Ryan Day Talks Quarterback Competition, Jim Knowles Discusses Progress of Defense

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the Buckeyes finish fall camp practice No. 15 of 25 total preseason practices, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles met with the media on Monday morning. The training camp portion of camp is over but practices will still continue leading up to the season opener against Indiana on Sept. 2nd.

Day provided a ton of updates on the quarterbacks and the offensive line depth following another Saturday scrimmage. Knowles discussed the progress and changes in the defense throughout camp.

Here are the highlights of what was said.

Ryan Day

+ On the quarterback competition, Day said both Devin Brown and Kyle McCord graded out champions in the last scrimmage and have gotten better. But there’s not one that has won the job and not one that has lost the job. The staff feels confident with both of them which is exciting. They are making each other better. They have gotten them more reps than any of the years he has been at Ohio State with working on two fields. The poll from the staff was split right down the middle. The competition will continue and there’s a chance both could play in the first game. “I am pleased with their progress. Our staff feels strong with both of them playing.”

+ The starting quarterback will ultimately be his decision but he will consider the perspective from the defensive staff as well.

+ On handling playing two quarterbacks, Day said he met with both of them and they agreed that there’s not one that is much further ahead. There’s confidence in both of them and practice is good but until they are live in a game, that’s another level. “We’ll see trying to figure it out one day at a time.”

+ He doesn’t believe in the saying that if they don’t have one quarterback, they have none. They are not going to not have a quarterback. They have two. Day added that if they had Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers nobody would be saying that. “I would have played them both.”

+ Josh Simmons will be at left tackle and will likely start. Donovan Jackson will be at left guard. Carson Hinzman is ahead of Victor Cutler Jr. at center but that will keep going. Matt Jones is playing his best football. At right tackle, Josh Fryar will probably start but Luke Montgomery will play football this year. Tegra Tshabola and Zen Michalski are still in the mix. “We feel like we have some decent depth.” Nothing is set in stone but those are the leaders in the clubhouse.

+ He’s not surprised that a quarterback has not won the job. They are both really good players. Ultimately they have to do what’s best for Ohio State.

+ On the tiebreakers at quarterback, Day said if it’s all equal, they want the guy that has “it” and is the leader who is leading the men to the end zone and can rally the team or dive into the end zone on fourth down. They need some they can rally around and if all things are equal they want the better leader, competitor, and decision-maker.

+ On playing two quarterbacks and changing game-week dynamics, Day said they will continue to split reps as they have but the other team also has to prepare for both quarterbacks.

+ The gap between the quarterbacks can still materialize between now and the first game. “That could still happen.” Everything is in constant evaluation, but right now both deserve to play.

+ The competitiveness has made both quarterbacks better. Max Duggan at TCU was a backup going into the first game of the season and ended up a Heisman Trophy candidate.

+ They are looking for ways to get Luke Montgomery involved.

+ On how the team responds to the quarterbacks, Day said they both have different personalities. McCord has built relationships and has a great group, the team rallies around him and they believe in him and trust him. Brown has stepped up in that area, takes command, has a lot of juice. Both have different styles and he’s been watching how the team responds to each of them closely, and feels it’s still split. “Right now, the players believe in both of them.”

+ They will still practice good on good this week and mix Indiana work in but as they get into game week, they have to really decide on the quarterbacks, even if that means prepping both. Having to go play conference football on the road as their first game makes a difference and they will build from there.

+ He would be surprised if the quarterback competition continues through the whole season. But right now the right thing to do is not say one players should play the whole game.

+ On having only three team captains, Day said they have a leadership committee vote in February and vote again after the spring. He felt like they had a sizable leadership group but when they vote they look for a gap. Tommy Eichenberg and Cade Stover were significantly higher and then next highest was Xavier Johnson was the third. From there, it was a sizable gap because there was a big spread of votes between players across the team after those three. But fifth and sixth year players as captains brings a different feel. The other players will still be leaders, but by the numbers, there was a gap between three and the rest.

+ If all things were equal at quarterback, he would maybe go with the players who has been in the program longer, at least the first snap.

+ Xaiver Johnson came in as a walk-on, earned a scholarship, had a touchdown in the Notre Dame game and then a big play right after that, his plays at running back for them, over 700 snaps on special teams — he is the ultimate example of players on special teams being better football players. He is self-made. “He’s going to be a big part of our team.”

+ On the defense, they have more depth at defensive end than he expected to have. The defense is challenging more, there’s more length, and they are getting their hands on more balls.

+ Carnell Tate continues to impress him. To go through what he went through this month and show up and perform the way he has — he has talent and maturity.

+ On naming a starting kicker, Day said he does not have a final decision but will talk to Parker Fleming on Monday and decide that.

+ He is excited about the young receivers. They have hit the third week of their first fall camp as a group, but they are working hard. “Very encouraged by them. I like their work ethic, I like where they’re at.”

+ Denzel Burke, Jordan Hancock and Davison Igbinosun have been the most consistent at corner.

+ He wants to explore and figure out who has the highest ceiling at quarterback, that plays into it, but not at the expense of losing games. He knows in his heart it will work itself out. It’s going to come down to how well they play and they will go from there. By week six if they are equal he would be surprised, but as they get into games, someone will pull away. It was back and forth of pulling away in practices during camp, like a racehorse. The finish line is not right now.

+ This is a more veteran team, there’s more consistency. He is excited to get on the field and kick off the first game to see what they’ve got and then the journey begins.

Jim Knowles

+ On being more multiple in the back during the spring and in camp, Knowles said he has been figuring out the best 11 and is preparing for matchups as they come now or in the future.

+ On the jack position, Knowles didn’t give an indication of how often he will be using that package but said it is coming along and gives them versatility.

+ Sonny Styles is definitely a guy they will have on the field as much as they can. He can match up to 11 and 12 personnel and gives them a lot of versatility. He’s a combination of Nickel and Sam, Knowles said maybe he will call it the “strike.”

+ Ja’Had Carter is doing well but has been banged up a little.

+ At high safety, Knowles said Lathan Ransom, Josh Proctor, and Malik Hartford and Ja’Had Carter are there. There’s still competition. Mistakes back there are costly and they have to judge that.

+ On the defensive line, Knowles said coverage and rush work hand in hand. The rushmen have had a great camp and the depth at defensive end is impressive, they have four really good ends there. The rush has been strong, “we’ve felt it and seen it during camp.”

+ On not giving up big plays, Knowles said he’s seen progress and a conscientious effort on all of their parts to make sure they learn from that last year and get better. He has developed himself in terms of coverages and defenses that keep the ball more in front and inside. “You can’t be stuck in your ways.”

+ He is always concerned about depth at defensive tackle because they get so banged up and there’s waves during camp where it can become thin quickly. Hero Kanu has had a great camp and will add to their depth there.

+ Jack Sawyer has been the silver bullet of the day the last two days. He was at a high level but vaulted himself into a dominant guy the last two days. It has been a good move to have him just concentrate on defensive end.

+ Mitchell Melton is very smart and level-headed. Knowles has seen a lot of progress from him at defensive end.

+ Caden Curry is going to play a lot and in different positions, at defensive end and other positions in the pass. He can do anything on pass downs. He plays hard and is hard for an offense to handle.

+ Cody Simon and C.J. Hicks are going to play a lot at linebacker, especially throughout the season. Simon will still be at a Sam position. Styles is interchangeable but when teams get really big, Simon will be there.

+ There’s more depth and versatility than a year ago but he has to balance creativity and fundamentals. He wants players to play with a clear mind and know what they are doing and do it quickly. He can play around with different spots but he has to use his judgment with that balance.

Photo via Ohio State Dept. of Athletics. 

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