It’s officially time for football once again at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
For the first time since the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson that ended Ohio State’s 2019 season, the Buckeyes will be back on the field for their first football practice of 2020 – their first of 15 spring practices – at approximately 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Ohio State will enter this spring with no shortage of motivation, as it will look to duplicate its success from its 2019 regular season but go a couple steps further in the postseason, and no shortage of potential.
The Buckeyes enter this spring with 76 scholarship players on their roster, including a highly talented crop of 14 early enrollee freshmen, and many highly touted recruits from past years who will look to use this spring to establish themselves as Ohio State’s next impact players alongside returning stars like Justin Fields, Chris Olave, Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade.
After two months of winter strength and conditioning workouts led by Mickey Marotti and his sports performance staff, it’s now time for those Buckeyes to develop their football skills and show their position coaches what they can do on offense, defense and special teams once again.
Eleven Warriors will be on the scene to watch Ohio State’s opening practice of the spring on Monday morning and for every practice that’s open to the media and every post-practice interview session throughout the spring. Ohio State’s schedule for spring practices, which will take place over the course of the next six weeks and conclude with the spring game at Ohio Stadium on April 11 at noon:
|No.||Date||Scheduled Media Availability|
|1||MONDAY, MARCH 2||PRACTICE OPEN; RYAN DAY PRESS CONFERENCE|
|2||WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4||KEVIN WILSON, AL WASHINGTON, TIGHT END, LINEBACKER INTERVIEWS|
|3||FRIDAY, MARCH 6||NONE|
|4||TUESDAY, MARCH 17||GREG STUDRAWA, OFFENSIVE LINE INTERVIEWS|
|5||THURSDAY, MARCH 19||RYAN DAY PRESS CONFERENCE|
|6||TUESDAY, MARCH 24||KERRY COOMBS, MATT BARNES, DEFENSIVE BACK INTERVIEWS|
|7||THURSDAY, MARCH 26||LARRY JOHNSON, DEFENSIVE LINE INTERVIEWS|
|8||SATURDAY, MARCH 28||PRACTICE OPEN; RYAN DAY PRESS CONFERENCE|
|9||MONDAY, MARCH 30||NONE|
|10||WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1||PRACTICE OPEN; RYAN DAY, GREG MATTISON PRESS CONFERENCES|
|11||FRIDAY, APRIL 3||COREY DENNIS, TONY ALFORD, BRIAN HARTLINE, QUARTERBACK, RUNNING BACK, WIDE RECEIVER INTERVIEWS|
|12||MONDAY, APRIL 6||RYAN DAY PRESS CONFERENCE|
|13||WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8||NONE|
|14||FRIDAY, APRIL 10||NONE|
|15||SATURDAY, APRIL 11||SPRING GAME|
We’ll have practice observations, photos and more to come from spring practices on Monday and every day the Buckeyes open their doors to reporters, but for now, here’s a quick overview of the biggest storylines entering this spring:
Year Two Begins for Day, Fields
Going into last spring, the two biggest questions that loomed over the Buckeyes were how Ryan Day would handle head coaching responsibility for the first time and how quickly Justin Fields would get up to speed as Ohio State’s new quarterback. Both of those questions were answered about as well as anyone could have imagined, as Day led the Buckeyes to 13 wins and a College Football Playoff berth while Fields accounted for 3,757 total yards and 51 total touchdowns with only three interceptions.
Now that the Buckeyes know what they have in both, they enter this spring with much more stability and therefore, a much higher floor than they had at this time last year. If Day and Fields just keep doing in 2020 what they did in 2019, Ohio State will probably be a title contender. This spring, though, will be a great opportunity for Day and Fields to take what they learned from last season and look to become even better, as Day will likely make some tweaks from what he did in year one while Fields will look to become an even more complete and consistent quarterback.
Beyond Day, Ohio State has strong stability with the rest of its coaching staff too, returning four of its five assistants from 2019 on each side of the ball – Tony Alford, Brian Hartline, Kevin Wilson and Greg Studrawa on offense, and Larry Johnson, Greg Mattison, Al Washington and Matt Barnes on defense. Unlike last spring, when many of the Buckeyes’ coaches were working together for the first time, they enter this spring with an already strong foundation upon which they can now build for 2020.
13 Starters to Replace
While Ohio State does have crucial stability on its coaching staff and at quarterback, there are many positions in which the Buckeyes need new starters to step up. This spring will be a crucial time for Ohio State to determine who those players could be.
On offense, the Buckeyes will have a new starting running back, several new receivers in their rotation and two new starting offensive linemen following the departures of J.K. Dobbins, K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen. On defense, the Buckeyes are replacing three starting defensive linemen (Chase Young, DaVon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell), three starting defensive backs (Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller) and their top linebacker from last season, Malik Harrison.
In order to be a playoff team again in 2020, Ohio State is going to need many new starters and contributors to emerge and perform at the same level – or at least close to it – as the players they are replacing. The next six weeks will help the Buckeyes determine where they are ready to make that happen and where they might still have their work cut out for them this fall.
New Faces Aplenty
Ohio State had never had more than nine early enrollees in one recruiting class before this year, so there will be an unprecedented number of first-semester freshmen on the field for the Buckeyes in spring practices this year. That’ll be one of the big storylines of this spring too, especially because so many of those midyear enrollees are highly touted prospects with the potential to make an early impact at Ohio State.
C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller will be beginning their battle to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback of the future; the wide receiver quartet of Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr. and Mookie Cooper will all be vying for playing time; five-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. will make a push to climb the depth chart quickly; Jacolbe Cowan, Darrion Henry-Young, Kourt Williams, Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts will all be trying to show they can help the Buckeyes replace all the talent they lost on defense. Every midyear enrollee has the opportunity to gain valuable practice reps this spring that they should give them a leg up on where they would have been if they arrived on campus in the summer.
The Buckeyes also have two new assistant coaches this spring, though neither of them is getting acquainted to Columbus for the first time; quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis was already at Ohio State as a quality control coach, while defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was previously Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach from 2012-17. Nonetheless, this spring will be an important time for both of them as Dennis becomes the leader of a position group for the first time while Coombs becomes the leader of an entire collegiate defense – and acquaints himself with a new group of Ohio State defensive backs – for the first time.
Chasing Huge Expectations
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At this time last year, many people weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Buckeyes given Day’s inexperience as a head coach, their complete lack of experience at quarterback and their prior-year struggles on defense. This year, though, the expectations for Ohio State will be clear from the first practice.
Anything less than another Big Ten title and playoff run in 2020 would be a disappointment, and given the heartbreaking fashion in which last season ended, Ohio State should be hungrier than ever to get over the hump and get back to the national championship game for the first time since the Buckeyes won it all in 2014.
That increases the level of pressure that Day, Fields and the rest of the team will face to perform this year, and they have to prove they can handle it. Day’s approach to meeting those expectations, though, will almost certainly be rooted in working at an elite level day in and day out, and he’ll push his team to compete to that standard beginning right away on Monday.