did.
Day also pointed to C.J. Saunders, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship after cracking the rotating and earning playing time at H in 2017.
Saunders also had a big day. He ran with the twos, and was a frequent target for Baldwin during passing drills.
Freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson had a quieter day than he has at other times this spring. At one point, Wilson went way up to snag a pass in the back of the end zone, but was ruled out of bounds.
Coming Up Just Short
Wednesday was Winner/Loser Day, with points awarded to either the offense or defense for certain plays and drills.
At the end of practice, the defense had a 79-74 lead, but the offense had a chance to tie it up on the final play. Touchdowns were worth five points instead of six (¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) meaning that a score on the final play would have knotted it up at 79-all.
But Chugunov’s pass in the back of the end zone was ruled incomplete, leaving the defense as the winner.