Spring Football Observations and Updates — Practice No. 1

Ohio State football practice helmets

COLUMBUS — Football is back at Ohio State as the Buckeyes kicked off spring ball with practice No. 1 on Tuesday morning.

The media was invited to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to attend the first half hour of practice and see the new coaches in action. Here are some observations followed by updates from head coach Ryan Day, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba was working as Ohio State’s first string punt returner with Cam Martinez working behind him. Julian Fleming also took reps as a punt returner.

Mitchell Melton, who has missed his first two seasons due to injuries, moved from linebacker to defensive end. He looked to be healthy and was flying around making plays.

After missing the rose bowl due a shoulder injury, Cody Simon was participating in drills. Kamryn Babb also looked healthy and was going through wideout drills.

Defensive backs Josh Proctor, Cameron Brown, and Lathan Ransom did not participate in drills. Harry Miller, Marcus Crowley, and Jantzen Dunn all did not appear to be on the field for practice.

The defensive backs worked with new coach Tim Walton on a drill that emphasized forcing fumbles and scooping up fumbles. Both Walton and Perry Eliano worked with the cornerbacks and safeties.

Ryan Day

+ Tight end is a concern for the team as Mitch Rossi will miss the spring with an injury.

+ Day would like to have 5-6 receivers in the rotation but they have to “earn it.”

+ Jayden Ballard was recognized as one of the most improved players following winter workouts. A few of the young corners were also recognized.

+ Cade Stover could end up at tight end or linebacker.

+ Josh Proctor is still working his way back into drills. Day isn’t sure if he will be fully back by the end of spring.

+ The quarterback did well for their first day out in practice. C.J. Stroud is starting to learn new concepts and understand the “why” behind what he is doing. Kyle McCord had a solid 7-on-7 performance.

+ They have about 10 players unavailable for spring, there’s different reasons for everybody. Once they get through spring they will reevaluate. He will not give specific reasons for why players are out.

+ On having experience at quarterback, “you can’t substitute experience.”

+ “I love being around smart football coaches.” Jim Knowles is very intelligent. Really good coaches can teach multiple things and execute them in a high level and that’s the work they’re doing this off-season. There is a lot of focus on the work being done in the meetings and in walkthroughs.

+ Mitchell Milton’s skillset allows him to do both linebacker and defensive line drills. They are trying to not be as predictable with the front defensively, making the offenses guess a bit more.

+ Stroud has an approach that he has to prove himself everyday. “That’s just the way he’s wired.”

+ Cam Martinez has transitioned well to the nickel position. He played offense and has good ball skills. He thinks he fits that spot well. He was at free safety for part of last season.

+ On the linebacker group, “2021 was ok. We’re hoping the 2022 season for the linebackers is going to be excellent.”

+ At this point, Paris Johnson Jr. is the No. 1 left tackle. “He has high aspirations and he’s a high-achiever. When he sets his mind to something, it usually happens.”

+ After primarily playing slot last season, Jaxon Smith-Njigba will move around at receiver. The receivers “are all learning different positions.”

+ On who has been stepping up into a leadership role, Day said in the off-season, they decided leadership was the number thing they needed to get done this off-season. They educated the players on leadership, asked who wanted to be the leaders, they volunteered, then were voted onto a leadership committee and the staff assigned 12 squads where two leaders were assigned to each. If a player was late, there was community service for the whole group. They really communicated, stepped up, and were accountable. During those seven weeks, there was a lot more leadership than they’ve had in a while and it was encouraging. Leadership stepped up at halftime in the Rose Bowl.

+ Kamryn Babb is “full go” right now. “A lot of Kam Babb fans around here. Everybody loves Kam. He had a great practice. If he’s healthy, he’s going to make an impact, for sure.”

+ The defense was well organized and systematic.

DC Jim Knowles

+ The amount of blows a guy takes is really important to them. They have to be careful with tackles. “You don’t have to practice bringing guys to the ground. Tackling is all about technique and timing.” He emphasizes owning your hip. He is into rugby style tackling.

+ “I basically have everything I’ve ever wanted, anything any coach could ever want.”

+ He approaches teaching by how the players’ lives are. He keeps it lively and active. Because they are on their phones so often, they do a lot of teaching through the phone. He always evaluates his teaching methods to make sure he is constantly becoming a better teacher. This generation wants reason and meaning behind what they’re doing and there’s nothing wrong with that. That forces us to grow as teachers.

+ “This is a safety-driven defense.” Kourt Williams has been playing at their boundary safety position, “bandit.” He’s a leader and he’s a worker. I like him with more depth and vision to be able to see the ball and control the movements of the secondary.

+ He isn’t sure who will be playing at the hybrid defensive end and linebacker position.

+ It’s impressive to go against this offense everyday in practice.

+ He is focused on habit and competition.

+ On fitting Josh Proctor into the defense even without him being available this spring, Knowles said it’s his job to keep him engaged mentally and encourage him to stay involved. He can have a positive effect on the defense.

+ He’s confident the defensive line can be one of the best in the country this season.

+ He wants Ronnie Hickman and Kourt Williams on the field. Hickman is “everything I want in a safety.”

+ If players can’t play fast and free then he hasn’t taught them well enough.

+ Tanner McCallister came in and didn’t say anything and was given high honors from the strength staff at their champions banquet. He is proud of him.

OC Kevin Wilson

+ The most consistent player will probably be at left tackle. Paris Johnson is a tremendous athlete. The ball is in his court to go win the job.

+ The offense is watching Oklahoma State cut ups to prepare for Jim Knowles’ looks.

+ Having a lot of moving parts on the defense helps prepare the offense.

+ His approach to teaching is to keep it stupid simple so that they have the ability to connect.

+ C.J. Stroud will have more on his plate now that he has a year of playing under his belt. His ability to see and put it all together is impressive.

+ Donovan Jackson is one of the most athletic and impressive offensive lineman he has ever seen.

+ Consistency of the running game is something they want to work on. They are losing Jeremy Ruckert and the tight end position helps balance the run game. They need to be more consistent and have better pad level to be an elite offense.

+ Gee Scott is still learning at tight end and consistency is key for him. He did a lot of good things in practice, had a great winter, and he has a high ceiling. He is still gaining weight and is in the 230s now. “He’s going to be in the mix to be one of the 2-3 guys to play a lot. He is off to a good start.”

+ On the talent in the offensive coaching room, Wilson said it’s interesting to hear everyone talk. Everyone sees things from a different perspective.

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