Bobby Carpenter switched positions before his senior season at Ohio State.
An off-ball linebacker earlier in his college career, responsible for dropping into pass coverage, he tried out as an edge rusher in spring practice in 2005.
The move paid off. By the time the fall arrived, Carpenter was barging into opponents’ backfields. He finished with eight sacks in 11 games.
Fifteen years later, he contemplated a scenario in which the practices in March and April never existed.
"I wouldn’t have been nearly as effective," said Carpenter, who co-hosts the daily "Carpenter & Rothman" show on WBNS-FM (97.1 The Fan). "You're able to build on things from the spring into training camp. Without that, it would have been much more difficult."
Current Buckeyes players face such a predicament. The coronavirus pandemic has halted organized team activities across college sports, including wiping away the vast majority of spring football practices.
Former players who spoke with The Dispatch acknowledged ripple effects from the loss of spring workouts that could be felt if the upcoming season kicks off as scheduled come Labor Day weekend.
Players missed opportunities for repetitions, including underclassmen who were vying for bigger roles or veterans who were learning new roles as Carpenter once did.
In one week of spring practice in March, the Buckeyes lined up some returners in new spots.
Garrett Wilson went from outside receiver to slot receiver, Harry Miller slid from center to left guard and Baron Browning moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
They were all trial runs, a hallmark of the spring season when coaches have more leeway to reconfigure rosters.
"When you're in training camp and you have an idea, you'll tweak with it a little bit," Carpenter said. "But in spring, that's when you experiment with all that stuff and see how it looks. Some of it looks good, you carry on, and then you keep paring it down. Some of it looks bad in the spring and you throw it out right away. But this is the opportunity of when you try to figure out, ‘Is there anything unique we can do?’"
The spring also allows for coaches to adjust to roles on staff, from overseeing a new position group to handling more play-calling duties, said Stanley Jackson, a former quarterback for the Buckeyes and an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
That includes newly hired defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs.
After two seasons as an assistant in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, Coombs returned to Ohio State to run a defense for the first time in his career at the college or pro level.
Spring practices would have afforded him a chance to settle in and build a rapport with other assistants, most of whom he had not worked with during his previous stint in Columbus. Intrasquad scrimmages or other live portions of practice posed potential tests for them.
"How you coach together, how you come up with game plans, how you attack a very good unit, those are all typical things you get in spring," Jackson said, "because you're always going up against a very good unit when you're at a place like Ohio State."
Responsibilities for Coombs include coaching the secondary, which is the Buckeyes’ least inexperienced position group.
Shaun Wade is the only starting defensive back to return from last season’s team.
Former Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry, an analyst with the Big Ten Network, thought the defensive backs especially missed out on spring practice reps, noting their youth and limited work with Coombs.
"This is a time where they can learn a new system," Perry said, "really get comfortable."
Even Wade is learning a new position. After starting at slot corner last season, he’ll be one of the outside cornerbacks next season.
Carpenter said younger receivers also stood to benefit from spring practice, as they had a chance to work on their timing with quarterback Justin Fields. That included four freshmen who were among the 14 early enrollees, as well as Wilson, who was a freshman last fall.
"They're trying to figure out what those guys do well, how they get in and out of their breaks, how to run routes to the liking of the quarterback," Carpenter said. "And then where are you going to try to fit them in?"
Some things went beyond X’s and O’s, too.
Perry considered camaraderie as something that was formulated during spring practice and an important step in the preparation for the season. It was the first time a retooled team, after the loss of seniors and other NFL draft-eligible players, among other departures, would spend time together on the field for practices.
It also marked a new crop of seniors and upperclassmen not only taking bigger roles on the depth chart but also in the locker room.
"Because you're coming out of the winter offseason, you kind of have an idea of who's going to lead your team," Perry said. "Then you put the pads back on and guys start playing. Guys earn respect through their play, they earn respect through the toughness it takes to go out there every day with a great mentality, to be physical every single day, whatever the case is.
"They're missing out on that. As leadership forms bonds on the team, it essentially propels teams to the next level."