Ohio State Buckeyes: Ryan Day emphasizing need for productive preseason

Ohio State football is set to kick off what could be a busier-than-usual preseason camp this week.

It being Ohio State, there is no shortage of talented players from which to choose new starters.

It being the year after one of the most unusual seasons on record, though, figuring out who should be on the field for the first snaps in the season-opener at Minnesota may be more complicated than usual.

So, too, might be figuring out how to use them.

“We’re really excited to get back to normal here,” coach Ryan Day said at Big Ten Football Media Days in Indianapolis. “Spring was very, very important for our team. We have counted 45 guys on our team that are in their first or second year, and they missed over a thousand snaps last year. They missed six games and didn’t have a spring practice the year before, so because of that fundamentals are something that we spent a long, long time working on this spring and really heavy emphasis.”

The defense has gotten the most attention in that regard after struggling to stop the pass last season.

The 2020 season was the second down year in the last three for the “Silver Bullets,” and it led to much consternation all winter within the fanbase.

In many ways, a perfect storm hit first-year defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and the unit in his return to the staff.

He had to re-acclimate to the program after two seasons in the NFL, and he had to replace a pair of first-round draft pick cornerbacks and mega-reliable safety Jordan Fuller. No easy task to begin with, he and the rest of the staff had to do that without much spring practice and then while conducting most of their meetings remotely.

That meant a young group that particularly needed a lot of coaching wasn’t able to get it, and the results showed on the field as Ohio State allowed a school record 304 passing yards per game.

Fast forward a year and those youngsters have been able to work with Coombs and secondary coach Matt Barnes in person again. They’ve also been joined by another wave of talented freshmen.

Do veterans Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks deserve another shot at cornerback? Or is it time to see what 2020 recruits Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts can do?

What about Marcus Williamson and Josh Proctor at the safety spots? Is their experience better to lean on than the potential of Lathan Ransom, Cam Martinez or someone else?

At those positions and several more, the staff will have players long on potential but short on playing time to try to evaluate over the next month.

At running back, Master Teague III has played extensively the past two seasons, but what if one or more youngsters from the group of Miyan Williams, TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor are too good to keep off the field? Marcus Crowley is also a wild card there, but so is just how many opportunities the running backs get as a whole considering the wealth of talent at receiver.

Then again, the workload of the receivers will be heavily influenced by what the young quarterback can handle whether that is C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III or Kyle McCord.

On offense, tight end is also something of a wild card. Many years have passed since that room contained so many legitimate candidates for playing time, but only Jeremy Ruckert has much experience. The depth of that group could directly correspond with how much Ohio State uses three-receiver sets and trickle down to running back usage as well.

Long known as a program built on the power running game, Ohio State has been an elite throwing team since Day arrived as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2017.

The three best seasons in school history as far as passer rating have come in the last three years, but Day has stressed his belief in balance.

The Buckeyes have also had an elite running game, and the pieces return for that to be the case again this fall even with new starters to choose on the interior offensive line.

What will Day choose to emphasize this season? Even if any of the trio trying to replace Fields approach his excellence, it is not likely to happen early in the season.

Adding to the pressure: No time to waste before facing a tough opponent, a Minnesota squad that will also have the benefit of playing at home.

After that, the Buckeyes will come home to take on preseason Pac-12 favorite Oregon.

That season-opening combo might cost Day some sleep over the next month.

“As we head into preseason camp, this is something that is going to be very, very important for us because we start right away,” said Day, who contrasted that urgency with the need to resist trying to start the season worrying about getting back to the National Championship Game.

“I think the easy thing to do coming off of last year is to focus on what would happen in the game at the end of the year, how do we get back to the National Championship game?

“But more importantly, this year it’s going to be how do we win that first game at Minnesota with a young team?

“We’re going to have a young quarterback, and we have to start the season really strong, so this preseason’s going to be very, very important to us. We have to really come out of the gates strong and harden ourselves as we head into the first game.”

About the Author