Transfer linebacker Palaie Gaoteote makes practice debut for Ohio State, and other notes

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (21) runs a drill during Ohio State's first football practice of fall camp at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The senior transferred from USC this summer.

Palaie Gaoteote, a linebacker who transferred from USC earlier this summer, was on the practice fields outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center when Ohio State opened its preseason training camp on Wednesday.

But the Buckeyes are awaiting clearance before he can step onto the turf for a game when their season begins next month.

Coach Ryan Day said they have not yet received a ruling from the NCAA surrounding his eligibility, and at least another week remains before a potential resolution. He’s not on scholarship as a result.

Ohio State brought in Gaoteote to help provide additional depth at linebacker after all of last season’s starters left and the position was hit hard by injuries in spring practice. He started 14 games over three seasons at USC, more experience than the Buckeyes’ returning reserves.

Gaoteote went through positions drills during a half-dozen practice periods that were open to reporters, but he is unlikely to see first or second-team reps in team periods until his status is sorted out.

“It doesn't make sense,” Day said, “because that’s wasting reps if he's not available.”

Day avoided offering much of an early impression on Gaoteote’s practice debut, saying it was “too early.”

Running back order

In a handful of running back drills, Miyan Williams was first in line ahead of Master Teague III, the most experienced returner in the backfield who started throughout the regular season last fall.

Williams has impressed coaches since he reeled off a handful of runs in a College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson and furthered his development this offseason. Day mentioned he made strides especially with his pass blocking during spring practice.

“For a guy who was a little bit under the radar coming in, he’s made a big impact,” Day said.

After missing out on some five-star running back recruits, Williams was a late addition to the Buckeyes’ class in 2020 cycle and ranked only as a three-star.

Day said they are trying to be even out the reps among the running backs, a position he feels is the deepest since he first joined the coaching staff in 2017.

Position switch

After spending his first two seasons at Ohio State as a running back, Steele Chambers is now at linebacker.

He worked out at the position in the opening practice.

“I think he looks excellent out there moving around,” Day said. “And he learns quickly. He's bright.”

Chambers, who was a two-way player in high school, was given the option to try either spot in the preseason, but he might have an easier time finding playing time at linebacker.

“There's a great opportunity for him to get on the field there,” Day said.

He said he also wanted to get input from Chambers on his first day.

Getting shots

Day specified that Ohio State’s team vaccination rate for COVID-19 is above 90%.

Two weeks earlier at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis, he had not given a percentage figure, saying only that a majority of the team had been vaccinated and hoped they would be close to 100%.

He was vaccinated in March after he first became eligible.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who is fully vaccinated, also said at media days that he and other vaccinated players are no longer subject to regular testing.  

Miller’s spot

Junior offensive lineman Harry Miller, who started at left guard last season, will begin preseason camp at center.

Miller was previously a backup behind Josh Myers at center in 2019 and played the position in high school.

“He's starting there,” Day said, “but he has great flexibility, and we think that the center can play guard and we can move those guys around. The more versatility we have, the better. He's had a very, very good summer and worked really, really hard with his body. Got healthy.”

Injury status

Most of the players who were unavailable for at least portions of spring practice were healthy and going through position drills, including notable returning starters such as cornerback Sevyn Banks, defensive tackle Haskell Garrett and Teague.

Dallas Gant, the presumed starter at middle linebacker, was also available after a foot injury sidelined him in spring practice.

Wide receiver Kamryn Babb has remained limited.

Etc.

Safety Marcus Hooker was at practice after missing all of spring practice due to a suspension following an arrest for operating a vehicle while impaired. He returned to the team this summer, and Day said that he had "paid his dues." ... Some of the position changes from spring practice have remained with Demario McCall at cornerback and Gee Scott Jr. at tight end. ...

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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