During spring football practices the past couple of weeks, Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford often has been speaking softly and swinging an even softer bat.

“The Wiffle ball bat,” Alford said about the heavily padded implement.

He wields it as his players speed past him in drills, his aiming point being the ball, his aim being to knock the ball out. The idea is to emphasize ball security, and the OSU staff has been swinging away for years.

“I get to swing at ’em; I like it,” Alford said. “No really, it forces them — if I take that bat and hit that ball, and you’re not carrying it properly, the ball’s coming out. The ball comes out? We’ve got a problem.”

Sophomore Demario McCall, returning starter Mike Weber and freshman early enrollee J.K. Dobbins have dealt with the blows.

“Oh, that bat? I’m going to start hiding ’em, man, those things hurt,” McCall deadpanned.

But he gets the point.

“That’s something coach (Urban) Meyer brought to practice, so its (emphasis is as) soon as we get the ball he wants us to tuck it, squeeze it. … So when they swing the bat, they’re swinging it at the ball” similar to the way defensive players try to knock it out in real action.

And if the ball comes out in practice, what’s the consequence?

“I don’t know what we call it, but it’s tough,” McCall said of the exercise penalty. “You can’t fumble. Don’t put the ball on the ground.”

The running backs are not the only ones targeted.

“We use it for all the skill players,” Alford said. “It shows up more with me because I have it, that’s one of our staples. … That’s something we harp on.

“Knock on wood we’ve been pretty good this spring” about not fumbling, Alford said. “I think Mike had, what, three fumbles last year if I remember right. And that’s three too many.”