There is a lot that goes into getting a college football team ready for Saturdays in the fall.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, much of the process has been altered, delayed, or completely scrapped.
Every practice, workout, and meeting has a purpose and a goal, and right now some of those goals have been mended a bit so that players can accomplish them from home.
Not everything can be replicated at home, however. Spring practice is done and gone, and with it, the process of learning from your mistakes.
“During spring it’s more the ability to take meetings to the field. The mental aspect of the game, being able to make mistakes and how fast can we correct things,” Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “At the end of the day, everyone’s gonna make mistakes, but it’s all about how fast can you fix them so mistakes don’t become problems. Some mistakes happen over and over again, so those are the kind of things you just don’t know.”
The learning that is happening right now is in front of a computer screen, which might be fine for an engineer, but it’s not exactly ideal for a Buckeye wide receiver.
With a hand’s-on coach like Hartline, the inability to pull a player aside after a rep and fix footwork or hands or eye placement is frustrating. With spring practice halted, there is also no implementation of new schemes or alterations. Without a field to put those plans in action, it’s just talk at this point.
With no practice, the learning process is stunted. Just as game experience is more effective than practice reps, practice reps are more effective than a diagram on an iPad.
“To get things installed, to get things to an understanding, to get the verbiage and the signals. It’s really more about finding out how they really dissect things and interpret things,” Hartline said. “That’s all. Everyone’s different. Nothing more, nothing less. They definitely compete. They all really compete. The room did a great job.”
Fortunately, all four freshman receivers were on campus in the winter, so they were able to acclimate to life on campus. They were also able to build relationships with the veterans. Unfortunately, that period of time only lasted about two months before everyone was sent their separate ways.
Hartline wanted to see how his full group would come together. Find out who would step forward and who would drift into the background. The Buckeyes have just three returning receivers who have caught more than 10 passes in a season, so players need to emerge. Hartline has faith in the talent, but wanted more bonding and culture than they got.
“One thing I wanted to see is how everybody meshed together. I really wanted to have the room begin forming that bond as a group and developing our new identity and who’s going to step up and lead from the inside out,” he said.
“Those are the kinds of things we miss. On the football side of things, I feel like we’ll be okay. There are a lot of smart guys in that room, a lot of guys that care. But the culture and brotherhood and the molding of the room is the thing I think has been the biggest loss in my opinion.”