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Under Construction

When Buckeye head coach Ryan Day blew his whistle at the end of Saturday’s Spring Game, and pointed his team in the direction of the south end zone for the singing of Carmen Ohio, spring practice officially came to a close. While it was a productive 15 workouts, the words most used to describe this team is they are a work in progress. The question is though, just how much work needs to be done before that first game? If I say a lot, don’t take that as a negative. There is a new head coach, new assistants, different schemes being put in place, and position battles to be settled. Much like the renovations going on at Ohio Stadium, you can hang a sign saying “Under Construction” outside the Buckeye locker room. The completion date for both is August 31st; the day the Buckeyes open the season against Florida Atlantic. Plenty of time for Ryan Day and his staff to put on their hard hats, check the blue prints, and put all of the pieces and parts in place for this Ohio State team to be one of the most dangerous in college football.

There isn’t a position on the team more under construction than quarterback. Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin both showed flashes on Saturday of what they are capable of being, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Fields hit on just 4 of thirteen passes for 131 yards. Most of that came on a 98-yard catch-and-run by Binjimen Victor. You most certainly saw the potential of Fields because it was a beautifully thrown ball. He’s big (225 pounds), fast, and showed off a bit of that running ability. The read option is definitely going to be a part of the offense again. As for Baldwin, I thought he would look

really good for 3 or 4 plays, and then look bad for 3 or 4 plays. He would make a beautiful throw to Garrett Wilson for a touchdown (more on Wilson later), but then he’d stare down a receiver and throw into coverage. So, what to make of all of this? Keep this in mind: both of these quarterbacks are very young. BOTH should have been in high school this time last year. They are going to learn, and get better. Teammates have raved about their improvement from the beginning of spring practice, “Wow, they’ve made a ton of strides,” was the reaction of receiver C.J. Saunders. Here is something else to keep in mind: Dwayne Haskins was just 9 of 19 in last year’s spring game. Fields is not going to be Haskins throwing the ball. My point is don’t put too much stock into spring game stats.

Five Revisited

A while back I listed the five questions I was most curious about as the Buckeyes prepared for spring practice. I’m not passing these off as the most important questions. These are the ones I was most interested to have answered.

How well will Justin Fields learn the offense? From all accounts, Ryan Day’s being the most important, Fields picked up on the offense quite well. He’s also turning into the type of leader a team needs in its quarterback.

What will the offensive line depth chart look like? With the exception of Josh Alabi at left tackle (2018 starter Thayer Munford sat out the spring with an injury), the first unit you saw on Saturday could end up being what we see for the opener. I’m going to be very surprised at this point if Nicholas Petit-Frere doesn’t win the starting job at right tackle. He had an excellent spring, and showed why he was the top offensive tackle in the nation for the 2018 recruiting class. Day said he is the most improved player on the offense. I don’t think there is any question Wyatt Davis will be the right guard. Left guard is where things get interesting. After beginning spring practice working at right tackle along with Petit-Frere, Branden Bowen moved to left guard. He will be at the top of the depth chart for that position entering fall camp, but I still think things are up in the air because of the impending arrival of graduate transfer Jonah Jackson, who has a great deal of starting experience at Rutgers. Jackson could also get a look at center, although Josh Myers reportedly had a very good spring.

Will there be changes at linebacker? This is one of the first things I looked at on Saturday. Baron Browning was in the middle in place of the injured Tuf Borland. No surprise there. Malik Harrison started the game with the first unit. Even less of a surprise because he was easily this group’s best performer last season. But, have to be honest when I say Pete Werner hanging onto his starting spot is a bit of a surprise. Things may change during fall camp because there is a lot of talent behind him. The good news to emerge from this group is the coaching staff has simplified things, and the linebackers are playing faster.

Which of the early enrollee freshman make a splash? This one is easy. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Defensive end Zach Harrison showed off his talents, but Wilson made the biggest splash by far. He’s going to play this fall. I don’t think there is any question he is going to play. Yes, the coaches would like to see him improve his blocking (no shock there), but he’s shown he’s too talented to leave on the sideline. The touchdown catch he made over Sevyn Banks lets you know he’s not your normal freshman receiver. Keep in mind Banks is in line for significant playing time this season. Wilson has been able to learn both the X and Z positions. Trust me, he’s going to play early and often.

What will the tight end rotation be? I think this one can be termed inconclusive. Starter Luke Farrell, and 2018 top backup Rashod Berry were on one team, talented sophomore Jeremy Ruckert on the other. That might tell us Ruckert hasn’t passed Berry, but I wouldn’t read a whole lot into it since we know the offensive coaches have some plans for Ruckert.

Random Stuff

The defensive line looks to be fairly set. Davon Hamilton started the game for an injured Robert Landers at nose guard, but both of those guys played a lot last year. Chase Young and Jonathan Cooper are at the ends; I don’t see that changing. The only spot I can see a change being made is at the 3-technique tackle where Jashon Cornell is on top of the depth chart. I look for Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent to really push him for a starting spot. Regardless of who wins the job, I can see all three of those guys getting their share of playing time.

The Rushmen package has three names you expected to see, and one who is a bit of a surprise. I expected Young and Cooper, and even Tyreke Smith, who showed a ton of potential last year. But, early enrollee freshman Zach Harrison is a surprise. We know Harrison is very talented, and I expected him to play this season. I didn’t expect to see him as part of the Rushmen so soon. Defensive line guru had Young and Smith at the ends, and Cooper and Harrison as defensive tackles. Obviously this could change once fall practice begins, but it is interesting to see what Johnson thinks of Harrison after just a few practices.

With J.K. Dobbins playing sparingly Saturday, it gave us a chance to see a lot of Master Teague. Because of the presence of Demario McCall (injured calf and did not participate in spring practice) he may not be listed as the number two running back, but he’s going to get his share of carries. Teague is a lot of fun to watch because he’s a no nonsense runner, who gets through the hole and up the field. I’m really looking forward to watching him in the fall.

I’m one of the people excited about Jaelen Gill getting playing time at H-back behind K.J. Hill because he’s so explosive, but he struggled to get open anytime Amir Riep was assigned to cover him. The junior safety from Cincinnati was all over Gill, and shut him down just about every time he was assigned to the redshirt freshman receiver. Riep’s fellow safety, Jahsen Wint, had two interceptions. Although he got a bit lost in coverage on a long Matthew Baldwin to Elijah Gardiner completion, his teammates say he is a much more confident player then he was during the 2018 season.

With no live tackling during the game, it was very hard to get a really good feel for any strengths or weaknesses. But, I’m all for no tackling if it means avoiding injury.

A total of ten Buckeyes sat out the Spring Game due to injuries. The one I’m most disappointed about is receiver Jaylen Harris. He’s made significant strides this spring, and could be in a position to contribute in the fall. The redshirt sophomore is one of those big (6’5”, 215 pounds) physical receivers who can give defensive backs problems because of that size.

It is well known there are a lot of changes to the schemes on both sides of the ball. One of the things I really liked is the counter play on offense with the tight end, and center pulling and leading the play. Bringing the tight end in motion to the play side gives him an excellent angle to pin the defensive end or outside linebacker. Eleven Warriors in another one of their excellent Film Study articles details many of the new things happening on the field. You can read that article by clicking here.

Defensive lineman Robert Landers was one of the Buckeyes who missed the game because of injury, but that didn’t stop him from having a good time. He’s become well known for his love of Fruit Roll-Ups, and has been known to keep a few in his practice pants. He’s even tried to slip them into Urban Meyer’s pockets every now and then. On Saturday the popular redshirt senior donned his now signature cowboy hat, and began handing out his favorite snack to fans along the railing.

My Favorite Buckeye

Another of the team’s characters was at it again on Saturday as well. I’ve made it known punter Drue Chrisman is pretty much my favorite Buckeye because of his social media antics. The scheme he, and some friends (including former Buckeye kicker Sean Nuernberger) cooked up for halftime may not ever be topped. They convinced Chrisman’s girlfriend, Avery Eliason, she was going to be a part of a kicking competition between the girlfriends of the specialists. When she took got into position for her kick, Chrisman, who is the team’s usual holder, took a knee and discreetly hid something next to his leg out of sight of Eliason. As she began to take her first few steps, Chrisman stopped her, reached down, and produced an engagement ring. After Eliason said yes, Chrisman’s teammates poured onto the field to celebrate with the happy couple.

On Sunday Eliason decided she really did want to try that kick. So, with the help of long snapper Liam McCullough, she and her new fiance’ took to the field to give it a try. After a perfect snap and hold, Eliason took her steps, put her foot into the ball, and hit McCullough right in the backside. The reaction of all involved was priceless.

They weren’t finished yet, folks. Chrisman is one of the world’s great bottle flippers. The guy is unreal. As it turns out, bottles are not the only thing he can flip. On Monday night he posted a video of himself flipping the engagement ring onto Eliason’s finger. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. You can see all of what transpired this weekend by clicking here. I really recommend you do because it will make you laugh, and brighten your day.

A Lejond Returns

After reopening his recruitment when Urban Meyer announced his retirement in December, cornerback Lejond Cavazos committed to the Buckeyes again this past week. He had originally pledged his services to OSU in June of last year. The Texas native, who attends IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, gives Ryan Day’s 2020 recruiting class a boost at a much-needed position. After not bringing in a cornerback in their latest class, Cavazos is the first at the position to join the 2020 class. With Damon Arnette leaving for sure after this season, and the possibility of Jeffrey Okudah, or Shaun Wade (or both) leaving if they have good seasons, the Buckeyes need to get commits from one, or even two more cornerbacks.

There is a bigger picture to consider here. Most of the time when a player decommits he will end up with another school. Cavazos coming back to the Buckeyes tell us Ryan Day’s message is resonating with prospective recruits. Day can recruit, and this confirms it. Give credit to new secondary coach Jeff Hafley as well. When a coach comes from the NFL to college, his recruiting ability is a concern. Hafley showed he can get the job done. Also, give Cavazos some credit here as well. When he decommitted from the Buckeyes, he didn’t do or say anything to close the door permanently on the relationship. He’s done a very good job of becoming friends with other players in the Buckeyes’ 2020 recruiting class. You need kids like this because they actively recruit other players. Make no mistake, this is a big get for Day and his staff.

The Buckeyes open their 2019 season in 4 ½ months. That’s a long time to fret about our favorite college football team. We’ll do plenty of that during the season. My suggestion is we all relax, and enjoy our spring and summer. Have a great Easter everyone.

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