Ohio State LB Mitchell Melton out for spring practice with 'long-term injury'

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State linebacker Mitchel Melton, right, celebrates with safety Josh Proctor after Proctor intercepted a pass against the Northwestern on Dec. 19.

Ohio State linebacker will miss the remaining weeks of spring practice with an undisclosed injury.

Coach Ryan Day said Monday the redshirt freshman had suffered a “long-term” injury, but did not offer further details surrounding the setback.

During a portion of the morning’s practice open to reporters, Melton was walking on crutches on the sideline and not in a uniform.

“We’re going to have to do a great job in developing the young guys,” Day said. “We’re going to be a little bit thin as we head into the preseason. But I think we have a great plan.”

The Buckeyes are thin on returning experience at linebacker with the departure of four seniors and already saw their depth impacted this spring by the absence of Dallas Gant, the presumptive starter at middle linebacker who has been sidelined by a foot injury.

Gant, though, is expected to be fully healthy by the start of preseason training camp in late summer. The timeline for Melton’s return remains possibly longer.

Melton appeared in only one game last season, according to participation records, but showed promise earlier in workouts this spring.

While speaking with reporters two weeks ago, linebackers coach Al Washington acknowledged improvement from Melton, as well as Cody Simon, who was also a part of the same 2020 recruiting class.  

“Those are two young studs,” Washington said. “They handle themselves like pros.”

Coach Ryan Day talks nickel defense options

During a 7-on-7 period in Monday’s practice, the Buckeyes lined up in a nickel defense with five defensive backs and two linebackers.

While the Buckeyes have used a base defense with three linebackers in previous seasons, they are trying out the nickel package this spring as an alternative while they retool the back end.

Defensive backs coach Matt Barnes, during Ohio State spring football practice, at Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Friday April 2, 2021.

“We have the ability to do both,” Day said. “We can line up in nickel or we can line up in base. That’s something that we've always been able to do, and we're going to continue to look at that and figure out what gives us the best chance based on what the offense is giving us.”

Day pointed to past instances in which the defense varied its formation based upon particular matchups.

Against some run-heavy offenses, they used four linebackers, lending extra support to defend against the run.

“We want to have flexibility there and be able to adjust based on what we're seeing,” Day said.

LB Young in the secondary

Linebacker Craig Young worked out with the safeties during Monday’s practice and could seeing playing time at the position.

“I think Craig has had a really good spring so far,” Day said. “I think he's finding a role that he feels more comfortable at with his ability to come into the box, then also line up at safety. He can do multiple things.”

Day also mentioned Ronnie Hickman and Kourt Williams as other candidates to step in to a hybrid linebacker-safety role. 

Younger Buckeyes get reps in Olave’s absence

Chris Olave remained out of practice because of illness.

Day said last week that it was not related to COVID-19 and that the star wide receiver had tested negative for the virus.

Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave, pictured before Ohio State's game against the Clemson Tigers on Jan. 1, remains out of practice because of an illness. Coach Ryan Day said last week that it was not related to COVID-19.

The absence of Olave has left younger receivers with additional practice reps, including freshmen Jayden Ballard, Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr., who all enrolled early.

Harrison snagged a touchdown during a red-zone 7-on-7 drill.

“I think they're all much further ahead than when they would be if they got here in the summer,” Day said. “All three of them are very talented. They're learning quickly. They still have a long way to go. But the more we can put them in live situations, the better.”

Etc.

The rotation of quarterbacks in drills began with C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord, followed by walk-ons J.P. Andrade and Jagger LaRoe. … Some of the highlight performances in media viewing portions of practice came as tight end Jeremy Ruckert reeled in a tip-toe catch in the end zone during a red-zone period, and cornerback Tyreke Johnson picked off a pass from McCord during a team period.  

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman