Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins was raving about first-year coach Ryan Day on Friday afternoon in front of a round table of reporters and TV cameras.
“Our new head coach is going to be legendary,” Dobbins said.
Then he caught himself.
“He’s not really that new,” Dobbins added.
Day stepped into his first full season at the helm of the Buckeyes with the start of preseason training camp earlier in the morning. The team held its first practice on the fields outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
But the setting was not new territory.
Day shepherded the Buckeyes through preseason camp last August while then-coach Urban Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave amid an investigation into his handling of domestic violence allegations involving former assistant Zach Smith.
The experience as acting head coach proved formative. The pre-camp rituals, meetings and first workout all felt familiar to Day.
“This is the first time since I've become head coach where this is the second time I've done something,” Day said.
As he prepared for the start of camp, Day referred to old memos and practice plans. Some of his notes included the gist of addresses to the team.
Ultimately, the parallels diverge a little.
Day’s previous camp experience was far more harried than this time around. He became the acting head coach only two days before the start of camp last year when Meyer was put on leave. On Friday, he referred to the past stretch as a “very unique situation.”
“There was a lot going on, a lot getting thrown at me, the whole offensive and defensive staff,” Day said. “We had to manage it the best we could.”
Day, who replaced Meyer following his retirement at the end of last season, has had his coaching staff in place for months, bringing in five new assistant coaches before spring practice was held over March and April. There were no frenzied last-minute changes.
“This year it's more like it is, which you plan ahead, you put the practice schedules together, you put the training camp schedule together, you kind of organize that with a lot of thought ahead of time,” Day said. “You just go about the business of executing it now that we're here.”
The main challenge for Day in this preseason involves settling on the team’s starting quarterback, with Georgia transfer Justin Fields considered the heavy front-runner.
Reporters were only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of practice. Day, a former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said afterward that he often gravitated toward watching the passers, a group that included Fields, as well as Gunnar Hoak, who joined the program in the summer as a graduate transfer from Kentucky.
He was huddled with Mike Yurcich, the new quarterbacks coach.
“My eyes just naturally go to the quarterback,” Day said, “just because it's a new position, to kind of figure out and see what they're thinking before it happens. Sometimes it's more about the process than it is the result. Guys can get away with a bad read, throw it in there, think they're OK, but they're not. They have to make sure their process is right. Because it's a new group, Mike and I are on top of that every snap.”
Day said he otherwise spent portions of the practice trying to keep a bird's-eye view of the players. The team was only wearing helmets, days away from their first padded practice, and he wanted to make sure players weren’t being dragged the turf, risking injury.
While returning to a familiar routine leading the team through a training camp workout, Day also held a high stature in his locker room.
Players know it’s fully his team now.
“Obviously he's the head coach, so he's really that front-runner,” junior defensive end Chase Young said. “We look to him. He’s definitely leading the whole pack. We do practice a little bit differently. I love Coach Day, and I’m going to follow him every step.”