Ryan Day, Buckeyes ready to prove themselves again in spring football practice
On one hand, Ryan Day is content and comfortable.
The Ohio State football coach is coming off a banner first season, and last week he signed a hefty contract extension.
On the other hand, Day might be even hungrier. The College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson still stings. Ohio State’s spring practice opened Monday, and motivation is not an issue.
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“Our program is all built on fighting and competing every single day to be the best version of yourself, the best version of your unit, the best version of your team,” Day said. “We know what the expectations are here. When you wake up every day, you know what it is. We’re hungry.
“We felt we got a good foundation set underneath us last season, but we didn’t reach all of our goals. So there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The Buckeyes lost plenty of elite talent from last year’s 13-1 team, but no one pities Ohio State. Justin Fields is back at quarterback and looked sharp slinging the ball to receivers old and new.
Speaking of old and new, that characterizes the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator. After a two-year stint in the NFL, Kerry Coombs was back barking out encouragement and criticism as defensive coordinator the way he did when he was the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks coach.
“He hasn’t lost a step, that’s for sure,” Day said. “He’s running around all over the place, just as I remember him. A lot of energy, and the guys love playing for him. He’s very, very intense and extremely competitive.”
Coombs has plenty of questions to answer on his side of the ball. Three starters from last year’s secondary are off to the NFL. The fourth, cornerback Shaun Wade, spent most of practice on the sidelines as he heals from an unspecified injury. He was one of 13 players listed as being limited or unavailable this spring. Day said all are expected back by the fall.
Day said he’s confident that the Buckeyes have the talent to fill the void in the defensive backfield, but it’s up to the players to rise to the challenge.
On offense, the Buckeyes must replace two starters on the offensive line and find receivers to add depth behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Harry Miller, who impressed last year as a backup freshman center, appears to be getting first crack at left guard. Nicholas Petit-Frere will have to fend off Dawand Jones and talented freshman Paris Johnson Jr. at right tackle.
Master Teague must show that he’s ready to take over for 2,000-yard runner J.K. Dobbins, and there’s almost no proven depth behind him.
“That position, when it comes to the fall, is going to have to step up in a big way,” Day said.
Monday was the first time on the field for Ohio State’s ballyhooed group of four freshmen receivers Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr. and Mookie Cooper.
“I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful,” Day said. “Now they have a lot of work to do, but for Day 1, better than expected.”
Day entered last year with the pressure of succeeding a future Hall of Fame coach in Urban Meyer. Last year’s success prompted Ohio State to extend his contract through 2026.
“That’s a big deal,” he said. “That changes our life as a family, and we don’t take it lightly. The No. 1 thing that we’re excited about as a family is we get to be in Columbus for hopefully the next 7-10 years -- hopefully 20 years. We want to be here as long as we can. We love it here.”
Asked if his motivation was even greater because of the Clemson loss, Day replied, “I think that’s possible. … Getting to that game and not winning, that leaves an unbelievable taste in our mouth, so it’s just motivating us more.”