This comes as no surprise but is worth repeating because it figures to be the most important situation to get worked out between now and a Week 2 trip to Oregon.
The revelation three players expected to be in line to start (cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Cam Brown and safety Josh Proctor) are limited or out this spring created even more uncertainty.
“Now some of the younger guys will have to step up. I think that’s the next thing,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “(Safety) Marcus Hooker and (cornerback) Marcus Williamson, both of those guys got reps last year. They have them under their belt. Josh Proctor, he’s been a little dinged up but we’ll get him back. So there’s a lot of guys that got reps but haven’t played a significant role.”
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On the bright side, coaches Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes should have plenty of time to tinker with lineups over the next six weeks and have freshmen Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts and Kourt Williams to put in the mix.
2. Young receivers passed the eye test.
Early enrollees Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, Gee Scott Jr. and Mookie Cooper all flashed at times.
“They’re talented,” Day said. “What strikes me, with all the 7-on-7s and all the things going on throughout America, they’re further along than maybe receivers were 5-10 years ago.
“Certainly you can see a guy like Jaxon who has played in Texas, where they have those activity periods. They have so many reps under their belt, it just makes sense for them. You can see it today.
“You can see the talent of Julian and just his ability to get off of a line of scrimmage and make plays down the field and his size. Gee Scott really surprised me just how mature his releases were getting off the line of scrimmage. And then Mookie flashed.
“I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful. Now they have a long way to go, but for day one, better than expected.”
3. Moving Cade Stover to tight end might confirm a different perspective on that position.
Stover was recruited as a linebacker but moved to defensive end last fall.
At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, the redshirt freshman appears to have the potential to grow into a contributor at defensive end, but that position is already loaded (eight four- and five-star recruits).
Meanwhile, tight end enjoyed a bit of a renaissance last season with Ryan Day getting full control of the offense after it was at times an afterthought in the latter years of the Urban Meyer era (particularly after Jim Tressel recruits Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett graduated).
The increased use of multiple tight end sets, mirroring the trend in college football and the NFL, can’t be done without players talented enough to make a difference there, and moving a prospect like Stover, who was Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2018, should increase the likelihood that remains an option.
“When you look at his skill set, his basketball background and his spatial awareness and things like that, his toughness, we think that he projects into being a really good tight end,” Day said.
4. Pete Werner practicing at weak-side linebacker (WILL) might not mean much in the long run.
Werner’s ability to play strong-side linebacker (SAM) and safety allowed the staff to change defenses without changing personnel last season, something they likely would embrace doing again this fall.
But with the knowledge of what he can do and Baron Browning (the suspected successor to Malik Harrison at WILL) limited this spring, taking a look at Werner in another role makes sense.
Sixth-year senior Justin Hilliard gives them another option at SAM, and Werner looking comfortable inside could provide even more ways to disguise the defensive plan this fall.
5. What a difference a year makes for Justin Fields.
As good as Ohio State’s quarterback was last fall when he was a Heisman Trophy finalists and the Big Ten’s offensive player and quarterback of the year, it is easy to forget he looked shaky on day one of the spring 2019.
This time around, the junior-to-be looked sharp and in command of the offense.
“I’m proud of his development from where he was at this point last year to where he is right now in practice one,” Day said. “He’s come a long way in the pocket, moving in the pocket, seeing things and drop-back protection. We have a list of things that he’s working on to get better at, but a lot of it is just learning to play the position.
“Now we spent a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the position — protections, route progressions, coverages — things like that where we can get a little more involved and start to explain the playbook a little more.”