The 2021 Ohio State football season is officially underway as the Buckeyes took to the practice field on Wednesday for their first practice of fall camp.
Coming off a loss to Alabama in the national championship game last season, Ohio State enters camp with many questions head coach Ryan Day and his coaching staff will need to find answers to with less than a month until the season kicks off at Minnesota.
Following practice, Day met with the media to discuss what he saw from his players on day one as the first steps were taken in identifying who will fill out the two-deep roster next month. Naturally, no position will receive more attention in the coming weeks than at quarterback, where Day must replace first-round draft pick Justin Fields. Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud likely has a lead in the race over Jack Miller and incoming freshman Kyle McCord, but Day is treating the starting position as a true competition as camp evolves.
On Tuesday, Day said he was “proud” of where each quarterback is physically, as well as in their grasp of the offense. Asked yesterday if either of the quarterbacks began to separate themselves following the opening practice, Day said, “No, but as a whole, I thought we threw and caught the ball well for day one. We’ll see what that means, but they certainly did a lot of work this summer because I think the first routes on air, the ball didn’t touch the ground. That’s a very, very good sign, but this is just step one. We got a long way to go.”
During spring practice, Day said it would be ideal to name a starting quarterback earlier in camp in order to give that quarterback a sizable number of repetitions in practice. However, Day added that he won’t name a starter until one guy has separated himself from the rest of the group, and if that spills all the way into game week, so be it.
Which running back will join the starting quarterback in the backfield is also yet to be determined, and Wednesday’s practice provided, perhaps, an interesting glimpse into the pecking order at running back. While Master Teague returns as, by far, the most experienced ball carrier on the roster, it was redshirt freshman Miyan Williams who was first in line during position drills.
Day said of Williams, “I think Miyan has worked really hard. If you look at his body, it’s hard. He looks strong out there, he’s worked really hard in the weight room … We’ll wait to see how it goes, but I thought his pass protection in the spring was excellent and he has to keep building on that. For a guy who has been under the radar coming in, he’s made a big impact.”
Five-star recruit TreVeyon Henderson arrived in Columbus with plenty of fanfare as the top-ranked running back in the 2021 recruiting class, and he figures to be in the mix as the big-play threat last year’s running back stable was missing for much of the season. Day called Henderson a “low maintenance, high effort” player who is “very serious about his football.”
“The more we can get him reps and the more he can play, the better off he’s going to be,” Day said of Henderson. “But I think he has a chance to be very special.”
Day said of the running backs as a group, “As talented and as deep as we’ve been in a while. Excited about that, and then we just have to get out there and compete. Since I’ve been here, it’s certainly the most depth we’ve had at that position. I think (running backs coach) Tony (Alford) has done a good job of building depth there, recruiting to that room, and all of those guys have great attitudes when they’re out there. So, it’s fun to watch them compete.”
Defensively, Ohio State is looking to improve on a pass defense that ranked, statistically, as one of the worst in the country in 2020. Depth at cornerback was an issue all year for the Buckeyes due to injuries, something Day has already seen an improvement in early on in camp.
“Because we have depth, those guys were able to practice a little bit faster, a little bit harder,” Day said. “Last year, I think it was hard for Shaun (Wade) and Sevyn (Banks) because we just didn’t have very much depth there … they had to pace themselves a little bit where we looked a little sharper today.”
At linebacker, the Buckeyes will be looking to replace all four of their top performers from a season ago. During Wednesday’s practice, sophomore Cody Simon was the first to get reps alongside Teradja Mitchell, with Ronnie Hickman playing the hybrid safety and linebacker role, known as the “bullet” position.
Day said Simon is looking to build off a good spring performance but it’s still too early to evaluate the group. Whereas there were four clear players in the middle last season, Day suggested the likelihood of a “by committee” approach to the linebackers this season.
“There’re some veteran guys in there that have to play for us — Teradja (Mitchell), Dallas (Gant), and K’Vaughan (Pope). They’re into year three and it’s time to go,” Day said. “Some of those younger guys are doing a great job and pushing — Tommy (Eichenberg) and Cody (Simon) — and it’s good to get Steele (Chambers) in there and see him run around a little bit as well. That’s a position that is obviously going to get a lot of attention here, get a lot of focus from the staff through August, and, hopefully, in about two weeks, we’ll get a better idea of who is going to be starting in that first game.”
Ohio State returns to the field today for the second practice of camp and will practice through Saturday before receiving a day off on Sunday.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.