Ohio State opened spring football practice on Wednesday with a new look and plenty of resolve.
The coaching torch has been passed from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day, who presides over a team in transition. During the first hour of practice that was open to the media, Day was a low-key presence.
He said afterward that he didn’t feel much different from last summer as offensive coordinator filling in for the suspended Meyer.
>> Video: Ohio State football first practice
“It was pretty natural,” Day said. “I do have to force myself to make sure I’m walking down to the defensive side every now and again and keeping an eye on all that.”
Much of the attention this spring will be on the competition to replace Dwayne Haskins Jr. at quarterback. Justin Fields, the transfer from Georgia, took the first reps in quarterback drills, followed by redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin.
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Though both quarterbacks, particularly Baldwin, had some balls sail on them, Day said they made a good first impression.
“I thought they threw well,” he said. “For day one, I was pretty encouraged.”
Day said he is not in a hurry to settle on a starter.
“The more competition, the better for us, at all positions,” he said. “Anytime you have competition, it’s healthy. I don’t think (deciding on a starter) needs to be done right off the bat. You just don’t know how it will play out. Getting to that first game is a long journey, so we’ll take it as we go. If one guy wins the job and deserves to, then we’ll do that. If not, we’ll keep competing.”
Even those with secure starting spots said they have much to prove. Running back J.K. Dobbins split time with Mike Weber last year and now is expected to carry the load. After a stellar freshman season, Dobbins’ yards-per-carry average slipped from 7.2 to 4.6 in 2018.
“It’s not the offensive line’s fault,” he said. “It’s not anyone else’s fault except for mine. I didn’t take advantage of my opportunities like I did my freshman year, and the results were what they were. I have to build on that and get better.”
Dobbins will run behind a reconfigured line. With Thayer Munford out during the spring after having back surgery, all five linemen will be new from the start of last year. In the first drills Wednesday, Joshua Alabi was at left tackle, Gavin Cupp at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Wyatt Davis at right guard and Branden Bowen at right tackle.
On defense, players mixed and matched frequently throughout drills. At linebacker, Baron Browning took the first snap in the middle instead of Tuf Borland. Returning starters Malik Harrison and Pete Werner flanked Browning. But Day emphasized that players will continue to take turns getting first-team reps.
With safety Jordan Fuller out for the spring with what Day described was a “lower extremity” injury, Isaiah Pryor and Shaun Wade got the early looks there.
“The defense is going to look different,” Day said.
That will be necessary because last year’s unit was Ohio State’s worst ever statistically in points (26.4) and yardage (403.4) allowed per game. Senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said that resulted in plenty of soul-searching.
“We definitely took it to heart,” he said. “We know that’s not us. That’s not the Silver Bullets. We’ll definitely come with an attitude and a chip on our shoulder just because of everything that happened last year.”
The defensive struggles caused Day to overhaul the coaching staff on that side of the ball. Line coach Larry Johnson is the only holdover.
“With the new coaches coming in, it’s kind of a new start for everybody,” Cooper said. “This defense definitely has something to prove this year.”
The Buckeyes weren’t in pads Wednesday, but Day liked the way the defense swarmed to the ball. Still, it was only the first of 15 practices.
“We had a great offseason and a lot of guys stepped up as leaders,” Day said. “But now we’re going into a new phase, and we have to find out who the guys are that we can count on because we did lose a lot of guys.”