Just getting older doesn’t guarantee getting better, either, but all indications are starter C.J. Stroud is showing the benefits of having started 12 games last season and has full command of the offense and the huddle.
“The great ones have a way of staying centered, staying grounded, keeping it simple, listening to their coaches, being great team leaders,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “He’s off to a great start. I think he’s got a much higher ceiling than you’ve seen. I think he’s unbelievably good, and there’s a high ceiling for him to be a special player.
Day said backup Kyle McCord also has a better grasp of the offense after a year in the program, and true freshman Devin Brown has shown promising physical tools.
2. The secondary may still lean on veterans.
Whenever there is a coaching change, depth charts are likely to be reorganized.
Early indications are Ronnie Hickman and Josh Proctor will get the first shot at the deep safety positions, though, as new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has raved about Hickman’s football acumen and ability.
Proctor is something of a wild card after missing most of last season with a broken leg, but the big, rangy senior is getting a look at the other safety spot while working his way back to full health.
A super senior who is a newcomer may also be the man at nickel safety as Oklahoma State transfer Tanner McCalister is viewed as a potential coach on the field with intimate knowledge of Knowles’ defense.
“That seems to be going well,” Day said. “I think the guys respect Tanner. I think they like the way he approaches the game.”
At cornerback, starters Denzel Ward and Cam Brown are back, but youngsters are vying to fill in the rest of the depth chart.
3. They’re not going to forget the tight ends.
Jeremy Ruckert graduating and Cade Stover trying his hand on defense at the beginning of spring practice created the potential for Ohio State to be thin at tight end.
In the Urban Meyer era, the Buckeyes might have pressed on with an offense simply relying on that position less, but all indications are that will not be the case under Day.
Stover returned to the offense by the end of March, and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson said Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr. are coming along.
Ohio State OC Kevin Wilson on the different a tight end makes in the running game
The H-back/fullback position manned by Mitch Rossi also figures to remain part of the package thanks to Rossi’s decision to come back for a sixth year and Wilson saying some youngsters are getting a look there. That group includes walk-ons Zak Herbstreit and Patrick Gurd.
“That whole room gives us some real athleticism this year, and the more roles that they can take on then the more they can do,” Day said.
“It’s a developmental position. It takes a little time to learn how to do those jobs. You have to change your body. You have to understand it because you’re involved in all three phases, the protection, the run game, and then also in the routes. So the more they can do then the more of a role they’re going to have.”
4. As advertised, the defense is much more complex.
Players on both sides of the ball have confirmed the Ohio State defense has shown a lot of different looks after being mostly static the past three years.
“They have different ways to get to different coverages, which is really good for my eyes to see,” Stroud said. “Not just seeing Cover One, Cover Three or just base coverage every day.”
Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers on new defense
That figures to benefit the Buckeyes when they take the field against someone else, of course, but it also could expedite Stroud’s development at quarterback.
“We’re trying to bluff rotations and trying to deceive the quarterback and do all those and show one picture and end up in another,” said Knowles, who likened facing Stroud to putting his defenses against Eli Manning when he was an assistant at Mississippi. “And I think he does a great job of just figuring that out and getting rid of the ball because there’s always a hole.”