Spring is said to be a season of new beginnings, and that is the perfect way to describe the Ohio State football team as it continues through spring practice.
Many new faces are gracing the field this spring and some of those might even be called upon right away to suit up on fall Saturdays in Ohio Stadium.
Even though players are traditionally grouped together on first and second teams, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said no position on defense is set in stone.
“They are all competing,” Ash said of his defensive unit. “Whether you are on the first line, second line, it doesn’t matter right now. We just want to see guys compete and see who is going to be consistently doing things the right way.”
With sophomore safety Vonn Bell out for the rest of spring practice with an ACL injury, Ash said Bell will need to focus from the sideline.
“Right now Vonn has got to take advantage of the mental rep opportunities that he gets and he is doing that so far,” Ash said. “He is still in all of our meetings, he is getting coached extremely hard in the meetings and he is getting a lot of good mental reps out here at practice.”
Stepping in for Bell this spring has been sophomore safety Cam Burrows, who saw limited playing time as a freshman, but was highly recruited out of Trotwood, Ohio.
“Cam Burrows has stepped in and has taken advantage of the opportunity and done a great job,” Ash said. “Vonn will be healthy soon and we’re going to have a great competition for those safety positions.”
Another position battle has been the logjam at running back, where redshirt-senior Rod Smith and redshirt-sophomores Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball are competing with young talent such as sophomore Ezekiel Elliot to see who will replace the void left by Carlos Hyde.
Dunn, who redshirted the 2013 season after seeing limited time in 2012, said he is looking forward to the competition.
“Everybody is in the mix right now, there is really no depth chart,” Dunn said. “It is really competitive … everybody wants to play for Ohio State University.”
Running backs coach Stan Drayton had plenty of complimentary things to say about Dunn, who ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2012.
“We are starting to see the things that Bri’onte already had within himself,” Drayton said. “It’s just a matter of him becoming a student of the game, learning the game and now he is playing it fast.”
Elliot, who saw significant time as a freshman last season echoed Dunn’s excitement and said despite the competition, there are no ill feelings between the stable of backs.
“We compete against each other every day and that just makes us all better,” Elliot said. “We are all brothers, we are here to help each other.”
This was made clearly evident during practice when Dunn took a shovel pass from redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and after scampering for around a 40-yard gain, the first person to greet him was Smith, who was not even in during the play.
Drayton was adamant that the running backs will have to step up this season, and he believes they will.
“This is the Ohio State University and it’s the next man up,” Drayton said. “I am sure that if you ask Carlos Hyde, he will tell you the same thing. Somebody has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde and if it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it is going to get done.”
Another note to take away from Thursday’s practice was the presence of former Rutgers University and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano who took in the Buckeye practice.
“One thing that stood out to him, you know he has been in the NFL for the last couple years, practices are different in college,” Ash said. “The effort is a little bit better, there’s a little more physicality in the college game than there is in the NFL game. He likes the way that we practice.”
OSU is scheduled to take on Navy Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.