The Ohio State Buckeyes just wrapped up their first practice of spring 2020.
After winter workouts conclude, spring ball is the next big step toward that autumn’s football season.
There are 14 early-enrollee freshmen working with the team, and a number of positional battles to watch this spring.
The Buckeyes are coming off a 14-1 season, and their third consecutive Big Ten championship, and they are thinking even bigger for the coming season.
Monday morning inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the road to the 2020 College Football Playoffs continued.
After practice, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day recapped what he saw on the field, some early impressions of the new freshmen, and what his goals are for the 2020 season.
You can watch Day’s full press conference live below as it happens.
A complete transcript of his remarks is below the video.
Posted by The Ozone on Monday, March 2, 2020
Ohio State University Football Media Conference
Monday, March 2, 2020
- How much does this spring practice sort of begin the auditions for the quarterback of the future with Jack and C.J. here? I know you have other guys but these guys are kind of the future. Are you looking at it that way?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I mean they came in here for a reason early, to learn and get spring practice under their belt. So, a lot of guys out there that are here early — 14 guys, really 15 — and those guys are here the first time and they’re learning and everything like that.The other part of it is a lot of guys on our team that didn’t play a lot of football just based on how the season played out in the first 10 games. In the second half of a lot of those games they were getting a lot of reps. But certainly for all the guys coming in early it’s a great opportunity to get that going. And this is really important for us. And they’ve been here now six weeks, and so they’re picking it up good but it’s different once you get on the field.
Q. I imagine you were extremely motivated last year, first year head coach, people might have been doubting you, everything going on. Now with the great season you guys had, the contract extension, how do you keep that hunger you had yourself last year?
COACH DAY: Just the expectations, first off, that you set for the whole program and that you have for yourself. And our program is all built on fighting and competing every single day to be the best version of yourself, the best version of your unit, the best version of your team.
We know what the expectations are here. That’s part of this thing. When you wake up every day you know what it is. And we’re hungry. We felt like we got a good foundation set underneath us this past season. But we didn’t reach all our goals, and so there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Q. The transfer portal, is that something you’re going to be looking at to maybe add depth in certain spots?
COACH DAY: We’re pretty full right now, but you always have to look at it and be a part of it. I think that it’s changed. I think probably even three to four years ago it was almost like taboo to talk about something like that. But that’s the way things are going. So you always have to keep an eye on it.
Q. You’ve obviously got just a handful of main guys back on defense and a couple of those guys are out today. How are you kind of approaching when those guys can start mixing back in and being a bigger part of practice?
COACH DAY: Just have a few guys nicked up, but they’ll be back soon. We’re smart with how we go about this in the spring, especially with a lot of guys who have so many reps. There’s a lot of guys with banked reps. With that being said, we want to be smart when we put those guys back in go through it.
There’s a lot of preseason and the whole summer. We just got done playing a couple months ago. I was thinking about it really the other day, really, we have January, February, we’re at March 1st. And here we are. Only two months ago we were playing.
And it’s really for the younger guys, but a lot of the older guys have to continue to learn how to become leaders now because now, like you’re saying, some other guys left. Now they need to step up in different roles. It’s different when you’re the starter and you’re the guy counting on to make plays.
That’s a big step for those guys, but it’s also for those guys who don’t have a lot of reps to get some under their belt. It’s really for the development, too, of the individual player — technique, fundamentals and learning your craft.
Q. You have an opinion right now where Sevyn Banks stands because he’s obviously a guy who looks the part?
COACH DAY: He’s got to step up. It’s only two months since we played our last game. And we’ll see once we get through the spring if he’s willing to take that next step. But certainly he’s had a good couple of weeks of winter workouts or couple months of winter workouts. And he’s a guy worry counting on to step up.
Q. Is the idea with C.J. and Jack is to handle their reps from here through fall camps, how maybe you’ve handled Justin and Matt’s situation last year where you were keeping it as equal as possible?
COACH DAY: Yeah, today we were rolling, both of those guys and Gunnar, they were kind of rolling reps with the 2s. And as time goes on they’ll all start to roll reps with the 1s as well. And we feel Justin has enough of his reps, but he still has some things to work on and improve on. But we’ll let those guys compete for that backup role.
And who knows what happens at the end of spring. My guess is those guys will just keep working at it and the competition will go into the preseason. And there’s just a lot of growth to be had there.
It’s hard when Gunnar came in as a transfer and those other guys are coming from high school. There’s a lot of football to be learned and that’s the idea of spring practice.
Q. With Justin, it’s like, I don’t want to say free rein with the reps, but if he feels like he wasn’t necessarily happy with the reps he had free rein to kind of keep going at it a little more than the other ones because he’s the starting quarterback here.
COACH DAY: No, he’ll take the reps with the 1s. And when we feel like he has enough we’ll let the other guys go. But he still has a bunch of things that he’s really focused on and getting better at.
Q. When was the last time you had a starting quarterback in back-to-back —
COACH DAY: I was thinking about that. I’m not — yeah, it’s been at least almost a decade. I really can’t remember the last time it happened. It’s unique, which is exciting.
Q. Moving forward, with Justin, what’s the next step, what do you work on in year two? Not having seen this situation, what do you do?
COACH DAY: I’m proud of his development from where he was at this point last year to where he is right now in practice one. He’s come a long way in the pocket, moving in the pocket, seeing things and drop-back protection. We have a list of things that he’s working on to get better at.
But a lot of it is just learning to play the position in terms of this past season — as time went along he got more and more responsibility and it’s now kind of year two. So now we spent a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the position — protections, route progressions, coverages — things like that where we can get a little more involved and start to explain the playbook a little more.
Q. Is that jump, first to second year, your understanding again, having not seen it, like, monstrous? They say that jump is pretty big.
COACH DAY: Let’s hope so. That’s the idea is for it to be big. And I think when you saw what Dwayne did in that year, you see what Joe did, there was a lot of years behind closed doors of a lot of work being done in the meeting room, on the field, in practice. And you get to see where they ended up, where it’s hard to do that when you don’t have all of those reps under your belt.
And although you guys and everybody else doesn’t see all the reps that are had because they’re not in games. We practice so much more than we play. And all those reps in practice — seven on seven, team, red zone, third down — and the film work and hours spent to improve and understand what’s going on, so when you get to that moment you’re ready to go. That’s been the idea here. That’s where hopefully Justin can now take some of those reps, take those meetings and now step his game way up.
Q. From the outside, the secondary just looks like the biggest uncertainty maybe on the roster. You guys are in here looking at it, what’s the feeling, what’s the mood about what you have to work with?
COACH DAY: I mean Shaun coming back was huge. I think Shaun, in my opinion, should be considered the top corner in the country coming back in all of football.
But when you look at that and then Cam’s coming back and Sevyn’s coming back. And you’ve got some decent depth there in terms of reps. Now, some of the younger guys will have to step up. I think that’s the next thing.
And Marcus Hooker and Marcus Williamson, both of those guys got reps last year. They have them under their belt. Josh Proctor, he’s been a little dinged up but we’ll get him back. So there’s a lot of guys that got reps but haven’t played a significant role.
And I think that combined with some of the younger guys that are going to have to play in — we have Lathan Ransom also coming in and Cam Martinez as well. So our numbers will be right. Now it’s just a matter of can Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos and those guys step up to play significant time this year. And that’s what the spring is for.
Q. When you’re in the spring and you’re the coach, you want to see them take the next steps, the young guys, but you don’t have Shaun and don’t have Cameron right now. Proctor is out there. Those are the guys you’re counting on. You probably wanted them to play in spring. How does that impact a coach’s thinking? Does it make you nervous you can’t get them going right now?
COACH DAY: You certainly want them out there. But, again, the best thing that happened to us was being in those games last year where they played a lot of football. There’s real football and real evidence of them playing in the Big Ten, which that’s pretty unique. We do know that; at the end of the day and we put our heads on our pillows — they played football.
We certainly need them to get out there, we need them to improve and get better. But we also know that’s happened. Yeah, we want them out there and we’ll get them back out there soon.
Q. Seems like slot receiver will be an interesting spot. K.J. Hill was such a reliable guy there. How do you see that position group kind of shaking out?
COACH DAY: We’ll see. We’ll see. You’re right. It’s a transition spot for us. Last year we used some two tight end stuff to kind of supplement K.J. a little bit. But we’re hoping to get C.J. Saunders back but we also have Garrett in there. We have Damario McCall. We have Jaxon. We have Mookie. So, we have a couple of guys in there that were out of practice today.
It was a good day honestly for the first day just seeing those guys playing the slot was pretty natural. So I thought today was a good start. We’ll see how we get going through the rest of spring.
Q. How much of an adjustment is it for a guy like Garrett who played more outside this year than slide —
COACH DAY: Some guys you put them in there and you’re not sure. Today looked pretty natural for those guys, though.
Q. Thoughts on C.J.?
COACH DAY: We’re just waiting to hear about being eligible in his sixth year. And we’ll wait to hear back from the NCAA.
Q. Timeline for that?
COACH DAY: I believe in April we’ll have a better idea of some sort of response from them.
Q. Harry Miller, moving to left guard looks like. Can you talk about the decision to slide him over?
COACH DAY: We’re trying to find the best five guys to play. And Thayer, Josh and Wyatt are obviously returning. So now we’ve got to find the next — we’ve got to find 4 and 5. However that shakes out, we’ll try to figure that out.
But certainly don’t want to put guys into roles and then not have the best five guys on the field. So whatever that is, we’re going to try Harry at guard and see if he can be 4. And then figure out who plays at right tackle, that’s the idea.
Q. Does he need to shore up to be a solid starter this season?
COACH DAY: Well, I mean, there’s a lot that goes into it. You have to be strong in the run game and be able to move guys up front, and Gee and three technique, you’ve got to be able to create some movement in the run game. First off, you have to know what you’re doing, that’s part of it.
But it helps to have some guys around you that have been around and can communicate with each other.
But in the passing game you’ve got to hold up as well. You’ve got to do a good job protecting and holding the pocket. And especially inside, you can’t get knocked back into the lap of the quarterback. And shoring up the inside protections is a big emphasis this year.
But Harry a high-functioning football player. He has a good IQ and he played at center. That helps in terms of identifying things early on. You’ve got to made a lot of calls. I don’t think it’s going to move too fast for him, but he has to step up because we need guys to step up in that group.
Q. You guys moved Kacherski over to tight end, Cormontae Hamilton to defensive line. What went into the decision to switch them?
COACH DAY: I think both of those guys have a chance to be really good players for us this year. We looked at their skill set and brought them and talked them through and suggested that we see a skill set in them that maybe they don’t see in their own. And ask them what their input was. And both of them were excited about being presented with the new challenge.
And so I think Cade, when you look at his skill set, his basketball background and his spatial awareness and things like that, his toughness, we think that he projects into being a really good tight end.
And vice versa. Cormontae, Coach Johnson worked with him in camp and saw what he could do on the defensive line. And just watching him on the scout team, we thought he had chance to play really good in terms of tackle or a defensive end. He could both. We’re going to see what happens this spring. It’s a new challenge for these guys, but the skill sets we see, we think there’s a future for both of those guys.
Q. How do you approach that as a coach in terms of at a certain point in their career you want a guy to be locked in at one position?
COACH DAY: I think they’re both young and we brought them in and talked them through the whole process. And certainly aren’t going to force something down their throat, something that it was a back and forth there and tried to get their feedback.
I think both of those guys really wanted to get on the field as soon as they could. And talking it through, in the end it was their decision. It wasn’t ours. And I think if you own the decision, then you are more likely to embrace it more and to run with it. And I think both of those guys are going to do that.
Q. Your impression of those young receivers, the freshmen running around, especially Jaxon had some pretty outstanding catches today. Julian Fleming, as the day went on, seemed to get going. What was your impression of these guys right off the bat?
COACH DAY: They’re talented. They’re talented. What strikes me, with all the seven on sevens and all the things going on throughout America, they’re further along than maybe receivers were five to 10 years ago.
Certainly you can see a guy like Jaxon who has played in Texas, where they have those activity periods. They have so many reps under their belt, it just makes sense for them. You can see it today.
You can see the talent of Julian and just his ability to get off of a line of scrimmage and make plays down the field and his size. Gee Scott really surprised me just how mature his releases were getting off the line of scrimmage. And then Mookie flashed.
I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful. Now they have a long way to go, but for day one, better than expected.
Q. You kind of touched on something I wanted to ask you about. Jaxon, from Texas, where spring football — how much would you like to see Ohio high schools get into that in some form or fashion? What do you think would work for them?
COACH DAY: I think I made it public that I proposed a five-day spring practice schedule or practice for high schools. And they’re in the process of kind of voting on that. And hopefully we can get that passed as soon as possible because I do think it matters and I do think it’s good for the state of Ohio to evaluate these guys whether it’s Ohio State or any colleges, but also for the development of football players throughout the state.
Q. Following up on Harry Miller, a lot of people thought if he had gone a lot of other places last year he might have gotten to start as a freshman somewhere. You watched him as much as anyone. Does he look fairly natural at the guard spot? What did you just see right off the bat?
COACH DAY: I didn’t notice it. I’ll have to watch the film and see. Starting as a freshman necessarily isn’t a good thing at any position. It’s about the development, where you’re at in the end. And I think Stud did a good job of developing Harry. And the ability for him to now go from guard to center is really good.
So I think he’s going to be the next really good one in terms of the Elfleins and the Corey Linsleys and the Billy Prices. I think him doing both of those is really important — just like Josh started back and forth. So we’re expecting big things from him.
Q. Practice one here today. But come April 11th, are there questions in your head — Austin was asking about the secondary — of position groups, players? What kind of questions are in your head that you want to hopefully have answered end of the spring in terms of position groups, whatever?
COACH DAY: I look at it like you have the 15 practices in the spring. And then when you start in August, on the first practice of preseason, that’s just practice 16. It’s just an extension of the offseason as opposed to, okay, what are we getting done here in the spring and what are we getting done in the summer.
We don’t really install day one of preseason. It’s already been installed. Now it’s time to pick off where we left off on practice 15. When you have those 15 practices under your belt, along with all the other meetings and the other time and the offseason to go through, these guys have so much time to improve. But the idea of spring practice is for each guy individually to get better, their unit to get better, fundamentally and technically.
And as we get into the preseason, it’s more about the scheme and more about the unit, in terms of their identity. That being said, every position has their own story. We can spend a lot of time talking about that. But I think it’s, okay, where are the leaders; who needs to be the leaders; and then where is everybody else.
And because you have so many young guys on this team there’s a lot of guys that don’t have a lot of reps under their belt — obviously the 15 kids coming in mid-year are some of them and those other positions where they’ve played here and there. But are you going to step up and now be a starter. And that’s what you want to see with your team.
But the chemistry will be fun. Every year is a new journey. In college football you have a new coaching staff. You have a new group of leaders. You have a new group of seniors. So that dynamic is different year in, year out.
So I already think we have a good feeling for that two months into the offseason program. But getting on the field will be different, too, because you’ll just have to play the game. That’s a big part of it as well.
I think this time last year, when you look at Okudah and Chase Young and J.K. Dobbins, they were young players. But they had such an impact on the field they became good leaders. That helped them along the way and springboarded them into leadership. And I think there will be some guys like that this spring as well.
Q. The 15 new guys, how did they do during winter conditioning? And what do you want them to get out of the next —
COACH DAY: They did a good job. It’s to get football under their belt, learn football. When you show up in August, if the first time you’ve ever heard of a play or a formation or where do I run during an individual drill or where is my locker, or what do I wear for cleats — all that distracts you from being effective on the field. It’s just to get a rhythm and get a routine going, learn the offense and defense and figure out where you fit into it.
Q. There was talk about J.K. a year ago taking a leap. I wonder if you see in Master, do you see in Master what you need to replace a 2,000-yard back?
COACH DAY: Yeah, it’s a concern when you lose so much production. J.K., his freshman year, did such a great job. Then he and Mike kind of split it the year before and then J.K. stepped up in a big way. That position, when it comes time for the fall, is going to have to step up in a big way.
Q. Your second game at Oregon jumps out because of what they did. What’s the protocol timing for when you start delving into opponents on the schedule and particularly them because they’re a big threat?
COACH DAY: I think once you get into June and July you start to really look at those guys, when you have a better feel for your team, because it’s one thing to know what they do, but it doesn’t really make much sense unless you know who you are and your identity, because there are certain things that you evolve with as the offseason goes on and as the season goes on, you look different. There’s certain things you do that look the same. You know those things. And we’ll look at those.
But I think once you get into June and July you start to get closer to where you’re at and obviously in August and September.
Q. Any circumstances under which Winston Reid (phonetic) could return to the team?
COACH DAY: No.
COACH DAY: No.
Q. You guys have talked about Shaun Wade moving outside at corner. Sevyn out there today was on the outside corner all the time. Is Cam Brown, when he’s healthy, in the mix in the slot at all. Or just thinking about those are your top three corners at least coming in. Are all three of them only on the outside?
COACH DAY: Great question. I think it goes back to the O line. I think you find your best three guys. And if Sevyn, Cam or Shaun can — one of those three guys can do a good job inside, then we’ll do that. But the good thing for Kerry, when you come in here fresh, you get a fresh look at it and you get a chance to see it.
And, I think, again as time goes on through here in March and April he’ll get a good feel for their skill sets and try to figure out the best guys to put on the field, especially for third down.
Q. I know it’s day one, looked like Nick Petit-Frere and Paris were rotating at right tackle. You mentioned the idea of a true freshman starting. But how much is at least right now Paris in that mix to say, you know, show us what you’ve got and if you’re the best guy maybe you’ll start?
COACH DAY: Again, it’s so early, like you said. It is day one. But the best players are going to play. And we have 15 in the spring and then a bunch of them in the preseason. Some in the 20s. So you’re talking almost 40 practices before you get going.
It’s just day one. It’s a long way before then. But, hey, he’s very, very talented. He’s got a lot of ability. And if he’s the best player, he’s going to play.
Q. To follow up on Garrett Wilson in the slot. We saw how explosive that guy can be going up and getting balls, made the helicopter catch against Clemson. To see him just lining up there at all in the slot today that much, that’s a pretty potentially explosive dude in that position. What’s maybe in your head of why maybe that’s the way you would go with him?
COACH DAY: I think when you look at his background, his basketball background, his spatial awareness is off the charts. His range is really good. He can operate in short areas. And the other thing for him is he can time up down the field like you said. He’s got a unique skill set.
But I think his ability to catch the ball, put it away, run after the catch so quickly is something you want out of a slot receiver. And running option routes, setting up defenders and understanding space and everything like that, it happens a lot faster in there. But I think his skill set fits that. The same with Jaxon, I think they fit that way. So that’s why we made that move.
Q. Since I’ve been here, every year there are great players to replace the great players. That’s what Ohio State does. But Chase Young might be the best pass rusher that you guys have ever had here. Jeff Okudah is in the mix as one of the best corners you’ve ever had here. I’m sure you guys tell your guys this every year, but you probably won’t have a defensive end as good as Chase and a corner as good as Jeff just because that bar is so high. So what does a whole defense have to do to say we’re going to be as good defensively when maybe those two positions can’t be as good as those guys were?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think that — I know our guys see that as the benchmark in terms of that’s what we want to be at those positions. But I don’t think we spend a lot of time talking about that. It’s more about maximizing yourself every day and maximizing our unit, playing with toughness, playing with effort, running to the football, because there’s a lot of areas we weren’t perfect on defense last year. We got a lot better, did a lot of good things. But we weren’t perfect as a unit.
That’s what the focus is. When we play well as a defense, all of a sudden guys get these accolades and have an opportunity to go to New York and everything else. But it goes back to the group and that’s what the focus is going to be.
Q. Your contract that you signed since we talked to you last, the raises that are built in there that get you up among the top 10 guys, looks like, in the country, pretty quickly. The buyout there that looks sizable enough to show maybe, make a little harder for you to leave. What would you like the world to take out of your extension and the raises that you got? What does that mean?
COACH DAY: I think the person and the people that were the most excited about that were my kids because they knew that they weren’t going to be the new kid in school for a long time again and that’s the idea is that we’re here for a long time. And I certainly couldn’t be more grateful for the Board of Trustees, President Drake and obviously Gene Smith, who I owe everything to him, and obviously Urban Meyer, to be in this position, because that’s a big deal.
That changes our life as a family. And we don’t take that lightly. But the number one thing that we’re the most excited about as a family is we get to be in Columbus again for hopefully the next seven to 10 years, hopefully 20 years. We want to be here as long as we can. We love it here. The kids love the school system. They have a set of friends. Nina loves it here and that’s what’s most exciting about this.
Q. You kind of said some of that stuff last year, right, but when you sign something like this and get an extension like this, you think that says that even more that, puts that in writing even more?
COACH DAY: Yeah, it goes out to seven years now, which is a significant deal. And that’s a long time in college football. And that’s really exciting for us.
To me it wasn’t even really the money part of it. It was the years. And that’s what’s exciting to us.
Q. How much does it impact you what you guys are going to do this spring to have only two healthy scholarship running backs and what went into moving Demario out of that room back to receiver?
COACH DAY: Demario can still do that, though. We’re just starting him out at slot and we can always bring him back. He has that skill set. It’s something that we’ve always tried to find that role for him where he can be a running back and also be a matchup problem for teams like that.
It didn’t quite play out like that. And I think a lot had to do with how well J.K. was playing. It was hard to take J.K. off the field last year. And same thing with K.J. We got into a rhythm a little bit of K.J. was in the slot and then we were getting some 12 personnel. So we never got quite that far with Demario. But we’re going to — this spring he’s going to play some running back. He’s going to line up at slot and do both of those things.
But, yeah, we’re going to get Marcus back before the season starts. And then we have Miyan coming in. Once we get to the summer, we’ll be whole. But, yeah, we’re one injury away from a little bit of a crisis right now but in the end when it comes to September we’re going to be okay.
Q. And then Pete Woerner is listed at 242 on the roster. Looked like he was playing more as an inside backer today. Is that a permanent thing? Is he now moving there or trying to move him around to different spots? What’s going on?
COACH DAY: Yeah, that’s what it is, moving him around, trying couple different spots. We have some good veteran guys that have played a lot of football. What’s that right mix. That’s what’s great now that Greg’s here for his second year. Al is here for a second year. These guys have now seen these guys for a year. Then Kerry comes in with fresh eyes, and a lot of good conversation on that side of the ball in that room trying to figure out what’s the next step for us on defense.
Q. You touched on this a little bit. But just how much more comfortable are you in year two? And yet because of the way the last season ended, is it possible you’re even more motivated?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s possible. I think that the focus is just a little bit different in terms of every day was kind of new last year.
And now it’s more focused on the product and the result and the end in terms of where are we going with this thing and really have the vision set for — we were there last year. So you kind of have been through it before. And you know, as we lead up to this, what needs to happen leading up to it.
But refocusing things for the team and trying to find that chemistry. Getting to that game and feeling that thing, not winning, that leaves an unbelievable taste in our mouth. So it’s just motivating us more.
Q. Kerry Coombs was out there for the first time. What were your impressions of him, defensive coordinator, running the show now?
COACH DAY: He hasn’t lost his step. That’s for sure. Running around all over the place. Just as I remember him. A lot of energy. The guys love playing for him. But very intense and extremely competitive. You talk about a guy who fights every single day, that’s Kerry Coombs.
Q. Of the guys on the injury report, are any of them long-term potentially season-ending injuries?
COACH DAY: No, no. As you look at those guys, like we said in that availability report, we try to stay away from all that. But really all those guys we’re expecting to have back in September.
Q. Are you still molding Corey Dennis? How did he handle himself now that he’s full whatever?
COACH DAY: It was pretty natural today. He stepped right in. And he’s got his hands full there with some young guys with inexperience. But he knows the system. He knows how to teach. He’s going to do a great job. Sure, he’s going to make mistakes.
But it was really good to see him out there today. He’s got a good relationship with those guys. And he and I know how we work together. So sometimes we show up at the quarterback together and other times we’ll give him a little bit of space. And I think we play off each other really, really well and he’s going to be a great coach.
Q. Is there more asked of him because that’s your job, that’s your position?
COACH DAY: Yeah.
Q. And he’s holding up well?
COACH DAY: Oh, yeah, he’ll do great. He’s very, very talented. He’s got an unbelievable work ethic. He’s got a really good way with people, good teacher. Wants to do great, and he’s highly motivated.