Buckeyes close out spring under game conditions
Columbus, Ohio • So who'll be this year's Bam Childress?
Ohio State concludes its 15 spring practices with an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at the Cincinnati Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium, due to work being done at the Horseshoe.
For the players, it's a relief that the drudgery of several weeks of practice has finally come to an end.
"During the spring you kind of get tired of going against the same people for so long that you just finally want to take it out on somebody else, but there's nobody else to take it out on but them," defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said.
For the coaches, the end of workouts means more time for evaluation.
"We can see how kids perform in the spotlight," second-year coach Urban Meyer said. "There'll be a lot of passes in the game, especially with the [first-team offense]. It's really important to play in that environment. I hope we have a great crowd and we find out who can make some plays in that big environment."
The team was split into two squads by coach Meyer and his staff with quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton off limits for contact.
Earlier this spring, even though the Buckeyes' most valuable player, Miller, was wearing a black jersey which meant he couldn't be hit, defensive lineman Noah Spence nailed him.
Meyer joked that he wouldn't tolerate that on Saturday.
"I'm going to carry a baseball bat," he said with a grin.
Every year, it seems, a player rises to the surface to fuel hopes that he might be a budding star. Childress was the "Mr. April" of Ohio State's program a decade ago, at his best in the spring game. He returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and also had two TD receptions in the 2003 game.
But then in the autumn, when the games counted, he was a minor contributor.
A year ago, freshman receiver Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 131 yards then had three receptions for 22 yards in the regular season.
The positions and players that the coaches will be watching the closest will be the defensive line where all four starters from a year ago are gone along with the linebackers, offensive right tackle and wide receivers.
Washington, who is a Cincinnati native, along with Michael Bennett, Spence, Joel Hale, Steve Miller and Tommy Schutt all are vying for playing time up front after the graduation of Big Ten defensive player of the year John Simon, along with Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel. Johnathan Hankins gave up his senior season to jump to the NFL draft.
So far, so good, for the unit. The coaches are pleased with how the top players (Bennett and Washington) have performed and with the depth provided by the rest.
At linebacker, the Buckeyes must replace the departed Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. Standout Ryan Shazier has been held back by injury this spring, but Curtis Grant, after a couple of disappointing seasons, has grabbed the starting spot in the middle. Camren Williams, David Perkins and Joshua Perry are also in the picture.
Earlier in the spring, Meyer said, "If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team. If not, we won't. It's pretty simple."
At right tackle, sophomore Taylor Decker and Chase Farris have been battling for the starting job, but neither has really left the coaches breathless. The rest of the line is solid, with Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall returning.
"[Decker] is improving a lot," said Norwell, a senior from Cincinnati. "The same with Chase. He's getting the hang of things at right tackle, so they're looking good out there on the edge."
Coming off a 12-0 record that ended with a thud because of the NCAA bowl ban, Meyer is also hoping that he can stockpile some playmakers guys capable of turning any run, return or pass into a touchdown. Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are all back out wide, but there's always room for others who can break open a game.
If the players are tired of going up against the same people, the coaches are itching to see what some can do with the clock running and 11 players arrayed against them.
"I want to see a [game-type] environment," Meyer said. "I see the coaches off the field and everybody's screaming their assignments to these kids who never played before. So I want to see them play."
Then he paused, smiled and added slowly, "(At least) I think I want to see them play."