Ohio State Buckeyes: Efficiency trumps attrition as search for offensive identity continues

COLUMBUS -- For years, to play football was to loathe the late summer.

That is when teams got back together after many months away from football, ran gassers and sprints to get back into shape and then pounded each other for weeks in order to get ready for the first game of the season.

Camp was as much a battle of attrition as a display of ability.

These days, the picture is quite different.

Year-round organized workouts have lessened the role of preseason camp in conditioning and even skill development to a certain degree while tightening regulations have reduced the amount of practices teams can hold in full pads.

Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said another reduction in the amount of hitting allowed has opened the Buckeyes up to installing more of their offense earlier, but it has the coaches waiting to see just who can do what until everyone is full-go.

“With the walkthroughs we’re getting every night, we’re probably getting more plays than we’ve ever gotten,” Wilson said. “More schemes than we’ve ever gotten, more signals, more formations, more adjustments, more blitzes, more defenses. So we’re probably farther along schematically with what we’ve thrown at them.”

But how much has really stuck, and how much can a player actually translate to a game when everything is live and there are no do-overs?

The only way to find out — or at least develop the most educated guess possible — is to see what they do when allowed to tackle to the ground as opposed to just bang into each other, days that come along only so often now rather than being stacked on top of each other for weeks on end.

“Now if you’re a player and it’s a padded day and you have a chance where maybe one or two or three of those padded practices go by you where maybe you couldn’t go because you were nicked up, those could catch with you because there was only nine truly padded practices before the first game,” Wilson said. “So as we go, it’s the ability to be very efficient with your time. That’s been coach (Ryan) Day’s mantra all camp. Very efficient. The drill’s being done for a reason, and there’s purpose, and the time is valued.”

Time would seem to be of the essence as Ohio State hit its second week of preseason camp without declaring a starting quarterback, but Wilson did not sound concerned.

He said Friday they are “still gaining on it” when it comes to developing the quarterbacks and making a decision and that Saturday’s closed scrimmage would provide a major data point.

“They’re very talented, and the way we can run the ball I think and the receivers we’ve got, they’re gonna get a nice car,” he said of the trio of C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord. “They’ve got a nice little vehicle to drive. We’ll see if they can put their hands on the steering wheel.”

How much of the offense falls onto the quarterback remains to be seen.

Every position group has both veterans and highly recruited newcomers, and how they come together could determine exactly what the Buckeyes try to do with the ball this fall.

“I think we’ll come out of this week and next week and get a feel with this line and backs and the tight end and see where can you hang your hat,” Wilson said.

That begins with the running game, and he ticked off the possibilities.

Whether the Buckeyes want to be a zone team or use gap blocking, to run mostly inside or try to pound the ball off tackle or on the edge, they will need to focus on developing that aspect of the offense to unlock what else they will do.

“What are the schemes? You can do ‘em all, but then what are you good at?” Wilson said. “If you get good at something, as talented as you are, you’ve still got to be very repetitive and get consistent in preparation so we’re not all over the place.”

Day has declined at every opportunity since winter to draw any distinctions between the quarterbacks.

Wilson largely did, too, but he conceded none bring the run threat predecessor Justin Fields did.

“They call can run but maybe aren’t as pure of a runner or as athletic a runner as Justin was,” he said.

At the beginning of the week, Day expressed a desire to begin narrowing down what the offense will focus on this season, but Wilson said it could be another week before that process ramps up.

Any changes are likely to appear mostly cosmetic to the average fan, but there is some variability.

That is largely on whether or not the coaching staff feels more comfortable with the second tight end (likely to be Cade Stover) behind starter Jeremy Ruckert or the depth at receiver (sophomore Julian Fleming and true freshmen Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka) behind the starting trio of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

“I don’t think it will look a lot different, but I just think things maybe that get emphasized will come back to what those tight ends can do,” said Wilson, who coaches the tight ends. “The passing game, those guys can run a lot of good routes, but what are the quarterbacks comfortable with?

“We’re going to do everything we can to be as physical as we can, do everything we can to protect the quarterback, and do everything we can to light it up and score as many points as we can. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

About the Author