COLUMBUS — Ohio State wrapped up its first week of fall camp on Thursday, and following practice, head coach Ryan Day met with the media to recap what he’s seen out of his team through seven practices.
With so much of Ohio State’s ultimate success this season likely to be decided by how many strides the defense can take, Day fittingly spent most of the press conference fielding questions about the progression of the unit under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, beginning with who’s available at this point in camp.
Although fall camp is critical for roster development, perhaps no area of the preseason is more noteworthy than development on the injury report. Fortunately for Day, the Buckeyes have progressed through the first week relatively unscathed.
Day was asked about the health of the team at the top of Thursday’s press conference, and he said there are no significant injury concerns at the moment aside from the typical bumps and bruises that come with physical camp practices. “We still have a few things that have come up, like always, but so far, it’s been a typical camp,” he said.
One position that has been diminished by minor injuries has been at cornerback, a position at which Ohio State is already light in terms of game-ready talent. Most notably, Jordan Hancock has not been practicing of late due to a lower-body injury. Hancock is expected to fill a key reserve role behind returning starters Denzel Burke and Cam Brown as perhaps the first corner off the bench.
Knowles expressed some concern about the depth at cornerback during his media session on Tuesday, and Day echoed those concerns on Thursday. Asked if cornerback depth has become the primary concern this summer, Day said it’s certainly a “top-three issue.” However, he later added that none of the injuries appear to be anything that will keep players out long-term.
In Hancock’s absence, as well as with Brown’s own limitations in practice, second-year corner JK Johnson and freshman Jyaire Brown have made the most of their opportunities in camp. Both earned praise from Day on Thursday, and Brown had the black stripe from his helmet removed, a yearly tradition and honor for incoming freshmen who are practicing well.
“It’s good to see those guys step in there … The whole idea here at Ohio State is you’re playing against really good players on the other side of the ball,” Day said. “You feel like if those guys can cover Jaxon (Smith-Njigba), you can be confident going into the season knowing that they’ve played against really good players.”
Asked if he feels the offense or defense is noticeably ahead of the other at this point in camp, Day noted the offense has more familiarity in its system compared to the defense. Despite still adjusting, Day said the defense is still having its share of moments in practice.
“I think the guys on offense have been in the system longer,” he said. “But in terms of the intensity and the energy level, I think both sides are really into it. We had a really good red zone day and guys were going back and forth. The defense created a turnover or two, got a bunch of stops. The offense scored a little bit, so it was balanced, back and forth, and that’s what you’re looking for … I think our (defensive) guys are becoming more comfortable with the language, with the system, with the scheme, and that’s encouraging.”
One area neither Day nor Knowles seems to be overly concerned about is the defensive line, which has been praised for its depth by both coaches this week. Day said on Thursday the defensive line is beginning to look like the disruptive unit the defense has missed recently and will need as a tone-setter this season if a revival is to happen.
“There’s definitely been signs to see that that’s what we want,” he said. “Tenacity, pad level, a bunch if guys getting after it, nastiness. That’s what we need, and our depth is going to be important. Now, can we sustain it over an extended period of time? That’s going to be the key because they’ve shown they can do it.”
Regarding his offense, Day said there isn’t a particular concern that stands out to him. Rather, he wants to see the offense continue to grow and not expect similar success to last season simply because there is a plethora of talent returning.
“You just have to prove it day in and day out,” Day said. “You gotta play physical, you gotta have good balance, you gotta take care of the football, you gotta score touchdowns in the red zone, all those sorts of things. That’s a challenge … I don’t think there is one thing (in particular) that we have a concern about, but being able to run and throw the football, having that balance will be very important.”
Day added the primary question with the offense is how much better they can get before the regular season arrives. Eighteen practices still remain for Ohio State in the preseason, including a scrimmage on Saturday, before Day said they will move on to “the next phase” of camp next week. That phase will include game preparations being worked in for Notre Dame.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.