Ohio State Practice Observations: Justin Fields Goes Through Practice With Knee Brace, Jeff Hafley Still On The Sidelines, Intensity Apparent

By Colin Hass-Hill on December 24, 2019 at 6:32 pm
Justin Fields

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As the light rain drizzled onto those populating the football field at Notre Dame Preparatory High School, Ryan Day gathered his Ohio State team in a circle around him the 10-yard line. 

Kneeling with their eyes on the head coach, they watched as Day dialed up the intensity to deliver a passionate speech just four days before gearing up to face Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl with a national championship game berth on the line. In the speech that lasted approximately two minutes, Day mentioned Ohio State's doubters, the need to control the line of scrimmage and said, “There’s no way we lose to them. No way.”

And then practice began.

The media had the opportunity to watch practice for about 15 minutes, getting a quick peek into Ohio State’s preparation for its most important game yet this season. More than 100 players were in attendance, along with the entire coaching staff. Players on the scout team wore purple jerseys with orange numbers to represent Clemson.

Some observations from the abbreviated viewing period:

Justin Fields Goes Through Practice

Hours after Justin Fields revealed his left knee is “80-85 percent” healthy, he practiced with a brace on his knee, as expected. Earlier in the day, he said he hadn't missed any practice time due to his knee injury, which he aggravated in the win against Michigan, but he hasn't been able to go through everything at full speed.

During the window of practice open Tuesday, there were no obvious signs of the knee hindering Fields.

The knee, Fields said on Tuesday morning, hasn't healed as fast as he imagined it would. Regardless of his health, he's able to go through his usual practice drills, as he showed on Tuesday afternoon.

No players were seen sitting out the open portion of practice, which matters because sometimes those opportunities offer a lens into injuries. Left tackle Thayer Munford sat out the first open window of practice at last year's Rose Bowl, providing the first indication that he would miss the game. 

Shaun Wade went through practice with a wrap on his left thigh, and Damon Arnette practiced with a cast on his right hand. Both cornerbacks played in the Big Ten Championship Game but missed one game apiece near the end of the season (Arnette against Rutgers, Wade against Michigan) due to their injuries.

Jeff Hafley Back For Bowl Prep

Just eight days ago, Jeff Hafley was on the East Coast getting introduced as Boston College's latest head coach. Amid his address to the local congregation, he said he has to "go win a national championship" with the Buckeyes, meaning he plans to finish out the season with Ohio State for however long it goes.

Later that day, he returned to Columbus, changed his clothes and got back on the field to continue his duties as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. 

On Tuesday, it was as if Hafley had never left. He spent the majority of the open viewing period working with assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes and the defensive backs. 

Urban Meyer Watches from the Sideline

Standing on the sideline as Day gave his impassioned pre-practice speech was the man who gave those types of messages to the Buckeyes a year ago.

Urban Meyer, along with his son Nate, took in Tuesday's practice from the sideline at Notre Dame Prep. As it got underway, he stood beside Mark Pantoni and talked to him for awhile. 

It's far from an abnormality to see Meyer spending his day at Ohio State's practice. Dating back to the second practice of the spring, he's been present at times. Yet after seeing the fiery coach on the field leading the Buckeyes for the past seven years, it's always fascinating to see him watching his former team from the side.

Urban Meyer

Other Notes

  • Jonathon Cooper was in full pads and went through practice as normal. However, he will not play in the Fiesta Bowl or, if the Buckeyes reach it, the national championship. The senior defensive end has played only four games this season due to injuries and will redshirt in order to return as a fifth-year senior in 2020.
  • Demario McCall took reps as the second-team H-back behind K.J. Hill.
  • The wind was blowing about 10 miles per hour during the practice, giving the team some elements to brave. Clemson practiced indoors on Tuesday.
  • The rain affected some of Ohio State's passes and catches during the early portion of practice. That won't be a factor on Saturday, though, when the teams play indoors in State Farm Stadium.
  • The Buckeyes will return to Notre Dame Prep to practice on Wednesday before giving everybody the evening off to celebrate Christmas. The team will indulge in some steak at a local restaurant that night, per a team spokesman.
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